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Holocaust centre slams Poland, Israel over controversial law

1 min 34Approximate reading time

One of the world's main Holocaust memorials on Thursday slammed an agreement between Israel and Poland over a Polish law on the World War II genocide of Jews, saying it contains "deceptions".

Poland amended the law last week after it sparked outrage in Israel by imposing jail terms of up to three years against anyone found guilty of ascribing Nazi crimes to the Polish nation or state.

The amendment removed fines or criminal penalties from the legislation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki also issued a joint statement on the issue, which was later published in full in newspapers both in Israel and abroad.

But Yad Vashem, Israel's renowned Holocaust memorial and research centre in Jerusalem, on Thursday released a scathing analysis of the amended law and joint statement.

"A thorough review by Yad Vashem historians shows that the historical assertions, presented as unchallenged facts, in the joint statement contain grave errors and deceptions," it said.

It pointed to the joint statement's assertion that "numerous Poles" had risked their lives to rescue Jews.

"Poles' assistance to Jews during the Holocaust was relatively rare, and attacks against and even the murder of Jews were widespread phenomena," Yad Vashem said.

It added that the amended law remained problematic, warning of "the possibility of real harm to researchers, unimpeded research and the historical memory of the Holocaust."

Israel had expressed deep concern that the original legislation could allow Holocaust survivors to be prosecuted for their testimony should it concern the involvement of individual Poles for allegedly killing or betraying Jews to the Germans.

There were also fears the law would prevent open academic research on the Holocaust in Poland.

The main aim of the legislation was to prevent Nazi German death camps in Poland, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, being described as Polish.

Poland, occupied by Nazi Germany for much of World War II, lost six million of its citizens including three million Jews.

Yad Vashem added that while removing criminal sanctions from the law was important, the amendment had not specifically made exceptions for research and education.

Israel's negotiating team said in a statement Yad Vashem's chief historian, Dina Porat, "accompanied the process from its inception."

"Historical statements that appear in the declaration were approved by her," it said.

"The joint declaration signed by the Polish government includes an explicit reference to the fact that the ability to carry out research freely is preserved and that no law prevents or will prevent that in the future."

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