JERUSALEM (JTA) — Poland’s deputy ambassador was summoned to Israel’s foreign ministry over Polish legislation that would criminalize the term “Polish death camps.”
The deputy ambassador was called in for a “clarification discussion,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. Ministry officials expressed Israel’s opposition to the bill during the meeting.
The ministry called the timing of the vote on the bill, the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, “particularly surprising and unfortunate.” It also said that the legislation “will not help further the exposure of historical truth and may harm freedom of research, as well as prevent discussion of the historical message and legacy of World War II.”
The ministry called on the Polish government to change the wording of the bill before it is approved by the Polish Senate and president, and to “conduct a dialogue with Israel on the subject.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said that Israel’s ambassador in Warsaw spoke with the Polish prime minister about the legislation on Saturday night during a memorial ceremony at Auschwitz. He added that the ambassador and her staff will meet during the week with Polish leadership to discuss the issue.
Also on Sunday, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said in a statement that he would carefully review the legislation. “Everyone whose personal memory or historical research speaks the truth about the crimes and shameful behavior that occurred in the past with the participation of Poles has full right to this truth,” he said.
Meanwhile, late on Saturday night, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in a tweet that “Auschwitz is the most bitter lesson on how evil ideologies can lead to hell on earth. Jews, Poles, and all victims should be guardians of the memory of all who were murdered by German Nazis. Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name, and Arbeit Macht Frei is not a Polish phrase.”
“Arbeit Macht Frei” is German for “Work Makes You Free,” and is the phrase hanging on the entrance gate of Auschwitz.
Morawiecki also pointed out that that Israel and Poland signed a joint statement in 2016 opposing use of the term “Polish death camps.”
Netanyahu on Saturday night said in a statement: “The law is baseless; I strongly oppose it. One cannot change history and the Holocaust cannot be denied.”
Several Israeli lawmakers and Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial came out against the legislation passed Friday by the lower house of the Polish parliament.
The legislation, designed to make it clear that Nazi Germany is responsible for the crimes against humanity that took place in the camps, calls for calls for prison sentences of up to three years. It contains a provision excluding scholarly or academic works.