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February 2, 2018 2:36 pm

All Eyes on Polish President Duda, as He Decides Whether to Sign Widely-Censured ‘Holocaust Bill’ Into Law

avatar by Ben Cohen

Polish President Andrzej Duda alongside Donald Trump during the US president’s official visit to Poland in July 2017. Photo: Reuters / Carlos Barria.

Polish President Andrzej Duda is facing the most controversial decision of his political career, after his country’s Senate passed this week the widely-censured “Holocaust Law” that criminalizes any discussion of Polish complicity with the Nazi Holocaust.

Duda is now at the beginning of a 21-day period in which he has to choose whether to sign the bill, veto it, or refer it to Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal.

One of Duda’s advisers, Prof. Andrzej Zybertowicz, told Polish station Radio Plus on Friday that the law was discussed at a meeting with the president on Thursday. While Duda was an early advocate of the law — telling an audience in Jerusalem during an official visit in January 2017, “We did not make the Holocaust. We were conquered by the Germans. We had no free choice” — his adviser implied that the Polish leader did not regard the historical record as the only issue to consider.

Duda understood that his decision had to ensure that “the interests of Poland, our security and our international status are balanced,” Prof. Zybertowicz said.

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Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz admitted on Friday that relations with Israel had been strained as a result of the dispute over the legislation. But, he underlined, “charging the Polish state with the responsibility for the Holocaust is an activity that must be stopped.”

Czaputowicz added that he hoped Israel and Poland would create a bilateral commission “to analyze the problem.” Asked about the postponed visit to Israel this week of the head of the Polish National Security Bureau, Paweł Soloch, the foreign minister said that the trip “would have been inappropriate” given the current tense climate between the two nations.

Jewish organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Bnai Brith International and the Orthodox Union have called on Duda to veto the legislation. In Warsaw, the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Central Europe office, Agnieszka Markiewicz, described  it as “a very sad day for Poland when lawmakers adopt a measure that has provoked the biggest crisis since 1989 in Polish-Jewish relations, as well as in Poland’s bilateral ties to Israel and to Poland’s chief western ally, the United States.”

“President Duda has an opportunity to defuse this crisis by not signing the bill, and suggesting steps be taken to work with the Jewish community, Israel and the U.S. to repair the relations,” Markiewicz stated.

In a heartfelt plea issued to Duda on Twitter, veteran US Jewish leader Abraham Foxman — who survived the Nazi occupation of Poland as a child under the protection of his Catholic nanny — to protect the “painful memory of both of our people.”

In an interview with The Algemeiner earlier this week, Foxman, who is the national director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League and the head of an antisemitism study program at the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York, warned that the legislation would lead to political censorship of the serious research on the Holocaust conducted in Poland since the end of communism in 1989.

The purpose of the legislation “is to rewrite history and prevent history from being written,” Foxman observed.

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