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February 12, 2018 3:52 pm

Polish Senator Warns That Holocaust Survivors Not Exempt From Prosecution Under Widely-Condemned New Law

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A sign at the Auschwitz death camp ordering “Stop!” in German and Polish. Photo: Reuters/Kacper Pempel.

One of the leading advocates of the widely-criticized World War II remembrance legislation approved by Poland’s president last week has warned that Holocaust survivors could find themselves on the wrong side of Polish law from now on.

Sen. Jan Zaryn, a professor of history who represents the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) Party, was asked in an interview for the current edition of the Wprost weekly newsmagazine whether the new law “can be used to prosecute Holocaust survivors, as the Israeli Ambassador (in Warsaw, Anna Azari) alleges.”

Zaryn answered: “If a Holo‎caust survivor falsifies Polish history, lies and says there were Polish concentration camps during World War II, then his status as a survivor is irrelevant in the context of the lie.”

In addition to proscribing the term “Polish concentration camps” – a form of words which the vast majority of Jewish scholars have long agreed is an unfair, careless representation of Nazi Germany’s extermination program in Poland – the law prohibits any public discussion of Polish collusion with Nazi authorities during the war.

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This includes events such as the 1941 pogrom in the village of Jedwabne, in which 1,600 Jews, according to the Polish-American historian Jan Gross, were murdered by their Polish neighbors with the approval of the Nazi authorities. (Gross’s numbers have been the subject of dispute; a 2003 Polish investigation concluded that no more than 340 Jews were murdered in Jedwabne, but agreed that their killers were Poles “inspired by the Germans.”)

Sen. Zaryn’s caution that even Holocaust survivors are not exempt from the legislation – which targets “Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich … or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, or war crimes” – came as Michał Dworczyk, the head of the Polish Prime Minister’s office, issued guidelines to government ministries on how to discuss the new law. According to Polish media outlets, the guidelines include instructions to deny any collusion between Poles and the Nazi authorities, along with quotes supporting this case culled from the remarks of Jewish representatives speaking during the war.

On the issue of the Jedwabne pogrom specifically, representatives have been told to respond that “cases of pogroms against Jews occurred throughout the whole of Europe occupied by the Third Reich.”

In an interview on Monday with Poland’s TVN 24 network, Dworczyk expressed disappointment with Israel’s opposition to the legislation, arguing that Israel was among several countries with laws prohibiting Holocaust denial.

At the same time, he played down the suggestion that Israel’s bilateral relations with Poland were in crisis as a result of the new law. “We have common interests, we have had very good cooperation so far between Poland and Israel, and we believe that it will continue to grow,” Dworczyk said.

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