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March 1, 2018 12:21 pm

Polish ‘Righteous Among Nations’ Issue Plea for Dialogue as Widely-Panned Holocaust Law Takes Effect

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

Investigators from Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) were empowered as of Thursday to begin checking for potential violations of new legislation that criminalizes discussion of Polish collusion with the Nazi authorities during World War II, as the widely-criticized IPN Act came into force.

Rober Janicki — a representative of the Central Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes Against the Polish Nation — told the Rzeczpospolita newspaper on Thursday that it was “difficult to predict” whether the new law would lead to prosecutions of those deemed to have stated — in the words of the IPN Act — “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.”

Zbigniew Ziobro, Poland’s minister of justice, told the same newspaper that it would be up to the Public Prosecutor’s office to determine whether prosecutions were warranted based on the IPN’s investigations. However, the precise powers of the IPN Act are still to be determined by Poland’s Constitutional Court, and President Andrzej Duda is among those said to be opposed to the imposition of a maximum prison sentence of three years for offenders, as well as the application of the act’s provisions outside of Poland.

As the new law came into effect, The Associated Press reported on an article by the veteran Jewish writer Konstanty Gebert, who challenged prosecutors with an article in Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza daily which he said “may constitute a crime” under the law.

In his piece, Gebert wrote that “many members of the Polish nation bear co-responsibility for some Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich,” referring to the wartime massacres of Jews by their Polish neighbors in villages like Jedwabne in 1941. He also wrote that “the Polish state committed a crime against peace” when it took part in the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, among other examples.

Several Hebrew-language newspapers in Israel, as well as The Guardian daily in the UK, ran a full-page advertisement on Thursday, signed by Polish citizens who risked their lives to save Jews during the war and were later honored by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial.

“We, the remaining living Righteous, representing the 6,850 Polish Righteous Among the Nations appeal to the governments and parliaments of Israel and Poland to return to the path of dialogue and reconciliation,” the open letter, addressed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki, as well as the speakers of the Israeli Knesset and Polish Parliament, declared.

The open letter from Poland’s ‘Righteous Among Nations’ in the Hebrew press on March 1, 2018.

“We ask you not to re-write history. The worst tragedy in the history of our nations was written once and for all during the darkest hour of the Nazi German occupation, of which we are all still victims to this day,” the letter continued. “We do not consent to the escalation of the conflict between Jews and Poles that we are witnessing today.”

“We, the Polish Righteous, who carry the burden of eye-witnessing the truth about the Holocaust along with the Jews, its victims, ask everybody for empathy, judiciousness, and thoughtfulness when creating laws; for responsible media coverage; and for honest and independent historical research,” the letter concluded. “Only then can the issues that need to be explained, be explained. We ask for dialogue and kindness.”

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