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April 17, 2018 12:37 pm

Polish Ultranationalists Seek Prosecution of Israeli President Rivlin Over Reported Holocaust Remarks

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Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Polish President Andrzej Duda arriving at the 2018 “March of the Living” at the site of the Auschwitz death camp built by the Nazis. Photo: Reuters / Kacper Pempel.

Poland’s leading far-right political party announced on Tuesday that it was launching criminal proceedings against the president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, under new legislation that criminalizes public discussion of Polish collusion with the Nazi authorities during World War II.

In a letter to Polish state prosecutor Marcin Gołębiewicz, the head of the far-right National Movement (RN), Robert Winnicki, said he wished “to inform about the crime committed by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin consisting in attributing to the Polish State responsibility for Nazi crimes.”

“I am seeking the prosecution of the perpetrator,” Winnicki said.

Under a widely-condemned amendment passed in March to the country’s Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) Act of 1997, a person found guilty of claiming “…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…” faces a maximum prison sentence of three years. The law is not limited to Poland in its scope and can be used to prosecute foreigners.

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The RN is basing its case against Rivlin on comments the Israeli president was said to have made during a meeting with his Polish counterpart, Andzrej Duda, on Apr. 12. “There is no doubt that there were many Poles who fought the Nazi regime, but we cannot deny that Poland and Poles had a hand in the extermination,” Rivlin — who traveled to Poland for the annual “March of the Living” at the site of the Auschwitz death camp — was reported as saying by both Polish and Israeli media outlets.

However Rivlin’s speech at the official memorial ceremony at Auschwitz used notably different wording than that attributed to him earlier in the day.

Turning to President Duda, he solemnly acknowledged that under the Nazi occupation, “the Poles were an oppressed people, living in fear.”

“The people of Poland produced thousands of ‘Righteous among the Nations,'” Rivlin said.

He continued: “Nevertheless, It is impossible to deny the truth. The Nazi death machine would not  have been able to achieve its terrible vision, if it had not received help; if it had not found a fertile ground of hatred for Jews, in which to take root.”

Rivlin commented that while Nazi Germany had “built the camps, our people were not murdered only in the camps.”

“The members of our nation were betrayed by the people amongst whom they lived, in France, in Holland, and in Belgium,” the Israeli president declared. “They were murdered by Ukrainians, Lithuanians and, yes — also by Poles.”

In the same speech, Rivlin also countered the widespread claim in Poland that the Holocaust was as much a Polish as a Jewish tragedy.

“Polish people were killed and murdered in the cruel war,” he said. “We, the Jews, were slaughtered in the Holocaust.”

While the prosecution of Israel’s sitting president by a Polish court is unlikely to move forward, the invocation of the IPN Act by a political party that marshaled 60,000 neo-Nazis and other extremists onto the streets of Warsaw last November suggests that the legislation will now become a campaigning tool for Polish ultranationalists. A number of leading historians — including the Princeton-based  Prof. Jan Gross — have been threatened with prosecution under the amended act.

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