Last week, as the world was marking Holocaust Remembrance Day, the governments of Poland and Israel found themselves in the middle of a diplomatic row. The night before the memorial of one of the worst crimes in the history, the strongest Polish political party, Law and Justice (PiS), approved a controversial law banning the definition of Auschwitz and Birkenau as “Polish concentration camps.”
Furthermore, Warsaw claims that the aim of the bill is to prevent what it sees as an “international defamation” of Poland and denied its purpose was shutting down an academic debate on the events during Nazi Germany occupation. The proposal won enough votes in Sejm (the lower chamber of the Polish Parliament), and on Wednesday steamed through the Senate with 57-23 support.
Reactions in Israel were swift. Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett called the bill a “shameful disregard of the truth” and Yad Vashem Remembrance Center called for further research into the complex subject of Poland’s role in the Holocaust. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly criticized the draft. “I strongly oppose it. One cannot change history and the Holocaust cannot be denied,” he said in a statement.
The country’s Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki, who is the main author of the bill, said Israel’s objections were a confirmation of its necessity. “Important Israeli politicians and media are attacking us for the bill. On top of that, they claim that Poles are ‘co-responsible’ for the Holocaust. This is proof how necessary this bill is,” he claims.