Polish President Andrzej Duda says there was no institutional participation by Poland in the Holocaust, but did recognize criminal actions toward Jews by some individual Poles.
“There were wicked people who sold their neighbors for money. But it was not the Polish nation, it was an an organized action,” Duda said Monday.
He pointed out that some Poles sacrificed their own lives to save Jews from the Nazis, and that the Polish underground and government in exile resisted efforts to wipe out European Jewry.
Duda was reacting to the outrage in Israel over a proposed law in Poland imposing fines and jail time on anyone who refers to the Nazi genocide as being a Polish crime, or the Nazi death camps as Polish death camps.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday Israel will not tolerate “distortion of the truth, rewriting history, and denial of the Holocaust.”
But he did speak to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki by telephone and they agreed to consult with historians and open a dialogue.
Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial also warned against trying to change history.
“Restrictions on statements by scholars and others regarding the Polish people’s direct or indirect complicity with the crimes committed on their land during the Holocaust are a serious distortion,” it said in a statement.
Some experts fear the new Polish law could also mean jail for Holocaust survivors when talking about their ordeals.
Poland was home to one of the world’s most thriving Jewish populations before Nazi Germany invaded in 1939. It murdered about 3 million Jews in death camps set up in Poland, including such chilling places as Auschwitz and Treblinka.
Holocaust survivors who returned to Poland after the war found themselves victims of further anti-Semitism. Some historians say many Poles collaborated with the Nazis in persecuting Jews.
Poland regards itself as having itself been a victim of Nazi terror and resents being blamed for crimes carried out by Hitler and his gang of murderers.