Yad Vashem on Thursday issued a statement protesting the Polish upper house of parliament passage of a law punishing individuals who mention “Polish death camps.” The consolidated lower and upper house bill is now ready to be signed into law by the president of Poland.
“It is most unfortunate that, despite all the problems with the formulation of this law and the harsh protest it has engendered, Poland has decided to pass this problematic piece of legislation,” Yad Vashem said in the statement.
“This law is liable to blur historical truths due to limitations it places on expressions regarding the complicity of segments of the Polish population in crimes against Jews committed by its own people, either directly or indirectly, on Polish soil during the Holocaust.
“Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, reiterates and emphasizes that the term “Polish death camps” is erroneous. The concentration and extermination camps were built and operated by the Germans in Nazi-occupied Poland with the express purpose of murdering and annihilating the Jews of Europe within the framework of the ‘Final Solution.’ The correct way to combat these historical misrepresentations is not by criminalizing these statements but by reinforcing educational activities.
“However, the law passed last night in the Polish Senate jeopardizes the free and open discussion of the part of the Polish people in the persecution of the Jews at the time. Yad Vashem will continue to support research aimed at exposing the complex truth of Polish-Jewish relations during the Holocaust and promoting educational and commemorative activities in this spirit.”
On the issue of Polish massacres of Jews under Nazi rule, here is an excerpt, courtesy of the Virtual Jewish Library:
Jedwabne, a small town in northeastern Poland, was captured by Germany on June 22, 1941. One of the first questions the Poles asked the Nazis, their new rulers, was if it was permitted to kill the Jews.
Brutal killings by the Poles immediately began, and included a Jew stoned to death with bricks as well as a Jew slashed with a knife, his eyes and tongue cut out. According to Jan Gross’s book, Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland, the Nazis tried to persuade the Poles to keep at least one Jewish family from each profession, but the Poles responded, “We have enough of our own craftsmen, we have to destroy all the Jews, none should stay alive.”
Gross writes that Jedwabne’s mayor agreed to help facilitate a massacre and that Poles from local villages came in to watch and celebrate the event as a holiday. About half the men of Jedwabne’s 1,600 Catholic community participated in torturing Jedwabne’s 1,600 member Jewish community, corralling them into a barn, which was then set ablaze.