(Bloomberg) -- Poland’s Holocaust law wasn’t intended to stifle testimonies about the crimes of World War II, which is a tough subject for Poles, President Andrzej Duda said after meeting his Israeli counterpart at the site of the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp.
Taking part in a “March of the Living” rally that commemorates the victims of Nazi genocide with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Duda sought to soothe frayed nerves after Poland ignited international outrage over the legislation this year. The law makes it illegal to suggest Poles and their nation were complicit in the Holocaust, and it has drawn condemnation from the U.S. and Israel.
“There’s obviously great controversy surrounding the law,” Duda said, after a prolonged meeting with Rivlin. “But I want to stress very firmly that it has never been our intention to block Holocaust testimonies. As president I want to defend the historic truth, including when it’s difficult for Poles.”
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has argued that Poles were victims of the Nazi regime that committed mass murder on their soil. But he also fanned the conflict by listing Jews among the “perpetrators” of Nazi-era crimes, along with Germans, Russians, Ukrainians and Poles. Poland’s top prosecutor has said parts of the legislation breached the constitution.
Poles argue that they’re unfairly judged complicit in German Nazi war crimes when their country was occupied and an estimated 2.7 million non-Jewish civilians were killed, including many resistance fighters. Only 380,000 of Poland’s 3 million Jews -- Europe’s largest pre-war Jewish community -- survived the Holocaust, according to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
Future ties between the two nations should be based on Polish-Jewish history, as Poland was a cradle of Jewish culture but also remains the “biggest Jewish cemetery in the world,” Rivlin said.
“Israel is closely watching the examination of conscience that is taking place in Poland,” Rivlin said. “But Israel also demands that Poland takes full responsibility for research on Holocaust.”
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