Rivlin tells Polish counterpart 'Poles also murdered' Jews
Joined by Polish President Andrzej Duda during March of the Living at Auschwitz, President Rivlin says that while he appreciates Polish self-examination, the Holocaust law cannot detract from country’s atrocities during Nazi Final Solution; Duda: 'We'll defend the truth at any price.'
The two presidents met as they joined thousands of young Israelis and Jews from elsewhere in the world in their March of the Living to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and remember the former Nazi German death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau.
The law imposes prison sentences of up to three years for mentioning the term "Polish death camps" and for suggesting "publicly and against the facts" that the Polish nation or state was complicit in Nazi Germany's crimes.
“We greatly appreciate all those who risked their lives to save Jews, but there were other phenomena as well. People who murdered and inherited,” Rivlin told Duda, quoting a verse in the Book of Kings.
“This was a terrain that allowed the Nazis to do whatever they liked not only in Poland but throughout Europe.”
Duda needs to understand, Rivlin added, the feelings of the Jewish people in Israel. “We see the Holocaust as a result of anti-Semitism which led to the slaughter of the Jewish people, out of the Nazi ideology which flourished on Polish soil,” Rivlin explained.
“We appreciate the internal examination, and for the soul-searching of Polish society. Yet, there is also great disagreement about which we have spoken,” he continued.
Ahead of the march, thousands of young people, many of them wrapped in Israel's white and blue flag, visited the grounds of Auschwitz, including a Death Wall where the Germans executed their prisoners
Israel demanded, Rivlin told Duda that Poland "continue to be committed to comprehensive and unrestricted research on the events of the Holocaust period. As was agreed between the two counties, and as is appropriate.”
The Israeli president said that statesmen have a “duty” to shape the future, while historians have a duty to research and describe the past.
“One must not overstep into the field of the other. Cooperation between Israel, Poland, and the Jewish people on remembrance and memorial, in education and research is the way to pass the torch of remembrance and responsibility to the next generations,” Rivlin said.
Responding to the remarks, President Duda said that the meeting of the two at the site was a “great honor, but also of course a testimony to the enormity of the disaster that happened here.
“We are meeting here for the March of the Living as a testimony to memory of the Jewish Holocaust. We say to the world—especially from here, the place where the terrible disaster was carried out—we say Never Again,” Duda began.
“We call on the whole world to see where hatred of the other and anti-Semitism can lead. This is a cry for the whole world to remember that all human kind must relate with respect to one another and that Never Again,” he added, avoiding a dispute with Rivlin.
“So many Jews over the years dedicated their lives to Poland and its independence and their graves are scattered across Poland, not because they were murdered but because they fought for Poland’s independence,” Duda said, before turning to Rivlin directly.
“Mr. President, I want to reiterate – there is great disagreement on the issue of amending the law which was passed in the Polish Parliament, which is being examined by the courts, but I want to clarify that at no point did we want to block testimony, on the contrary we wanted to defend the historical truths, and as a leader, I want to do this at any price, even when it is difficult for us.”
The Polish president then concluded by saying, "I am not scared to say that there were people whose behavior should be condemned, but there were also people of whose behavior we are proud. There were authorities that tried to defend the Jews, but their leaders were condemned to death. We are not seeking to block testimony, not even the difficult testimony. Mr. President, I think that our marching together here will make clear for the whole world that we mean Never Again."
Associated Press contributed to this report.