Yad Vashem slams joint Polish-Israeli statement ‘highly problematic wording’ fraught with historical inaccuracy

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem harshly criticized the joint statement signed last week by both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki, following Poland’s decision to amend a Holocaust denial law that angered the United States and Israel, and remove parts that imposed jail terms on people who mention Poland’s active role in Nazi atrocities and make the use of phrases such as “Polish Death Camps” to refer to the Polish death camps, punishable.

Yad Vashem’s statement said the Israeli-Polish declaration contained a number of historical errors, and that it paves the way to continue with legal battles against historians and other Holocaust researchers – even if these will now be only civil and not criminal proceedings.

Poland back down on Holocaust denial law that imposed jail terms for mentioning Poland's role in Nazi atrocities

“A thorough review by Yad Vashem historians shows that the historical assertions, presented as unchallenged facts, in the joint statement contain grave errors and deceptions, and that the essence of the statute remains unchanged even after the repeal of the aforementioned sections, including the possibility of real harm to researchers, unimpeded research, and the historical memory of the Holocaust,” said Yad Vashem in its statement.

The Yad Vashem document was signed by the institution’s senior historians Prof. Dan Michman, Prof. Hava Dreifuss and Dr. David Silberklang.

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Education Minister Naftali Bennett said in response that joint statement signed last week by Netanyahu and Morawiecki “is a disgrace rife with lies. As education minister, charged with teaching the memory of the Holocaust, I fully reject it. It lacks a historical basis and will not be taught in schools.” Bennett added that he would ask the prime minister to either cancel the declaration or bring it to the government to be approved.

“The historical reality is that Poles assisting Jews was a relatively rare phenomenon, while Poles hurting Jews was widespread,” the minister continued.

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Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid also referred to the statement as a disgrace and called on Netanyahu to immediately cancel the joint statement with Poland. Lapid said the statement “outrageously debases the memory of the victims… 200 thousand Jews were killed by Poles in the Holocaust, and Netanyahu signs a declaration that clears the Poles’ name.”

The statement from Yad Vashem emphasized that this is the official, and only official position of the institution and its scholars. The statement was released after Prof. Yehuda Bauer, an Israel Prize-winning Holocaust historian formerly at Yad Vashem, said last week that the Israeli-Polish statement was a “betrayal” that “hurt the Jewish people and the memory of the Holocaust.”

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In a radio interview, the 92-year-old said the backtracking on the law and the signing of a joint statement with Poland was “a small achievement and a very big mistake, bordering on betrayal.” Bauer said Israel had accepted the Polish narrative and “legitimized it,” even though it was a “completely mendacious story.”

Bauer said the Poles “cheated us, twisted us around their finger and we agreed to it because to the State of Israel, economic, security and political ties are more important than a little matter like the Holocaust.”