The rift between Israel and Poland could not be suppressed during the annual March of the Living in that country on Thursday, as visiting President Reuven Rivlin reiterated in unequivocal terms Israel’s denunciation of the new law forbidding admission of Poland’s role in the Holocaust.
Rivlin told his Polish counterpart Andrjez Duda: “There is no doubt that many Poles fought the Nazi regime, but we can’t deny the fact that Poland and Poles helped in the extermination,” Rivlin said during a joint press conference in Krakow.
“The country of Poland allowed the implementation of the horrific genocidal ideology of Hitler, and witnessed the wave of anti-Semitism sparked by the law you passed now,” the president said.
“People murdered and then inherited [the property of the dead]. Here there was a foundation” of anti-Semitic feeling “that allowed the Nazis to do as they wished, not only in Poland but throughout Europe,” Rivlin added.
In response, Duda acknowledged that “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.”
He continued: “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,” according to a Ynet report.
Earlier, Rivlin had said “we demand that Poland continue to be committed to comprehensive and unrestricted research on the events of the Holocaust period. As was agreed between the two countries, and as is appropriate.”
Earlier this month, senior Israeli and Polish diplomats met in Yerushalayim to try to bridge the differences, but ended only with both sides pledging to preserve “the truth.”
Keeping that pledge will not be easy, given the Polish attitude. Last month, Warsaw demanded that the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum remove a reference to “Polish police” guarding the Lodz ghetto.
After the press conference, Rivlin and Duda took their places at the head of thousands of participants in the March of the Living, mostly young Israelis but with some Holocaust survivors as well.
The solemn procession began by the main gate and watchtowers of Auschwitz and led two miles to Birkenau, where Jews from across Europe were transported to be murdered in gas chambers.