Yad Vashem in Israel and a leader of the Jewish community in Poland have welcomed Warsaw’s move to soften the controversial Holocaust speech law on Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki introduced a new version of the law that would remove criminal provisions for statements blaming Poland for atrocities committed during the Holocaust.
Following a tumultuous but brief debate in which nationalist proponents of the law strenuously objected to the change, the revised text was approved in the lower house of parliament. It now moves to the Senate.
Yad Vashem issued a statement saying “the current announcement of the Polish government’s intention to modify the controversial amendment to the National Remembrance law passed earlier this year is a positive development in the right direction.”
It continued, “We believe that the correct way to combat historical misrepresentations is by reinforcing open, free research and educational activities.
“Yad Vashem reiterates its support for ensuring that educators and researchers are not hindered in grappling with the complex truth of Polish-Jewish relations before, during and after the Holocaust,” the statement concluded.
In remarks broadcast live Wednesday evening shortly after the law was changed, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he was “pleased” with the changes to the law.
Netanyahu said that “ties with Poland are important to us and are based on trust,” and noted that he had “met with the Polish prime minister several times and together we set up a task force that reached an agreed-upon formula.”
“It is clear to everyone that the Holocaust was an unprecedented crime committed by Germany, and the Polish government understood the significance of the Holocaust as a terrible chapter in the history of the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said.
“We stood guard over the truth and fulfilled our duty to ensure the historical truth about the Holocaust.”
The prime minister also alluded to the claims of the Polish government that the country bore no responsibility for Nazi crimes committed on its soil, saying, “We’ve always agreed that the term Polish concentration death camps is blatantly erroneous and diminishes the responsibility of Germany for establishing those camps.”
It was a significant retreat from his position during the initial storm over the law, when he and other Israeli officials had accused the Poles of trying to rewrite history. At the time, he told a cabinet meeting that Israel would not tolerate Poland “distorting the truth, rewriting history or denying the Holocaust.”
The president of the Board of the Jewish Community of Warsaw, Leslaw Piszewski, said the community was “very pleased” by the proposed revision of the law.
He said it will help restore Poland’s relations with world Jewry, Israel and the United States, after passage of the law was met with a wave of outrage earlier this year.
Updated Wednesday, June 27, 2018 at 1:15 pm