Joint statement from Israel and Poland PMs draws Holocaust centre ire

Yad Vashem rejects idea of ‘heroic acts’ by many Poles who ‘risked lives’ to save Jews

Yad Vashem, Israel's highly-respected Holocaust memorial centre, has issued a strong condemnation of a joint statement issued by the prime ministers of Israel and Poland aimed at ending a dispute over Holocaust legislation in Poland.

Yad Vashem’s rare rebuke of the Israeli government came a week after the Polish parliament repealed the clauses in its controversial Holocaust law that criminalised any suggestion that Poles shared responsibility for Holocaust crimes.

Critics in Israel had likened the original Polish law, passed in February, to Holocaust denial.

Following a wave of international criticism, Poland backtracked late last month and the Polish parliament voted to repeal the criminal clauses allowing a three-year jail term for people accusing Poland of collaboration with Nazi crimes.


Yad Vashem said the joint declaration issued by prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki, which came immediately after the Bill was amended, and contained highly problematic wording from a historical standpoint.

The joint statement praised the Polish wartime government-in-exile, saying it tried to “raise awareness among western allies of the systematic murder” of Polish Jews.

‘Cases of cruelty’

The two leaders condemned “every single case of cruelty against Jews perpetrated by Poles during World War II” but noted “heroic acts of numerous Poles who risked their lives to save Jewish people”.

However, Yad Vashem rejected the declaration, issuing a statement saying that a thorough review by its historians shows that the “historical assertions, presented as unchallenged facts, in the joint statement contain grave errors and deceptions”.

Yad Vashem said much of the Polish resistance “not only failed to help Jews, but was also not infrequently actively involved in persecuting them”.

Polish assistance to Jews during the Holocaust was “relatively rare”, Yad Vashem said, and “attacks against and even the murder of Jews were widespread”.

Arnon Maoz, of the Centre of Organisation of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, also issued a reaction critical of the statement.

‘Public betrayal’

“Signing this agreement is a public betrayal of the memory of the Holocaust, akin to dancing on the graves of the deceased. The state of Israel has no authority to change the course of history for political needs devoid of values and content.”

The joint declaration was also condemned by Israeli politicians, including from within Mr Netanyahu’s ruling coalition. Education minister Naftali Bennett called the joint declaration a “lie-ridden disgrace”, demanding that Mr Netanyahu either retract it or put it to a vote in the cabinet.

“As education minister, who is charged with passing down the legacy of the Holocaust, I utterly reject it. It has no factual or historical validity and it will not be taught in the education system.”

Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition Yesh Atid, concurred, lambasting the joint declaration as a "scandalous debasement of the memory of those who perished".

Polish officials indicated that the matter was closed, despite the controversy in Israel. "For us, the position expressed by prime minister Netanyahu is binding," tweeted Polish deputy foreign minister Bartosz Cichocki.