Israel to Punish Soldier Who Blamed Poland for WW2 Atrocities Amid Holocaust Law Tension

An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) army officer will be punished for holding up a sign at Auschwitz-Birkenau claiming Poland was also responsible for the deaths of Jews during the Holocaust.

The IDF reserve officer was visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau with the army's Witnesses in Uniform program and held up a piece of paper which read, in Polish, "You also had a part in this," Israel'sArmy Radio reported.

An IDF spokesperson said the action was "serious and contrary to the values of the army" and the man would be disciplined, the Times of Israel reported.

A woman with an Israeli flag walks at Auschwitz after the annual March of the Living to commemorate the Holocaust. An IDF soldier will be punished for blaming Poland for atrocities as tensions simmer over a new law criminalizing claims of Poland’s involvement in Nazi activity. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

It comes amid considerable tension between Israel and Warsaw over a Polish bill passed earlier this year which, if finalized, would criminalize claims of Poland's involvement in Nazi atrocities. Israel said it would repress debate over Poland's wartime history.

The bill, passed through Poland's parliament on January 26, just before Holocaust Remembrance Day, has caused ructions with many countries, including the U.S. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described it as an "an attempt to rewrite history."

It aims to stop describing places like Auschwitz as "Polish death camps," and critics have accused Poland's government of using the issue to boost its support and appeal to right-wing voters.

Polish president Andrzej Duda referred the bill to the country's constitutional court, which will make a ruling on it later this year.

His top foreign policy adviser, Krzysztof Szczerski, defended it, telling Newsweek that it expressed how, in the view of his Law and Justice party, Jews had been protected by the Polish state until it was occupied.

He referred to comments by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on a visit to Poland, that no European nation should feel free from responsibility for the atrocities.

"This is the general perspective, which means not only that focusing on Poland itself, but the general moral position in this context. So I think this bill gave the ground for expressing these differences," said Szczerski, who also is the Polish president's chief of staff.

"But from our perspective, we said, 'OK, we agree with the facts of individual perpetrators of Poles, but one thing should be kept in mind—that the Polish Jews were safe [while] the Polish state existed.

Poland's President Andrzej Duda at a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19. His top foreign adviser, Krzysztof Szczerski, gave Newsweek his defense of a law that would criminalize claiming Poland was also responsible for the deaths of Jews during the Holocaust. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

"When the Polish state stopped to exist because it was occupied by Germans and Soviets, then the Holocaust started. [While] the Polish state existed, they were protected by the Polish state.

"That means making the statement that the Polish state was part of the Holocaust as a possibility is simply denying the simple fact that it didn't exist in the moment when the Holocaust happened," Szczerski told Newsweek on May 11, during his visit to London.

Soon after the bill was passed, Israel's Foreign Ministry said in a statement: "The legislation will not help further the exposure of historical truth and may harm freedom of research, as well as prevent discussion of the historical message and legacy of World War II."

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum said that the Germans killed about 3 million Polish Jews and up to 1.9 million non-Jewish civilians during their occupation of Poland.

The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews said that as it was in other countries the Nazis occupied, a small number of Poles were complicit in atrocities.