Italian Jews demonstrating outside the Polish Embassy in Rome on Feb. 8 against Poland’s widely-condemned Holocaust legislation. Photo: Reuters / Alessandro Bianchi.
A high-level Polish government delegation currently visiting Israel for emergency talks over recent legislation that criminalizes discussion of Polish collusion with Nazi Germany confirmed on Wednesday that the law itself is not a subject for negotiation.
Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Bartosz Cichocki, who is leading the delegation, said that there was “no such possibility in the Polish political system, and no such intention” when asked on Wednesday whether the controversial Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) Act signed into law this month would be repealed, the liberal Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported.
Cichocki’s comments in Israel followed an earlier statement from Marek Suski, the head of the Polish prime minister’s office, saying that the delegation was “not going to Israel to negotiate the content of the bill.”
“We want to explain the controversy and to engage in dialogue based on truth,” Suski said.
Gazeta Wyborcza added that the delegation will meet on Thursday with a group that includes leading Israeli experts on the Holocaust, including Prof. Dina Porat of Tel Aviv University and Dr. David Silberklang, editor-in-chief of Yad Vashem Studies. Other meetings include a visit to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and a trip to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. The Polish group includes Mateusz Szpytma, the deputy president of Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance, which is tasked with enforcing the IPN Act.
Television journalist Bronislaw Wildstein, another member of the Polish delegation, told the Polish news agency PAP that his group’s primary goal was “the alleviation of tension” with Israel over the new law, which has been harshly criticized by leading Israeli politicians, media commentators and historians for its potential to censor vital research on the extermination of nearly three million Polish Jews by the Nazis.
Over the last month, the pro-government media in Poland has accused Israel and Jews more broadly of exploiting the Holocaust for financial and political gain, while deliberately minimizing the sufferings of Poles. Government officials have alleged that Jews themselves participated in both the murder of their own people and in the Soviet mass deportations of Polish citizens, while some far-right parties have very publicly sent delegations to the Iranian Embassy in Warsaw, as a gesture of solidarity with Tehran’s official policy of Holocaust denial.
Wildstein said that both Poland and Israel “want the relations between our two countries returned to normal.”
“What is needed is to make sure both sides that we are on the basis of historical truth,” he said. Although the IPN Act carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison for potential violators, Wildstein reassured critics that “there is no doubt as to the guarantees for freedom of historical research or artistic activity” under the law.