Israeli President Reuven Rivlin told his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, that many Poles helped the Nazis exterminate the Jewish population of Poland before the annual March of the Living.
“This land was a forge of the Jewish nation’s soul, and to our deep sorrow, also its largest Jewish graveyard. You can’t erase such a rich history, full, painful history,” Rivlin told Duda during their meeting in Krakow shortly before the start of the march Thursday.
Rivlin addressed a controversial bill passed by the Polish Parliament and signed into law by Duda which declares it illegal to suggest Poland bore any responsibility for crimes against humanity committed by Nazi Germany on its soil during World War II. Violators could face up to three years in prison.
The Israeli president said that while there were Poles who helped rescue many Jews, there were also many Poles who collaborated with the Nazis in the murder of Jews and who murdered Jews themselves during World War II.
“People murdered and then inherited [the property of the dead]. Here there was a foundation [of anti-Semitic sentiment] that allowed the Nazis to do as they wished, not only in Poland but throughout Europe,” Rivlin said.
“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," he added. “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 that Poland must ensure that the memory of the Holocaust "You have to understand the feeling of the Jewish people in Israel, and we see the Holocaust as the result of anti-Semitism that led to the slaughter of the Jewish people out of a Nazi ideology that flourished on Polish soil. But we also have a deep disagreement about which we have spoken, and we demand that Poland continue to be committed to a comprehensive and unlimited study of the events and processes of the Holocaust. "
"This is the agreement between the two countries, and it is fitting that it be the responsibility of the statesmen to shape the future ... Historians have the duty to describe the past and explore history. Education and research is the way to pass the torch of remembrance and responsibility to future generations.
The President added: "It is important for Jews and Israelis to know the diverse Jewish history of Poland, and it is important that young people and adults in Poland know and learn about what happened here during the Second World War, and I greatly appreciate the cooperation of the Polish government and the National Museum in Auschwitz with the March of the Living. I hope we will find the right path to continue to combine remembrance, research and education for the benefit of future generations."
Polish President Duda said: "Our meeting here is a great honor, but also a testimony to the great tragedy that took place here, and we are meeting here at the March of the Living as evidence of the memory of the Jewish Holocaust. We call on the entire world to see where xenophobia and anti-Semitism can lead to a cry to the entire world to remember that people must respect one another and never again. "
He defended Poland's attempt's protect its reputation regarding the Holocaust. "So many Jews have sacrificed their lives over the years for the sake of Poland and its independence and their graves are scattered all over Poland, not because they were murdered, but because they fought so that Poland could live in its independence. Mr. President, I want to emphasize once more - But I want to make it clear again that at no stage did we want to block testimony [of the Holocaust]. On the contrary, we wanted to defend the historical truth, and I, as a leader, want to do it at any cost even when it is difficult for us."
The Polish president also said: "I am not afraid to say that there were people whose behavior should be condemned, but there were also people who should be proud of them ... The authorities tried to protect the Jews, but they condemned them to death ... We are not going to block that testimony. Mr. President, I think that our joint march here will make it clear to the entire world that we will never again."