Poland’s Holocaust Bill Stirs International Condemnation

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland – A controversial new Holocaust speech bill that would impose jail terms for individuals suggesting Poland was complicit in the Holocaust is drawing international condemnation.

Anna Azari, Israel’s ambassador to Poland, leaves a meeting with the Polish Senate on February 1, 2018. Photo Courtesy of Agencja Gazeta.

In a 57-23 vote and two abstentions, the Polish Parliament passed the measure on Thursday, February 1, the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day. The law must be signed by President Andrzej Duda before becoming law.

If passed, the law will impose at a minimum fines and at a  maximum three-year prison sentences for individuals who mention phrases like “Polish death camps.”

The legislation specifically states that “whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich … shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years”.

Poland was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany in 1939. Death camps built by Germans were operated on Polish land. Three million Polish Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

Under mounting international pressure, President Duda has agreed to review the bill to determine whether he will sign it, but has stated that “we, as a state, as a nation, have a right to defend ourselves from an evident slander, an evident falsification of historical truth, which, in this case, for us is a slap in the face.”

Congress has urged Polish officials not to pass the bill, stating concerns that the bill will inhibit freedom of speech and threaten Poland’s international relationships.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister called the law “baseless; I strongly oppose it,” in a statement released on Saturday. “One cannot change history, and the Holocaust cannot be denied.”

International organizations such as Israel’s Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles have also condemned the legislation.

The bill has resulted in a resurgence of anti-Semitism in the country. Anti-Semitic comments on social media in Poland have increased, with minority groups calling on President Duda to “counteract all forms of xenophobia, intolerance and antisemitism.”

A number of Polish artists, journalists and politicians have signed an open letter calling for the bill’s repeal.

The pending legislation has been in preparation for more than a year. President Duda has three weeks to decide whether to pass the law.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Minority Groups in Poland Decry Aggression, Anti-Semitism – 4 February 2018

BBC News – Poland’s Senate Passes Controversial Holocaust Bill – 1 February 2018

The New York Times – Poland’s Holocaust Blame Bill – 29 January 2018

The New York Times – Poland Tries to Curb Holocaust Speech, and Israel Puts up a Fight

Reuters – Pressure Mounts on Poland to Back Away From Holocaust Bill – 3 February 2018

60,000 Far-Right Demonstrators March In Poland

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland – An estimated 60,000 far-right demonstrators marched through Warsaw on Poland’s 99th Independence Day.

Aerial Photo of Far-Right March. Photo Courtesy of Radek Pietruszka.

On Saturday, November 11th, tens of thousands of people gathered in what is being described as one of the biggest gatherings of far-right supporters in recent years.

The march, organized by far-right groups, is held annually on Poland’s Independence Day. The march has become an international magnet for far-right supporters and white supremacists.

The crowd welcomed far-right leaders from Britain and Italy. Richard Spencer, the American white nationalist who organized the Charlottesville, Virginia protest that killed a young counter-protester, was scheduled to attend but cancelled his plans after the Polish government advised him that he was not welcome in the country.

The National Radical Camp (NRC) was one of the lead organizers of the march. The NRC has previously marched against Muslim immigration into the country, gay rights and the European Union. Anything that is considered to undermine Polish Catholic values is a target of the nationalists.

Tomasz Dorosz, a member of the NRC, took the stage on Saturday. “Europe and the world is in decay: culturally, politically, economically. We Poles have to be the alternative,” said Dorosz. “There will be a national Poland or none.”

Demonstrators wearing masks carried signs containing such phrases as “Clean Blood”, “Pray for an Islamic Holocaust” and “Europe Will Be White.”  They threw red-smoke bombs as they marched.

One far-right demonstrator interviewed by a Polish television station said he was on the march to “remove Jewry from power.”

“It’s 50,000 to 100,000 mostly football hooligans hijacking patriotism,” said one counter-protester. “For me, it’s important to support the anti-fascist coalition, and to support fellow democrats, who are under pressure in Poland today.”

The march has grown in numbers steadily since it began in 2009. Nick Loweles, member of the anti-extremism group Hope Not Hate, said that “the numbers attending this year seem to be bigger and, while not everyone on the march is a far-right activist or fascist, it is undoubtedly becoming more significant and is acting as a magnet for far-right groups around the world.”

A smaller group of about 5,000 counter-protesters showed up at the march. Several counter-protesters carrying a banner that read “Stop Fascism” were injured when nationalists pushed and kicked them. A heavy police presence and separation of the groups kept further violence at bay.

Many criticize the Polish government and believe that its behavior has fostered intolerance and xenophobia and emboldened the nationalists.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Warsaw Nationalist March Draws Tens of Thousands – 11 November 2017

The New York Times – Nationalist March Dominates Poland’s Independence Day – 11 November 2017

Aljazeera – Why 60,000 People Joined a Nationalist March in Poland – 12 November 2017

CNN – Thousands of Nationalist Protesters Disrupt Poland Independence Day – 12 November 2017

The Guardian – ‘White Europe’: 60,000 Nationalists March on Poland’s Independence Day – 12 November 2017

The Washington Post – ‘Pray for an Islamic Holocaust’: Tens of Thousands From Europe’s Far-Right March in Poland – 12 November 2017

Poland Opposes Visit by White Supremacist Richard Spencer

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland – Richard Spencer, the American white nationalist, is not welcome in Poland.

Richard Spencer. Photo Courtesy of David J. Phillip.

The Polish government has issued statements condemning Spencer’s views as a threat to democracy and objecting to his upcoming visit to Warsaw. Foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski stated that Spencer should not appear publicly in Poland, describing him as someone who “defames what happened during World War II, defames the Holocaust.”

Spencer is the white supremacist who organized the Charlottesville, Virginia rally that killed a counter-protestor in August after the rally turned violent. He has since held other rallies and is looking to expand his message to Europe.

He was invited by several far-right Polish organizations to speak at a conference in Warsaw that took place on November 10th. The National Social Congress announced that Spencer would speak at a panel discussion during its “Europe of Future” meeting. The annual conference is organized by the far-right to celebrate Polish Independence Day. In past years, marches held on November 11th by far-right extremists were some of the largest extremist gatherings in Europe.

Spencer’s followers consist of members of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. They support his condemnation of diversity and embrace his far-right ideologies including nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism. Studies show that anti-Semitism and xenophobia is on the rise in Poland, which will likely help Spencer draw an audience there.

The government had been pressured to prevent Spencer from speaking at the event. “Spencer’s views strike not only the Jewish community or other minority groups. The hatred that Spencer and his followers proclaim is a threat to all who are close to the values of human rights and democracy,” said Agnieszka Markiewicz, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Central European office.

When the Polish Border Guard was contracted regarding the issue, a spokeswoman declined to divulge any information, citing privacy regulations. Spencer did not end up attending.

In 2014, Hungary Spencer’s think tank, the National Policy Institute, was prevented from holding a conference. When Spencer defied the ban, he was arrested, deported and banned from entering Europe’s 26 visa-free countries for three years.

The Polish Foreign Ministry said “As a country which was one of the biggest victims of Nazism, we believe that the ideas promoted by Mr. Spencer and his followers could pose a threat to all those who hold dear the values of human rights and democracy.”

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Poland to Richard Spencer – Keep Out – 27 October 2017

The New York Times – Poland Objects to Visit by White Nationalist Richard Spencer – 27 October 2017

Newsweek – Richard Spencer is too Racist for Poland’s Right-Wing Government – 27 October 2017

The Washington Times – Poland Opposes Visit From Richard Spencer, White Nationalist and Charlottesville Rally Participant – 27 October 2017

Germany Offers “Rent a Jew” Program to Combat Anti-Semitism

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe


BERLIN, Germany —  Germany’s most recent attempt to combat anti-Semitism comes in the form of a program titled “Rent a Jew.”  Through the outreach program, those interested in learning more about the everyday lives of Jewish people are able to book a Jewish person for an informational session.  The program sends Jewish volunteers into German schools to speak about their experiences and to dispel commonly-held myths about the group.  The goal of the program is to draw light to the “ordinariness” of the Jewish community, and away from the view of the Jewish community as victims through the “Holocaust lens.”

The Rent-a-Jew website hopes to introduce Jewish people to the German community (Photo Courtesy of NY Daily News)
The Rent-a-Jew website hopes to introduce Jewish people to the German community (Photo Courtesy of NY Daily News)

Mascha Schmerling, one of the program’s leaders, tells reporters that the group’s aim is to “give people the chance to talk to the Jewish community.”  The group wants others to see that they are “completely normal people.”  Program organizer Alexander Rasumny explains that “[a] lot of people want to be more than just the regular Jewish stereotypes in Germany, reduced to victims. A lot of people want to be seen in their own right.”

As for the odd name of the program, Shmerling recognizes that they made the title “deliberately provocative” so that it would promote conversation.  According to Schmerling, the Jewish community is tired of hearing the anti-Semitic view that Jewish people are less valuable than other people.  The title of the program mixes humor and “chutzpah” as a step towards refuting such stereotypes.

On one recent trip to a German college, Shmerling and fellow speaker Monty Aviel Zeev Ott asked the students about rumors they have heard about Jewish people, and encouraged them to speak to any rumor even if it was unflattering.  On the trip, the Rent a Jew speakers also spoke to their holiday traditions, worship practices, and family recipes.

The Jewish speakers volunteer the time and do not get paid for their services, although the organization’s website suggests that hosts are welcome to pitch in for travel expenses of the volunteers if they are willing.  Students who have participated in the program thus far have described their experiences as “enlightening.”


For more information, please see:

NY Daily News — Germany’s Rent a Jew Program Hopes to Combat Anti-Semitism — 17 December 2016

Arutz Sheva — Germany Offers ‘Rent A Jew’ Services — 16 December 2016

Vox — “Rent a Jew” is an Actual Thing in Germany.  And, Amazingly, its a Good Idea. — 15 December 2016

Telegraph — Rent a Jew Service Now Available in Germany — 12 December 2016