Simon Wiesenthal Center Considers Travel Advisory

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland – The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization, is considering issuing a travel advisory for Jews traveling to Poland.

Gate at Auschwitz Death Camp in Poland. ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ (Work Makes One Free) is written overhead. Photo courtesy of Scott Barbour.

The travel advisory is being considered in light of a recent spike in anti-Semitism in Poland following the passage of a new law imposing fines and prison sentences for individuals who suggest that Poland was complicit in the Holocaust. Over three million Polish Jews were murdered in the country during the genocide. Only ten percent of the Polish Jewish community survived. Several of the most deadly death camps run by the Nazi regime were constructed and run in Poland.

The “Holocaust Speech Law” has been condemned internationally and spurred a bitter feud between Israel and Poland.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the law, which takes effect on February 28th, saying “One cannot change history, and the Holocaust cannot be denied.”

The travel advisory, if issued, would “urge Jews to limit their travel to Poland only to visit ancestral graves and Holocaust-era death camps,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement issued on February 22nd.

“In wake of the controversial new Holocaust Law in Poland and the anti-Semitism it has unleashed that has left the Jewish community shaken, the Simon Wiesenthal Center is considering issuing a Travel Advisory for world Jewry.”

More than 8,000 people in Poland, including many liberal Poles, troubled by the Holocaust Speech law’s passage and the rise in anti-semitism and hateful rhetoric,  have signed a letter to “our Jewish friends” denouncing the escalating wave of hatred.

Jews in Poland are fearful of discrimination and persecution in the wake of the bill’s passage. Many are worried the law’s passage could trigger violence against Jews in the country.

Matylda Jonas-Kowalik, a student at Warsaw University in Poland, worries for her safety. “This is my home. I have never lived anywhere else and wanted this to keep being my home… “But this makes me very anxious. I don’t know what to expect.”

An open letter posted to the Union of Jewish Communities website in Poland calls the Polish government to action. The letter states in part, “as representatives of Polish Jewish organizations, we call on public institutions, police, media outlets, schools, and members of the Polish public to combat anti-Semitism, and we are eager to cooperate with them in this critical mission.”

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Polish Jews Stunned, Scared by Eruption of Anti-Semitism – 17 February 2018

CNN – Poland’s Jewish Groups Say Jews Feel Unsafe Since New Holocaust Law – 20 February 2018

The Guardian – Poland’s Jews Fear for Future Under New Holocaust Law – 10 February 2018

Newsweek – Nazi Hunter Group Mulls Warning Jews Against Travel to Poland in Wake of Holocaust Law – 22 February 2018

Reuters – Jewish NGO Simon Wiesenthal Center Considers Travel Advisory for Poland – 22 February 2018

Polish Prime Minister Blasted for ‘Jewish Perpetrators’ Remark

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland – Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is being blasted for a remark he made at the Munich Security Conference on February 17th.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s Speaks at the Munich Security  Conference. Photo Courtesy of Thomas Kienzie.

The comment was made by Morawiecki in reference to an inquiry from an Israeli journalist regarding a new law passed in Poland making it illegal to make comments purporting that Poland was complicit in the Holocaust.

The law was signed by President Andrzej Duda despite a strong push against its passage.

The legislation has been condemned internationally, with critics saying the law is intended to whitewash the role that some Poles played in the Holocaust. Many believe it is an attempt by Poland to rewrite history.

The law 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”.

An Israeli journalist asked Morawiecki if it would be considered a crime in the country for him to share a story about his parents being reported to the Nazis by their Polish neighbors.

“Of course it’s not going to be punishable, not going to be seen as criminal, to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian, not only German perpetrators,” Morawiecki said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was also in attendance at the conference, called the statement “outrageous. There is a problem here of an inability to understand history and a lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people.”

In response to the outrage sparked by Morawiecki’s comment, Joanna Kopcinska, a government spokeswoman from Poland, issued a statement indicating that his comments “were by no means intended to deny the Holocaust, or charge the Jewish victims of the Holocaust with responsibility for what was a Nazi German perpetrated genocide,” and that Morawiecki  “has repeatedly and categorically opposed denial of the Holocaust — the murder of European Jewry — as well as anti-Semitism in all its forms.”

Netanyahu and Morawiecki spoke on the phone after the remarks, with Netanyahu indicating to Morawiecki that his comments were unacceptable.

Both Morawiecki and Netanyahu believe that the dialogue should continue.

Kopcinska stated that Morawiecki’s comments “should be interpreted as a sincere call for open discussion of crimes committed against Jews during the Holocaust, regardless of the nationality of those involved in each crime.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Israel Rebukes Poland PM for ‘Jewish Perpetrators’ Remark – 18 February 2018

Bloomberg – Poland Stokes Holocaust law Storm as Israeli Leader Lashes Out – 17 February 2018

Boston Herald – Poland Tries to Frame PM’s Holocaust Remarks as Frank Debate – 18 February 2018

Los Angeles Times – Israelis Slam Polish Prime Minister’s Remarks About ‘Jewish Perpetrators’ – 17 February 2018

Newsweek – Polish Prime Minister’s Jewish Holocaust ‘Perpetrators’ Comments Spark Outrage in Israel – 18 February 2018

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

Former SS officer awaiting jail sentence dies at 95

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe 

Hanning is pictured as a young SS officer during World War II. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

BERLIN, Germany – One of the few remaining former-Nazi officers died on June 1 while waiting to serve his time in prison.

Last June, Reinhold Hanning, a former Nazi officer at Auschwitz was convicted for crimes committed during World War II. Hanning was charged with 170,000 counts of accessory to murder.

Yesterday, Hanning died at 95 years old.

Hanning was expected to serve five years in prison.

Hanning was an SS officer between 1942-1944. He was placed at Auschwitz Birkneau, the most notorious concentration camp set up by Hitler to exterminate the Jewish population in Europe.

After a trial that lasted months, Hanning appealed the conviction. His lawyers claimed that, because he personally did not kill anyone, he should not be charged. Up until recently, prosecutors were required to prove that defendants on trial for World War II atrocities had been directly involved with the murders.

In 2011, this requirement was altered when a German judge found that working at a concentration camp for the Nazis is considered to be “complicity in mass murder”.

As for Hanning, the Court sentenced him, despite his appearance of regretting the atrocities. He was handed his sentence and quickly appealed.

While waiting for the appeals process to be complete, Hanning passed away.

During the Holocaust, millions of Jews were tortured and killed at concentration camps. Other groups targeted included the disabled, Gypsies, and those who spoke out against the Nazi regime.

Only one former SS guard remains. At 96 years old, Oskar Gröning waits for his four year sentence to begin. Currently, he waits for the prosecutors to collect medical evidence to determine that he can spend time in prison and still receive appropriate care.

It has been over 70 years since the genocide in Europe.

Many of the victims, and their families, present at Hanning’s trial last June expressed that they were relieved that he had at least been brought to justice.

The Vice President of the International Auschwitz Committee, Christoph Heubner, told the New York Times that “the biggest aim was achieved”.

This aim, he says, was to ensure that the judgment of guilt was passed onto those involved in the atrocities.

The most important thing is for people to remember these types of events in order to not repeat the horrors.

“You cannot forget Genocide,” Heubner says. “Even if you try for years to repress it.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Reinhold Hanning: Convicted Nazi guard dies before doing to prison – 1 June 2017

NBC News – Reinhold Hanning, Convicted Former Auschwitz Guard, Dies at 95 – 1 June 2017

BBC News – Former Auschwitz guard Reinhold Hanning convicted – 17 June 2016

The New York Times – Reinhold Hanning, Former Auschwitz Guard Convicted a Year Ago, Dies at 95 – 1 June 2017

The Washington Post – Reinhold Hanning, former Auschwitz guard convicted last year of 170,000 counts of accessory to murder, dies at 95 – 1 June 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

Stolen Nazi Concentration Camp Gate Found in Norway

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe


OSLO, Norway — After receiving an anonymous tip, authorities in a suburb of southwestern Norway found part of a wrought iron gate that was stolen more than two years ago from a former Nazi death camp.  The gate was a part of the Dachau concentration camp, and bears the slogan “Arbeit macht frei” which translates to “Work sets you free.”


The stolen gate bears the words
The stolen gate bears the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” or “Work Will Set You Free” (Photo Courtesy of The Huffington Post)


The 220 pound gate was stolen from under guarded watch in November 2014, and is believed by German authorities to have been stolen as part of an organized crime.  The gate was made by prisoners in a workshop at the Dachau camp.  Prisoners entering the camp passed through the gate, as it served as a barrier between their imprisonment and the outside world.

The Dachau concentration camp, located near Munich, was established under Nazi rule in 1933.  Over 200,000 people from across Europe were held at the camp, and over 40,000 died there.

After the camp closed it was turned into a memorial, and the theft of the gate sparked significant international outcry.  The memorial’s director explains this rage, describing the gate as “the central symbol for the prisoners’ ordeal.”  Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial called the theft “an offensive attack on the memory of the Holocaust.”  German chancellor Angela Merkel called the theft of the gate “appalling.”

Recovery of the stolen gate has brought much comfort to those who were upset about its theft.  Jean-Michel Thomas, president of the International Dachau Committee which represents former prisoners from the camp, was “very happy” with the discovery of the gate.  Margrethe Myrmehl Gudbrandsen, a police spokeswoman in Norway, explained that Norway decided to leave the announcement of the recovery to the Germans out of respect for its symbolism.  Gudbrandsen said that the Norwegian authorities “understand this gate is an important monument for Germany.”

While the gate was missing, a replica was installed in its place during events marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camp.  Another gate with the same inscription on it was stolen in 2009 from Auschwitz, however has since been recovered.

The investigation of how the sign was stolen might be implicated by the lack of “usable evidence” surrounding the discovery.  The sign is now under police care, and they do not yet have any suspects.


For more information, please see:

The Huffington Post –Nazi Death Camp Gate Found in Norway 2 Years After Being Stolen From Dachau — 3 December 2016

NBC — Stolen Dachau Concentration Camp Gate Found in Norway — 3 December 2016

CBS — Dachau Gate Appears to be Found in Norway — 2 December 2016

The Guardian — Dachau Concentration Camp Gate Found Two Years After it was Stolen — 2 December 2016

The New York Times — ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ Gate Thought to be Stolen from Dachau is Found — 2 December 2016