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

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

NATO Military Drills in Poland Prepare for Possible Conflict with Russia

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland — On Friday, the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) wrapped up a 10-day training exercise simulating a Russian attack on Poland.  NATO sent over 30,000 troops, military vehicles, aircraft, and ships from over 20 countries to the military base in Wederzyn, Poland to take part in military drills and exercises.  This joint-military effort is the largest since the end of the Cold War, and is a part of Anakonda 2016 – a Polish national exercise which seeks to train national forces into an allied, multinational environment.

Polish Soldiers perform a mock-medical evacuation in an Anakonda 2016 training exercise (Photo Courtesy of NPR)

American units, as well as non-NATO forces such as Sweden and Finland, participated in the training drills in Poland.  Drills included collaborative helicopter attacks which included communications between Polish pilots and American air traffic controllers, hiking through dense forests, clearing houses room-by-room, and live fire drills.  The goal of these training exercises was to train Poland, along with other Eastern-European forces which used to be allied with the Soviet, to work together with the United States and Western European troops.

Many view the joint-military effort as one of prudent preparation.  Polish Defense Minister Antoni Maciarewicz states that they now feel prepared for “the worst” and for “any bad eventualities.”  Evelyn Farkas of the Atlantic Counsel characterized this joint-military effort as one which will send a message to Russia that NATO is prepared to respond if Russia attempts to “step…into one of our allied countries.”  NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said the alliance has maintained communication with Russia throughout Anakonda 2016, however “practical cooperation” has been suspended since the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Some leaders view the preparation and training as dangerous.  John Mearsheimer, a University of Chicago political scientist who specializes in European security issues, calls the training a dangerous “poke at the Russian bear,” and thinks it will be perceived by Russia as a threat which will give them more motivation to invade the Baltic States.   German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeir categorized the NATO training as “counterproductive to regional security,” and instead urged NATO to replace the training drills with more cooperation with Russia.

Russia has also spoken out against Anakonda 2016.  Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters that the “war games” of Anakonda 2016 “do not contribute to the atmosphere of trust and safety on the continent.”

For more information, please see:

NBC — Huge NATO Drills in Poland Prepare West for Possible Conflict with Russia — 19 June 2016

BBC — German Minister Warns NATO Against ‘Warmongering’ — 18 June 2016

NPR — NATO War Games in Poland Get Russia’s Attention — 17 June 2016

U.S. Army Europe — What is Anakonda?