WARSAW (Reuters) - The Polish parliament delayed a debate on Tuesday on whether to designate a day to remember Poles who saved Jews during World War Two, with the opposition saying it was bad timing as the country faces international pressure over a new Holocaust law.
The law, which imposes jail sentences of up to three years for suggesting Poland was complicit in Nazi German crimes, has drawn harsh criticism from Israel and the United States.
The ruling right-wing ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) says the law is necessary to protect national honor.
Marek Kuchcinski, speaker of the lower house of parliament, said he would discuss with President Andrzej Duda, who initiated the Remembrance Day proposal in October, the possibility of delaying the debate following the opposition’s calls.
“The timing is unfortunate, it would be better to wait until the situation with Israel calms down,” said Rafal Grupinski, a lawmaker from the centrist main opposition Civic Platform (PO).
Israel and the United States say the Holocaust law could criminalize truthful scholarship on the role some Poles played in German crimes. Opponents accuse PiS of politicizing World War Two to build a nationalist sense of grievance among Poles.
The World Jewish Congress published a full-page letter on Monday in The New York Times urging Polish readers to reconciliation amid the “firestorm of ill-will” caused by the Polish law.
More than 90 percent of the 3.2 million Jews who lived in pre-war Poland were murdered by the Nazis during their occupation of the country, accounting for about half of all Jews killed in the Holocaust. Jews from other parts of Europe were sent to be murdered at death camps such as Auschwitz and Treblinka, built and operated by the Germans in Poland.
The Nazis also killed 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish citizens, although there was never a plan to exterminate all of them, as there was with Jews.
Tadeusz Jakubowicz, president of the Jewish Community of Krakow who was born in 1939 and who survived the war partly thanks to being hid by a Polish family, said he was not against the idea of a Remembrance Day.
“Why not? After all, those people during the occupation saved me, I went through it myself, I don’t know if only I had the luck to come across such wonderful people,” Jakubowicz said after a meeting with Duda on Tuesday.
Polish officials have been on a diplomatic offensive to try to mend ties with Israel and Poland’s NATO ally the United States, but the government has not said the Holocaust law will be changed.
“My heart breaks when I hear some say that in Poland we want to rewrite history,” Duda said in Krakow where he met with the local Jewish community. “We do not want to write a new history, we just want the historical truth to be defended.”
Should PiS decide to debate the proposal and vote on it this week, the measure would most probably pass as the party has a parliamentary majority.
Beata Mazurek, spokeswoman for PiS, said the party did not want the debate postponed.
Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Gareth Jones