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Poland’s president says country didn’t participate in Holocaust

Poland's President Andrzej Duda speaks after a Security Council meeting on nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction at the United Nations in New York on Jan. 18. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s president says there was no institutionalized participation by Poland or its people in the Holocaust, but acknowledges that individual Poles took “wicked” actions against Jewish neighbours.

President Andrzej Duda said Monday that he would never allow Poland and Poles in general to be “vilified” though “false accusations.”

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Duda seemed to be reacting to anger in Israel over a bill that would prohibit public statements assigning to “the Polish nation” responsibility for crimes committed by Nazi Germany during its World War II occupation of Poland.

Violations would be punishable by fines or prison terms of up to three years.

In Israel, the legislation has been interpreted as an attempt to undermine scholarly research and deny facts about the Holocaust.

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Polish and Israeli officials are discussing the bill’s wording, which critics say is unclear.

Pope Francis subtly weighed in on the controversy Monday, saying that countries have a responsibility to fight anti-Semitism and the “virus of indifference” that threatens to erase the memory of the Holocaust.

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Francis didn’t mention the dispute but he did speak of his 2016 visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in German-occupied Poland, saying he remembered “the roar of the deafening silence” that left room for only tears, prayer and requests for forgiveness.

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“The enemy against which we fight is not only hatred in all of its forms, but even more fundamentally indifference, for it is indifference that paralyzes and impedes us from doing what is right even when we know that it is right,” he said.