Pope Francis said countries have a responsibility to fight anti-Semitism and the “virus of indifference” threatening to erase the memory of the Holocaust.
Francis’s comments to an international conference Monday came as the largely Roman Catholic Poland considers legislation that would outlaw the mention of Polish complicity in the crimes of the Holocaust as well use of the term “Polish death camps.”
The proposed legislation has sparked an outcry in Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking by phone with his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki, on Sunday night to protest the move.
Netanyahu has pilloried the law as “distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust.”
Francis didn’t mention the dispute, but he spoke of his 2016 visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp site in modern-day Poland, saying he remembered “the roar of the deafening silence” that left room for only tears, prayer and requests for forgiveness.
He called for Christians and Jews to build a “common memory” of the Holocaust, saying “it is our responsibility to hand it on in a dignified way to young generations.”
A Sunday statement from Netanyahu’s office said Morawiecki had “agreed to immediately open a dialogue between staffs of the two countries, in order to try and reach an understanding over the legislation.”
Earlier in the day, the Foreign Ministry summoned Poland’s deputy ambassador to express Israel’s opposition to the bill, and said it expects the draft to be amended before final approval.
“The legislation will not help continue exposing the historical truth and can impede the freedom of research,” a statement said.
The bill, passed by the lower house of the Polish parliament, still needs approval from Poland’s Senate and president. Still, it marks a dramatic step by the nationalist government to enforce its official stance that all Poles were heroes during the war.
Historians say many Poles collaborated with the Nazis and committed heinous crimes.