Polish authorities appear to have given up their efforts to extradite an Israeli citizen accused of committing crimes “against the Polish nation.”
Israel’s ambassador to Poland, David Peleg, told the Forward that the Polish Ministry of Justice has agreed to drop its efforts to extradite Solomon Morel, a Polish Jew living in Israel, who allegedly was involved in the deaths of 1,695 prisoners at the Stalinist Swietochlowice-Zgoda camp where he was stationed as a commander in the aftermath of World War II.
Poland’s most recent appeal for the extradition was denied by the Israeli Justice Ministry in a letter citing a statute of limitations that makes the extradition “neither possible under Israeli law, nor required under the Extradition Convention.” It was the second time Israel denied the request, which Poland first submitted in 1998.
Ewa Koj, prosecutor at Poland’s Institute for National Remembrance, criticized Israel’s policy standards.
“There should be one measure for judging war criminals, whether they are German, Israeli or of any other nationality,” Koj said.
But Israel and its allies in the United States argue that the evidence against Morel is weak.
“We have to look at the political agenda being advanced by political parties,” and be “very careful in establishing whether the motive for attempts at prosecution are political or judicial,” said Elan Steinberg, executive emeritus and former president of the World Jewish Congress. Steinberg said the Morel case has been “abused in order to draw equivalencies between the Holocaust and what Jews did to others after the Holocaust.” In addition, he said, the case has been used as “part of an effort of Holocaust denial.”
Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israeli branch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said that he is “not opposed in principle to the extradition of Jews from Israel for war crimes.” But Zuroff added that the fact that Poland changed its initial charge of torture to genocide –– in what he described as an effort to exert pressure on Israel –– creates doubts about the legitimacy of the initial charges.
Polish officials did not return calls seeking comment.
Zuroff pointed to similar extradition requests by Lithuania of two Israeli citizens accused of crimes allegedly committed while serving in the Soviet security apparatus. Israel denied the request, citing Lithuania’s apparent antisemitic motivations, after finding that none of the 25 Lithuanian officers of equivalent or higher ranks ever was investigated.
According to Zuroff, Lithuania’s request was an effort on the part of the Lithuanian government to “create a balance or symmetry with the insistence by Jewish organizations to prosecute” Nazi war criminals. A similar agenda might have been behind Poland’s request, Zuroff said, pointing out that the request came during the same week that Poland requested the extradition from Costa Rica of the Nazi war criminal Bohdan Koziy.
In its letter to the Polish government, the Israeli Justice Ministry said it has fully investigated the charges, and found there “to be no basis to charge Mr. Morel with serious crimes, let alone crimes of ‘genocide’ or ‘crimes against the Polish nation.’”
If anything, Israel sees Morel as a victim of Polish collaboration with the Nazis. Israeli officials say Morel is a survivor of Auschwitz who witnessed the murder of his parents, brother and sister-in-law by a Polish police officer during the war. His other brother later was killed by a Polish fascist. Poland denies that Morel or any member of his family ever was incarcerated in the infamous death camp.
According to the Israeli Justice Ministry, only 600 prisoners, including “Nazi collaborators,” were housed in the Zgoda camp, “and their numbers remained unchanged during the period Morel served as Commander,” from March 1945 to December 1945. As a result, the Israeli ministry argued in its letter, a death toll of 1,695 is impossible.
In light of Morel’s “personal and historical background,” the Israeli Justice Ministry argued in its letter that Poland’s extradition request was “both disturbing and saddening.” The ministry also asserted that the case “raises many questions concerning the events of the era immediately following World War II, during which approximately 1,000 Jews were murdered by Polish citizens in Poland,” with many of those responsible never having been brought to justice.