The government of Poland could now sue U.S. President Barack Obama if he were once again to repeat his reference to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps as being “Polish” – even though they were located in Poland.
It comes after legislators in the central European country passed a law criminalising the implication that Poland “took part, organised or was co-responsible for the crimes of the Third Reich”.
Officials have long been sensitive to references such as “Polish camps” or even “camps in Poland,” insisting that to say so is “unfortunate and factually misleading”.
A Polish embassy spokeswoman said: “There were no Polish concentration camps during World War II, only the concentration camps set up and administered by Nazi Germany in the Reich and occupied Europe, including occupied Poland. It is an important distinction, as without making it, one runs the risk of distorting the historical truth about some of the most horrific crimes perpetrated in the 20th century, or indeed of wrongly apportioning the blame for them.”
Polish officials say that even “Nazi death camp in Poland” is inaccurate, because in 2007 UNESCO changed the most infamous camp’s name to: “the Auschwitz-Birkenau German Nazi concentration and extermination camp 1940-1945”.
Obama slipped up in 2012, prompting a White House apology, but while Polish officials say they would not prosecute him if he were to misspeak again, they want the new law to act as a deterrent, with five years in prison for those found guilty.