Poland’s president has signed into law a controversial bill that outlaws the mention of ‘Polish death camps’ and bans the blaming of Poland for crimes of the Holocaust.
Andrzej Duda rubber-stamped the bill, which has upset Jewish groups and Israeli politicians, after both Poland’s lower house and Senate voted to ratify it.
However Duda also referred it for judicial review, asking Poland’s constitutional court to evaluate the bill and leaving open the possibility that it might be amended.
The law carries fines and prison sentences of up to three years for public statements that falsely attribute the crimes of Nazi Germany to Poland.
In the UK, the Board of Deputies’ senior vice president Richard Verber acknowledged the historical inaccuracy of the term ‘Polish death camps,’ because they were established by the Nazis, but said the Board was “concerned that this new law may be trying to play down the fact that many Poles were also perpetrators during the Holocaust”.
He added: “We of course acknowledge that Poles were victims too and indeed there are many Polish righteous gentiles – more than any other nation. But the facts are clear that Poles were involved directly and indirectly in the murder of many, many Jews.”
Noting that the law was “almost entirely unenforceable,” Verber suggested that it was “more for political capital than historical truth”.
Sharing similar views was Jonny Daniels, director of ‘From the Depths,’ a Polish Jewish heritage organisation, who said: “I believe in education not legislation and think the bill was unnecessary, but there is a legitimate claim on behalf of the Polish people to fight against the too-often-used terminology ‘Polish death camp.’”
He added: “Whilst it is undeniably true that there were Poles who brutally murdered, gave up and stole from Jews in the Holocaust, the Polish nation was not responsible for the Holocaust, and most defiantly not the German Nazi death camps.”
British-born Daniels, who is seen as a link between Poland and Israel, said that within the currently legislation “there are parts that could remain unclear,” which explains why the Polish president has sent it to the tribunal courts “for clarification”.
Daniels added that he had spoken to “dozens” of Holocaust survivors about the bill. “Some have spoken against it, some support of it. It certainly touches on very sensitive emotions for both Poland and Israel.”
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust said they “fully understand the importance of using accurate language when discussing the Holocaust; however, we are deeply concerned that this new law has the potential to inhibit objective research, discussion and education about the history of the Holocaust and could open the door to revisionism and denial. It is crucial, now more than ever, to uphold the truth of the past.”
Both Israel and the US have criticised the bill, arguing that it will allow Poland to whitewash the role of Poles who killed or denounced Jews during Nazi Germany’s occupation of Poland during the Second World War.
Diplomatic relations were strained this week after Poland’s government withdrew an official invite for right-wing Israeli politician Naftali Bennett to visit the country, because he had said he would “tell Poles the truth”.
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