Friday

13th Dec 2019

Poland backs Holocaust bill that angered US, Israel

  • Some three million Polish Jews were killed during the second world war (Photo: Jared Yeh)

Polish senators have backed a new law that will jail people who link Poles to Nazi-era crimes.

The senators on early Thursday (1 February) approved the controversial bill, which still needs to be signed into law by president Andrzej Duda.

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Anyone who claims a Nazi concentration camp in Poland is 'Polish' could face a three-year prison term, if the bill is signed into law.

Although exceptions for "artistic and scientific" activities are included, using the term "Polish death camps" is reportedly enough to land Polish and foreign nationals in jail.

Poland's conservative government, including president Duda, say the law is needed to protect Polish history given such terms imply state complicity in atrocities committed by Nazi Germany.

"We have to send a clear signal to the world that we won't allow for Poland to continue being insulted," Patryk Jaki, a deputy justice minister, was quoted as saying in Reuters.

Polish media report 57 senators backed the bill, 23 voted against, while two abstained. The lower house of the parliament had already endorsed it last week.

But the Senate move is likely to generate further international backlash amid US and Israeli demands to scrap the proposal altogether.

The United States said the legislation is an assault on free speech and Israel has accused Poland of trying to rewrite history.

"We all must be careful not to inhibit discussion and commentary on the Holocaust," said US state department spokesperson Heather Nauert, in a statement.

She warned Poland risks repercussions to both its strategic interests and relations should the bill become law.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu made similar statements over the weekend, saying that "one cannot change history and the Holocaust cannot be denied."

Some three million Polish Jews, along with scores of other Polish citizens, were slaughtered during the war. Research also shows some Poles had collaborated with their Nazi masters.

The latest affair comes after a separate dispute between the European Commission and Poland's ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party over executive powers over the independent judiciary.

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While the dialogue between Warsaw and the Commission has improved since new prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki entered office, there is no sign of compromise over rule of law concerns - as the clock ticks towards a March deadline.

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