Polish senate backs controversial new Holocaust law

The law would make it illegal to suggest Poles were complicit in the Holocaust

Polish senate backs controversial new Holocaust law

A general view of the Auschwitz main gate during the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Oswiecim, Poland, 27-01-2018. Image: Omar Marques / Sopa Images/Zuma Press/PA Images

Poland's senate has backed new legislation that will make it illegal to suggest Poles were complicit in the Holocaust.

The bill could result in up to three years in prison for anyone who deliberately attempts to attribute the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or people - however, works of art and research will be exempt.

Using phrases such as "Polish death camps" could also result in jail time under the new law.

Poland argues that such terms suggest the country was partly responsible for the millions of Jews killed by Nazi Germany.

Free speech

Critics say the bill stifles free speech, with some raising concerns that the Polish state is trying to decide for itself what it considers to be historic facts.

Israel's foreign ministry has said it "adamantly opposes" the proposed law. Some Israelis believe the move is an attempt to whitewash the role some Poles played in the killing of Jews during World War II.

"We have to send a clear signal to the world that we won't allow for Poland to continue being insulted," said Polish deputy justice minister Patryk Jaki.

Death camps were built and operated by the Nazis after the 1939 invasion of Poland, which had the largest Jewish community in Europe at the time.

Academic discourse

The US says the move "could undermine free speech and academic discourse".

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement: "We all must be careful not to inhibit discussion and commentary on the Holocaust.

"We are also concerned about the repercussions this draft legislation, if enacted, could have on Poland's strategic interests and relationships... we encourage Poland to re-evaluate the legislation."

Denial

Israeli transport minister Yisrael Katz said the law constituted "a denial of Poland's part in the Holocaust of the Jews".

He called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to immediately recall Israel's ambassador to Poland for consultation.

To become law, the bill requires approval from President Andrzej Duda, who has already expressed his support.