Polish president to sign controversial Holocaust bill

Author: AP
Published: Updated:
FILE – In this July 29, 2016, photo, a man crosses the iconic rails leading to the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz, file)

Poland’s president said Tuesday he will sign into law a controversial proposal to outlaw blaming Poland as a nation for crimes committed by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust, despite strong criticism from Israel and the United States.

But in an unusual move, President Andrzej Duda also said he will ask the country’s constitutional court to evaluate the bill – theoretically opening the way for parliament to amend it.

The law will impose prison terms of up to three years for falsely attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to Poland. It has fueled a diplomatic crisis with Israel, which fears it will stifle discussion about the Holocaust and enable Poland to whitewash the role of Poles who killed or denounced Jews during the German occupation of Poland during World War II.

The United States also strongly opposes the legislation, saying it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the U.S. The U.S. has also expressed concerns that the law could hurt freedom of expression and academic research.

Defending the law, Duda said the law will not block Holocaust survivors and witnesses from talking about crimes committed by individual Poles.

“We do not deny that there were cases of huge wickedness,” he said in a speech.

But he said the point of the law is to prevent Poles and Poland from being wrongly accused of institutionalized participation in the Holocaust.

“No, there was no systemic way in which Poles took part in it,” he said.

The legislation was earlier approved by parliament. It is not clear whether the Constitutional Tribunal will ask for any changes, as it is controlled by Poland’s conservative ruling Law and Justice party.

Polish officials have long argued the law is needed to fight expressions like “Polish death camps” for the camps Nazi Germany operated in occupied Poland.

The legislation has not only sparked a bitter dispute with Israel – it has also caused division within Poland, which has seen a marked increase of anti-Semitic rhetoric in public debate in recent weeks.

On the weekend Beata Mazurek, the spokeswoman for Law and Justice and a deputy speaker of parliament, quoted a Catholic priest on Twitter who had said that the Israeli ambassador’s criticism of the law has “make it hard for me to look at Jews with sympathy and kindness.”

Ryszard Czarnecki, Vice President of the European Parliament, weighed in by saying on state TV that “the circles of American Jews have often been even more aggressive than the Jewish circles in Israel.”

On Monday evening a small group of far-right advocates demonstrated in front of the presidential palace demanding that Duda sign the law. They carried a banner that said, “Take off your yarmulke. Sign the bill.”

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