Polish president signs law barring some Holocaust speech

Naftali Bennett

Polish President Andrzej Duda announced on Tuesday he will sign controversial legislation penalizing certain statements about the Holocaust.

Duda said that the bill will be reviewed by a top Polish court to assess the possibility of adding amendments in the future.

The measure imposes prison sentences of up to three years for mentioning the term "Polish death camps" and for suggesting "publicly and against the facts" that the Polish nation or state was complicit in Nazi Germany's crimes.

Israel's ambassador to Poland Anna Azari, however, told the Polish PAP news agency that Israel believes the bill could open the door to prosecuting Holocaust survivors for their testimony should it concern the involvement of individual Poles allegedly killing or giving up Jews to the Germans.

"We are also concerned about the repercussions this draft legislation, if enacted, could have on Poland's strategic interests and relationships - including with the United States and Israel", U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said on January 31.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said in response to Duda's announcement that "Israel continues to work with the authorities in Poland and expresses to them Israel's reservations about the Polish bill".

In a gesture to Israel, Mr Duda said he would send it to the Constitutional Tribunal to check whether its regulations comply with the Polish constitution.

Deputy Justice Minister Marcin Warchol said it was wrong to suggest the bill would stop people researching Polish history.

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The law would make it illegal to accuse the nation of complicity in crimes committed by Nazi Germany, including the Holocaust.

The lower house of parliament approved the legislation on January 26, the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the Senate gave its approval on Thursday.

Polish officials have rescinded their invitation to Israel's Education Minister Naftali Bennett for a visit to Poland this week.

PiS, a socially conservative, nationalist party that has clashed with the European Union and human rights groups on a range of issues since taking power in late 2015, says the new law is needed to ensure that Poles are recognised as victims, not perpetrators, of Nazi aggression in World War Two.

Before the outbreak of World War II, Jews lived in Poland for centuries, thriving in some eras and even becoming the world's largest Jewish population at one point.

According to figures from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Nazis also killed at least 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denounced the bill as a "distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust". He said: "No, there was no systemic way in which Poles took part in it".

But he said the point of the law is to prevent the Polish nation as a whole from being wrongly accused of institutionalized participation in the Holocaust. I am honored. Now the next generation has an important lesson about the Holocaust of our people and I will ensure they learn it.

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