Polish President Seeks to Reassure Israel Over Law That Criminalizes Linking Poles to Holocaust Crimes

Anyone speaking about their ‘personal memory’ of the Holocaust ‘has full right to this truth’ and will not be punished, Andrzej Duda says

Polish President Andrzej Duda laying a wreath at the Hall of Names during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, January 17, 2017.
AFP / Gali Tibbon

Polish President Andrzej Duda said Sunday he would only pass the law that seeks to criminalize linking Poland to Nazi war crimes in the Holocaust after "careful analysis of the final shape of the act.”

The proposed law caused a furor in Israel over the weekend after being passed by the lower house in the Polish parliament on Friday.

>> Death camps weren’t 'Polish' - but Poles were bad enough to Jews without them, Holocaust historian says

In a statement released by his office, Duda said the law is “aimed at preventing lies and false accusations against the Polish people and the Polish nation.”

For this reason, the president’s office said, whoever criticizes the law out of concern for the truth about the Holocaust can be at ease, since “the act meets their expectations and is not contradictory to them. The search and documentation of the truth, as well as prosecution and stigmatization of lies, are concurrent actions and have the same goal.”

Duda's office stressed that it distinguishes between those who use the false term “Polish death camp,” which it believes should be punished, and those whose “personal memory or historical research speaks the truth about the crimes and shameful behavior that occurred in the past with the participation of Poles has full right to this truth” and would not be punished.

The bill will now be debated in the upper house, after which it goes for the president’s approval.

On Sunday, Israel's Foreign Ministry informed the Polish deputy ambassador of Israel's opposition to the legislation.

The proposed law would criminalize the term "Polish death camps" in reference to camps that Nazi Germany established in occupied Poland during World War II. It would also make it a criminal offense to express the view that Poles collaborated with the Nazis in the killing of Jews.

Duda, a member of the right-wing Law and Justice party – Poland’s ruling party since 2015 – is considered pragmatic, moderate and statesmanlike. He is not drawn to provocations and seeks to defend Poland’s international position. He has blocked and softened past antidemocratic legislative initiatives by the present government.

In previous statements, Duda has demonstrated a nuanced position with regard to the role of the Polish people during the Holocaust, claiming that, as in any country, the Polish nation also had rogue elements who persecuted and murdered Jews, but those “removed themselves from Polish society.”