Polish President: Holocaust Bill Is Not Meant to Punish Anyone

After signing controversial legislation, which criminalizes claims the Polish nation was complicit in Nazi crimes, President Duda acknowledges it would be difficult to enforce

Polish President Andrzej Duda
Agencja Gazeta/Dawid Zuchowicz via Reuters

Polish President Andrzej Duda said on Tuesday that the law that he has signed, which includes a possible prison sentence and fines for accusing the Polish nation or state of guilt in crimes committed in the Holocaust, "are not really designed to punish anyone." The law will also be difficult to enforce, he acknowledged, and may be subject to changes required by the country's constitutional tribunal.

Duda made the comments at a meeting at the presidential palace in Warsaw with Holocaust survivors and Righteous Among the Nations, non-Jews who had saved Jews during the Holocaust. The meeting followed a news conference where the Polish president announced that he had decided to sign the controversial legislation.

The legislation, which was approved last week by the Polish parliament, bans statements claiming that the Polish people was involved in the Nazi-era crimes. The bill provides for a prison term of up to three years for violations of its provisions, and it is expected to apply to those violators outside of Poland as well in the country. In announcing that he would sign the bill, Duda noted that he had referred the legislation to the Constitutional Tribunal to consider its constitutionality.

The tribunal may suggest amendments, Duda said, "which I cannot rule out as some provisions may indeed present doubts." But the president added that the legislation was necessary for a number of reasons, "not really to punish anybody, which may be difficult to achieve" but rather as "a signal that the Polish state recognizes the problem and that it is hurting us."

The problem to which the president referred is what is seen in Poland as false accusations regarding to the history of the Holocaust on Polish soil. "All the allegations, including the powerful ones accusing Poles of systemic involvement in the Holocaust," the president said, "we all know nothing of the sort happened."

"If there was anything systemic and organized in relation to the Holocaust," he added, "it was the systemic opposition to it [including from] the Polish underground," Duda said.