U.S. Disappointed at Polish President's Signing of Controversial Holocaust Bill

Israel says it hopes the legislation would change before approved by the Polish constitutional court

The former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, February 6, 2018.
Alik Keplicz/AP

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday that the United States is disappointed that the Polish President has decided to sign legislation that would impose criminal penalties for accusing the Polish nation with responsibility for Nazi crimes during World War II.

“Enactment of this law adversely affects freedom of speech and academic inquiry,” Tillerson added.

In announcing that he would sign the legislation, Duda added that he would send it to Poland's Constitutional Tribunal for further discussion.  The controversial bill, which was approved last week by the Polish parliament, led to a serious crisis in relations between Israel and Poland.

President  Andrzej Duda had the choice of signing the bill, returning it to parliament for further debate, asking to make changes to the law or even rejecting it. Patryk Jaki, the Poland's deputy justice minister, said Duda's decision "gives us time to dialogue with our partners."

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said in response that "Israel continues to work with the authorities in Poland, expressing its reservations about the Polish bill."

The statement said that Israel still hopes that it can reach agreement with Poland on changes to the law before the constitutional court rules on the legislation.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem criticized Duda’s approval of the law, saying that it "could very well lead to the distortion of the historical truth because of the limitations [the law] places on expression regarding the involvement of the parts of the Polish population – directly and indirectly – in the crimes committed on their country during the period of the Holocaust.”

Yad Vashem agreed that the use of the term “Polish extermination camps” was inappropriate, as the camps were built by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland, but  expressed concern that the law "will have implications on Holocaust research, teaching and its memory.”