U.S. Welcomes Poland's Amendments to Controversial Holocaust Bill

'We agree that phrases such as 'Polish death camps,' are inaccurate and hurtful,' the State Department notes

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks during debate about Holocaust bill at lower house of Parliament in Warsaw, Poland June 27, 2018
\ AGENCJA GAZETA/ REUTERS

The U.S. State Department welcomed a decision by Poland to amend the so-called "Holocaust law," which criminalized anybody accusing the Polish nation of complicity in Nazi crimes.

Critics of the legislation said the bill attempted to whitewash Polish involvement in a way distortionary of true historical facts.

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"The United States welcomes the Polish Parliament’s passage of amendments to its Institute of National Remembrance Law," a statement by U.S. State Department read. "This action underscores Poland’s commitment to open debate, freedom of speech and academic inquiry. The Holocaust and the crimes of the Nazis are an unspeakable tragedy in the history of Poland and mankind."

The main change approved in the lower house of the Polish parliament is the removal of the criminal clause that establishes a prison sentence for those who violate the law, one of the most controversial aspects of the legislation.

When the bill was conceived some six months ago, Poland's government lamented the widespread usage of the phrasing "Polish death camps" to identify concentration camps located in Polish territory, which was under Nazi occupation during World War Two. Backers of the bill emphasized that such definition is misleading, as it might be interpreted as suggesting that Poles had a direct role in the establishment and running of the camps, which were in fact run by Nazi Germany.

While this concern was generally acknowledged as legitimate, including by the the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, critics said the law went too far with its criminal sanctions. The U.S. State Department, which criticized the law when it was approved, discussed the wording of "Polish death camps" again in the statement on Thursday. 

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"We agree that phrases attributing responsibility to the Polish state for crimes committed by the Nazis on occupied Polish territory, such as 'Polish death camps,' are inaccurate and hurtful," it said, while adding that "Such misrepresentations are best confronted through free and open dialogue".

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki asked the parliament to reopen discussions on the law on Wednesday following months of discussions between Israel and Poland. His office stated that the government feels the law did not achieve its goal of "defending the good name of Poland":