After Harsh American Rebuke, Poland Expresses Hope That Holocaust Bill Won't Sour U.S. Ties

In its first comment since the draft passed Poland's upper house of parliament, Warsaw says the bill 'does not inhibit free speech'

A section of the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp, February 6, 1961 in Oswiecim, Poland.
/AP

Poland's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that Warsaw hopes relations with the United States will remain unchanged after the Polish parliament adopted a draft bill penalizing suggestions of any complicity by Poland in the Nazi Holocaust. 

"We believe that the legislative work... despite differences in the assessment of the introduced changes, will not affect the strategic partnership between Poland and the United States," the ministry said in a statement.

The statement is Warsaw's first comment on the proposed legislation since it was passed by the upper house of parliament late on Wednesday.

The ministry added that the bill “does not inhibit free speech, freedom of research and scholarship, or freedom of history debate or artistic activity” and is meant “to fight all forms of denying and distorting the truth about the Holocaust as well as belittling the responsibility of its actual perpetrators.”

The U.S. State Department expressed concern about the repercussions on Warsaw's relations with the U.S. and Israel if the draft becomes law, in which case the use of phrases such as "Polish death camps" would be punishable by up to three years in prison.

"We encourage Poland to reevaluate the legislation in light of its potential impact on the principle of free speech and on our ability to be effective partners," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

"We are concerned, however, that if enacted this draft legislation could undermine free speech and academic discourse. We all must be careful not to inhibit discussion and commentary on the Holocaust. We believe open debate, scholarship, and education are the best means of countering inaccurate and hurtful speech," the statement continued.

Earlier Thursday, Israel said it "adamantly opposes" the bill, with some officials demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recall the ambassador to Poland over the legislation.

"Israel views with utmost gravity any attempt to challenge historical truth," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said. "No law will change the facts."

An Israeli official expressed "deep disappointment given the fact that the relationship between the two countries is important to both sides." He added that "the law's passage goes against the spirit of the conversation between the two prime ministers [last] Sunday."