U.S. Urges Poland to Reevaluate Proposed Holocaust Law

'We all must be careful not to inhibit discussion and commentary on the Holocaust'

In this June 25, 2015 file photo railway tracks lie in front of the main entrance of former Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland
Photo/Matthias Schrader, file

The U.S. State Department on Wednesday urged Poland to re-evaluate a draft law that would make it illegal to suggest Poland bore any responsibility for crimes against humanity committed by Nazi Germany on its soil during World War 2.

The United States is concerned about the repercussions on Poland's relations with the United States and Israel if the draft becomes law, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

The Polish government has said the legislation aims to stop the Polish people or state being blamed for Nazi crimes. The bill, passed by the lower house of parliament on Friday, would make the use of phrases such as "Polish death camps" punishable by up to three years in prison.

Poland's Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki, who authored the bill, last week said it was not directed against Israel. "Important Israeli politicians and media are attacking us for the bill ... On top of that they claim that Poles are 'co-responsible' for the Holocaust," he said, adding that "this is proof how necessary this bill is."

Before World War Two, Poland was home to some 3.2 million Jews, Europe's largest Jewish community. Germany attacked and occupied Poland in 1939 and later built death camps, including Auschwitz and Treblinka, on Polish soil. Most of the Jews who lived in Poland were killed by the Nazi occupiers.

According to figures from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Germans also killed at least 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians during World War 2.

The United States is concerned about the repercussions on Poland's relations with the United States and Israel if the draft becomes law, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

"We encourage Poland to re-evaluate the legislation in light of its potential impact on the principle of free speech and on our ability to be effective partners," Nauert said.

"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.

In November, about 60,000 people marched in a far-right demonstration in Warsaw.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry on Sunday summoned Poland's charge d'affaires to object to the bill. To become law, the bill must be approved by the Senate and Polish President Andrzej Duda.