Ex-Auschwitz Prisoner Cannot Sue Publisher in Poland, Says EU Top Court

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The gate at the site of the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz, in Poland, January.
The gate at the site of the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz, in Poland, January.Credit: REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

A former prisoner of the Auschwitz death camp set up in Poland by Nazi Germany cannot sue a German publisher in Polish courts over use of the phrase "Polish extermination camp," the European Union's top court ruled on Thursday.

Nazi Germany attacked and occupied Poland in 1939 at the onset of World War II and later built camps on Polish soil in which millions of people, mostly Jews, perished in gas chambers or from starvation, cold and disease.

References in Western media to the camps as "Polish" have drawn furious responses from the government and others in Poland who think such a description inaccurately implies that Poles were responsible for the crimes committed in them.

A Polish national referred to as "SM" in court documents took legal action in the Warsaw regional court over a 2017 article published online that referred to Treblinka as a "Polish extermination camp." A former prisoner at Auschwitz, he alleged the article infringed on his personal rights, in particular national identity and national dignity.

Lawyers for publisher Mittelbayerischer Verlag KG argued the case should be heard in Germany.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) agreed that use of the term "Polish extermination camp" infringed SM's personal rights but said the case could not be brought in Poland because he was not individually identified in the article.

Polish state news agency PAP quoted SM's lawyer as saying the CJEU had deprived him of the benefits of EU rules allowing claims for infringement of personal rights via the Internet to be brought in a court where the claimant lives.

"We are shocked by the position of the CJEU," lawyer Lech Obara added.

Mittelbayerischer Verlag did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

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