Poland's new death camps law proves old hatreds die hard
Bill that criminalises any reference to 'Polish death camps' infuriates Jews, Ukrainians
Polish lawmakers approved a bill on Thursday that would impose jail terms for suggesting Poland was complicit in the Holocaust, drawing concern from the United States and outrage from Ukraine and Israel, which denounced “any attempt to challenge historical truth”.
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) says the bill is needed to protect Poland’s reputation and ensure historians recognise that Poles as well as Jews perished under the Nazis.Israeli officials said it criminalises basic historical facts.
The senate voted on the bill in the early hours on Thursday and it will now be sent to President Andrzej Duda for signature.
“We, the Poles, were victims, as were the Jews,” Deputy Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, a senior PiS figure and supporter of the law, said on Wednesday before the vote.“It is a duty of every Pole to defend the good name of Poland. Just as the Jews, we were victims.”
Under the proposed legislation, violators would face three years in prison for mentioning the term “Polish death camps“, although the bill says scientific research into World War 2 would not be constrained.
Israel “adamantly opposes” the bill’s approval, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
“Israel views with utmost gravity any attempt to challenge historical truth. No law will change the facts,” ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said on Twitter.Israeli Housing Minister Yoav Galant, one of several cabinet ministers to denounce the bill, told Israel’s Army Radio that he considered it “de facto Holocaust denial“.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s leader said he was “deeply concerned” by Poland’s adoption of the bill.
A passage of the bill also allows for the prosecution of anyone who denies war crimes committed by Ukrainian nationalists in a move which has sparked an outcry in Kiev.
“I am deeply concerned by the decision of the Polish parliament,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wrote on Facebook. “Historical truth calls for a frank conversation and dialogue and not prohibitions. The assessments which this decision contains are totally biased and completely unacceptable.”Poroshenko said the legislation violated principles of “strategic partnership” between the two countries, saying Ukraine remembered “common victories and the fight against totalitarian regimes.”
Some historians say Ukraine’s UPA nationalists committed atrocities during World War 2, notably against Poles in Ukraine.
In Poland, however, UPA fighters were seen as death squads who were responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Poles from what is now western Ukraine.
In 2015, Ukraine’s parliament gave unprecedented recognition to those who served in the UPA, recognising them as “Ukrainian independence fighters”.Poland and Hitler
Poland became ground zero for the Final Solution, Hitler’s plan to exterminate the Jews. More than three million of Poland’s 3.2 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, accounting for around half of the Jews killed in the Holocaust. Jews from across Europe were sent to be killed at death camps built and operated by the Germans on Polish soil, including Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor.The bill has come at a time when rightwing, anti-immigrant parties like PiS have been in the ascendancy in Europe, especially in the former Communist countries of the east.
The US State Department said the legislation “could undermine free speech and academic discourse”.
“We are also concerned about the repercussions this draft legislation, if enacted, could have on Poland’s strategic interests and relationships,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.