State Department Warns of Damage to Poland’s Ties with U.S., Israel over Holocaust Law

The U.S. Department of State on Wednesday urged the Polish government to reconsider legislation that criminalizes references to the complicity of Poles in the Holocaust, a bill that sparked outrage among Israeli and Jewish organizations worldwide, The Jerusalem Post reported.

“The history of the Holocaust is painful and complex. We understand that phrases such as ‘Polish death camps’ are inaccurate, misleading, and hurtful,” said spokesperson Heather Nauert. “We are concerned, however, that if enacted this draft legislation could undermine free speech and academic discourse,” she added.

Nauert observed that “Open debate, scholarship, and education are the best means of countering inaccurate and hurtful speech.” She continued: “We are also concerned about the repercussions this draft legislation, if enacted, could have on Poland’s strategic interests and relationships– including with the United States and Israel. The resulting divisions that may arise among our allies benefit only our rivals.”

The bill passed Wednesday in the upper house of the Polish parliament days after passing in the lower one. The president must sign the measure for it to become law, which prescribes up to three years in prison for “whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts that the Polish Nation is responsible” for Nazi crimes or “grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directed Israel’s ambassador in Warsaw to protest the legislation with the country’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

Separately on Wednesday, a group of prominent Jews and non-Jews of Polish descent, published an open letter condemning the bill.

“This unfortunate bill has made major news in Poland and internationally, raising logical, moral and legal concerns,” wrote the co-signatories, including the American journalist Anne Applebaum, Holocaust researcher Jan Tomasz Gross, poet Ryszard Krynicki and Sergiusz Kowalski, head of Poland’s B’nai B’rith Jewish organization.

“The intention behind this bill was to defend the good name of Poland,” they added, but it “goes further than that – it assumes the Poles’ complete innocence, framing them as the only guiltless nation in Europe. This is not the way to reclaim Poland’s collective dignity,” the statement said.

[Photo: euronews (in English) / YouTube]