Poland moves to make use of phrase 'Polish death camps' criminal offense

Poles have fought for years against suggestions Poland was at least partly responsible for camps where millions of people, mostly Jews, were killed by Nazi Germany.

January 27, 2018 08:37
2 minute read.

The Nazi slogan "Arbeit macht frei" (Work sets you free) is pictured at the gates of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland January 27, 2017.. (photo credit: AGENCY GAZETA/KUBA OCIEPA/VIA REUTERS)

Polish lawmakers approved a bill on Friday that makes it a crime, punishable by up to three years in prison, to use statements suggesting Poland bears responsibility for crimes against humanity committed by Nazi Germany.

The bill will also make it illegal to deny the murder of about 100,000 Poles by units in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) during World War Two, a move likely to increase tensions with neighboring Ukraine. Artistic and scientific activity will be exempt.

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Israeli politicians responded to the passing of the bill with extreme criticism and accusations that Polish government is attempting institutionalize Holocaust denial.

Opposition head Issac Herzog (Zionist Union) said that "The law passed by the Polish Parliament lacks morality. The law in and of itself is a form of Holocaust denial and should not exist."

Knesset member Dr. Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) claimed, "The Polish people shared in the experience of the Holocaust and that can't be erased by any bill passed in [Polish] parliament."

"Poles took part in the murder of Jews through active cooperation with Nazis and through passive acceptance. The State of Israel cannot remain silent..," she added.

Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid took to Twitter to duke it out with the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv.

"I utterly condemn the new Polish law which tries to deny Polish complicity in the Holocaust...," Lapid wrote.

The Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv on Twitter responded, saying: "Your unsupportable claims show how badly Holocaust education is needed, even here in Israel."

Poles have fought for years against the use of phrases like "Polish death camps," which suggest Poland was at least partly responsible for the camps where millions of people, mostly Jews, were killed by Nazi Germany. The camps were built and operated by the Nazis after they invaded Poland in 1939.

"This amendment equips Poland with the most important tools that have long been at the disposal of other countries" Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki told state news agency PAP.

Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has invoked Poles' suffering under Nazi occupation - including a death penalty for those who helped Jews —  to respond to historical accounts that some Poles also committed crimes against the Jews during the war.

PiS is currently battling accusations from the opposition that the party's nationalist-minded, Eurosceptic focus was helping to reinvigorate the far right.

The head of the Ukrainian national remembrance institute said on social media on Thursday that passing of the bill was likely to halt cooperation between Ukrainian and Polish historians, the PAP agency reported.

In November, Ukraine summoned the Polish ambassador in an escalation of a diplomatic spat over the two neighbors' troubled past

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