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)
WASHINGTON – The State Department on Wednesday called on the Polish government to reconsider legislation that criminalizes references to the complicity of Poles in the Holocaust, a bill that has outraged Israel and Jewish organizations worldwide.
Heather Nauert, the department’s spokeswoman, acknowledged that casual references to “Polish death camps” are “inaccurate, misleading and hurtful,” untethered to the “painful and complex” history of the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were systematically slaughtered by Nazi Germany.
But “we are concerned,” Nauert said, “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,” Nauert 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.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directed Israel’s ambassador in Warsaw to protest the legislation with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, as the bill was passing Poland’s legislature around the time of International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations.