BERLIN – The Senate of Poland approved on Thursday a draft law criminalizing the use of the expression “Polish concentration camps” to refer to Nazi death camps that were in the country’s territory, such as Auschwitz.
The law, which was heavily criticized by Israel and the United States, penalizes the use of the expression with fines and prison sentences of up to three years.
The Senate approved it with 57 votes in favor and 23 against; in order for it to enter into force, it has yet to be signed by President Andrzej Duda.
By banning the phrase, the conservative government is aiming to have a legal base to pursue those who suggest Poland held any responsibility for Nazi crimes committed on its territory during World War II.
Critics of the law fear it could be used to limit freedom of expression and Jewish organizations in Poland believed that it could even lead to the falsification of historical truths.
For decades, Warsaw has been trying to send the message that Polish people were victims of the Holocaust, not the perpetrators.
The Polish government has often vocally condemned foreign press that used the term “Polish concentration camp” to describe Auschwitz, a death camp opened by Nazis near the city of Krakow where an estimated 1.1 million people were killed.
The law was approved just a few days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day, held every year on the anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation by the Soviet Red Army, Jan. 27, to commemorate the more than six million people killed in the genocide.