WASHINGTON – The United States urged Poland on Wednesday to reevaluate the controversial Holocaust bill, which includes prison sentence for the use of the term “Polish concentration camp,” before the bill was passed by the Polish Senate early Thursday.
“We encourage Poland to reevaluate the legislation in light of its potential impact on the principle of free speech and on our ability to be effective partners,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement on Wednesday.
The controversial draft legislation has exasperated the Israeli authorities, who consider, as they recently said, that it “will not help further the exposure of historical truth and may harm freedom of research, as well as prevent discussion of the historical message and legacy of World War II.”
The Polish Senate backed on Thursday, without any changes, a bill amending the law on the Institute of National Remembrance – Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation, after it was already passed by the Sejm (lower house) on Jan. 26.
The US has already voiced its concern about the “repercussions” that this bill “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,” Nauert said.
In addition, the US is also concerned that this 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,” the spokesperson added.
However, the US recognized that “the history of the Holocaust is painful and complex,” and said it understands “that phrases such as ‘Polish death camps’ are inaccurate, misleading, and hurtful.”
The bill is particularly focused on journalists, since artists and academics are an exception and will not be persecuted, and will apply to all Polish citizens and foreigners “regardless of the laws in force at the place where the act was committed,” according to the text.
For decades, the Polish authorities have been trying to convey the message that they were victims of the Holocaust, not its perpetrators.
Foreign media’s use of the expression “Polish concentration camps” to refer to Auschwitz, a notorious extermination center located in Poland but opened and operated by the Nazi occupiers during the World War II, usually triggers denunciations from the Polish government.