Poland's President To Sign Holocaust Bill Into Law

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Israel and the US accused Poland of stifling discussion about the Nazi death camps built there.

Acknowledging the concerns of Israel, the United States and Holocaust scholars, President Andrzej Duda said he would ask the country's constitutional court to review the law, leaving open the possibility it could be amended.

President Duda said the bill would protect Poland's interests "so that we are not being slandered as a state and as a nation". The law takes effect 14 days after it's officially published, but it wasn't immediately clear when that will be. "It is definitely not independent", said Piotr Buras, head of the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. "But it also signals to the ruling party's most conservative domestic supporters that the government is not ready to back down".

The United States, a close North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally of Poland, expressed disappointment at Duda's decision. Both the U.S. State Department and several leading Members of Congress have voiced opposition to the legislation.

While "Polish" is nearly always used as a geographic description in that context, Poles feel the phrase cruelly portrays their country as having been in charge of the Nazi-run camps, while in fact Poles made up the largest group of victims after Jews.

Moreover, whilst the concentration camps were the site where Jewish people were killed in the millions, the murdering of Poles of Christian and other denominations (numbering in the hundreds of thousands) should not be discounted or forgotten.

As now written, the legislation calls for prison terms of up to three years for falsely attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to Poland.

"I think it's a problem of interpretation, of over-interpretation on the Israeli side", he said, adding that "we can also imagine some kind of amendment (of the legislation) if our explanations will not be convincing".

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The legislation has not only sparked a bitter dispute with Israel - it has also caused division within Poland, which has seen a marked increase of anti-Semitic rhetoric in public debate in recent weeks.

Poland's president said he would sign it into law, defying criticism from Israel, the United States and activists.

In Israel, the reaction was fierce, too.

According to Czaputowicz, critical comments made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the Polish bill were "due to a misunderstanding". They say it was modeled on anti-defamation laws in many other countries, including laws criminalizing Holocaust denial. That's the truth. I agreed to a dialogue based on the truth.

In another case late last month, a Polish state radio commentator, Piotr Nisztor, suggested that Poles who support the Israeli position should consider relinquishing their citizenship.

Jan Grabowski, a historian at the University of Ottawa in Canada who studies Polish violence against Jews during the war, called Duda's signing of the law "further proof that the nationalists now in power in Poland will do anything to cater to the hard, right-wing core of their electorate".

Kopcinska said Poland would like to talk about "the huge involvement of the Polish nation in saving Jews during the war because, under the conditions of German occupation, people of Jewish origin could hardly be saved without the help of Poles".

However, some incidents of collaboration and pogroms undertaken by sectors of the Polish population were undeniably taking place, yet admitting this remains controversial in contemporary Poland.

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