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Poland’s President Supports Making Some Holocaust Statements a Crime

“Those years when Poland was occupied by the Nazis was one of the darkest time in Poland’s history,” he said.

The Israeli response was muted on Tuesday, unlike the angry reactions of recent weeks, as the law neared enactment. The Foreign Ministry took note of the Constitutional Court review, and expressed hope that Israel would “manage to agree on changes and corrections.”

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Visitors at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum on Sunday. Credit Maciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times

“Israel and Poland hold a joint responsibility to research and preserve the History of the Holocaust,” the ministry said.

Ten days earlier, after Polish legislators approved the bill, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said, “One cannot change history, and the Holocaust cannot be denied.” Israel’s ambassador to Poland, Anna Azari, canceled a planned speech, saying, “Everyone in Israel was revolted at this news.”

Polish officials have said they will work with Israel and others to ensure that the law would not affect the work of scholars and artists.

However, the law is part of a broader effort by the nationalist government to shape both memories of the country’s past and its vision for the future. The governing party has reshaped the courts and state media in ways that have brought condemnation from the European Union, which has accused it of undermining democracy.

The new law regulating speech about the Holocaust sets prison terms for using the phrase “Polish death camp” to refer to the concentration camps created on Polish soil by Nazi Germany during the war. It taps into the widespread feeling in Poland that the country’s wartime story is either not well known or misunderstood.

From 1939 to 1945, some six million Poles were killed, more than one-sixth of the population. Half of those were ethnic Jews.

At the outset of the war, Germany invaded from the west and the Soviet Union from the east; they partitioned Poland, which did not exist as an independent nation for more than five years. As a result, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told foreign journalists on Friday, it was not possible to blame the country for any of the horrors that took place during the war.

He compared it to a bandit invading a home with two families: If the bandit slaughtered one family and killed several members of the other, he asked, how could that second family bear any culpability in the crime.

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President Andrzej Duda of Poland said on Tuesday that the government wanted to be sure that survivors of war crimes felt free to tell their stories without fear. Credit Agencja Gazeta/Reuters

Even those who oppose the law agree that the phrase “Polish death camp” is historically inaccurate. Both Israel and Germany have issued statements saying that the use of the phrase is wrong.

But it is the part of the law making it a crime to accuse the “Polish nation” of atrocities that has caused the deepest concern.

“Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts,” the law reads, “that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes — shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.”

The Constitutional Court could decide uphold all of the law or none of it, or could strike down only those provisions that have drawn the harshest condemnation.

The Polish government has said repeatedly that it wants to work with Israel and other opponents to address their concerns. But on Monday, the government canceled a planned visit by the Israeli education minister, Naftali Bennett, after he criticized the law.

“The blood of Polish Jews cries from the ground, and no law will silence it,” Mr. Bennett said in response. “The Government of Poland canceled my visit, because I mentioned the crimes of its people. I am honored.”

“Now, the next generation has an important lesson about the Holocaust of our people, and I will ensure that they learn it,” he said, adding that the Polish government’s decision “has a role to play in Holocaust education, even if they intended it to achieve something else.”

Mr. Morawiecki, who called the fight over the law Poland’s “Rubicon,” told state-run television in an interview on Monday that it was too late to change the law.

He said that the “real intention” of the legislation was “not to write history differently” or to “cover it up.”

Source: NYT > World

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