Home inContext Polish Senate Passes Bill to Absolve Government’s Holocaust Role

Polish Senate Passes Bill to Absolve Government’s Holocaust Role

Shep Gerszberg
Polish President Andrzej Duda Janek Skarzynski. (Photo: AFP)

The Polish Senate passed a bill on Thursday that would criminalize blaming the Polish government for the killing of Jews during the Holocaust. Polish President Andrzej Duda has indicated that he plans to sign the legislation into law. Warsaw has long objected to the use of terminology such as “Polish death camps” that implied Poland’s responsibility in Nazi crimes.

Specifically, the bill states would penalize “whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich.” Anyone convicted of breaking the law would face a maximum three-year jail sentence. According to the BBC, the bill would allow some exemptions for expressions made in the course of artistic expression or scientific studies.

The Polish government claims that it was a victim of the Nazi and Soviet regimes and shouldn’t be perceived as part of the Nazi genocide of Jews. Despite concerns that the bill would suppress the research of Polish history and potential culpability in the crimes of the Nazis, Deputy Justice Minister Marcin Warchol insisted that this would not be the case, saying, “Poland is a democratic state of law which respects the freedom of public debate, scientific research, and the right to criticism.”

Domestically, critics have voiced concern about how the government will enforce the law, whether it would target Holocaust survivors or those who are referencing individual acts of complicity by Poles with the Nazis. Historically, the facts are not on government’s side, according to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, the Nazi forces enlisted “Polish agencies, such as Polish police forces and railroad personnel, in the guarding of ghettos and the deportation of Jews to the killing centers.”  

The Polish government’s stance has sparked criticism from both the U.S. and Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the law an attempt to rewrite history and deny the Holocaust. Washington has requested Poland shelve the legislation arguing that it is a threat to freedom of speech.

Ultimately, the bill is symptomatic of Poland’s Law and Justice Party’s willingness use ultra-nationalist policies to boost its legitimacy ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections. While defending the bill, Deputy Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said, “It is a duty of every Pole to defend the good name of Poland.” Such rhetoric is in parallel with nationalism visible throughout much of the continent.