Holocaust bill: Why Poland’s president Andrzej Duda signed it …

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said Feb. 6 he will sign a bill he claims protects his nation’s “dignity” and “historical truth.” Critics say it bans true statements about the role that some Poles played in the Holocaust. (Reuters)

BERLIN Polish President Andrzej Dudasigneda lawTuesdaybanning people from accusingPoland of Holocaust atrocities committed by the Nazis and from referring to concentration camps as “Polish death camps” — heightening tensions with the United States and Israel, which have criticized the measure.

U.S.Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that he was disappointed in Duda’s decision.Enactment of this law adversely affects freedom of speech and academic inquiry … We believe that open debate, scholarship, and education are the best means of countering misleading speech, Tillersonsaid.

Duda also announced Tuesday that he would ask the countrys Constitutional Tribunal to review the bill to check whether it complies withPolands fundamental rights, such as freedom of speech, potentially opening the door to amendments.

Responding to the news of Duda’sdecision, Israel’s Foreign Ministry expressed hope that the constitutional reviewwouldprompt changes and corrections. But the law is expected to take effect before the tribunal would be able to issue any clarifications, and the independence ofthejudgesthemselves.

[Poland wants to outlaw blaming Poles for Nazi atrocities. But what about the Jedwabne massacre?]

The constitutional tribunal in its current composition serves the goals of the ruling party … It isdefinitely not independent, saidPiotr Buras, head of the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. But referring the bill to the tribunal was probably still the best available option to the Polish president.

Buras added: To the international audience, especially the U.S. and Israel, it signals that the Polish side sees the seriousness of the case and is perhaps ready for some changes. But it also signals to the ruling partys most conservative domestic supporters that the government is not ready to back down.

By refusing to veto the bill, Duda dashedthe possibility ofpoliticalnegotiations, which Israel and the United Stateshadstill hoped for in recent days. Instead, the bill is to take effect within the next two weeks. The tribunal is now the only institution that could still reverse thelaw in its entirety or in parts.

Under a new law passed in Poland on Feb. 1, any suggestion the country was complicit in the Holocaust could land offenders in jail. Israel and the U.S. accused Poland of stifling discussion about the Nazi death camps built there. (Reuters)

The bills international critics argue that it violates freedom of expression.Once in effect, it willessentially ban accusations that some Poles were complicit in Nazi crimes committed on Polish soil, including in the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, where more than 1.1millionpeople died. Germany operated six camps in Poland where Jews and others whom the Nazis considered enemies were killed. Anyone convicted under the lawwill face fines or up to three years in jail.

Polish officials have emphasized that artistic and historical research work will not be affected by the ban. But there is too muchroom for interpretation, saidAgnieszka Markiewicz, the director ofthe American Jewish Committee’scentral Europe office. Who is going to determine what artistic or academic expression means? A scholarassociated with a universitymight be excluded, but what about a schoolteacher who shares some of the horrible stories that happened in Poland?

Markiewicz said that theAmerican Jewish Committee agreed that those crimes were committed by individuals rather than the Polish state and that the term Polish death camps, was unjust and untrue, but she cautioned that an extensive ban on freedom of speech was the wrong way forward.

The State Departmentagreed in a statement last week that the phrase Polish death camps was inaccurate, misleading, and hurtful. But it alsocautioned that thebill could undermine free speech and academic discourse.The department warned that if the legislation is signed, it could have repercussions for Polands strategic interests and relationships.

In Israel, the reaction was also fierce.One cannot change history, and the Holocaust cannot be denied, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement last week.

On Tuesday,the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations,Malcolm Hoenlein,argued that Poland’s decision to pursue the law was a denial of facts. It is not credible to engage in the denial, Hoenlein said, according to the Associated Press.

Netanyahu and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki spoke on the phone10 days ago, but despite appearing to agree to a diplomatic dialogue, thePolish government stood by the billlast week and pursued Senateapproval.

Polish Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki later referred to Israeli reactions as proof of how necessary this bill is.

Inaspeech on Tuesday, Dudaused less provocative rhetoric. [We] do not deny that there were cases of huge wickednesson the part of some Poles toward Jews, he said,according to the AP. But Duda stressed that there was no systemic way in which Poles took part in Nazi crimes.

Poland was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany in 1939, but unlike in other European countries, there was no collaborationist Polish government.About 6million Polish citizens were killed during World War II, about half of them Jews.

Throughout years of Nazi occupation between 1939 and 1945, a number of Polish underground movements resisted the Nazis. It is that chapter of history that the Law and Justice Party wants to emphasize.

But historians have long argued that it is not the full story: Some Poles, they say, were complicit in the Nazi crimes.Historians have pointed to incidents, including a 1941 atrocity in the town of Jedwabne, in which Poles rounded up and killed their Jewish neighbors.

Criticssay that the legislation is mainly intended to fuel nationalistic sentiments in the country. This is all about nationalism really, and about the imposition ofa nationalist historic narrative, said political scientist Rafal Pankowski in an interview last week.The Law and Justice partys emphasis on Polands heroicpast has proved an effective electoral strategy, even asithas faced a damaging international backlash.

The debate about the bill has alsotriggered anintense focus on the very questions of complicity that nationalist Poles were hoping to sweep aside once and for all.The government’s attempt absolutely backfired, said Markiewicz, the director ofthe American Jewish Committee’s central Europe office.

Of course, Poland has the right to[demand people to tell] thewhole truth. This country suffered immensely. It had the biggest resistance movement in Europe andhelpedthe Allies in fighting the Nazis.It was on the right side of history, she said.But in the past few days, the term ‘Polish death camp’ has probably been used more than everinthe past years.

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Holocaust bill: Why Poland’s president Andrzej Duda signed it …

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February 6, 2018  Tags:   Posted in: Holocaust |

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