First Poland Holocaust law complaint targets Argentina paper

Nationalist group files defamation complaint against Pagina 12 for damaging the ‘good reputation of Polish soldiers’

Illustrative: Jews digging a trench in which they were later buried after being shot, in Ponary, Poland. (Courtesy of Yad Vashem)
Illustrative: Jews digging a trench in which they were later buried after being shot, in Ponary, Poland. (Courtesy of Yad Vashem)

An Argentinian newspaper has become the first outlet to be targeted by Poland’s controversial new Holocaust law, after a nationalist group filed a case on Friday hours after the legislation went live.

As currently written, the legislation calls for prison terms of up to three years for attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or nation. The bill would also set fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish.

The law, proposed by Poland’s conservative ruling party, has sparked a bitter dispute with Israel, which says it will inhibit free speech about the Holocaust. The United States also strongly opposes the legislation, warning it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.

On Friday, the Polish League Against Defamation (RDI), a non-profit which is close to Poland’s conservative government, lodged a case under the new law against the website of Pagina 12, a newspaper in Argentina.

The RDI said the paper had used a picture of anti-Communist Polish resistance fighters from after World War II in an article about the Jedwabne pogrom, a 1941 massacre of more than 300 Jews by their Polish neighbors during the Nazi occupation.

RDI accused the newspaper and its journalist Federico Pavlovsky of “an action intended to harm the Polish nation and the good reputation of Polish soldiers.”

One key paragraph of the controversial law states that “Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, 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.”

Jewish groups, Holocaust survivors and Israeli officials fear its true aim is to repress research on Poles who killed Jews during WWII. The law and subsequent backlash have unleashed a wave of anti-Semitism in Poland.

Members of Israeli and Polish delegations attend a special dialogue at the foreign ministry in Jerusalem on March 1, 2018, regarding the Polish controversial Holocaust law. (Gali Tibbon/AFP)

Poland’s president signed the law last month but also sent it to the constitutional court for review. Polish officials have said no criminal charges will be brought until the court has made its ruling, expected in several weeks.

The complaint comes as Polish and Israeli representatives working meetings in Jerusalem aimed at resolving the standoff over the law.

Deputy foreign minister Bartosz Cichocki told journalists before the Thursday meeting that Poland was “committed to join our efforts to promote truth about the Holocaust and the Polish-Jewish centuries-old relationship.”

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