WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The powerful leader of Poland’s ruling party said Saturday that the president should approve a divisive bill that criminalizes certain statements about the Holocaust.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski told Poland’s state radio that the bill — which has ignited a bitter dispute with Israel — is being misunderstood.
It penalizes anyone who blames Poles as a nation for the World War II crimes committed by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland. Some six million Polish citizens, half of them Jews, were killed under the Nazi occupation, in death camps, ghettos, prisons, and other circumstances.
Although the bill exempts artistic and research work, Israel and the United States say the proposed law would infringe on free speech about the Holocaust.
Kaczynski said the bill “is being interpreted totally wrong.” He said it penalizes accusing Poles as a nation but not “someone who says that somewhere, in some village, some place, a Jewish family, or one Jewish person was murdered.”
“I’m saying this with pain and regret and with a sense of shame but such things did happen and we never denied that,” Kaczynski said.
Israeli and Jewish groups fear it would be used to whitewash the involvement of some Poles in killing Jews during the 1939-1945 occupation.
The lower house of parliament approved the legislation on January 26, the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Senate gave its approval on Thursday. President Andrzej Duda now has three weeks to sign or veto it; he has so far indicated that he supports it.
A key paragraph of the bill states: “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 3 years.”
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Saturday that Poland can rely on his country to condemn distortions of history, such as referring to Nazi camps in occupied Poland as “Polish concentration camps.”
“This organized mass murder was carried out by our country and no one else. Individual collaborators change nothing about that,” said German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.
“We are convinced that only carefully appraising our own history can bring reconciliation. That includes people who had to experience the intolerable suffering of the Holocaust being able to speak unrestrictedly about this suffering,” said Gabriel.