Polish lawmakers vote to outlaw references to ‘Polish death camps’
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Polish lawmakers vote to outlaw references to ‘Polish death camps’

Critics say it could stifle debate on issues like Poles who blackmailed Jews or denounced them to the Nazis during the war

The main gate of the former Auschwitz extermination camp in Oswiecim, Poland, with the infamous sign reading 'Work sets you free.' (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images/via JTA)
The main gate of the former Auschwitz extermination camp in Oswiecim, Poland, with the infamous sign reading 'Work sets you free.' (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images/via JTA)

WARSAW, Poland — The lower house of the Polish parliament approved a bill Friday that proscribes prison time for defaming the Polish nation by using phrases such as “Polish death camps” to refer to the killing sites Nazi Germany operated in occupied Poland during World War II.

The new bill prescribes criminal proceedings for individuals or organizations who allegedly defame the “Polish nation” by assigning guilt or complicity to Poles for Holocaust crimes committed on Polish soil. Phrases such as “Polish death camps” to refer to the killing sites Nazi Germany operated in occupied Poland during World War II may be punishable by three years in prison or a fine, according to the law.

The bill is partly a response to cases in recent years of foreign media using “Polish death camps” to describe Auschwitz and other Nazi-run camps. Many major news organizations ban the language, but it nonetheless crops up in foreign media and statements by public officials. Former US President Barack Obama used it in 2012, prompting outrage in Poland.

The legislation calls for prison sentences of up to three years. It still needs approval from Poland’s Senate and president.

Critics say enforcing such a law would be impossible outside Poland and that within the country it would have a chilling effect on debating history, harming freedom of expression.

While the law contains a provision excluding scholarly or academic works, opponents still see a danger.

They especially worry it could be used to stifle research and debate on topics that are anathema to Poland’s nationalistic authorities, particularly the painful issue of Poles who blackmailed Jews or denounced them to the Nazis during the war.

Dorota Glowacka, a legal adviser with the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Warsaw, said the broad scope of the bill opens up the potential for abuse.

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