Poland’s president on Tuesday said it may not be possible to punish anyone under the new law banning statements suggesting Polish complicity in the Holocaust, especially if they are made abroad.
Andrzej Duda earlier signed a bill into law that calls for prison terms for people blaming Poland as a nation for Holocaust crimes committed by Nazi Germany, according to his press office.
Duda told a meeting of Poles who saved Jews from the Holocaust that in fact “the point is not to punish anyone. In the sense of punishment, it may prove unrealistic,” especially if the statements are made outside Poland.
He said the law is a “signal that the Polish state sees a problem that hurts [us].”
After signing the law, Duda said he would also ask Poland’s constitutional court to evaluate the bill — leaving open the possibility it would be amended.
The legislation, 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, saying it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.
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.
One 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 three years.”
Polish officials have long argued a Holocaust speech law is needed to fight expressions like “Polish death camps” for the Nazi camps where Jews and others were exterminated.
But Holocaust scholars and institutions have also strongly denounced the law, arguing that its unclear wording creates the potential for abuse, and Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed grave “reservations” about it. Polish officials note that a provision in the law exempts historic research and works of art.
Defending the law, Duda said Tuesday the legislation would not prohibit Holocaust survivors and witnesses from talking about crimes committed by individual Poles.
He said the point of the law is to prevent the Polish nation as a whole from being wrongly accused of institutionalized participation in the Holocaust. He recalled that the Polish government at the time had to go into exile and Polish officials were those who struggled to inform the world that the Germans were putting Jews to death on Polish soil.
The law takes effect 14 days after it’s officially published, but it wasn’t immediately clear when that would be.
Polish diplomats in Israel told The Times of Israel on Tuesday evening that the legislation had yet to be signed and declined to offer an estimate on when Duda would ratify the legislation.