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Why Poland Is Being Accused of Denying the Holocaust

News Brief

The Polish parliament is moving ahead with a bill which would make it illegal to suggest the country bore any responsibility for Nazi atrocities committed on its territory.

If passed, the law would introduce fines or even imprisonment for anyone who “publicly and against the facts” mentions Polish involvement in the Nazi-led killings of millions of Jews from 1941 to 1945.

After occupying Poland, the Nazis built huge extermination camps in the country, including Auschwitz and Treblinka. But the bill, which was approved by the lower house of parliament last week, would make the use of phrases such as “Polish death camps” punishable by up to three years in prison.

The Israeli government has condemned the proposed law, spearheaded by Poland’s right-wing government, equating it to Holocaust denial.

“We will under no circumstances accept any attempt to rewrite history,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the lower house had backed the bill. Polish historians have also denounced the law, saying it risks whitewashing the country’s past.

Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust remembrance center, has said the phrase “Polish death camps” would be a historical misrepresentation, yet added that the bill was “liable to blur the historical truths regarding the assistance the Germans received from the Polish population.”

Since the nationalist Polish Law and Justice Party came to power in 2015, it has faced mounting criticism for undermining freedom of expression.

The bill now awaits approval by the senate and the Polish president, who has already given it his backing.

Updated on February 1, 2018: The Polish Senate has now given its backing to the bill. Early on Thursday morning, the upper house of the Polish parliament voted by 57 to 23 to back the law. Only the signature of the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, is now required for it to become law.