Poland’s president Andrzej Duda has said he will sign legislation that outlaws blaming Poland as a nation for Holocaust crimes committed by Nazi Germany, defying criticism from Israel and a warning from the US.
However, in an unusual move, Mr Duda said he would also ask Poland’s constitutional court to evaluate the bill — theoretically opening the way for the country’s parliament to amend it.
As currently written, the legislation calls for prison terms of up to three years for falsely attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to Poland.
Poland’s nationalist authorities describe it as an attempt to protect the country’s reputation from what it believes is confusion about who bears responsibility for Auschwitz and other death camps Nazi Germany set up in occupied Poland.
The proposed law has fuelled a diplomatic crisis with Israel, which fears it would stifle discussion about the Holocaust and enable Poland to whitewash the role of the Poles who killed or denounced Jews during the German occupation during the Second World War.
Israel’s foreign ministry said it will continue to communicate with Poland despite its reservations about the law. It said it hopes Mr Duda’s decision to ask the constitutional court to evaluate the bill will allow both sides to “agree on changes and corrections”.
The United States also strongly opposed the legislation, warning that it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with both Israel and the US.
Holocaust scholars and institutions have denounced the law, arguing that its unclear wording creates the potential for abuse.
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.
Defending the law, Mr Duda said it would not prohibit Holocaust survivors and witnesses from talking about crimes committed by individual Poles.
“We do not deny that there were cases of huge wickedness,” he said in a speech.
But he said the point of the law is to prevent Poles and Poland — which had no government with authority over Polish territory during the wartime occupation — from being wrongly accused of institutionalised participation in the Holocaust.
The Polish Centre for Holocaust Research in Warsaw estimates that around 180,000 to 200,000 Jews were killed at the hands of Poles or because they were given up to the Germans by Poles during the war.
The Nazis killed about three million Polish Jews — half of the six million Jews from across Europe who died during the Holocaust.