Poland President Duda 'will sign' controversial Holocaust bill

Poland President Andrzej Duda Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Andrzej Duda says Poland has the right "to defend historical truth"

Poland's president says he will sign a controversial Holocaust bill, despite angry protests from Israel and the US.

Andrzej Duda defended the legislation, which will make it illegal to accuse Poland of complicity in Nazi crimes committed under occupation.

The Polish government says it aims to stop the Polish nation or state being blamed for the atrocities.

Israel is worried the law could stifle the truth about the role of some Poles, and says it hopes Poland will amend it.

There are also fears Holocaust survivors could face criminal charges for giving testimony that incriminates Poles.

In a speech on Tuesday, Mr Duda said the bill "protects the Polish interests... protects our dignity, the historical truth, so that we could be judged fairly in the world, so that we would not be slandered as a state and as a nation".

He acknowledged that individual Poles did commit crimes against Jews during World War Two.

But he said the Polish state bore no responsibility because it ceased to exist following the invasion by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. He said there had been no systematic collaboration of Polish institutions.

In a gesture to Israel, Mr Duda said he would send it to the Constitutional Tribunal to check whether its regulations comply with the Polish constitution.

What does the bill state?

It says that "whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich… shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years".

But it adds the caveat that a person "is not committing a crime if he or she commits such an act as part of artistic or scientific activities".

Poland's Senate approved the bill last week.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Poland has long objected to phrases which suggest shared responsibility during Nazi occupation

The country has long objected to the use of phrases like "Polish death camps", which suggest the Polish state in some way shared responsibility for camps such as Auschwitz.

The camps were built and operated by Nazi Germany after it invaded Poland in 1939.

What has Israel said?

Israel is furious about the bill, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described as an attempt to rewrite history and deny the Holocaust.

After Mr Duda's speech, the foreign ministry said on Twitter it hoped Poland would still amend the text in the period until the constitutional court makes its decision.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely warned last month it could be a "slippery slope" that could be used to "minimise the responsibility of those Poles who participated in the war crimes committed by the Nazis".

Deputies from across Israel's often fractious political spectrum have united to denounce it.

On Monday, Israel's education minister said Poland had cancelled his scheduled visit to the country because he refused to back down from condemning the bill.

"The government of Poland cancelled my visit, because I mentioned the crimes of its people. I am honoured," Naftali Bennett said in a statement.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he strongly opposes the bill

The US state department had also urged the Polish government to rethink the bill.

What about in Poland?

Polish politicians have expressed bafflement at the Israeli response.

Deputy Justice Minister Marcin Warchol said it was wrong to suggest the bill would stop people researching Polish history.

Meanwhile, Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said his country was committed to combating lies about the Holocaust.

"The camps where millions of Jews were murdered were not Polish. This truth needs to be protected," he said.

Poland is governed by a nationalist party, Law and Justice (PiS), which is keen to show the world how Poland was ruthlessly victimised by its German and Soviet neighbours in the war.

What happened in Poland in WW2?

Poland was attacked and occupied by Nazi Germany. Millions of its citizens were killed, including three million Polish Jews in the Holocaust.

Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust overall.

More Poles have been honoured by Israel for saving the lives of Jews during the war than any other nation.

However, historians say others were complicit by acts such as informing on Jews in hiding for rewards, and participating in Nazi-instigated massacres including in Jedwabne where hundreds of Jews were murdered by their neighbours.

A historian and well-known "Nazi-hunter" at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, says the number of collaborators runs into "many thousands".

"The Polish state was not complicit in the Holocaust, but many Poles were," Mr Zuroff told the Times of Israel.

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