The Polish Parliament has reversed course on a controversial law passed in February that made it a crime to say the country was complicit in the Nazi war crimes of World War II.
The law, which sparked international outcry for its threat to free speech and its attempt to revise history, allowed up to three years in prison for saying that Poland took part in Nazi war crimes. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Wednesday that the law will be amended so violators will not be imprisoned.
The law criminalized use of the phrase “Polish death camps,” claiming it was misleading because the Polish state did not control the Nazi concentration camps. The measure was meant “to defend the good name of Poland,” according to Morawiecki’s office.
“For several dozen years, Poland has been repeatedly slandered and portrayed as Hitler’s accomplice, therefore, defending the good name of our nation against statements that have nothing to do with historical truth seems to be an obvious and necessary stance,” Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance said.
During World War II, Germany occupied Poland, where it ran six concentration camps — including the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau site — in which Jews and other groups whom the Nazis considered enemies were killed. About 6 million people were estimated to have been killed in Poland. The dead included 3 million Polish citizens who were Jewish.
The law drew international condemnation.
“This draft legislation could undermine free speech and academic discourse,” the U.S. Department of State said in a statement before the measure passed. “We are also concerned about the repercussions this draft legislation, if enacted, could have on Poland’s strategic interests and relationships ― including with the United States and Israel.”
Israel also condemned the law, with some officials likening it to Holocaust denial. Poland’s revision was likely an attempt to repair the diplomatic tension between the two countries.
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said in a statement that the organization appreciates the Polish government’s actions, but urged it to reconsider the law entirely.
“The law as it stands now stifles any real discussion of the extent to which local Poles were complicit in the annihilation of their Jewish neighbors during the German occupation,” Lauder said. “It sets a dangerous precedent and is contrary to the values Poland has worked to uphold and promote.”