Poland back down on Holocaust denial law that imposed jail terms for mentioning Poland’s role in Nazi atrocities

Polish lawmakers voted on Wednesday to water down a Holocaust denial law that angered the United States and Israel, and remove parts that imposed jail terms on people who mention Poland’s active role in Nazi atrocities and make the use of phrases such as “Polish Death Camps” to refer to the Polish death camps, punishable.

The lower house of parliament backed the changes in an emergency session hours after Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki asked it to amend the four-month-old law.

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The unexpected u-turn came as the ruling nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) seeks to bolster security ties with Washington and faces heightened scrutiny from the EU.

It also came the morning after Poland’s state-run company PGNiG said it had signed long-term agreements on liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplies from the United States.

The law that downplay Poland’s role in Nazi crimes as it went into effect in March imposed jail sentences of up to three years for anyone who used the phrase “Polish death camps” or suggested “publicly and against the facts” that the Polish nation or state was complicit in Nazi Germany’s crimes.

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The nationalist, right-wing government said at the time the law was needed to protect Poland’s reputation. Israel and the United States said it amounted to a historical whitewash and Holocaust denial.

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Morawiecki did not say what precisely had prompted his morning announcement. But he told parliament the terms of the existing law had already done their job by raising awareness of Poland’s role in World War Two – the government says Poles were the victims of Nazi aggression, not fellow perpetrators.

The law had been meant as “a kind of shock” and courts would still be able impose fines, he added.

“A publisher in the United States or in Germany will think twice before publishing today an article using the expression ‘Polish SS”, ‘Polish gestapo’ or ‘Polish concentration camps’—to refer to the Polish SS, the Polish gestapo and the Polish death camps—  if he risks a lawsuit and a fine of 100 million euro or dollars,” Morawiecki added.