PM: We want to fight Holocaust denial, this is the reason for our bill

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Thursday that Poland seeks to combat Holocaust denial, and that is why parliament backed the government's new anti-defamation bill.

In a televised speech to the nation, PM Morawiecki stated that the Holocaust was "an unimaginable crime" and "attempts to deny it should always be unquestionably condemned."

The cabinet leader pointed out that for years, Poland has been prosecuting those who try to deny the suffering, experienced by the victims of Nazi terror.

"Similar regulations are in place in many other countries in Europe and around the world," he emphasised.

"Auschwitz denial is not just about denying German crimes," PM Morawiecki said, "but also about other ways to falsify history."

"One of the worst forms of this lie," he added, "is to downplay the responsibility of the real perpetrators and attribute this responsibility to their victims."

"We want to fight this lie in any shape or form," the leader of the cabinet stated. "This is precisely why we are amending the law on the Institute for National Remembrance (IPN)."

He added that World War II death camps, "where millions of Jews were killed, were not Polish."

"This truth must be protected, because it is part of the truth about the Holocaust," PM Morawiecki emphasised.

"Our government condemns all crimes committed during World War II on Polish territory," he stated, "no matter what the nationality of the perpetrators was, or what nationality were the victims."

"We will never restrict the freedom of debate about the Holocaust," the head of government said, "we owe this to everyone who experienced the Holocaust."

Moreover, "by combating false claims about the Polish state, which allege its complicity in the German criminal machine, Poland is standing on the side of truth."

"Holocaust was also an unimaginable Polish tragedy," the head of government said. "Among the six million Polish citizens who died during World War II, 3 million originated from the community of Polish Jews - this means that Poland, like no other state in Europe, has a duty to uphold the truth about the crimes committed during the Holocaust."

"This is why," PM Morawiecki explained, "we keep reminding the world about the mission of Witold Pilecki in Auschwitz (who voluntarily went to the camp to report to the West about what was happening there - PAP), about the heroism of Zegota, a Polish organisation tasked with helping save Jews, or about how ruthlessly the Polish underground state punished those who reported Jews to the Nazi Germans or murdered them."

He added that "the death penalty meted out to Poles who hid Jews was proof that the German Nazis knew Polish people would be helping their Jewish brothers."

"It was our compatriot, Jan Karski," the head of government said, "who tried in vain to wake up the consciences of the Western public opinion by informing it about German crimes."

"We understand the emotions felt in Israel," he stated. "Much work needs to be done to enable us to tell our shared, often complicated history together."

PM Morawiecki added that "the culture of Polish Jews is an indelible part of the Polish heritage."

"Today, when the world once again is struggling with the problem of anti-Semitism," he said, "the Polish government states clearly: there is no room for hatred or the mis-telling of history."

The cabinet leader noted that "spreading the truth about the Holocaust is not only a task for Israel, but also for Poland."

"It is a struggle for universal truth, which serves as a warning for the whole world," PM Morawiecki said.

Earlier on Thursday, he appointed a team to conduct dialogue with Israel on legal and historical matters.  

This in line with what the Polish leader had agreed on Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, PM Morawiecki's top aide Michal Dworczyk told PAP.

Dworczyk added that he had notified Israel's Ambassador to Poland Anna Azari by telephone of the team's formation.

Deputy Foreign Minister Bartosz Cichocki has been put in charge of the new body, PM's aide said.

Other members are: Deputy Director of the Institute for National Remembrance (IPN) Mateusz Szpytma, Deputy Director of the World War II Museum Grzegorz Berendt, Director of the Legal Department at the PM's Office Armen Artwich and the writer and journalist, Bronislaw Wildstein.

Dworczyk told PAP the team is willing to host its Israeli counterpart early next week, as well as travel to Israel.

PM Morawiecki's speech comes after the Polish Sejm (lower house) and Senate (upper house) approved a new anti-defamation bill which introduces fines and jail terms for those who falsely accuse Poland of crimes, for example by calling the World War II Nazi German death camps "Polish."

The bill was criticised by Israel and Ukraine, on the grounds that it may silence Holocaust survivors who have something negative to say about the conduct of Polish individuals during WWII.

A group of Israeli lawmakers is reportedly preparing its own bill which could declare the Polish draft legislation - if it were enacted - an instance of Holocaust denial.

On Wednesday, the US State Department encouraged Poland "to reevaluate the legislation in light of its potential impact on the principle of free speech and on our ability to be effective partners."

Responding to this call in its statement on Thursday, the Polish Foreign Ministry wrote that the bill "does not restrict freedom of speech, or the full freedom to conduct research and publish findings, or the freedom of historical discussion or artistic activity."

The draft legislation, the statement added, is designed "to combat all attempts at denial and falsification of the truth about the Holocaust, for example by downplaying the responsibility of the true perpetrators of this crime."

This means, the Ministry wrote, that accusing the Polish state and nation - publicly and against the facts - of aiding the 3rd German Reich in Nazi crimes is "inappropriate, misleading and harmful for those victims who were Polish citizens, both of Jewish and Polish descent."

At the same time, the statement expressed the belief that "legislative work underway in Poland on policies to protect historical truth, despite divergent views on the changes to be introduced, will not affect the strategic partnership between Poland and the US."

President Andrzej Duda has 21 days to decide on the fate of the bill. He may sign it into law, refer it to the Constitutional Tribunal or send it back to the Sejm for reconsideration.

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