Polish President ratifies controversial Holocaust law

Polish President ratifies controversial Holocaust law

Polish President Andrzej Duda signed and finalized a law limiting rhetoric about the Holocaust, leading to a rebuke from U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

But Polish officials have defended the legislation, saying that the row with Israel was rooted in misunderstanding.

Polish President Andrzej Duda has said he will sign changes to the law on the Institute of National Remembrance - Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation, which provides, in particular, punishment for "crimes of Ukrainian nationalists" and will send it to the Constitutional Court of the country.

The bill is largely aimed at making it a crime to refer to Auschwitz and other Nazi camps established by German forces in Poland as "Polish death camps".

Duda confirmed Tuesday he will sign into law a proposal to impose prison terms for statements blaming Poland for World War II crimes committed by Nazi Germany.

Last week, the State Department urged Poland to consider changing or pulling the bill, saying it could affect Warsaw's "strategic interests" and relationships with the USA and Israel.

In a televised address, Duda said the legislation would preserve Poland's worldwide reputation and said that artistic and historical research work will not be affected by the law. The president's passing of the law is the final step the bill needs to be implemented into law.

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"One can not change history, and the Holocaust can not be denied", Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement last week. After the Jews, the non-Jewish Poles were the second group targeted by the Nazis for slave labour and, in many cases, extermination.

The prevailing view in Israel and among Holocaust scholars is that many Poles were willing to at least look the other way, if not actively collaborate, with the Nazis. However Poland's government spokeswoman said there would be no such visit.

Some historians say a nationalist paramilitary organization, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), committed atrocities during World War II, notably against Poles in Ukraine.

"I think it's a problem of interpretation, of overinterpretation on the Israeli side", he said, adding that "we can also imagine some kind of amendment [of the legislation] if our explanations will not be convincing".

Israel's education minister said on Monday he was "honoured" Poland had cancelled his visit to Warsaw this week because he refused to retract his condemnation of the bill.

The Nazis and their collaborators systematically murdered six million Jews, wiping out a third of world Jewry. "The Polish state was not complicit in the Holocaust, but many Poles were".

The over 3 million Jews who lived in Poland and were murdered by the Nazis account for about half of all Jews killed in the Holocaust.