WASHINGTON — The State Department on Wednesday called on the Polish government to reconsider legislation that criminalizes references to the complicity of Poles in the Holocaust, a bill that has outraged Israel and Jewish organizations worldwide.
In a statement to the media, Heather Nauert, the department’s spokesperson, acknowledged that casual references to “Polish death camps” are “inaccurate, misleading and hurtful,” untethered to the “painful and complex” history of the Shoah, in which six million Jews were systematically slaughtered by Nazi Germany.
But “we are concerned,” Nauert said, “that if enacted, this draft legislation could undermine free speech and academic discourse. We all must be careful not to inhibit discussion and commentary on the Holocaust.
“We believe open debate, scholarship, and education are the best means of countering inaccurate and hurtful speech,” Nauert continued. “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. The resulting divisions that may arise among our allies benefit only our rivals.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directed Israel’s ambassador in Warsaw to protest the legislation with his counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki, as the bill was passing Poland’s legislature around Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations.
Poland is seeking to end what it deems a lazy practice of media outlets referring to Nazi death camps constructed in its territory as “Polish death camps.” But Israel contends that, while there were Polish heroes who protected the nation’s once-substantial Jewish population, there were many who participated in the Nazi hunt for Jewish civilians.
Yad Vashem, in a statement, called the legislation a “liable” that “blurs the historical truths regarding the assistance the Germans received from the Polish population during the Holocaust.”