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March 05, 2018

Poland’s “Holocaust Law” and the Complexity of Holocaust Revisionism in Europe

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On January 26, 2018, on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, members of the Polish parliament introduced an amendment to the country’s 1998 Act on the Institute of National Remembrance that has since been dubbed “the Polish death camp law,” or the “Holocaust Law.” The law, which was established in 1998 to maintain World War II-era archives, now makes it a crime, punishable by fine or imprisonment for up to three years, to accuse Poland of responsibility or complicity in Nazi atrocities during World War II. It also gives the country’s Institute for National Remembrance power to bring civil charges against anyone who defames or tarnishes the reputation of Poland or the Polish people.

On February 6, 2018, following an international outcry, Polish President Andrzej Duda expressed concern that some provisions of the bill might violate Poland’s constitution. However, instead of vetoing it, he signed the bill into law and referred the provision regarding criminal penalties for using the term “Polish death camps” to the country’s Constitutional Tribunal. The Tribunal will determine whether this provision violates free speech protections and clarify what speech can be prosecuted. In the meantime, the law’s provision establishing potential civil penalties takes effect on February 28.

The law generated significant criticism from the U.S. State Department, the Congressional Bipartisan Anti-Semitism Task Force, the government of Israel, and numerous Jewish and human rights organizations from around the world. Malgorzata Szuleka, a lawyer for the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, one of the most-well-respected NGOs in Poland, said of the law: “We prefer to call this the Censorship Law, rather than the Holocaust Law, because it is about curtailing speech far and beyond that related to the Holocaust.”

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