Poland wants prison time for those who refer to Nazi-era camps as "Polish"
The Polish Government wants to punish anyone using the expression "Polish extermination camp" when referring to the Nazi camps that were located in occupied Poland with up to five years in prison. The Polish Justice Ministry submitted a bill for that purpose to the Government today.
Polish representatives have always protested whenever the expression "Polish concentration camps" is used, as frequently happens outside of Poland, instead of the term "Nazi concentration camps on the German-occupied territory of Poland." Polish Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki said today that "We must do away with turning Poland into a perpetrator of the Holocaust."
Jaki said he believes it is the state's obligation to pay attention to the good reputation of the country and of the Polish nation, the legal protection of which the ministry also wants to write into the Constitution. Attributing any contribution to or co-responsibility for the crimes of the Nazi empire, whether to Poland or to individual Poles, would be punishable by a fine or a prison sentence under the law.
The role of the prosecutor in such cases, according to the bill, would be played by the Institute of National Remembrance,which researches the crimes of Nazism and Communism and also enjoys prosecution powers. The fact that the international media or politicians sometimes call the Nazi concentration camps that were located in Poland "Polish camps" strongly irritates Warsaw, which has consistently sought to correct such inaccuracies.
Jaki says it is also appropriate to seek "high levels of compensation" through civil lawsuits against those who use such expressions. Even US President Barack Obama has committed this "slip of the tongue" during his time in office.
When asked by journalists whether Warsaw would take such a harsh approach against Obama as well, Jaki said no. "We are not interested in diplomatic scandals, but it matters to us that these expressions not be repeated," he said.
Obama later expressed regret for the fact that he had erroneously spoken of a "Polish death camp". He used that formulation, to the dismay of the Poles, during a visit to Warsaw in May 2012 to give the Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, to the late Jan Karski, a Polish resistance fighter during the Second World War.
In his remarks on that occasion, Obama said members of the Polish resistance "smuggled [Karski] into the Warsaw ghetto and into the Polish death camp", where Karski then saw with his own eyes how the Nazis were murdering Jews. Similarly, in 2013 the prosecutor in Warsaw refused to prosecute a German newspaper, Rheinische Post, for using the expression "Polish extermination camps", noting that the phrase was not meant to suggest that the camps had been created by the Poles, but merely to refer to their geographical location in Poland.
Similarly, a Warsaw court rejected a lawsuit last year filed by a Polish citizen against the German daily Die Welt over its use of the expression "Polish concentration camp", with the justification that while the expression might shock anyone who knows history and Polish people especially, in that particular case it was not an expression targeting the plaintiff. Die Welt also immediately apologized and deleted the expression from its online reporting.
Poland's conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party proposed punishing those using the "Polish camp" expression with five years in prison years ago, but the liberal Government was against the idea and by the time elections were held last year, only a first reading of the bill had taken place. Those elections were won by PiS such that it now holds the majority in Parliament and for the first time since the fall of Communism, a single party has been able to form a government without any coalition allies.
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