The Volokh Conspiracy

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Polish government planning to make it a crime to say 'Polish death camps'


Rick Noack here at The Post reports:

As a Polish search committee started digging this week for a train presumably filled with Nazi gold taken from Jews, the country's lawmakers debated a ban of terms such as "Polish concentration camps" and "Polish death camps."

That debate was partially spurred by remarks President Obama made in May 2012. Speaking in Warsaw at that time, Obama spoke of a "Polish death camp," rather than correctly referring to it as a "Nazi camp." The remarks outraged Poland and sparked a diplomatic crisis: Then-Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk accused Obama of "ignorance, lack of knowledge, bad intentions."

The White House apologized for the faux pas. But apologies might soon not be sufficient, as Poland is about to make the use of such terms illegal. Wrongdoers face a maximum sentence of three years in prison. An attempt to pass a similar law in 2013 failed, but there has been an increasing shift toward a more nationalistic political agenda in the country more recently.

According to the BBC, the ruling right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS) is pushing for the new law, which has a good chance of passing and would prohibit "insulting and slandering the good name of Poland." The country was occupied by Nazi Germany from 1939 until 1945.

Polish lawmakers and politicians strenuously reject the use of terms such as "Polish death camps" and "Polish concentration camps," saying such language implies a Polish responsibility for Nazi atrocities that killed millions during World War II. In Poland, Germany operated six camps where Jews and others the Nazis considered enemies were killed.

The Polish Press Agency and the BBC likewise report that the law is on track to being enacted.