The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

Polish Bill Would Outlaw Statements That Accuse Poles of Complicity in Nazi Crimes

More censorship creep in Europe, which already forbids a wide range of claims about history.


The lower house of the Polish Parliament has passed a bill that would, in relevant part, make it a crime (1) to "publicly and contrary to facts, ascribe to the Polish people or to the Polish State responsibility or partial responsibility" for Nazi crimes, "other crimes against peace or humanity," or "war crimes," or (2) to "otherwise grossly reduce the responsibility of the true perpetrators of those crimes." There would be an exception for "acts that are part of artistic or scientific activity" (an exception that would presumably also cover academic historical claims, but likely not political claims). The crime would be punishable by up to three years in prison, and apparently would apply to such speech anywhere in the world, not just in Poland. (Translation thanks to my father Vladimir Volokh.)

The law is apparently targeted at, among other things, people calling the Nazi death camps in Poland "Polish death camps," or to fault Poles generally for complicity with Nazis. As the Jerusalem Post (Herb Keinon & Lahav Harkov) reports, some have indeed argued that many Poles were so complicit, though of course Poles generally were among the great victims of Nazis as well; presumably this would be a crime if the bill passes.

I'm opposed to laws criminalizing Holocaust denial for many reasons, but one of them is the "censorship envy"—and the normalization of censorship of historical claims—that leads such laws to breed many more laws. For other examples, see the French fine against noted historian Bernard Lewis for his statements about the deaths of Armenians during World War I (Lewis had stressed that the killing happened, but argued that it was not part of a deliberate campaign of extermination by the Turks), and the EU genocide denial directive that calls for criminalizing allegedly "denying," "condoning," or "grossly trivializing" various events that are much more historically controversial than the Holocaust.

In any case, there's still time for this Polish proposal to be rejected; I hope that indeed happens, or else it too would likely lead to further censorship creep.