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Poland’s Senate passes controversial Holocaust bill

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Poland has long objected to phrases which suggest shared responsibility for Nazi Germany’s actions

Poland’s Senate has approved a controversial bill that makes it illegal to accuse Poles of complicity in the Nazi Holocaust.

The bill also prohibits describing Nazi death camps in Poland as Polish. It sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term as punishment.

The proposal caused a weekend rift with Israel, which accuses Poland of attempting to change history.

The bill must be signed off by the president before entering into law.

It passed in the upper house of the Polish parliament with 57 votes to 23, with two abstaining, according to AFP news agency.

The Polish President Andrzej Duda says his country has the right “to defend historical truth”.

What has been the Israeli reaction?

The Israelis are furious about the bill, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described as an attempt to rewrite history and deny the Holocaust.

Israeli deputies from across the political spectrum have united to denounce it, with, for example, opposition MP Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union party calling it “a spit in the face of Israel”.

There was particular anger as it came just a few days after the Polish president promised to engage in dialogue with Israel about the bill amid the outcry.

Now, Israeli MPs are backing a bill that would expand Israel’s existing Holocaust denial laws to include a five-year jail sentence for anyone denying or minimising the role of Nazi collaborators, including Poles, in crimes committed in the Holocaust.

The amended law would also give legal aid to any Holocaust survivor telling their story who is prosecuted in a foreign country.

The US state department has also asked the Polish government to rethink the bill, saying the US was concerned the legislation could undermine free speech in the country and cause further diplomatic division.

What about in Poland?

Polish politicians have expressed bafflement at the Israeli response.

“We are very sad and surprised our fight for the truth, for the dignity of Poles, is perceived and interpreted in this way,” said Senate speaker Stanislaw Karczweski.

Deputy Justice Minister Marcin Warchol said it was wrong to suggest the bill would stop people researching Polish history.

“Poland is a democratic state of law which respects the freedom of public debate, scientific research, and the right to criticism,” he said.

What happened in World War Two?

Poland was attacked and occupied by Nazi Germany. Millions of its citizens were killed, including three million Polish Jews in the Holocaust.

Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust overall.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he strongly opposed the bill

The country has long objected to the use of phrases like “Polish death camps”, which suggest the Polish state in some way shared responsibility for camps such as Auschwitz.

The camps were built and operated by the Nazis after they invaded the country in 1939.

Indeed, more Poles have been honoured by Israel for saving the lives of Jews during the war than any other nation.

However, historians say others were complicit by acts such as informing on Jews in hiding, for rewards, and participating in Nazi-instigated massacres including in Jedwabne where hundreds of Jews were murdered by their neighbours.

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