Poland has passed a law criminalizing suggestions the country was complicit in the Holocaust. But as the much-criticized measure is set to take effect, it remains unclear whether it will even be implemented.
A new Polish law that makes illegal public statements that falsely and intentionally attribute Nazi crimes to Poland under German occupation during World War II is set to take effect on Thursday.
The measure has drawn significant international criticism, particularly from Israel, since it began making its way through Poland's parliament last month. But it was nonetheless passed swiftly by Polish lawmakers and signed by President Andrzej Duda, who said that the country's Constitutional Tribunal would review it.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki further inflamed the diplomatic row while attempting to defend the bill during the Munich Security Conference earlier this month. "Of course it's not going to be punishable, it's not going to be criminal to say there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainians, not only German perpetrators," he said in response to a question from an Israeli reporter.
Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Morawiecki's comment made him sound "like the last of the Holocaust deniers" and accused him of "an inability to understand history and a lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people."
That same night, Morawiecki's office published a statement saying the prime minister's comments were not aimed at denying the Holocaust but were "a call for an honest debate about the crimes against the Jews, according to the facts and without looking at the perpetrators' nationalities."
Morawiecki's comment in Munich drew an immediate backlash, particularly from Israel's prime minister
Easing the tension
The Polish government has since tried to ease the tension surrounding the new law. A joint Polish-Israeli group of experts is set to hold talks over the measure. A high-level delegation from Warsaw visited Israel this week, and The Jerusalem Post newspaper reported Poland had secretly promised Israel it would freeze the bill.
Zbigniew Ziobro, Poland's justice minister and prosecutor general, told the Polish Press Agency (PAP) that the ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal would help the prosecutors implement the new bill, explaining that there would be no punishment for historians, scientists and journalists. He said the law protects "the Polish state and the entire Polish people from false accusations concerning complicity in German crimes" and is not aimed at "blurring the responsibility of individuals or groups."
Artur Nowak-Far, a law professor at the renowned Warsaw School of Economics, believes it is possible that the Constitutional Tribunal will strike down the measure. "The law has significant legal deficits," he told DW. "The elements of a crime must be clearly defined in criminal law."
Michal Szuldrzynski, deputy editor-in-chief of the conservative daily Rzeczpospolita, said it's the law's imprecise wording that has fueled the controversy. The intentions behind the measure are understandable, he said, pointing to terminology people all over the world use when discussing the Holocaust, including "Polish death camps."
"I can't imagine the prosecutors will speed up handling criminal charges, and I certainly can't imagine a court handing down a ruling before the Constitutional Tribunal has weighed in on the matter," he said.