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Poland amends controversial Holocaust law

1 min 44Approximate reading time

Poland on Wednesday amended a controversial Holocaust law that had sparked outrage in Israel by imposing jail terms on anyone claiming the Polish government was responsible for Nazi German war crimes.

The amendment removes fines or criminal penalties of up to three years in prison for anyone found guilty of ascribing Nazi crimes to the Polish nation or state.

Lawmakers in Poland's right-wing dominated lower house of parliament voted 388 in favour of the amendment, with 25 against and five abstentions.

The Senate later adopted the amendment and the president signed it into law.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was "happy" that Poland "decided to fully cancel the clauses that caused an uproar and discontent in Israel and the international community".

"We stood up for the truth and fulfilled our supreme responsibility to ensure the historical truth on the Holocaust," Netanyahu said of the Israeli officials involved in talks with the Polish leadership over the controversial law.

Poland's right-wing Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki proposed the changes out of the blue earlier on Wednesday, telling MPs that the criminal penalties had "stirred so much controversy they began to be counterproductive."

A joint declaration by Morawiecki and Netanyahu professed "free and open historical expression and research on all aspects of the Holocaust so that it can be conducted without any fear of legal obstacles," and called for "a return to a civil and respectful dialogue in the public discourse."

Speaking to reporters after signing the declaration, Morawiecki said that amending the law proved "that we're interested in the truth and nothing but the truth."

He also vowed "civil proceedings" against media outlets "that speak of the entire Polish nation's guilt."

The original law, passed by Poland's Senate in February made it a criminal offence to ascribe "responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish nation or state for crimes committed by the German Third Reich".

The main aim of the legislation was to prevent people from describing Nazi German death camps in Poland, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, as Polish.

But the jail terms included in the law ignited an unprecedented diplomatic row with Israel and demands for the recall of Israel's ambassador in Warsaw.

Israel expressed deep concern that the legislation could open the door to prosecuting Holocaust survivors for their testimony should it concern the involvement of individual Poles for allegedly killing or giving up Jews to the Germans.

Israel also saw it as a bid to deny the participation of individual Poles in killing Jews or handing them over to the Nazis.

Poland's government faced international criticism over the law, which it insists was meant to protect Poland from false accusations of complicity in the Holocaust.

Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II, losing six million of its citizens, including three million Jews.

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