Poland Seeks to Assure Wary U.S. as Holocaust Law Takes Effect

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(Bloomberg) -- A top Polish official is assuring his American counterparts in Washington that “nothing” will happen when a widely-criticized law takes effect Thursday that would criminalize assertions Poland bears any responsibility for Holocaust atrocities.

Poland’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Marek Magierowski told reporters in Washington that the country is determined to de-escalate tensions between Poland and Israel and U.S. created by the law, which imposes jail terms of as much as three years for falsely suggesting Poles were complicit in the Holocaust. 

The issue of the Holocaust, and responsibility for it, is a sensitive one in Poland. President Andrzej Duda earlier this month in signing the law declared his countrymen shouldn’t be "slandered" over Nazi atrocities on their soil. Poland’s U.S. embassy regularly seeks corrections when American media refer to "Polish" concentration camps, instead insisting they be referred to as German Nazi camps in occupied Poland.

U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson, while acknowledging terms like "Polish death camps" are misleading, said the U.S. was "disappointed" in the law, adding it “adversely affects freedom of speech and academic inquiry." U.S. lawmakers also raised the issue in a meeting with the Polish envoy.

Poland is still debating what would be illegal under the new law, and while the Justice Department can’t prevent law from coming to force, it has some power over execution. Magierowski said Holocaust survivors and other Jewish visitors to Poland aren’t under any risk and the country has very strict anti-Semitism law.

Magierowski acknowledged Poland made a few “PR mistakes” in the rollout of the new legislation, and expressed gratitude for criticism from the Jewish community.

“It’s much safer to walk with a yarmulke in downtown Warsaw” than in many other European cities, he says, adding that Poland has a very “vivacious” Jewish culture.

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