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Poland Seeks Punishment For Use Of 'Polish Death Camp' Phrase

By RFE/RL

Poland's justice minister says officials have finalized new proposed regulations to punish use of the phrase "Polish death camps" when referring to Nazi concentration camps on Polish territory.

The initiative announced by Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro builds on a campaign to stamp out what Poles see as a misleading and deeply offensive expression.

Poland in recent years has pushed to remove the phrase from historical accounts because it suggests that the country, which Nazi Germany occupied during World War II, was responsible for Holocaust-era death camps on its territory.

"Enough with this lie. There has to be responsibility," Ziobro told RMF radio in a February 13 interview.

Ziobro said the project will "[meet] the expectations of Poles, who are blasphemed in the world, in Europe, even in Germany, that they are the Holocaust perpetrators, that in Poland there were Polish concentration camps, Polish gas chambers."

Ziobro did not elaborate on the nature of the proposed punishments but said details of the initiative would be presented to the public early next week.

He said he had presented the project to Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, whose reaction he characterized as positive.

Outside Poland, journalists and public figures routinely use the shorthand "Polish death camp" to refer to the camps built and run by Nazi Germany on occupied Polish territory, where the bulk of the Holocaust was carried out.

In May 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama even used the offending term, sparking a public outcry in Poland. He quickly issued an apology, expressing "regret" at what he described as an inadvertent "mistake."

A bill introduced in Poland's parliament in 2014 proposed punishing the use of the terms "Polish concentration camp" or "Polish death camp" with up to five years in prison.

That measure, however, was met with criticism from officials and lawmakers, who noted that international law would not allow Poland to prosecute foreigners in such cases, and that foreigners often use the phrase without ill intent.

An estimated 6 million Jews -- two thirds of Europe's Jewish population at the time -- were killed during the Holocaust, roughly half of them in the Poland-based death camps, along with Soviet war prisoners, Roma, disabled people, dissidents, and homosexuals.

With reporting by Reuters, rmf24.pl, and tvn24.pl

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