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Poland's Senate Passes Bill Against Linking Polish State To Nazi Crimes

Camps such as Auschwitz (pictured) were built and operated by the Nazis after they invaded Poland in 1939.

The Polish Senate has passed a controversial bill designed to defend the country's image that regulates Holocaust speech, defying a warning from the United States and in the face of anger from Israel.

The upper house early on February 1 voted 57-23, with two abstentions, to approve the bill that sets fines or up to three years in jail for anyone who refers to Nazi German concentrations camps as "Polish death camps" or accuses Poland of complicity in Nazi crimes.

The bill must still be approved by the Polish president, who has supported the legislation.

The United States and Israel both urged Poland to drop the bill, saying it would restrict free speech and academic research.

"We all must be careful not to inhibit discussion and commentary on the Holocaust," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

"We believe open debate, scholarship, and education are the best means of countering inaccurate and hurtful speech," she said.

Nauert added that the "history of the Holocaust is painful and complex. We understand that phrases such as 'Polish death camps' are inaccurate, misleading, and hurtful."

"We are also concerned about the repercussions this draft legislation, if enacted, could have on Poland's strategic interests and relationships -- including with the United States and Israel. The resulting divisions that may arise among our allies benefit only our rivals.

"We encourage Poland to reevaluate the legislation in light of its potential impact on the principle of free speech and on our ability to be effective partners," she said.

Poland’s conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party says the legislation it is supporting fights against the use of phrases like "Polish death camps" to refer to death camps operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he instructed his ambassador to meet Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to express opposition to the bill.

"The law is baseless, I strongly oppose it. One cannot change history and the Holocaust cannot be denied," Netanyahu said on January 27.

Poles have fought for years against the use of phrases like "Polish death camps," which suggest Poland was at least partly responsible for the camps where millions of people, mostly Jews, were killed by Nazi Germany.

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

If the Polish upper house approves the legislation, it would then to go the president, who has expressed support for the law. The lower house approved the legislation on January 26.

The U.S. comments come days after the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day on the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, located in southern Poland.

With reporting by AP and AFP
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