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Poland's President Signs Holocaust Bill, Prompting Sharp Rebuke From U.S., Israel


Polish President Andrzej Duda announces at a press conference on February 6 in Warsaw that he will sign into law a controversial Holocaust bill.

Polish President Andrzej Duda has signed a controversial Holocaust bill into law, triggering sharp criticism from the United States and Israel.

The measure signed on February 6 sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for describing Nazi Germany's extermination camps in the country as "Polish death camps" or for suggesting "publicly and against the facts" that the Polish nation or state was complicit in the genocide committed by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Poland's right-wing government says the law is necessary to protect the reputation of Poles as victims of Nazi aggression.

"The United States is disappointed that the president of Poland has signed legislation that would impose criminal penalties for attributing Nazi crimes to the Polish state," U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement.

"Enactment of this law adversely affects freedom of speech and academic inquiry," Tillerson said.

Duda also said he would send the measure to the Constitutional Tribunal for clarifications on whether it conformed with laws on freedom of speech. Those are likely to be issued after the law goes into effect.

The legislation "preserves the interests of Poland, our dignity and the historical truth" and also "takes into account the sensitivity of those for whom the question of historical memory of the Holocaust remains exceptionally important," Duda said.

Officials from Israel's official Holocaust memorial have said it fears the law may distort history and impact Holocaust research, education, and remembrance.

The law's wording is flawed, and is "liable to result in the distortion of history due to the limitations that the law places on public expressions regarding the collaboration of parts of the Polish population... in crimes that took place on their own land during the Holocaust," Yad Vashem said in a statement.

On February 5, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said he would travel to Poland to discuss the bill. But a Polish government spokeswoman said Warsaw had canceled Bennet's visit.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on February 1 that he was "deeply concerned" by the legislation.

Some historians say a nationalist paramilitary organization, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), committed atrocities during World War II, notably against Poles in Ukraine.

In Poland, UPA fighters are seen as death squads who were responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Poles from what is now western Ukraine.

In 2015, Ukraine's parliament gave recognition to those who served in the UPA as "Ukrainian independence fighters."

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, dpa, and AP
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