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Polish Conservatives Urge Jail Time For Calling Nazi Camps 'Polish'

A young girl lights a candle in front of a monument at the Treblinka World War II-era Nazi death camp in Poland on October 2.
Polish conservatives want to jail anyone describing the concentration camps operated by Nazi Germany in their country during World War II as "Polish."

The Polish parliament is debating a proposal to punish the use of the terms "Polish concentration camp" or "Polish death camp" with up to five years in prison.

Dariusz Piontkowski, one of the bill's authors, has branded such expressions "a blow against Polish national interests" and "a falsification of the historical truth."

The initiative builds on an ongoing campaign to stamp out what Poles see as a misleading and deeply offensive expression.

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

Poland's foreign ministry reportedly recorded 130 instances in 2012 alone.

Barack Obama himself once used the offending term, sparking a public outcry in Poland.

The U.S. president committed his linguistic faux pas during a 2012 speech honoring a Polish World War II resistance hero.

He quickly issued an apology, expressing "regret" at what he described as an inadvertent "mistake."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (center) and his wife on a visit to the former German Nazi Concentration Camp KL-Auschwitz I, in Oswiecim, on November 18
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (center) and his wife on a visit to the former German Nazi Concentration Camp KL-Auschwitz I, in Oswiecim, on November 18

Activists have been lobbying on Twitter against references to "Polish camps," calling on media outlets to issue corrections on an almost daily basis.

An online petition urging media outlets to ditch the expression has gathered more than 300,000 signatures.

Signatories to the petition, launched by the Polish-American Kosciuszko Foundation, include Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and former President Lech Walesa.

But the odds of anyone being jailed for calling Nazi camps "Polish" appear slim.

Polish Justice Minister Michal Krolikowski has criticized the proposal and stressed that international law would not allow Poland to prosecute foreigners in this case.

A number of lawmakers have also firmly condemned the initiative, arguing that many foreigners, including Obama, referred to "Polish death camp" without ill intent.

Polish prosecutors have also refused to level charges against the German publishing company Axel Springer after a journalist at "Die Welt" used the term in his article.

Poland was home to six Nazi-run extermination camps during World War II: Chelmno, Belzec, Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek, and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

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.