(JTA) — The U.S. Embassy in Poland said it was “concerned about the repercussions” for bilateral relations after the Polish Senate passed legislation that criminalizes accusing the Polish state of the crimes committed by the Germans during World War II.
The bill passed Wednesday in the upper house of the Polish parliament days after passing in the lower one, the Sejm. To become law, the president must sign the measure, which prescribes up to three years in prison for “whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts that the Polish Nation is responsible” for Nazi crimes or “grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators.”
Among its critics are Israeli lawmakers, Yad Vashem, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and scholars.
The embassy statement is unusual in that it suggests the United States would sanction Poland for the bill if it becomes law.
“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,” it said. “The resulting divisions that may arise among our allies benefit only our rivals.”
Polish officials have cited use of the term “Polish death camps” as a major reason for the legislation by a member of the ruling Law and Justice party. The Nazis built several death camps in Poland, which they occupied and whose sovereignty they dismantled during World War II.
“The history of the Holocaust is painful and complex. We understand that phrases such as ‘Polish death camps’ are inaccurate, misleading, and hurtful,” the statement read. “We are concerned, however, that if enacted this draft legislation could undermine free speech and academic discourse. Open debate, scholarship, and education are the best means of countering inaccurate and hurtful speech.”
Separately on Wednesday, 85 Jews and non-Jews of Polish descent, including prominent Holocaust researchers, published an open letter condemning the bill.
“This unfortunate bill has made major news in Poland and internationally, raising logical, moral and legal concerns,” wrote the co-signatories, including the American journalist Anne Applebaum, Holocaust researcher Jan Tomasz Gross, poet Ryszard Krynicki and Sergiusz Kowalski, head of Poland’s B’nai B’rith Jewish organization.
“The intention behind this bill was to defend the good name of Poland,” they added, but it “goes further than that – it assumes the Poles’ complete innocence, framing them as the only guiltless nation in Europe. This is not the way to reclaim Poland’s collective dignity.”