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U.S. voices concern about Poland's proposed Holocaust law

The U.S. State Department on Wednesday urged Poland to reconsider a draft law that would make it illegal to suggest Poland bore any responsibility for crimes against humanity committed by Nazi Germany on its soil during the Second World War.

Bill that restricts speech related to crimes committed by Nazi Germany on Polish soil is not yet law

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with Poland's President Andrzej Duda at the Belvedere Palace in Warsaw, Poland, last Friday. (Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

The U.S. State Department on Wednesday urged Poland to reconsider a draft law that would make it illegal to suggest Poland bore any responsibility for crimes against humanity committed by Nazi Germany on its soil during the Second World War.

The United States is concerned about the repercussions on Poland's relations with the United States and Israel if the draft becomes law, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement.

The Polish government has said the legislation aims to stop the Polish people or state being blamed for Nazi crimes.

The bill, passed by the lower house of parliament on Friday, would make the use of phrases such as "Polish death camps" punishable by up to three years in prison.  

Poland's Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki, who authored the bill, said last week it was not directed against Israel.

"Important Israeli politicians and media are attacking us for the bill … On top of that they claim that Poles are "co-responsible" for the Holocaust," he said, adding that "this is proof how necessary this bill is."

Before the Second World War, Poland was home to some 3.2 million Jews, Europe's largest Jewish community. Germany attacked and occupied Poland in 1939 and later built death camps, including Auschwitz and Treblinka, on Polish soil.

Most of the Jews who lived in Poland were killed by the Nazi occupiers.

Polish politicians Wojciech Kolarski, left, Mateusz Morawiecki, centre, and Beata Szydlo place candles at the Monument to the Victims at the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau last Saturday during ceremonies marking the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of the camp near Oswiecim, Poland. (Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

 According to figures from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, it's estimated the Germans also killed at least 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians during the Second World War.

The United States is concerned about the repercussions on Poland's relations with the United States and Israel if the draft becomes law, Nauert said in the statement.

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

The Israeli Foreign Ministry on Sunday summoned Poland's charge d'affaires to object to the bill. To become law, the bill must be approved by the Senate and Polish President Andrzej Duda.

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