WARSAW, Poland >> The powerful leader of Poland’s ruling party said Saturday that the president should approve a divisive bill that criminalizes certain statements about the Holocaust.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski told Poland’s state radio that the bill — which has ignited a bitter dispute with Israel — is being misunderstood.
It penalizes anyone who blames Poles as a nation for the World War II crimes committed by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland. Some six million Polish citizens, half of them Jews, were killed under the Nazi occupation, in death camps, ghettos, prisons and other circumstances.
Although the bill exempts artistic and research work, Israel and the United States say the proposed law would infringe on free speech about the Holocaust.
Kaczynski said the bill “is being interpreted totally wrong.” He said it penalizes accusing Poles as a nation but not “someone who says that somewhere, in some village, some place, a Jewish family or one Jewish person was murdered.”
“I’m saying this with pain and regret and with a sense of shame but such things did happen and we never denied that,” Kaczynski said.
Polish President Andrzej Duda has just under three weeks to either sign the bill into law, send it back to parliament, or send it to the Constitutional Tribunal, which would check its constitutionality.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Saturday that Poland can rely on his country to condemn distortions of history, such as referring to Nazi camps in occupied Poland as “Polish concentration camps.”
Gabriel said “this organized mass murder was carried out by our country and no one else. Individual collaborators change nothing about that.”
He also spoke in defense of free speech for Holocaust witnesses, saying that is needed for the full appraisal of history that can bring reconciliation.