From what I understood, the law focuses on 2 things:

  1. Calling death camps located in Nazi-occupied Poland "Polish death camps".

  2. Blaming Poland as a nation for the Holocaust.

It seems only the second point is controversial, especially in Israel. As far as I understand the main criticism is, that it would prohibit discussing incidents, where Polish individuals collaborated with the Nazis.

Isn’t there already consensus, that Poland, as a nation and state, is not to blame for the Holocaust?

Isn't the law specifically formulated in a way, which would still allow individuals to be blamed for collaboration?

So what is everyone arguing about?

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    Is the law specifically targeting the English phrase "Polish death camps"? Because while in English, this could mean either "death camps in Poland" (location) or "death camps run by Polish people" (blame), this sort of ambiguous construct does not exist in the Polish language and there are different adjectival forms to mean either. Then again, I only have an elementary education in the Polish language, so I cannot comment on this further. Feb 11, 2018 at 5:03
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    I think this question could do a better job presenting the content of the law in question or link to a relevant resource. See for example: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Feb 12, 2018 at 9:42
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    @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas the ambiguity is the same in Polish ("polskie obozy śmierci" can mean both "operated by Poland" and "located in Poland"). Feb 12, 2018 at 10:15
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    Please stop re-adding the Israel tag. This question does not even mention Israel.
    – Philipp
    Feb 12, 2018 at 14:05
  • 12
    @jwco (RE: tagging) If that were the policy, questions would each need a number far greater than 5 tags. The question does not pertain to Israel, so it should not have the tag. It is as simple as that.
    – wizzwizz4
    Feb 12, 2018 at 15:54

5 Answers 5


The Law and Polish Complicity in the Holocaust

While "Poland as a nation" is not to blame for the Holocaust, and while there was no official cooperation between Poland and Germany, government institutions as well as individual Poles collaborated with the Nazis (see also here):

As German forces implemented the killing, they drew upon some Polish agencies, such as Polish police forces and railroad personnel, in the guarding of ghettos and the deportation of Jews to the killing centers. Individual Poles often helped in the identification, denunciation, and hunting down of Jews in hiding, often profiting from the associated blackmail, and actively participated in the plunder of Jewish property.

Poland has a long and strong history of antisemitism. Before WWII, the "Jewish Question" was an important political topic and there were calls to deport all Jews. Currently, Poland has among the highest rates of antisemites in Europe (about a third of the population according to PEW, and an index of 45% according to the ADL). And before, during, and after WWII, Poles carried out pogroms against Jews.

Those that oppose the new law fear that it will suppress legitimate criticism of Polish actions and antisemitism during the war. They see it as an attempt to whitewash history.

It is difficult to say whether or not the law will be applied that way (my guess is that it probably will not), but the relevant part is that it leaves the impression of rejecting legitimate criticism about Polish involvement in the Holocaust. As the World Holocaust Remembrance Center said:

restrictions on statements by scholars and others regarding the Polish people's direct or indirect complicity with the crimes committed on their land during the Holocaust are a serious distortion.

Context and rising Polish Nationalism

A lot of the worry is not about the exact content of the law itself though, but the context around it, specifically increasing nationalism stoked by the right wing Law and Justice party. As the Guardian says:

Many observers believe the party has reignited the debate on the Holocaust as a deliberate ploy to further fuel nationalist sentiment among its voters.

The Atlantic shares this view:

But this law isn’t about the finer points of history. It is aimed at shoring up the right-wing base of the governing Law and Justice party

Free Speech

Another criticism, mainly from the US, is that the law restricts free speech (see eg CNN link above).

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    @CJDennis your comment "It implies that Jews are not Poles" lacks context. You (so it seems) think it's about "nationality" i.e. citizenship; the respondendts most surely saw it in terms of ethnicity. Ethnically, Jews are most certainly not Poles, as they also are not Russians, Ukrainians, or Germans (can't use "American" here as that is not an ethnicity, which probably contributes to the typically American confusion on these issues). Jews are Jews. It is not just religion; Jews call themselves "the People of Israel" for three millennia at least.
    – Genli Ai
    Feb 11, 2018 at 17:16
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    @jwco Many Poles protested the filming of part of the file Schindler's List on location in Poland, screaming "Jews Go Home" at the production staff. At the time, the official Jewish population of Poland was about two dozen individuals. And, of course, hardly all of the production staff were Jews. Seems like "strong antisemitism" to me. Modern Polish antisemitism may go back to the 1600s-1800s when absentee landowners who would often appoint a Jew as his representative, (Jews were often the only literate ones). The Jews would collect his rent, which would make them very unpopular.
    – Jeffiekins
    Feb 12, 2018 at 16:47
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    I wonder, Is that mythical "long and strong antisemitism" the reason that statistically most "Righteous Among the Nations" are Poles? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Righteous_Among_the_Nations Or maybe are you referring to people who risked their lives during WW2 to protect Jews? Because you surely don't refer to minor nationalist groups, which are present in almost all countries and don't represent the opinion of majority (though obviously scream most loudly)?
    – Spook
    Feb 13, 2018 at 7:16
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    Did your sources mean this police: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Police? Some quotes for you "In October 1939, General Governor Hans Frank ordered the mobilization of the pre-war Polish police into the service of the Germans. The policemen were to report for duty or face the death penalty." "...all of its high-ranking officers came from the ranks of the German police (Kriminalpolizei)." Or entire, actually sourced chapter which directly contradicts claims about massive compliance? Generalising like done by you and sources you quote is exactly the reason this law was introduced.
    – M i ech
    Feb 13, 2018 at 7:34
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    @Miech I don't see slander or libel. Yes, the law is specifically about bad things, so bad things are the topic here; good things are generally also important, but aren't the topic here. I provided a reputable source for all my claims. If you doubt them, maybe ask about it at history.SE or skeptics.SE.
    – tim
    Feb 13, 2018 at 15:13

The issue is not so much about "Polish death camps" but about doubts of how far does the law go, or how far will future laws go.

While the death camps, during WWII there where a few cases were Polish people did commit war crimes; either as individuals colaborating with the Germans, in operations together with the German occupation forces or even by units of the underground resistence army(AK).

Studies around these events have always been a sensitive issue, for political reasons. During the Soviet period they would have been used to attack AK and the German occupation; after the Soviet period commanders of the AK involved in massacres were rehabilitated; assigning blame for the massacres led to tension between Poland and several ex-SU republics, etc.

If laws are implemented as stated by the OP, there is little reason to worry. But there are some issues raised:

  • What do exactly the laws say? It probably is not very difficult to word such a law to add protection against people remembering those actions1. And even if in its current form this does not happen, it sets a precedent to allow for future changes of the law to that effect.

  • Why? It is not as if there is a lot of confusion about who established and managed the death camps2. If the objectives are those stated by the OP, there seems to be no need to criminalize such narrative, as it is not seriously considered anywhere, in the same way that there is no law forbidding people from claiming that the Earth is flat.

  • Add to all of the above that the current government of Poland is very nationalist, not very good at tolerating criticism and that there have been previous attempts by officials of this government to shift the blame of those massacres and deny Polish implication

So, on these basis, is not that difficult to understand how many people may be worried about the the intent of this law going well beyond what the OP understands, and towards forbidding any mention or study of less-than-honorable actions by some Polish people during these years, in a case of historic revisionism.

UPDATE: Trilarion's comment to the OP linked to Wikipedia, which includes part of the translated text of the law:

  1. [Anyone] who, in public and against the facts, ascribes to the Polish People or to the Polish State, responsibility or co-responsibility for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich, [as] defined in Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, Annex to the Agreement for the prosecution and punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis, signed in London on August 8, 1945 [...], or for other offences which are crimes against peace [or] humanity or [that are] war crimes, or who otherwise grossly reduces the responsibility of the actual perpetrators of said crimes, is subject to a fine or [to] imprisonment for up to 3 years. The judgment shall be made public.

An strict reading of this text would make illegal any references to the Polish collaborators with Nazi Germany and/or Polish participants in the Jedwabne, Kielce and other massacres, thus giving support to the critics' concerns3.

1So far I have only found references to declarations by member of the government, but no independent description of the actual scope of the law.

2In all of the references to "Polish death camps" that I have been able to find, it was very clear that the issuer was meaning a geographic reference and that it was not a way of blaming Poland for them.

3I find particularly telling the differentiation between "Polish" and "Ukrainian" responsabilities. It shows that the intent of the law is not to avoid excuses for German responsability but as a law with the intent of forbidding criticism of Polish actions; perhaps looking to establish a narrative of a flawless Poland inhabited by flawless heroes who were victimized by all of their neighbours.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Feb 14, 2018 at 13:24
  • An strict reading of this text would make illegal any references to the Polish collaborators... - this is not true. The same act (in fact the same article) clearly persecutes denial of crimes investigated by the Institute of National Remembrance, including crimes committed by the Polish nationals. Also Kielce Pogrom is hardly relevant in the context of amendment, as it is not attributed as a Nazi crime.
    – user19142
    Feb 15, 2018 at 16:24
  • In all of the references to "Polish death camps" that I have been able to find, it was very clear that the issuer was meaning a geographic reference and that it was not a way of blaming Poland for them. - how come then other camps are referred to as Nazi concentration camp - like, for example Vught KZ, and not instead of DUTCH CONCENTRATION CAMP? And why - as I documented in my answer below - said sentence is used to support the case that they were run or aided in running by Poles?
    – user10424
    Feb 20, 2018 at 12:27

There is a growing tendency to paint WWII as an alien invasion where a few dozen people were responsible for creating a war and death machinery and operating it with everybody else being a victim and/or resistance fighter.

The truth is that occupation forces were vastly outnumbered by local administration helping with the occupation everywhere and people arranging themselves with circumstances. Without Hitler going to all-out war against everybody and thus forcing the hands of the allies, the outcome would have been very different. And even then, a number of countries just rolled over when the occupation forces came, and the main road block in the end was that the Russian bear was far too large to roll over and the Germans were spread too thin to have any effect or control, even though they exacted a harsh price where they were. In short: WWII did not end like it did because Hitler was a madman (there was no shortage of those) but because he was a megalomaniac idiot.

The world is a better place for that outcome but paid a terrible price that we don't lightly want to be paying again.

Being in denial about one's own country's contributions may be nice for everybody's historical ego (not least of all the Germans themselves) but it does little for avoiding a recurrence, and indeed the nationalism forming the root of both World Wars is strongly on the incline. The refusal to accept responsibility for the awful consequences of induced mass behavior in the past is a direct precursor for refusing to admit awful consequences of induced mass behavior in the future.

Humans have a tribal nature: "us versus them" is always going to appeal to the primal urges of the underlying animal we have built civilizations with. Prohibiting to paint an ugly picture where an ugly picture is called for is sacrificing the tools for fighting a larger evil for the sake of some ease of mind.

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    The question is "Why is the new Polish law controversial?" not "What was the role of the Polish state and people in the death camps?" Feb 11, 2018 at 11:32
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    Sorry, this answer while insightful does not address the question asked. Feb 11, 2018 at 14:43
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    a country didn't even had 2b occupied or allied with Germany to contribute to the Holocaust. Britain for example forbade Jewish refugees entry to Mandatory Palestine, refused port entry to refugee ships like Struma, which ended in all its passangers drowning, but one. The US put their weight to forbidding Jewish refugees entry even to the nominally independent Cuba as was the case with one famous ship; the much reduced quotas for the Jewish immigration into the US went half unused during the war. Finns OTOH did not give up their Jews to the Nazis (but they did the non-Finnish Jewish refugees).
    – Genli Ai
    Feb 11, 2018 at 17:35
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    @grovkin The answer does nothing to link the stated history to the law. "Controversial" means that people argue about it; if everybody's deluding themselves that nothing happened, there's nothing to argue about. Feb 13, 2018 at 9:06

The law is too broad. Any mention of the Polish nation having contributed to the Holocaust could get you in trouble. Yes, you can talk about the individual acts. But you can't tie them into a bigger picture. Obviously, a law making what many consider the truth illegal is going to be controversial.

If the law only talked about the Polish state (as opposed to both the nation and state) it would perhaps be less controversial.

  • 1
    I guess it depends heavily on what really happened. If it is clear cut, that the Polish nation didn't contribute to the holocaust as a nation, then this probably would be less controversial. While the holocaust denial laws are also controversial, because they limit speech, people accept them, because the holocaust clearly happened. Feb 12, 2018 at 9:14
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    Downvoted as the law specifically says "against the facts" - so it is not making the truth illegal, it is making false accusations illegal.
    – Nick C
    Feb 12, 2018 at 10:14
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    @NickC it's a very vague expression. Unless the law defined what it considers "facts" or "nation" the chilling effect is inevitable. But you're right that illegal is the wrong word.
    – kotelcat
    Feb 12, 2018 at 13:10
  • I think the "against the facts" shouldn't be dismissed so easily. This makes it kind of similar to the holocaust denial crimes. Feb 12, 2018 at 21:51
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    @NickC Actually, I read "and against the facts" not as meaning that truth is a defense (note that "truth" is notably absent from the list of exceptions in the 3rd point of the law), but as meaning "as starting point, the truth is that Poland and the Polish People had no responsability at all". It stablishes by law what the historical truth is...
    – SJuan76
    Feb 13, 2018 at 17:47

I believe that the law in question is particularly controversial for three reasons:

  • It is implemented mostly to express specific ideological stance, not out of actual necessity, as of majority of possible cases, would be out of Polish jurisdiction (and are more likely to result in diplomatic incidents) and more often a result of limited historical knowledge, than anything else.

    In this context some international comments are perceived as an attack on Polish sovereignty.

    As such it is viewed as an extension of an politicized view of the history and it is troubling, despite of limited practical applications, at least in terms of criminal law (civil lawsuits which might be enabled by this law, are different topic).

  • It touches deeply complex and painful historical events, and any discussion around it, naturally becomes highly emotional and quickly escalates.

    For the nation, who lost over 5 million citizens (2.7 million ethnic Poles, 2.7- 2.9 ethnic Jews or Jewish descent, as well as Polish nationals belonging to other ethnic groups) in both death camps, as well as number of actions against civilian population (like Außerordentliche Befriedungsaktion), during Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (with 13.000 killed during Uprising alone), 56,885 deported, mostly civilians (German estimate), as an outcome of Warsaw Uprising (with 50.000–70.000 civilians killed during Wola massacre and Ochota massacre) to Nazis alone (with many thousands more killed by Soviets - Katyn massacre and Ukrainian Insurgent Army - Massacres of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia) any accusations of being a Nazi accomplice are not taken lightly. Especially if you consider that many responsible for the atrocities, were never brought to justice.

    To quote the article already linked by tim

    Successive governments have been trying to persuade journalists and politicians to stop using the phrase 'Polish death camps,'" she told CNN.

    "It comes down to a rather sloppy and cavalier attitude towards Polish history... towards one of the most painful periods in Polish history."

    Events like President Barack Obama referring to "Polish death camp" or James Comey speaking "the murderers and accomplices of Germany, and Poland" caused outrage in Poland and are only the most prominent examples.

    To give you some perspective, from Polish point of view suggesting that Poland or Polish citizens are in general responsible for Nazi atrocities is pretty much as unacceptable as claims that the Jewish councils where somehow a willing accomplice of the Holocaust. I will risk to say, that calling the law, "Holocaust speech law", already shows, how little is known, about the scale of Nazi atrocities in the occupied Poland - which is tragedy which affected more than a single ethnic group, or even a single nation.

    At the same time interwar (newly interdependent) and WWII Polish history is full of ethnical tensions, both internal and external, many of which still reflect on its relationship with its neighbors (mostly Lithuania and Ukraine). In this light, governing historical research with and building ideological historical narrative is at least troubling.

  • Significant difference in the approach to freedom of speech, especially when related to nazism (and communism). In particular the article 13th of THE CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF POLAND

    Political parties and other organizations whose programmes are based upon totalitarian methods and the modes of activity of nazism, fascism and communism, as well as those whose programmes or activities sanction racial or national hatred, the application of violence for the purpose of obtaining power or to influence the State policy, or provide for the secrecy of their own structure or membership, shall be prohibited.


It is also worth pointing out that the same act, clearly prosecutes denial of crimes, including crimes committed by Polish individuals and law enforcement (Article 55)

Anyone who publicly and contrary to the facts denies crimes referred to in Article 1(1) shall be subject to a fine or the penalty of imprisonment of up to 3 years. The sentence shall be made public.

where the Article 1(1)

the recording, collecting, storing, processing, securing, making available and publishing of the documents of the state security authorities, produced and accumulated from 22 July 1944 until 31 July 1990, as well as the documents of the security authorities of the Third Reich and the Soviet Union relating to:


  • the Nazi crimes,
  • the communist crimes
  • other crimes against peace, humanity or war crimes, perpetrated on persons of Polish nationality or Polish citizens of other nationalities between 08 November 1917 until 31 July 1990

b) other politically motivated reprisals, instigated by the officers of the Polish law enforcement agencies or the judiciary or persons acting on their order which were disclosed in the contents of the rulings made on the strength of the Act, dated 23 February 1991, on considering as invalid the rulings made in the cases of persons oppressed for their activities for the cause of an independent Polish State (Journal of Laws of 2015 item 1583),

c) the actions of the state security authorities described in art. 5;

So the discussed amendment to the Act is mostly discussed out of its actual context.

See also

  • I was confused but now I think I understand your first point here from your comment to me on the related meta page. I agree the law seems unlikely to be applied, and that the majority of cases of speaking "against the facts" against Poland fall out of Polish jurisdiction. But does anyone disagree with the law because it seems unlikely to be applied? (maybe folks in Poland?) Or maybe I am not understanding what you mean by "specific ideological stance." Feb 16, 2018 at 2:33
  • @jwco I don't follow the discussion that closely, so I cannot give a definitive answer, but my impression is that the law is widely approved (which says a lot, considering highly polarized political landscape). Furthermore, some highly biased international comments, further boost the approval, and in a sense, legitimize the need of the amendment in consequence forcing government's hand.
    – user19142
    Feb 16, 2018 at 14:37
  • Massacre of Katyn not proven to be done by soviets.
    – Grim
    Apr 9, 2019 at 12:17

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