WARSAW, Poland, Poland’s government is considering a law that would make it a jail-able offense to refer to the Nazi concentration camps of World War II as “Polish death camps” — a measure intended to reinforce the fact that Adolf Hitler’s regime was responsible for the atrocities against Jews, not Poland’s.
The proposal, which is now under official consideration, stems partly from a remark made by U.S. President Barack Obama four years ago that condemned the “Polish death camps” of the war. The president, of course, simply misspoke and later apologized.
“In referring to ‘a Polish death camp’ rather than ‘a Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland,’ I inadvertently used a phrase that has caused many Poles anguish over the years and that Poland has rightly campaigned to eliminate from public discourse around the world,” Obama said in June 2012.
The president made the error when he was honoring Jan Karski — a Polish national who reported on the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the death camps — with a posthumous Medal of Freedom.
Obama’s remark upset Polish citizens and officials and sparked a debate that has endured since. At the time, then-Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk accused the American leader of “ignorance, lack of knowledge, bad intentions.”
If the law is passed, violators can be fined and jailed for up to three years if they use the term. A similar measure failed in 2013, but some experts say there is now more support for the idea.
Government officials say the law is intended to protect “the good name of Poland.”
Millions of Jews were killed by Hitler’s Nazi regime during World War II, many in concentration camps the German militia established in Poland during its occupation between 1939 and 1945. The most infamous, Auschwitz, was located near Krakow.
In all, there were six “extermination” camps the Nazis operated inside Poland’s borders. Other Nazi atrocities were committed in concentration camps and ghettos in the Eastern European nation.