Act on the Institute of National Remembrance

The Act on the Institute of National Remembrance – Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation (Polish: Ustawy o Instytucie Pamięci Narodowej - Komisji Ścigania Zbrodni przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu) is a 1998 Polish law that created the Institute of National Remembrance. This memory law was amended twice, in 2007 and 2018.

The 1998 Act's Article 55 criminalized historical negationism of crimes committed against Poles or Polish citizens by Nazi or communist polities; of crimes against peace or humanity; of war crimes; and of political repression—all these being listed in Sections 1 a and 1 b of Article 1. While Holocaust denial was not explicitly mentioned, it is understood to be implicity criminalized.[1]

The 2007 amendment dealt with lustrations conducted in Poland.

The 2018 amendment added article 55a which attempts to defend the "good name" of Poland and its people against any accusation of complicity in the Holocaust.[2] Article 2a was also added, addressed crimes against "Polish citizens" by "Ukrainian nationalists", is seen as an act of exclusion against ethic minorities.[3] Following an international outcry, article 55a was amended to a civil offense that can be tried in civil courts.[3] Article 2a was appealed by Polish President Andrzej Duda and found to be unconstitutional by the Polish Constitutional Tribunal, which decreed it null and void.[4] Whereas Holocaust legislation in other countries enacts a duty to remember by means of criminalizing Holocaust denial, the Polish bill enacts a duty to forget by instituting "collective amnesia" on the complicity of part of the Polish population in the Holocaust.[5]

1998 act

The Institute of National Remembrance was established by a Sejm Act of 18 December 1998.[6]

Article 55

The Act's article 55 criminalized "public denial, against the facts, of Nazi crimes, communist crimes, and other offenses constituting crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, committed against persons of Polish nationality or against Polish citizens of other nationalities between 1 September 1939 and 31 July 1990";[7] and is therefore sometimes restrictively referred to as the law against Holocaust denial.[8]

In 1999 a University of Opole history professor, Dariusz Ratajczak, was tried under Article 55 for his Holocaust denial, was found guilty, and was sentenced to a year's probation.[9][10]

2007 amendment

The 2007 amendment dealt with lustrations conducted in Poland.

2018 amendment

Article 55a, is often referred to as "Holocaust Law',[3] "Polish Holocaust bill", the "Poland Holocaust law", as well "Lex Gross"[11][12] (also used to refer to a prior 2007 amendment)[13] The legislation was met with harsh international criticism as it is seen as an obstacle to free discussion on Polish complicity in the Holocaust.[3][14][15] The article attempts to defend the "good name" of Poland and its people against any accusation of complicity in the Holocaust.[2]

Article 2a, addresses crimes against "Polish citizens" by "Ukrainian nationalist" has also caused controversy.[3] As most said Ukrainians had Polish citizenship, the article is seen as an act of exclusion against ethic minorities.[3]

While the act does not mention the "Polish death camp" controversy, the main intended role of the act was within this political debate.[3] While the term "Polish death camp" is correct on the spatial level, it does cause misunderstanding due to varying possible interpretations of the adjective.[3] The "Polish death camp" issue rose to prominence when president Barack Obama used the term in a 2012 ceremony honoring Jan Karski, though the same terminology appeared in 1944 reporting on Karski's reports without causing any confusion. Obama, who was criticized by Polish politicians and media, subsequently apologized.[3] The act also doesn't explicitly mention Polish complicity in the murder of Jews, however statements by the Polish government and the surrounding public debate show that this was the foremost motivation.[3]

The amendment is part of a wider effort by the national-conservative Law and Justice government which attempted to mandate a narrative for the commemoration and presentation of Polish history in Poland and internationally.[3] Whereas Holocaust legislation in other countries enacts a duty to remember by means of criminalizing Holocaust denial, the Polish bill enacts a duty to forget by instituting "collective amnesia" on the complicity of part of the Polish population in the Holocaust.[5]

Defamation charges under the act may be made by the Institute of National Remembrance as well as by accredited NGOs such as the Polish League Against Defamation.[3] Originally offenses against the "good name" of Poland were punishable as a criminal offense with up to 3 years in jail. Following an international outcry, a June 2018 amendment modified the "good name" offense to a civil offense that can be prosecuted in civil courts. The June 2018 amendment also removed an exception to research and arts that was present in the original law.[3]


A 2006 amendment with some of the same aims, Article 132a of the Polish Penal Code, was passed in 2006, but was invalidated in 2008.[1] The 2006 amendment was promoted by Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro was seen as directed against the writings of historian Jan T. Gross whose work on Polish crimes against Jews elicited public debate in Poland, the amendment was frequently dubbed as Lex Gross.[13][16]

After a period of lobbying, the first version of the 2018 Amendment was drafted on 17 February 2016 by Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro. On 30 August 2016 the Council of Ministers, presided over by Prime Minister Beata Szydło, forwarded the draft to the Sejm. [17] In September 2016, Zbigniew Ziobro asserted that the "Polish death camp" term constituted an attack on the "good name of the Polish nation".[3]

The proposed legislation was criticized internationally as an attempt to suppress discussion of crimes that had been committed during the Holocaust by Polish citizens.[18][19]

The addition of the "ban of propaganda of Banderism" to the law (Article 2a) was spearheaded by the right-wing political movement Kukiz'15.[20] Kukiz'15 submitted this addition on July 16, 2016, however it was blocked by Civic Platform and Law and Justice parties citing "the good of Polish–Ukrainian relations".[21] Eventually, Article 2a was added to the bill on 25 January 2018 during the second reading.[22]

On 26 January 2018, after the bill's third reading, the Polish Parliament's lower chamber, the Sejm, approved the bill,[23]:Art. 1 which would apply to Poles as well as to foreigners. On 1 February 2018 the upper chamber, the Senate, passed the bill without amendment. On 6 February 2018 President Andrzej Duda signed the bill into law.[24] According to an opinion poll conducted in February 2018, 51% of Poles opposed the 2018 amendment.[25]

Some parts of the law will come into effect 14 days after its registration in Dziennik Ustaw (the Register of Statutes), with the full law coming into effect within 3 months. The law is was referred to the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland for review of its compliance with the Polish Constitution.[26]

The bill led to an outcry of condemnations against Poland in the United States, Europe, and Israel.[15] Some critics went so far as to accuse the Polish government of Holocaust denial.[27][28] The Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a travel advisory urging Jews to refrain from visiting Poland due to "Poland’s government campaign to change the historical truth by denying Polish complicity in the Nazi atrocities".[15]

As of May 2018, 70 different charges under the act were filed in Polish courts. However, most of these were by Polish citizens who were protesting the law by filing a self-incrimination. A non-protest charge was filed against the BBC for a production on Auschwitz concentration camp that used the term "Polish Jewish ghettos".[3]

Original bill

The proposed law modifies a previous law relating to the Institute of National Remembrance (namely, the Act of 18 December 1998 on the Institute of National Remembrance – Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation[29] (Dz.U. 1998 nr 155 poz. 1016)).

The following main articles were added in February 2018:

  • Article 55a:[5]

1. Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich, as specified in Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal enclosed to the International agreement for the prosecution and punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis, signed in London on 8 August 1945 (Polish Journal of Laws of 1947, item 367), or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes—shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to 3 years. The sentence shall be made public.

2. If the act specified in clause 1 is committed unintentionally, the perpetrator shall be liable to a fine or a restriction of liberty.

3. No offence is committed if the criminal act specified in clauses 1 and 2 is committed in the course of the one’s artistic or academic activity.’

The crimes of Ukrainian nationalists and members of Ukrainian organizations collaborating with the Third German Reich, as defined in the Act, are acts committed by Ukrainian nationalists in the years 1925–1950, involving the use of violence, terror or other forms of violation of human rights, against individuals or ethnic groups. One of the crimes of Ukrainian nationalists and members of Ukrainian organizations collaborating with the Third German Reich is their involvement in the extermination of the Jewish population and genocide on citizens of the Second Polish Republic in Volhynia and Eastern Lesser Poland."

The above text refers to massacres of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia and to ethnic cleansing in Eastern Lesser Poland (Note: Eastern Galicia and Eastern Lesser Poland overlapped substantially, but were not coterminous: Eastern Galicia was a part of Eastern Lesser Poland annexed by Habsburg Austria to the Austrian Partition of Poland.[30])

Controversy over Article 55a

Historians widely agree that some Poles were complicit in the Holocaust, betraying and murdering Jews.[31] Article 55a was condemned by Holocaust Charities, the United States, the European Union, and Israel for being an obstacle to free discussions on Polish complicity in the Holocaust.[31]

A letter signed by many prominent persons in early February, including journalist Anne Applebaum and the 3rd President of Poland Aleksander Kwaśniewski, said: "Why should the victims and witnesses of the Holocaust have to watch what they say for fear of being arrested, and will the testimony of a Jewish survivor who “feared Poles” be a punishable offence?".[32]

Even before being passed, the law damaged the Israel–Poland relations. Israel's Foreign Ministry director-general Yuval Rotem reported that preserving the memory of the Holocaust takes priority over international relations. He said that "Preserving the memory of the Holocaust is a matter beyond the bilateral relationship between Israel and Poland. It is a core issue cutting to the essence of the Jewish people".[33] Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Poland of Holocaust denial.[27]

Yad Vashem condemned the Polish bill, saying that, while "Polish death camps" as a phrase is a historic misrepresentation, the legislation is "liable to blur the historical truths regarding the assistance the Germans received from the Polish population during the Holocaust".[34][35]

In the U.S., Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed "disappointment" in the bill, adding: "Enactment of this law adversely affects freedom of speech and academic inquiry."[24]

Jeffrey Kopstein of the University of Toronto and Jason Wittenberg of the University of California, Berkeley, authors of the book, Intimate Violence: Anti-Jewish Pogroms on the Eve of the Holocaust, about anti-Jewish violence in Poland such as the Szczuczyn pogrom, opine that the purpose of the new bill "is clear: to restrict discussion of Polish complicity." They also suggest that "Poland’s current government will likely face the unpalatable prospect of enforcing an unenforceable law and denying what the mainstream scholarly community has increasingly shown to be true: Some Poles were complicit in the Holocaust."[36]

Prof. Stanisław Krajewski of the University of Warsaw, who co-chairs the Polish Council of Christians and Jews, said that "The way the law is formulated makes it a blunt instrument for paralysing and punishing anyone you don't like", and that "the government's harsh, dismissive reaction to critics has encouraged many people to think they can now attack Jews."[37]

On 5 March 2018, in front of the Prosecutor's Office in Warsaw and Wrocław, 45 Polish citizens made public statements referring to historical events, including the Jedwabne pogrom and the Szczuczyn pogrom. The citizens claimed that they attributed responsibility for the events and alleged that their public statements constituted criminal acts under Article 55a of the amended Act of the Institute of National Memory. In the Prosecutors' offices, the citizens deposited formal written documents reporting their alleged crimes.[38][39]


Pressure from the United States Department of State and threat of downgrading the US-Poland relationship were significant in causing the Polish government to change course.[40] In late June 2018, the Polish government decided to stop waiting for a ruling from the constitutional court and in a hasty process, the legislation passed in a single day, modified the act.[3] The revision removed the possibility of criminal prosecution, but also removed the exemption of scholarship and arts from the law.[3] While violating the "good name" of Poland provision is no longer a criminal charge, charges may still be levied in a civil court.[3]

Following the amendment, the Polish and Israeli prime ministers issued a joint declaration condemning antisemitism and rejecting "anti-Polonism".[3] This statement was condemned by Yad Vashem.[3]

Controversy over Article 2a

In 2019, article 2a was decreed to be void and non-binding by the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland.[4]

The Amendment's passage worsened Polish–Ukrainian relations, already contentious on the questions of the prewar Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the wartime and postwar Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych have been considered Ukrainian national heroes in Ukraine, and war criminals in Poland.[41][42] In Ukraine, the Amendment has been called "the Anti-Banderovite Law".[43][44]

The director of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, Volodymyr Viatrovych, asserts that the Amendment's principal target is Ukrainians residing in Poland.[45]

The Polish law has been compared to Ukrainian Law 2538-1,[46] passed in 2015.[47][48]

Controversy over mission statement

Article 1 - the mission statement of the Institute - was changed to include "protecting the reputation of the Republic of Poland and the Polish Nation".[49] Prof. Havi Dreifuss, head of Yad Vashem's Center for Research on the Holocaust in Poland, noted that: "Since the law changed, the IPN’s fundamental role has changed. Today their official mission statement is to defend Poland’s reputation, and it is in that light that they should be viewed."[50]

See also


  1. Koposov, Nikolay (2017). Memory Laws, Memory Wars: The Politics of the Past in Europe and Russia. Cambridge University Press. p. 162. ISBN 9781108329538.
  2. Soroka, George, and Félix Krawatzek. "Nationalism, Democracy, and Memory Laws." Journal of Democracy 30.2 (2019): 157-171.
  3. Hackmann, Jörg. "Defending the “Good Name” of the Polish Nation: Politics of History as a Battlefield in Poland, 2015–18." Journal of Genocide Research 20.4 (2018): 587-606.
  4. "Ekspert: orzeczenie Trybunału Konstytucyjnego ws. nowelizacji ustawy o IPN może otworzyć drogę do dyskusji" (in Polish). Polskie Radio 24. 17 January 2019. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  5. Gauba, Kanika. "Rethinking ‘Memory Laws’ from a Comparative Perspective." The Indian Yearbook of Comparative Law 2018. Springer, Singapore, 2019. 233-249.
  6. "About the IPN". Institute of National Remembrance. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  7. "Obwieszczenie Marszałka Sejmu Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej z dnia 8 września 2016 r. w sprawie ogłoszenia jednolitego tekstu ustawy o Instytucie Pamięci Narodowej – Komisji Ścigania Zbrodni przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu" (PDF). Dziennik Ustaw (in Polish) (Poz. 1575). 29 September 2016. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  8. Pankowski, Rafal (2000). "From the lunatic fringe to academia: Holocaust denial in Poland" (PDF). In Taylor, Kate (ed.). Holocaust Denial: The David Irving Trial and International Revisionism. pp. 75–81. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  9. Kwiet, Konrad; Matthäus, Jürgen, eds. (2004). Contemporary Responses to the Holocaust. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 162. ISBN 0-275-97466-9.
  10. "Guilty of Holocaust Denial. Negligible public harm?". Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. 19 December 2001. Retrieved 2018-02-23.
  11. Poland's Constitutional Breakdown, Wojciech Sadurski, Oxford University Press, page 155
  12. Bugarič, Bojan. "Central Europe’s descent into autocracy: A constitutional analysis of authoritarian populism." International Journal of Constitutional Law 17.2 (2019): 597-616.
  13. The Polish ‘Holocaust Law’ revisited: The Devastating Effects of Prejudice-Mongering, Marta Bucholc and Maciej Komornik, Cultures of History, 19 February 2019
  14. Noack, Rick (2 February 2018). "Poland's Senate passes Holocaust complicity bill despite concerns from U.S., Israel". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-02-02.
  15. Ray, Larry, and Sławomir Kapralski. "Introduction to the special issue–disputed Holocaust memory in Poland." (2019): 209-219.
  16. Rzepa, Joanna. "Translation, conflict and the politics of memory: Jan Karski's Story of a Secret State." Translation Studies 11.3 (2018): 315-332.
  17. "Projekt ustawy o zmianie ustawy o Instytucie Pamięci Narodowej - Komisji Ścigania Zbrodni przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu oraz ustawy o odpowiedzialności podmiotów zbiorowych za czyny zabronione pod groźbą kary". (in Polish). Government Legislation Centre. 1 March 2016. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  18. "Poland approves bill outlawing phrase 'Polish death camps'". Associated Press. 16 August 2016. Retrieved 4 September 2016 via The Guardian.
  19. Noack, Rick (17 August 2016). "Obama once referred to a 'Polish death camp.' In Poland, that could soon be punishable by 3 years in prison". The Washington Post. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  20. "Sejm uchwalił ustawę o penalizacji banderyzmu". Do Rzeczy (in Polish). 26 January 2018. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  21. "Kukiz oskarża kierownictwo PiS o uległość wobec spadkobierców Bandery". Do Rzeczy (in Polish). 11 June 2017. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  22. "Druk nr 993-A". (in Polish). Sejm of the Republic of Poland. 26 January 2018. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  23. "Ustawa z dnia 26 stycznia 2018 r. o zmianie ustawy o Instytucie Pamięci Narodowej – Komisji Ścigania Zbrodni przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu, ustawy o grobach i cmentarzach wojennych, ustawy o muzeach oraz ustawy o odpowiedzialności podmiotów zbiorowych za czyny zabronione pod groźbą kary" (PDF). (in Polish). Sejm of the Republic of Poland. 29 January 2018. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2018-02-02. Retrieved 2018-02-02.
  24. Noack, Rick (6 February 2018). "Polish president signs Holocaust bill, drawing rare U.S. rebuke". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  25. Szwedowicz, Agata (16 February 2018). "CBOS: 40 proc. Polaków jest za nowelą ustawy o IPN, 51 proc. uważa, że dezinformacji należy przeciwdziałać inaczej". (in Polish). Museum of Polish History. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  26. Masters, James (8 February 2018). "Polish President signs controversial Holocaust bill into law". CNN. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  27. Eglash, Ruth; Selk, Avi (28 January 2018). "Israel and Poland try to tamp down tensions after Poland's 'death camp' law sparks Israeli outrage". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-01-28.
  28. "Israeli politicians, survivors blast Polish Holocaust law". Ynet and Associated Press. 1 February 2018. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
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  30. Snyder, Timothy (April 2002). "Pięć wieków i osiem lat" [Five Centuries and Eight Years]. Tygodnik Powszechny (in Polish) (19). Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  31. Holocaust law wields a 'blunt instrument' against Poland's past, BBC, Joel Gunter, 3 February 2018
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  33. Halon, Eytan (3 March 2018). "Argentina newspaper first target of controversial Polish Holocaust law". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
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  37. Luxmoore, Jonathan (14 March 2018). "Polish archbishop answers Holocaust law critics". The Tablet. Retrieved 2018-05-12.
  38. Chrzczonowicz, Magdalena (6 March 2018). "Obywatele testują ustawę o IPN. Oskarżyli Polaków o współudział w Holokauście i donoszą na siebie". (in Polish). Retrieved 2018-03-07.
  39. Przerwa, Dorota (5 March 2018). "Sprawdzamy ustawę o IPN. Złożyliśmy samodoniesienia do prokuratury". (in Polish). Citizens of Poland. Archived from the original on 2018-03-07. Retrieved 2018-03-07.
  40. Szklarski, Bohdan, and Piotr Ilowski. "Searching for Solid Ground in Polish-American Relations in the Second Year of the Trump Administration." (2019): 65-82.
  41. Baran, Violetta, ed. (6 February 2018). "Były minister obrony Ukrainy ostrzega: ponad milion Ukraińców może chwycić za kopie" [Former Ukrainian Minister of Defense Warns: over a million Ukrainians may take up the cudgels]. WP Wiadomości (in Polish). Wirtualna Polska. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  42. Kozińska, Anna, ed. (1 February 2018). "Spór na linii Polska-Izrael. Do grona komentatorów dołączyła Ukraina". WP Wiadomości (in Polish). Wirtualna Polska. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  43. Baran, Violetta, ed. (6 February 2018). "Ukraińskie media o oświadczeniu prezydenta Dudy: słowo Ukraina nawet nie padło". WP Wiadomości (in Polish). Wirtualna Polska. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  44. "Польські депутати вночі прийняли закон про заборону "бандерівської ідеології"" [Tonight Polish Parliamentaries Passed the Law on the Ban of the "Banderovite Ideology"]. Dzerkalo Tyzhnia (in Ukrainian). 1 February 2018. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  45. "Закон про "бандеризм" спрямований проти українців у Польщі - В'ятрович". European Pravda (in Ukrainian). 1 February 2018. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  46. "Проект Закону про правовий статус та вшанування пам'яті борців за незалежність України у ХХ столітті". (in Ukrainian). Verkhovna Rada. Retrieved 2018-02-10.
  47. Liphshiz, Cnaan (6 February 2018). "Poland isn't the only country trying to police what can be said about the Holocaust". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 2018-02-10.
  48. Rudling, Anders; Gilley, Christopher (29 April 2015). "Laws 2558 and 2538-1: On Critical Inquiry, the Holocaust, and Academic Freedom in Ukraine". Retrieved 2018-02-10.
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