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Germany's foreign minister says term 'Polish death camp' is wrong

Le ministre allemand des Affaires étrangères, Sigmar Gabriel, et le Premier ministre israélien Benyamin Netanyahou, à Jérusalem le 31.01.2017
Kobi Gideon GPO
Sigmar Gabriel made the remarks in Poland amid an outcry over the country's new Holocaust law

Germany's foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel waded into the debate over Poland's reckoning with its role in the Holocaust on Saturday, condemning the use of the term 'Polish death camp' when referring to Nazi Germany's concentration camps but also urging the country to allow free debate over its history. 

"I have been organizing youth travel [groups] to Auschwitz and Majdanek for 15 years as a leader," Gabriel wrote in a tweet after a visit to the Auschwitz museum. 

"That these camps were German -- there can be no doubt! The use of the term 'Polish death camp' is wrong," he added. 

Gabriel -- who earlier in the week visited Israel and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- was also quoted by the Associated Press as saying that "this organized mass murder was carried out by our country and no one else. Individual collaborators change nothing about that."

Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi camps, was built by Germany during their occupation of Poland, as was Majdanek, a smaller camp on the outskirts of Lublin. 

Gabriel's comments came only days after Poland's senate approved a new law that sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish or accuses Poland of complicity in the Third Reich's crimes.

Despite his comments regarding German culpability for the Holocaust, Gabriel also gently rebuked Poland over the passing of the bill. 

"We are convinced that only carefully appraising our own history can bring reconciliation," the Associated Press quoted him as saying. "That includes people who had to experience the intolerable suffering of the Holocaust being able to speak unrestrictedly about this suffering."

Israel harshly condemned the Polish law, which was passed despite an agreement between the countries' two leaders to thrash out amendments to the bill before it passed. The US State Department also urged Poland to rethink the legislation. 

Israeli lawmakers have suggested the bill amounts to legalizing the denial of certain aspects of the Holocaust. Centrist party leader Yair Lapid, wrote on Twitter that "there were Polish death camps and no law can ever change that."

Read more:

Polish PM defends Holocaust bill that upset Israel, Ukraine

Israeli embassy in Poland hit by wave of anti-Semitism in wake of Holocaust bill

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