Polish government defends 'Jewish perpetrators' comment

Government claims Polish PM's claim of 'Jewish perpetrators' during the Holocaust was 'sincere call for dialogue' on Holocaust.

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Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki
Yoni Kempinski

JTA - The Polish prime minister’s comments that there were “Jewish perpetrators” in the Holocaust was “a sincere call for open discussion of crimes committed against Jews during the Holocaust, regardless of the nationality of those involved in each crime,” the government said in a clarification.

The clarification statement was issued on Sunday, hours after Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu released a statement saying that Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s statements during an interview with an Israeli journalist were “outrageous.” Morawiecki and Netanyahu both attended the Munich Security Conference over the weekend.

The comments continue the saga of the Holocaust law passed by the Polish legislature and signed by the country’s president earlier this month. It criminalizes claims that the Polish nation or state are responsible for Nazi crimes. Israel last month already protested the law that Morawiecki was defending, as did many Jewish groups that warned it would limit debate about the Holocaust and serve to obscure the actions of Poles who betrayed Jews to the Germans or killed them.

The comments made on Saturday “were by no means intended to deny the Holocaust, or charge the Jewish victims of the Holocaust with responsibility for what was a Nazi German perpetrated genocide,” the statement also said, adding that Poland “wants to continue dialogue with Israel in the spirit of truth and mutual trust.”

“Each crime must be judged individually, and no single act of wickedness should burden with responsibility entire nations, which were conquered and enslaved by Nazi Germany,” the statement said, concluding: “Attempts to equate the crimes of Nazi German perpetrators with the actions of their victims—Jewish, Polish, Romani among others—who struggled for survival should be met with resolute, outright condemnation.”

Netanyahu spoke directly with Morawiecki later on Sunday, his office said in a statement. According to the statement, Netanyahu told his Polish counterpart that his remarks were unacceptable and that there was no basis for comparing the actions of Poles during the Holocaust to those of Jews. Netanyahu also pointed out that the goal of the Holocaust was to destroy the Jewish people and that all Jews were under sentence of death.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely in a statement that the Polish prime minister’s comments “are grave and warrant an apology to the Jewish people for distorting the memory of the Holocaust. She said she will convene an emergency meeting of at the Foreign Ministry “with all the relevant parties.” Netanyahu also is the country’s Foreign Minister.

Morawiecki added fuel to the fire on Saturday evening, visiting the grave in Munich of Polish fighters who collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, as part of the underground military unit called the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade. The Polish prime minister laid a wreath at the site.

On Sunday, the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv was vandalized with swastikas and anti-Polish slogans.