Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki today held a special gathering and met Arutz Sheva and Israeli journalists in his office to speak about the recent controversy surrounding the new Polish law making it illegal to suggest Poland bore any responsibility for crimes against humanity committed by Nazi Germany on its soil during World War II.

On Wednesday night Poland's upper house of parliament voted 57-23, with two abstentions, to approve the law, which makes use of phrases such as “Polish death camps” punishable by up to three years in prison. The law applies to both Polish citizens and foreigners.

Morawiecki's talk was held as an informal roundtable meeting. He began by referring to the new law and recognizing the tensions that have arisen in its wake.

"One different story but probably not so well known in your great country, in Israel, is that many Jews were also saved by Ander's army when the Third Reich attacked the Soviet Union on the 22nd of June, 1941," said Morawiecki. "Shortly after this there was the Sikorski–Mayski pact, and the Poles who were first transported to Siberia and Kazakhstan and other parts of the Soviet Union, back then they were allowed to get out of the Soviet Union and they did so through what today is Iran, Iraq, Palestine, North Africa, and then Italy, and they had been fighting in many other places."

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki צילום: Yoni Kempinski

"And Menachem Begin was one of them. He was also a young soldier in this army. And so were 15% of the [rest of the] Jewish population fighting hand in hand with their Polish friends against Germany on different fronts. And by the way, 18% of the Polish army in 1939 consisted of members of the Jewish population, so this [cooperation] was so rooted, interlinked with the Polish population, that many of them were voluntarily part of the Polish army, which was defeated in September and October 1939.

"So it is in this context that we look at the bill. When we read in Corriere della Sera or in Die Welt or other newspapers 'Polish concentration camps', 'Polish death camps', we feel that this is something deeply inappropriate in those terms, notions, and definitions. And we want to change it. It is not to deny that there were wrong people on our end. There were on our end very bad people who did very wrong things. But if you think about the numbers even, one historian says that in Nazi-occupied Warsaw there were probably up to 90,000 people - only in Warsaw - who were helping Jews, and there were around 3,000 people who were actually denouncing or killing, murdering Jews. And probably the population of Warsaw you can multiply to the entire territory of Poles, which would be a similar equation to the one I presented to you a minute ago.

"But the whole legislation, not even one iota should forbid or make it more difficult to tell the truth about this very sad part of our joint history. And this is very important for me to emphasize, because I know how delicate but also how difficult it is today for at least some part of the Jewish population in Israel and maybe in other parts of the world to accept it. But people who know the circumstances, who lived here in Poland, including my aunts - one of them is in Hertzliya in Israel - they understand it very, very well. They understand what was communism, they understand what was the occupation during the Second World War, and with a little bit of good will I think it could be very well explained to everybody, including in Israel.

"So that all the doubts and reservations and complications will disappear and the clarification of the intentions of our bill will prevail. So this is why I say something again which is, maybe again, controversial for you but I thank you for your friendship and for your understanding.

"One more statement: I believe that because of what just happened, the Righteous Among the Nations, Polish Righteous Among the Nations, if you compare them to the Dutch ones - with all due respect to everybody who has done anything to save Jews in the Second World War - it's completely incomparable."