Mateusz Morawiecki
Mateusz Morawiecki Reuters

Commentators in Poland were scathing Monday over the Prime Minister's remarks about "Jewish perpetrators" of the Holocaust which drew Israel's fury and exacerbated a spat with the Jewish state.

The dispute arose as Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki tried to defend Poland's new and controversial Holocaust law but ended up coming under fire after he said there were "Jewish perpetrators" as well as Polish ones.

His remark fueled an already seething diplomatic row with Israel, with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu phoning him on Sunday to say his comments were "unacceptable" and tantamount to denying the Holocaust.

Officially, Morawiecki's office said the phone call "helped reduce the tension" between the two sides.

And his spokeswoman insisted the remarks "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."

But commentators for some of the country's main newspapers took a different view.

Morawiecki "should have been putting out the fire in Polish-Israeli ties but instead of using water, he used petrol," wrote the liberal Gazeta Wyborcza daily in an article headlined: "Political bungling."

"Who, according to the prime minister, were these 'Jewish perpetrators?'" it asked.

"Was he perhaps thinking of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz - Jews who were selected to serve in the gas chambers and the crematoria? Or maybe he was thinking about the Jewish police service in the ghettos?

"Or maybe he meant the members of Judenrat, the councils set up within these same ghettos and charged with being a contact point with the Germans?" it said.

"In such a delicate matter, he should have been precise and specified the crimes and the criminals," the article stated, slamming the premier for making no distinction between "the behavior of a handful of Jews and the crimes of the Germans and a sizable group of Poles, Ukrainians and Russians."

The Rzeczpospolita daily also took aim at Morawiecki's remarks, saying he had simply made an error of judgement.

"If the head of the Polish government was looking to calm ties with Israel, well - regardless of the truth of his words - he achieved the opposite effect... It was frankly a mistake," it said.

But the tone was markedly different in the Catholic daily Nasz Dziennik, which said: "The Prime Minister told the truth."

"The collaboration between Jewish institutions and individual Jews with the Germans... is a fact known to Holocaust historians and researchers for many years," it said, citing Polish academics to support its claim.