A former Polish politician who is the father of the country’s prime minister said that during the Holocaust, Jews moved to ghettos of their own accord to get away from non-Jewish Poles.
Kornel Morawiecki, a former senator whose son, Mateusz, became prime minister last year, made the remark in an interview published Tuesday by the online magazine Kulturą Liberalną.
“Do you know who chased the Jews away to the Warsaw Ghetto? The Germans, you think? No. The Jews themselves went because they were told that there would be an enclave, that they would not have to deal with those nasty Poles,” said Kornel Morawiecki.
His remarks come amid a diplomatic crisis between Poland and Israel, which protested the passing last month of legislation in Poland that criminalizes blaming Poles for Nazi crimes. Jewish groups said the law limits debate and research on the actions of thousands of Poles who betrayed Jews to the Nazis or killed Jews.
The crisis escalated last month when the prime minister said that the Holocaust had not only German, Ukrainian, and Polish perpetrators, but Jewish ones as well. His Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, called the remark “outrageous.”
In 1940, a year after Nazi Germany invaded Poland, Warsaw’s Jews were forced to move into the ghetto, a walled off area of the occupied capital.
Nearly half a million Polish Jews were confined in its squalid quarters, measuring just three square kilometers (1.2 square miles). The Nazis deported those who did not fall victim to rampant hunger or disease to death camps.
Earlier this month, Poland announced it would create a Warsaw Ghetto museum, which Poland’s culture minister said was meant to convey centuries of close ties between Poles and Jews.
Speaking at a press conference for the announcement of the museum on March 8, Mateusz Morawiecki highlighted the plight of the ghetto’s Jews and of occupied Poland in general.
“Responsibility lies with Germans, with the German nation, but also with those who did not come to help, with the Allies,” he said.
In the Tuesday interview, the prime minister’s father also touched on alleged Jewish complicity in the Nazi-led genocide against the Jews. He spoke of the Zagiew ring of Jewish informants that the Germans used to infiltrate resistance groups.
“Who sent Jews to the Umschlagplatz?” Kornel Morawiecki asked, using the German word for places, often city squares, where Jews were rounded up to be deported to death camps. “Did the Germans do it? No! The Jewish police were on the Umschlagplatz!”
Leading scholars of the Holocaust rejected the drawing of parallels between Jewish and Polish collaborators with the Germans, citing the fact that the former were prisoners destined for extermination and the latter were occupied civilians who by and large were allowed to lead their daily lives unless they violated Nazis laws.
AFP contributed to this report.