Option of recalling ambassador is 'on the table,' PM says

In call with Polish PM, Netanyahu rails at claim Jews also perpetrated Holocaust

Mateusz Morawiecki asserted on Saturday ‘there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators’: Netanyahu: ‘I told him there’s no basis for this comparison’

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a lunch meeting at the 54th Munich Security Conference on February 16, 2018. (AFP Photo/ DPA/Sven Hoppe)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a lunch meeting at the 54th Munich Security Conference on February 16, 2018. (AFP Photo/ DPA/Sven Hoppe)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he had spoken with his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki, by phone following Morawiecki’s comments the day before to the effect that Jews had also perpetrated the Holocaust.

Netanyahu said he told Morawiecki that Israel did not accept the statement.

“I told him there’s no basis for this comparison, between the act of Poles and the acts of Jews during the Holocaust,” Netanyahu told Israeli reporters following a speech at the Munich Security Conference.

Responding to calls for Israel to recall its ambassador in Poland to Israel, the prime minister said the government was trying to resolve the issue without taking such a dramatic measure, but “all options are on the table.”

Netanyahu said Israel planned to send a Foreign Ministry delegation to Poland in order to clarify Israel’s issues with the recently passed Polish law that sparked the ongoing clash between the two countries. The law makes illegal some claims about the Holocaust, including accusing the Polish government or nation of having taken part in it.

Netanyahu stressed the differences between Jews who collaborated with the Nazis under the threat of a certain death sentence and the non-Jewish Europeans who volunteered to help the Nazis in large numbers.

The prime minister said he spoke with the Polish leader for a long time in order to reach an understanding, including citing a specific, personal instance of willing Polish collaboration with the Nazis.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki inspect a military honor guard on February 16, 2018 in front of the Chancellery in Berlin.( AFP Photo/John Macdougall)

“I gave him an example from my wife’s family. They were hidden by Poles — by righteous gentiles,” he said.

“But as the Germans were leaving the city, the Poles ran after the fleeing Germans and said, ‘There are more Jews hiding here.’ And they killed my wife’s grandfather,” Netanyahu said. “If he says this is about investigating the truth. Here’s an example — investigate the truth.”

In its attempt to highlight the fault of Nazi Germany for the Holocaust, Poland seemed to have opened the door for historical revision, he said.

“You can’t fix one distortion with another distortion,” Netanyahu said.

Earlier Sunday, the Polish government seemed to try to minimize the fallout from the prime minister’s comments.

A statement by Morawiecki’s office said his claim that Jews were among the perpetrators of the Holocaust was not anti-Semitic and did not intend to deny the genocide of European Jewry during World War II.

The Polish premier’s remarks on Saturday “should be interpreted as a sincere call for open discussion of crimes committed against Jews during the Holocaust, regardless of the nationality of those involved in each crime,” it said.

His comments, the statement continued, “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.”

Morawiecki has “repeatedly and categorically” rejected anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, his office said, adding that Warsaw “wants to continue dialogue with Israel in the spirit of truth and mutual trust.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (2nd-L), Rabbi Meir Lau (2nd-R) and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (R) take part in the March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in Poland on April 24, 2017. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

“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,” it said.

On Saturday, Morawiecki was rejecting criticism of the new law at the Munich Security Conference, when he was asked by an Israeli journalist if sharing his family’s history of persecution in Poland would be outlawed under the new legislation.

“Of course it’s not going to be punishable, [it’s] not going to be seen as criminal to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian; not only German perpetrators,” he told Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ronen Bergman.

Morawiecki said the law aimed to prevent falsely attributing Nazi crimes in Poland under Nazi occupation to Polish government policy at the time. He said that last year Polish embassies had to respond 260 times to statements referring to “Polish death camps.”

He said the Polish people generally aided their “Jewish brothers and sisters” during the war, and the lines between Holocaust victims and perpetrators was becoming increasingly blurred.

Morawiecki’s comments were met with fierce backlash in Israel, with some politicians accusing him of anti-Semitism, setting off a new chapter in an angry dispute over Poland’s Holocaust complicity legislation.

In his initial response Saturday, Netanyahu called his Polish counterpart’s comment “outrageous.”

“There is a problem here of lack of understanding of history and lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people,” he said.

Hours later, Morawiecki drew further criticism from Israeli politicians and Jewish groups after he paid his respects at the grave of Polish fighters who collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II.

The Polish prime minister’s office on Saturday tweeted a photo of Morawiecki with his hands clasped at the grave of fighters from a Polish underground military unit, known as the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade. He lit a candle and laid a wreath at the Munich grave site.

The unit, which was rooted in a far-right prewar political movement, had also fought Germans. For tactical reasons, it collaborated with the Germans late in the war to focus on fighting communists, who were laying the groundwork for what would be decades of Soviet-backed rule.

In recent weeks, Israeli officials have sharply criticized the legislation that criminalizes blaming Poland as a nation for crimes committed by Nazi Germany. Israeli critics have accused Poland of seeking to use the law to whitewash the role of some Poles who helped Germans kill Jews during the war. Holocaust scholars estimate that Poles might have either killed or helped Germans kill as many as 180,000 to 200,000 Jews.

Polish authorities say they just want to protect Poland from being depicted as a collaborator of the Nazis when the country was Adolf Hitler’s victim and suffered through nearly six years of war and occupation.

Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report.

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