WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s leaders on Thursday guardedly accepted words of regret from FBI director James Comey over remarks that seemed to equate Poland’s role in the Holocaust with that of Germany.
The remarks last week sparked protests and demands for an apology from Poland’s leaders, who stressed that Poland was a victim, not a perpetrator of World War II.
Comey said in a speech at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum about the importance of Holocaust education: “In their minds, the murderers and accomplices of Germany, and Poland, and Hungary… didn’t do something evil.
“They convinced themselves it was the right thing to do. That should truly frighten us,” Comey added in the speech, which was also adapted as an op-ed by The Washington Post, and posted on the FBI’s website.
Comey met Wednesday with Poland’s ambassador to Washington, Ryszard Schnepf, and handed him a handwritten note expressing regret over linking Poland and Germany in his speech, according to Poland’s Foreign Ministry.
“Poland was invaded and occupied by Germany,” Comey’s letter said. “The Polish State bears no responsibility for the horrors imposed by the Nazis. I wish I had not used any other country names because my point was a universal one about human nature.”
Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna reacted by saying: “Better late than never. The matter is closed.”
But Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz was less forgiving. “To be sure,” Kopacz said, “every Pole had expected more.”
President Bronislaw Komorowski remarked that Comey’s letter marked an “evolution in the right direction.” But he also suggested that Americans should gain more knowledge about Poland under Nazi occupation.
Poland suffered a brutal German occupation during the entire war and put up active opposition. In all, 6 million Polish citizens were killed during the war, about half of them Jewish and the other half Christians. While the Polish state, pushed underground during the war, never collaborated with the Nazis, there were many cases of individual Poles who did help the Nazis.
Often the Nazis were unable to tell Jew from non-Jew and relied on Polish collaborators to identify them. There were also cases, such as the famous case of Jedwabne, in which Poles murdered Jews without the involvement of the Germans.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.