The Polish government on Sunday said claims by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki that Jews were among the perpetrators of the Holocaust were not anti-Semitic and did not intend to deny the genocide of European Jewry during World War II.
A statement by his office said Morawiecki’s remarks to the Munich Security Conference a day earlier “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.”
His statements, it said, “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.”
“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 a new law that criminalizes mentions of Polish complicity in the Holocaust 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.”
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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 Morawiecki of anti-Semitism, setting off a new chapter in an angry dispute over Poland’s Holocaust complicity legislation.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also attended the Munich conference, 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,” Netanyahu said, adding that he planned to speak with Morawiecki soon.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
AP contributed to this report.