WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s foreign minister on Friday defended the country’s education minister, saying her remarks, which appeared to deny Polish responsibility for two massacres of Jews in the 1940s, have been misunderstood.
The comments by Foreign Minister Witold Wszczykowski showed that the on-and-off soul searching in Poland regarding the Holocaust is far from over.
Education Minister Anna Zalewska last week spoke about the World War II Jedwabne massacre of 1941, when Poles burned alive some 300 Jews in a barn, and the post-war Kielce massacre of 1946, in which 42 people died, 37 of them Jews. Anniversaries of both pogroms were marked with observances earlier this month, with President Andrzej Duda condemning anti-Semitism at the Kielce observances.
Jewish organizations protested — and some called for the minister’s dismissal — after a Zalewska TV interview in which she avoided confirming the responsibility of the Poles for the massacres. In fact, shortly after the war, Polish courts convicted and punished Poles for their involvement.
“It is disturbing to think that senior government officials in Poland, a country that led the struggle against Communism in Central and Eastern Europe and that has done so much to advance the cause of Holocaust education and scholarship, now seem to be lurching backward to the days of obfuscation and misinformation,” said Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress.
Waszczykowski, on a visit to Washington, said “I will keep patiently explaining (to the critics) that they have misunderstood minister Zalewska’s words.” He did not elaborate how the comments were misunderstood.
For decades under communism, Poland’s Jewish minority and the Holocaust, organized by the occupying Nazi Germans, were taboo themes and there was no discussion of those killings. A heated nationwide debate followed the publication of a book, “Neighbors,” in 2000 by Polish-American sociologist Jan Tomasz Gross, which explored the murder of Jedwabne’s Jews by their Polish neighbors.
In 2001 state ceremonies in Jedwabne, President Aleksander Kwasniewski apologized for the massacre. Duda, Poland’s current president, has repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism.