Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Monday said it was too late to amend his country’s contentious legislation criminalizing blaming the Polish state or nation for crimes of the Holocaust, adding that “no Jews could have survived on this land without the help of a Polish family.”
Morawiecki invited several Israeli journalists to his Warsaw residence in order to voice the Polish stance on the controversial law, which has sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two countries. “My clear goal is to clarify the law and its context,” he said, while surrounded by a team of advisers.
“The response from our friends in Israel is serious and so I take that seriously,” he told Hadashot TV news. “The real intent of the law is not to prohibit statements about crimes committed by individuals or other things that happened during World War II. I want to invite our friends from Israel to truly understand what happened on Polish soil [at that time].”
The Polish leader told the journalists that his aunt is Jewish and lives in the central Israeli city of Herzliya, and that he himself had sent his kids to a Jewish school, the Makor Rishon news site reported.
“I know the Jewish people and acknowledge that there were Polish criminals who murdered Jews during the Holocaust,” he said. “But they were not the majority, and Poland definitely isn’t responsible for the murder of millions of Jews. We are victims of the Holocaust too, and saying that death camps or concentration camps were ‘Polish’ is a crime.”
After years of hearing those phrases, Morawiecki said, “many of us were offended and disgusted. There is immense pressure on us, and I felt that pressure as a politician.”
“This may sound provocative, but I think you couldn’t have survived on this land without the help of a Polish family,” he said. “If 150,000 Jews survived World War II, most of them, if not all, survived thanks to the Polish population. My aunt lives in Herzliya, and she perfectly understands this narrative.”
The lower house of parliament approved the legislation on January 26, the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the Senate gave its approval on Thursday. President Andrzej Duda now has three weeks to sign or veto it; he has so far indicated that he supports it.
A key paragraph of the bill states, “Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich… or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes – shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to 3 years.”
Israel has pilloried the legislation as “distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust.”
Morawiecki added that it was too late to change the bill, and that Warsaw has no intention to reconsider it. “The law has already passed the Senate vote, and is now in the hands of President Duda,” he said.
He said the Israeli government had known the details of the bill for years, after it was discussed with the Israeli Embassy in Poland. He added that the legislation process was coordinated with Israel’s ambassador, Anna Azari, but acknowledged that it was deficient.
“I understand today that the sides probably didn’t understood each other perfectly, but that belongs in the past,” he told Hadashot.
Morawiecki said a speech by Azari on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day slamming the law had been diplomatically unacceptable and offended many Poles.
“You have no reason to be angry about this law, because the law talks about the truth, and we don’t want to do anything against you,” he told Makor Rishon. “The truth is that there were tens of thousands who murdered Jewish neighbors or families. But in that terrible war there were hundreds of thousands who helped Jews survive that living hell.”