As the diplomatic falling out with Israel continues, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stated in an interview published Friday that while he acknowledged that the Polish population included “individual criminals, as in any nation,” he would not accept a generalization about his country’s involvement in the horrors of the Holocaust.
“I have no problem with someone mentioning the fact that during the cruel, evil, dehumanizing war there were individual criminals in my nation — obviously there were, just as in every other nation,” Morawiecki told the Haaretz daily. “But when you use these stereotypes that ‘every Pole suckled anti-Semitism out of their mother’s breast,’ it’s nothing short of racism.”
Morawiecki on Sunday canceled his country’s participation in a high-level summit in Israel, as a diplomatic spat continued over comments made by Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Polish collaboration with the Nazis. Netanyahu’s office later said that his comments on Poles’ collaboration with the Nazis were misquoted by Israeli media; he had not blamed the Polish nation for Holocaust crimes, but rather individual Poles.
Katz made the more inflammatory remarks in a TV interview on Sunday, after earlier that day being appointed acting foreign minister by Netanyahu.
“I am a son of Holocaust survivors and I was even born and grew up in a community made up of Holocaust survivors,” Katz told Channel 13. “The memory of the Holocaust is something we cannot compromise about; it is clear and we won’t forget or forgive.
“In diplomacy you try not to offend, but nobody will change the historical truth to do something like that,” he added. “Poles collaborated with the Nazis, definitely. As [former prime minister] Yitzhak Shamir said, they suckle anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.”
On Monday morning Katz told Israel Radio that “the Poles took part in the extermination of Jews in the Holocaust. Poland became the biggest cemetery of the Jewish people.”
Morawiecki told Haaretz that he was astounded that the remarks came from the foreign minister.
“When I first heard of this it seemed totally unbelievable. Such words could be used by a radical extremist, but not by a foreign minister,” Morawiecki said. “I understand that in the course of an electoral campaign some politicians want to make headlines.”
The Polish leader also denied that his country has a problem with hatred toward Jews.
“We also have to cope with some anti-Semitism in Poland, but fortunately it is marginal,” Morawiecki said.
“Poland is one of the few countries in the EU where the number of anti-Semitic incidents is decreasing, while in many others we are witnessing worrying developments,” he added.
On Thursday night, Katz himself remained unapologetic, reiterating that “many Poles” cooperated with the Nazis in World War II.
“We reject actions that aim to blame Poland or the Polish nation as a whole for the crimes committed by the Nazis and their collaborators from other nations,” Morawiecki said during the Haaretz interview.
He went on to say that despite Netanyahu’s clarification about his remarks in Warsaw, the Israeli leader’s words were “not well-received in Poland,” adding that “I can only say that if someone ever misquoted my own words, I would take all effort to clarify it.”
Tensions between the two countries have been high ever since Poland passed legislation outlawing the blaming of Nazi crimes against Jews during World War II on Poland.
Israeli officials initially railed against the Polish law as a distortion of history. The measure led to a major diplomatic rift when the Polish parliament first green- lighted the legislation in January 2018.
But the dispute over the law appeared to be resolved last year when Poland softened the legislation, and Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart agreed on a joint declaration stressing the involvement of the Polish resistance in helping Jews.
It was seen as a diplomatic coup for Poland but Netanyahu faced criticism from historians in Israel, including Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, for agreeing to a statement that they said distorted history.
Morawiecki echoed the narrative absolving Poland of any claims of collaboration with Germany during World War II.
“Collaboration with Germany was never an official position of the Polish state,” he said. “The wartime Underground Polish State persecuted all those who were denouncing Jews, sentenced them to death and executed them, even during the war,” he said.
“Occupied Poland was one of the very few states without a puppet Nazi government. And the only one in which a person helping Jews faced death penalty at the hands of the Germans. And not only this person — their entire families as well,” Morawiecki continued.
“It was a brave act to do so. Still, tens of thousands of Poles, perhaps even more, were helping their Jewish brethren… We share common history. Our nations were both victims of Nazi Germany. We should not allow some radicals to rewrite history and destroy the memory of that.”
But despite the diplomatic row with Israel, Morawiecki said he believed relations between the country were still strong.
“I don’t think there is a deep crisis between Poland and Israel. I understand that in the course of an electoral campaign some politicians want to make headlines. But in general, my government is one of the most pro-Israeli in the EU and in the United Nations. We openly criticized the BDS initiatives (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) aimed against Israel.”