Rivlin calls Polish prime minister’s Holocaust comments ‘a new low’

President tells major Jewish Diaspora figures that world leaders ‘must be educated,’ after Mateusz Morawiecki says Jews also perpetrated the Holocaust

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, in Jerusalem, on February 18, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, in Jerusalem, on February 18, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday slammed Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s comments that there were Jewish perpetrators in the Holocaust, calling them “a new low.”

The statement came as Israel continued to rage against Warsaw for Marowiecki’s comments a day earlier at the Munich Security Conference, weeks after Poland pushed through a law criminalizing blaming the Polish nation for Holocaust crimes that also angered Jerusalem.

“Saying that our people collaborated with the Nazis is a new low,” Rivlin said, speaking at the opening evening of the Conference of Presidents’ of Major Jewish Organizations annual Israel leadership mission.

“Today, more than ever, we must work to educate the world, even some of its leaders about that dark time, the terrible crimes committed by the Nazis, and their supporters,” he said.

Morawiecki exacerbated an ongoing dispute over the Polish Holocaust law by saying Saturday that “there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators.”

Addressing the Munich Security Conference, Morawiecki was rejecting criticism of a new law that criminalizes mentions of Polish state complicity in the Holocaust, 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,” Morawiecki told Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ronen Bergman.

Morawiecki responded to continuing Israeli criticism of his comments on Sunday by taking to Twitter and calling for “dialogue” with Israel, while also lamenting the “collaboration” of “some” during the Holocaust.

“The Holocaust, the genocide of the Jews committed by the German Nazis, was a horrific crime. Even during those dark hours of war and murder, there were individuals of all nations who bravely carried out gestures of the greatest mercy,” he tweeted.

“Sadly, this period also exposed dark parts of human nature, which for some meant collaboration with German Nazis. Dialogue on these difficult chapters of our history is essential — a dialogue we hope to continue w/ Israel. Today, I spoke about this with Prime Minister @netanyahu,” he added.

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.

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.

Responding Sunday to calls for Israel to recall its ambassador in Poland to Israel, the prime minister said the government was trying to resolve the issue without taking such a dramatic measure, but “all options are on the table.”

Netanyahu said Israel planned to send a Foreign Ministry delegation to Poland in order to clarify Israel’s issues with the recently passed Polish law that sparked the ongoing clash between the two countries. The law makes illegal some claims about the Holocaust, including accusing the Polish government or nation of having taken part in it.

Earlier Sunday, the Polish government seemed to try to minimize the fallout from the prime minister’s comments.

A statement by Morawiecki’s office said his claim that Jews were among the perpetrators of the Holocaust was not anti-Semitic, and that he did not intend to deny the genocide of European Jewry during World War II.

The Polish premier’s remarks on Saturday “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,” it said.

His comments, the statement continued, “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.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (2nd-L), Rabbi Meir Lau (2nd-R) and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (R) take part in the March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in Poland on April 24, 2017. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

“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.

Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations CEO Malcolm Hoenlein (l) presents President Reuven Rivlin with a Distinguished Leadership Award and a copy of Megillat Esther — the Book of Esther — in Jerusalem on February 18, 2018. (COP/Avi Hayun)

Rivlin also addressed the recent events on the border with Gaza, in which four soldiers were injured by a bomb. “We… send our prayers for the soldiers injured yesterday,” he said. “No one should think they can test Israel’s will or ability to defend our people.”

He also spoke to the families of those Israeli soldiers and civilians held by the Hamas terror group in Gaza.

“I want to start by saying clearly that the State of Israel will not rest until the return of our fallen soldiers — Oron Shaul, and Hadar Goldin and our citizens — Avraham Mengistu, and Juma Abu Ganima, who are held by Hamas. All of us are with you in your pain,” he said. The families of Goldin and Mengistu were attended the event.

The president also spoke of the Iranian threat to the region and the nuclear accord.

“Israel will not allow Iran or their proxy armies to disturb the lives of our people,” he said. “We will defend our borders and continue to call on the whole free world to stop Iran from sponsoring terrorism, and to stop Iran from its race to a nuclear bomb.”

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