Leroy N. Soetoro
2018-03-12 18:34:28 UTC
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was forced to deny being a
Holocaust denier on Sunday, after suggesting earlier in the weekend that
Jews were partially responsible for their own genocide.
Even so, his words prompted a public scolding from Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu and deepened a crisis between the two countries that
began ironically with Polands effort to dissociate itself from
Morawiecki was speaking at a conference of world leaders in Munich on
Saturday when a journalist asked him about a new Polish law that bans
accusations the country collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II
despite the fact that historians say some Poles did just that.
The prime minister, whose right-wing nationalist party took power in
Poland two years ago, tried to defend the law, which has outraged many
Jews. Youre not going to be seen as criminal [if you] say that there
were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were
Russian perpetrators as well as Ukrainian perpetrators not only German
perpetrators, Morawiecki said.
[I would be considered criminal for saying this: Son of Holocaust
survivors confronts Polish leader over complicity bill]
Morawiecki grouping of Jewish perpetrators with Nazi Germans who set out
to destroy the worlds Jewish population revolted people far beyond the
audience in Munich, provoking denunciations in Israel, a Jewish state
founded after an estimated 6 million Jews were murdered during the
Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid, a centrist Israeli opposition party,
demanded his country recall its Polish ambassador. The Jewish state will
not allow the murdered to be blamed for their own murder, he said,
according to the Associated Press.
Netanyahu called his Polish counterparts comments outrageous and gave
Morawiecki a history lesson the next day, according to Haaretz, about how
his wifes grandfather was betrayed by Poles and murdered by Germans.
The Holocaust was designed to destroy the entire Jewish people and not
any other peoples, Netanyahu said after the conversation.
A comparison between the activities of Poles and the activities of Jews
during the Holocaust is unfounded, his office said Sunday.
Since then, Morawiecki has appeared at pains to demonstrate he knows the
The Holocaust, the genocide of the Jews committed by the German Nazis,
was a horrific crime, he wrote on Twitter. And the Polish government said
in a statement to the Jerusalem Post that Morawiecki 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.
Some Jews did, in fact, work with Nazis during the Holocaust. Germans set
up councils of locals called Judenrat to help govern their Jewish
neighbors in ghettos that had not yet been exterminated.
But Jews on these councils were prisoners themselves and faced impossible
moral dilemmas, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum wrote. Some of them
believed cooperating with Nazis would improve their neighbors lives, or
spare them from death. And when Germans demanded the Judenrat turn their
neighbors over for deportation, some Jewish collaborators refused, and
some died for their refusal.
The situation was different for non-Jews in Nazi-occupied countries
including in Poland. While many hundreds of thousands of Poles died during
the occupation, and many resisted the Nazis through underground forces,
others willingly turned on their Jewish neighbors, whether out of fear,
greed or anti-Semitism. About 3 million Polish Jews were killed by Nazis,
according to the Jerusalem Post.
Despite such historical accounts, some Poles have long resented any
association between their country and the Nazis who conquered it. Poles
criticized President Barack Obama when he referred to Nazi death camps on
Polish soil as Polish death camps.
Morawieckis nationalist Law and Justice party has tried aggressively to
defend Polands image since taking power in 2016 often with
counterproductive results. For example, government ministers defended an
enormous march of far-right, anti-immigrant and white supremacist groups
through the capital last year.
Last month, Polish lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a bill that could jail
people for saying phrases such as Polish death camp or otherwise
suggesting Poland collaborated with Nazis. Israeli leaders along with
U.S. officials, Jewish groups and historians around the world condemned
the bill, but it will nevertheless become law later this year. Anyone
convicted under the law could face fines or up to three years in jail.
Meanwhile, Morawiecki has been trying to stem accusations of Holocaust
revisionism against his government. Arguably, though, the prime minister
has only made the situation worse. As his government rushed to defend his
comments about Jewish perpetrators over the weekend, someone scrawled
misshapen swastikas outside the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv.
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