WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s government said Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s comments saying Jews were perpetrators in World War Two as well as Poles and others, which were condemned by Israel, were not intended to deny the Holocaust.
Poland sparked international criticism over its stance on the facts of the Holocaust when it passed a law imposing jail terms for suggesting the country was complicit in the deaths of millions of Jews during the war.
Morawiecki was asked on Saturday by a reporter whether, under the new law, the reporter himself could be penalized for telling a story in Poland about his mother who survived the Holocaust and told him that some Poles had collaborated with the Gestapo.
In his answer Morawiecki equated “Jewish perpetrators” with Polish and others, drawing immediate criticism from Israel’s prime minister who called Morawiecki’s words “outrageous”.
“The comments of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki during a discussion in Munich 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,” Polish government said in a statement released on late on Saturday night.
“The words (…) 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,”, the statement also said.
Some 3 million Jews who lived in pre-war Poland were murdered by the Nazis, accounting for about half of all Jews killed in the Holocaust.
Jews from across the continent were sent to be killed at death camps built and operated by Germans in occupied Poland – home to Europe’s biggest Jewish community at the time – including Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor.
Thousands of Poles risked their lives to protect Jewish neighbors during the war. But research published since the fall of communism in 1989 showed that thousands also killed Jews or denounced those who hid them to the Nazi occupiers, challenging the national narrative that Poland was solely a victim.
According to figures from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Nazis, who invaded Poland in 1939, also killed at least 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians.
“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,” the government’s statement also said.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by)