Poland bristles at Netanyahu Holocaust blame

Poland bristles at Netanyahu Holocaust blame

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has cancelled a trip to Israel after hawkish premier Benjamin Netanyahu referred to Poland’s complicity during the Holocaust.

Poland said it would send Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz instead.

It ‘‘is a signal that the historical truth is a fundamental issue for Poland, and the defence of the good name of Poland is and always will be decisive”, said Deputy Foreign Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek.

A meeting of the Central European Visegrad Group — Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic — is set to be held in Jerusalem this week.

Netanyahu, who faces re-election in April, was quoted saying “Poles co-operated with the Germans” in exterminating millions of Jews.

He reportedly told the media in a quote that has since been disputed: “The Poles collaborated with the Nazis, and I don’t know anyone who was ever sued for such a statement,” he said in reference to the 2017 Polish law criminalising any assertion that Poland was complicit in Nazi killings.

Around 3 million among a 1939 population of around 3.58 million Polish Jews were killed in the Holocaust, along with around 1.8 million non-Jewish Poles.

In an effort to rescue the Visegrad conference, which Netanyahu has highlighted in his electoral campaign as evidence of his international prestige, his office blamed any misunderstanding on the media.

“In a briefing, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke of Poles and not the Polish people or the country of Poland. This was misquoted and misrepresented in press reports and was subsequently corrected by the journalist who issued the initial misstatement.”

Netanyahu’s office said he had not implicated all Poles in the slaughter.

There is a debate about whether he said ‘‘Poles’’ or ‘‘the Poles’’ co-operated, which could be taken as blaming the entire Polish nation.

Virtually all historians would agree that many Poles did collaborate with the Holocaust.

The Israeli ambassador, Anna Azari, was summoned by the Warsaw authorities and asked to clarify Netanyahu’s comments.

Azari reportedly said Netanyahu was referring to individual cases of Poles collaborating with the Nazis.
Bilateral relations were strained last year after Warsaw introduced legislation making the use of phrases like “Polish death camps” punishable by up to three years in jail.

After pressure from Washington and complaints from Israel, Poland watered down the legislation, removing the threat of jail terms.

Many Poles still refuse to accept that thousands participated in the mass murder in addition to the many who risked their lives helping Jews.


Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. The Holocaust is still of contemporary significance in Polish politics. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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