The Nazi slogan "Arbeit macht frei" (Work sets you free) is pictured at the gates of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland January 27, 2017..
(photo credit: AGENCY GAZETA/KUBA OCIEPA/VIA REUTERS)
In comments that outraged Israelis across the political spectrum, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Saturday that there were Polish perpetrators in the Holocaust, in the same way that there were also Jewish, Ukrainian and Russian perpetrators.
Morawiecki was responding to a question posed to him at the Munich Security Conference by Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, on the heels of the contentious law that criminalizes talk of Polish complicity in Nazi crimes.
Bergman related how his mother saved herself and much of her family during the Holocaust after she overheard her Polish neighbors saying that they planned to reveal the location of their Jewish neighbors to the SS.
“If I understand correctly, after this law is legislated, I will be considered a criminal in your country for saying this,” Bergman said. He told the prime minister that he was “drawing more fire” to the subject of Polish complicity, drawing applause from the audience.
Morawiecki responded that Poland will not punish people who say there were Polish perpetrators, “as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian perpetrators – not only German perpetrators.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Morawiecki’s remarks as “outrageous.”
“There is a problem here of a misunderstanding of history and a lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people. I plan to talk to him soon,” said Netanyahu, who was also in Munich.
Netanyahu’s comments, which were made on Saturday night, followed several calls from members of the opposition for the prime minister to downgrade Israel’s ties with Poland.
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid called on Netanyahu to immediately recall Israel’s ambassador from Warsaw.
“The Polish prime minister’s statement is antisemitism of the oldest kind. The perpetrators are not the victims. The Jewish state will not allow the murdered to be blamed for their own murder. I again call upon the prime minister to immediately recall our ambassador,” Lapid wrote on Twitter.
Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay accused the Polish prime minister of speaking like a Holocaust denier: “The blood of millions of Jews cries out from Polish soil about the distortion of history and the escape from guilt. Jews were murdered in the Holocaust and Poles took an active part in their murder. The government of Israel must be the voice of the millions of those murdered and strongly condemn the words of the Polish prime minister.”
Many other members of his party also decried Morawiecki’s statement.
MK NACHMAN SHAI (Zionist Union) was among the voices calling on the government to downgrade the level of diplomatic relations with Warsaw.
“The time has come for the government of Israel to take practical steps and make it clear to Poland that the law and repeated statements about the Poles and the Holocaust of European Jewry are on the border of Holocaust denial,” he said.
“It must demand a change in this twisted law and until then reduce the rank of the embassy in Warsaw. Today’s political interests are important; Jewish history is more important,” he added.
MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union) said: “Probably the next step of Morawiecki’s pathetic project to erase the crimes of the Poles is going to be blaming the Jews for their own Holocaust tragedy and presenting the Nazis as victims of the circumstances. He would have to sue the six million Jewish victims and the survivors before it will happen.”
MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union), who was present at the conference, tweeted: “It is moving to hear Ronen Bergman question/attack the Polish prime minister about the law which forbids mentioning the participation of the Polish people in the Holocaust, when he tells the story of his family and is applauded by the audience.”
Former prime minister Ehud Barak said “the ugly face of the new antisemitism has been exposed – the nationalist ‘fake news’ government that attacks the courts and free media in its country. For some reason, Bibi [Netanyahu] and his government are finding it difficult to unequivocally condemn the phenomenon – and to stop all contact with this disgraceful Polish government.”
Also responding to the comment, MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) said: “While the Israeli government stammers and tries to “talk” about the Polish law, the Polish government does not stop and continues in a way that flirts with Holocaust denial and distortion of the history of the Holocaust. No political interest can justify it – the Israeli government must stop the dangerous tango with antisemitic parties and leaders. Instead of Israel leading a zero-tolerance line on antisemitism, racism and distortion of the memory of the Holocaust, it is twisting and making ties with the great antisemites.”
This is not the first time such an equation has been made by a Polish official.
Last week, Andrzej Zybertowicz, an adviser to President Andrzej Duda, wrote on Twitter: “Yes, many Poles were complicit in the Nazi crimes. And I regret this very much. But isn’t there also the truth that many Jews were complicit in the Nazi crimes?” Poznan Mayor Jacek Jaskowiak, a member of the liberal-conservative opposition party Civic Platform, told The Jerusalem Post last week that he sees such comparisons as inappropriate.
“This is not the way to discuss it,” he said. For instance, he said, there were Jews who helped in the crematorium in the Auschwitz death camp, but “it is not possible to say these Jews helped Nazis. They were forced to do it – if they didn’t, they would be killed. In such extreme situations, you couldn’t expect normal behavior.”