Poland tries to rewrite country's role in Holocaust - PM email leak

Warsaw has a history of refusing to take responsibility for its involvement in Nazi crimes committed during the Holocaust.

 THE GATE to Auschwitz, photographed in January 2021, 76 years after the camp’s liberation: There are still countless Jews who say about the Shoah, ‘If this could happen, how can anyone still believe in God?’ (photo credit: KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS)
THE GATE to Auschwitz, photographed in January 2021, 76 years after the camp’s liberation: There are still countless Jews who say about the Shoah, ‘If this could happen, how can anyone still believe in God?’
(photo credit: KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS)

Poland’s attempt to rewrite the nation’s involvement in the Holocaust was revealed in leaked emails between Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, right-wing journalist Bronisław Wildstein and two political advisers, according to a report by Polish news site Wyborcza last week.

In one email from 2018, Wildstein told Morawiecki that “the basic problem we have in our relations with the Jews is that our enemies have monopolized all contact with them.”

Wildstein went on to explain that “our enemies” referred not only to political adversaries but also “enemies of the entire Polish nation. ”As an example, he named the Center for Holocaust Research, which he said “presents an almost obsessive hatred of Poles.”

He also named historian Jan Grabowski, who “says that the issue of Poles helping Jews can be addressed only after our own [Polish] crimes have been investigated,” and sociologist Barbara Engelking, who has “taken over relations with Yad Vashem.” Both academics specialize in the Holocaust and German-occupied Poland.

"Promote Polish martyrdom using Jewish martyrdom, because it is possible."

Bronisław Wildstein
Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki (credit: FRANCOIS LENOIR / REUTERS)Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki (credit: FRANCOIS LENOIR / REUTERS)

The email ended with Wildstein telling Morawiecki that it might be necessary to analyze the status of institutes such as the Jewish Historical Institute and the POLIN museum “and the possibility of introducing our people into their midst.”

In another email revealed by Wyborcza, the journalist tells the prime minister that it is important to promote Poland both locally and internationally by equating Polish suffering in the Holocaust to that of the Jews.

“The media issue you mention is important, not just in Israel, but all over the world,” Morawiecki wrote in response, according to Wyborcza’s report. “We must map out journalists sympathetic to Poland. This is a job to be done right now by the Foreign Ministry and the Polish National Foundation.”

"We must map out journalists sympathetic to Poland."

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki

The prime minister’s advisers responded to this email, suggesting “sympathetic journalists” who could be good for the job.

Other emails sent between the four contained similar discourses.

Poland won't take responsibility for Holocaust crimes

Poland has insisted that it was not involved in any Nazi crimes during the Holocaust and refuses to take responsibility for any of it. Phrases such as “Polish death camps” have been controversial in the Central European nation over the past decades, with former US president Barack Obama being heavily criticized when he used the term while awarding a posthumous Medal of Freedom to Polish WWII resistance fighter Jan Karski.

In January 2018, Warsaw passed a bill that outlaws blaming Poland of any involvement in crimes committed during the Holocaust. Breaking the law can result in a prison sentence of up to three years.

In July 2021, Poland passed another law that would prevent Jews from receiving restitution for property stolen from their family during the Holocaust.

The ruling caused a diplomatic crisis between Poland and Israel, with Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who was foreign minister at the time, recalling the Israeli ambassador to Poland. The two countries’ diplomats were restored in November.

In June, Lapid banned Israeli school trips to Poland, saying the Polish educators were trying to manipulate the content the students were being taught on the trips.