Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is on damage control mode after his comments about the Holocaust were seen as an attempt to blame Jews for their own demise.
The Washington Post reported that on Saturday that Morawiecki was participating in a panel discussion during the annual Munich Security Conference in Germany. As he discussed Poland’s Holocaust complicity legislation, a law that allows for the punishment of people who suggest Poland collaborated with the Nazis, a journalist asked the Polish leader what they intended to achieve with the new law.
Ronen Bergman, the journalist in question, is the son of Holocaust survivors whose Polish neighbors attempted to betray Jews who were in hiding. So, when he got a chance to speak, he asked if he would be considered a criminal for telling this story now that Poland passed the complicity bill.
“[I]t’s extremely important to first understand that of course it’s not going to be punishable, not going to be seen as criminal to 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.
“There were Polish perpetrators,” he added. “But we cannot agree with mixing perpetrators with victims because this would be first of all an offense to all the Jews and all the Poles who suffered greatly during the second World War.”
After appearing to claim that there were Jewish individuals who helped to carry out the Holocaust, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Morawiecki's comments “outrageous,” adding that “there was no basis for comparing the actions of Poles during the Holocaust to those of Jews.”
But according to a statement from the Polish government, their prime minister never intended to sound like a Holocaust denier.
On Twitter, Morawiecki tried to put an end to the controversy by saying that the duress many Poles suffered helped to drive them to commit dark actions.
The Holocaust, the genocide of the Jews committed by the German Nazis, was a horrific crime. Even during those dark hours of war and murder, there were individuals of all nations who bravely carried out gestures of the greatest mercy. 1/2— Mateusz Morawiecki (@MorawieckiM) February 18, 2018
Sadly,this period also exposed dark parts of human nature, which for some meant collaboration with German Nazis. Dialogue on these difficult chapters of our history is essential—a dialogue we hope to continue w/ Israel. Today, I spoke about this with Prime Minister @netanyahu 2/2— Mateusz Morawiecki (@MorawieckiM) February 18, 2018
While the Polish prime minister continues to work on damage control after his comments, it’s undeniable that as he struggles to explain that he did not mean Jews were complicit, he appears to miss the irony in defending a bill that prohibits Poles from saying that nationals may have helped the Nazis.
While history tells us that there were Poles who did help the Nazis and even some Jewish leaders who were forced to help Nazis to implement policies that hurt members of their own community, we can never take these facts as a representation of the group. Therefore, not talking about it isn’t the answer. It's almost as if the Holocaust complicity legislation is meant to deny Poles the right to learn about their own history.