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Poland's Embassy defaced after PM claims Jews were complicit in the Holocaust

"There were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukraine and German perpetrators.”

by Tim Hume
Feb 19 2018, 12:45pm

Getty Images

Swastikas were scrawled on Poland’s embassy in Tel Aviv Sunday, the latest act in a growing feud over Warsaw’s controversial laws on Holocaust speech.

The graffiti was found a day after Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a reporter that Jews, as well as Poles and others, were among those who perpetrated the Nazi Holocaust, sparking a furious denunciation from Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally delivered his criticisms to his Polish counterpart in a terse phone call Sunday, according to his office, saying Morawiecki’s comments were tantamount to Holocaust denial.

“He told him that the remarks that were made were unacceptable and that there was no basis for comparing the actions of Poles during the Holocaust to those of Jews,” Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

“The aim of the Holocaust was to destroy the Jewish people and that every Jew, everywhere, was facing a death sentence,” it quoted him as saying.

Poland and Israel have been locked in an diplomatic dispute since Warsaw introduced laws imposing jail terms for ascribing “responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish nation or state for crimes committed by the German Third Reich.”

Israel and others say the laws, which have been signed into law but referred up to the country’s top court over their constitutionality, appear to be an attempt to whitewash the complicity of some Poles in Nazi crimes on Polish soil.

The issue flared up again Saturday when Morawiecki, attending a security conference in Munich, was asked by an Israeli reporter whether it would be against the Polish law for him to tell the story of his mother, who fled Poland during World War II after learning her neighbors were about to denounce her to the Gestapo.

The Polish premier responded: “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 there were Ukraine and German perpetrators.”

Faced with a backlash, Morawiecki's spokeswoman Joanna Kopcinska said Sunday the comments “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.”

Police in Tel Aviv have launched an inquiry into the graffiti, which also included the word “murderer” written in English.

The role of Poles in Nazi atrocities in Poland during World War II is a touchy subject for Warsaw, which has long objected to the phrase “Polish death camps” to describe the Nazi camps built on invaded Polish territory.

Poland, home to Europe’s largest pre-war Jewish population, was the first country invaded by Nazi Germany, which inflicted huge suffering on Jews and ethnic Poles alike. About 90 percent of Poland’s Jewish population of 3.2 million were killed during the genocide, and millions of non-Jewish Poles were also killed.

While most Polish Jews were killed by the Nazis, historians say that Poles were also complicit in many Jewish deaths — whether by denouncing them or directly participating in violence against them. Others worked to save their Jewish neighbors from the Third Reich.

Cover image: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki during a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel following their meeting in Federal Chancellery in Berlin, Germany on 16 February 2018. (Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

World War II