Polish Prime Minister's Jewish Holocaust 'Perpetrators' Comments Spark Outrage In Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the Muni World conference in Tel Aviv on February 14, 2018. Netanyahu said today his government was 'stable' and criticised the police investigation against him after detectives recommended his indictment for corruption, prompting calls for him to resign. Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

Israel and Poland trading barbs over the Second World War this weekend after the Polish prime minister said Jewish individuals were among the perpetrators of the Holocaust—a comment that immediately prompted outrage from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The conflict stems from a recent law pushed by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki's conservative Law and Justice party that fines or imprisons anyone claiming Poland was complicit in the systemic, mass execution of Jews and other groups during World War II. Warsaw has adopted the position that Germany, not Poland, is at fault for the Holocaust, though there is ample evidence of Polish collaborators in Hitler's so-called "Final Solution" of the Jews.

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The Israeli government has repeatedly and vehemently protested the law, but speaking in Munich on Saturday, Morawiecki again defended it—setting off another round of anger from Israeli officials.

"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 there were Ukrainian, not only German perpetrators," Morawiecki said, refuting that the bill ignores Polish collaborators.

Netanyahu, who is attending the same conference in Germany, retorted swiftly, calling Morawiecki's statement "outrageous" and lacking "sensitivity to the tragedy of our people." The Israeli leader told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that he also called the Polish premier, insisting his comparison was "false" and giving him a personal example with the family of Netanyahu's wife.

"Her grandfather and two relatives were hidden by the Poles," Netanyahu said, referring to non-Jewish resistance to Nazi antisemitic policies. "We appreciate it and give it all due respect, but here is the example: The Germans had left the town, and the Poles ran after the German forces and said, 'Here are three more Jews,' and they killed my wife's grandfather."

Netanyahu said he agreed that the Nazi regime initiated the Holocaust and built concentration camps such as Auschwitz, instrumental for the German regime's extermination of millions, but erected on invaded soil, outside Germany. But he also added that likening the level of responsibility of Poles and Jews in the Holocaust was wrong.

"[Poland] is trying to say that there were cases in which Jews collaborated with the Nazis, but one cannot compare numerically, and the circumstances are entirely different as well," Netanyahu said. "They don't deny that there were Poles who helped the Nazis and turned in Jews etc., but say you can't extend that to the entire Polish people. I told him, you can't fix one distortion with another."