Polish FM: Jews betrayed and denounced Poles who risked their own lives to hide and protect them during Holocaust
After PM in Warsaw said Jews were also perpetrators, Jacek Czaputowicz continues war of words over Polish World War II role
Times of Israel
The spat between Israel and Poland over responsibility for the Holocaust showed no signs of dying down Tuesday, as Poland’s foreign minister told a Polish newspaper that there had been cases in which Jews denounced to the Nazis the Poles who were hiding them.
Polish-Jewish relations during World War ll were complex, Jacek Czaputowicz told Dziennik Gazeta Prawna. “There were traitors among Poles and [there were] former heroes,” he said. “There were also cases, however, that Jews caught by the Germans denounced the Poles who were hiding them. The situation was extremely complicated.”
Czaputowicz said that each case took place within a broader context and that it was not advisable to jump to conclusions about “complicated ethical dilemmas” that people faced when state structures collapsed and terror reigned, as during the German occupation of Poland.
Recriminations have been flying between Poland and Israel since Poland passed a a controversial law making it a criminal offense, punishable by up to three years in prison, to accuse the Polish state or nation of responsibility for the Holocaust.
The legislation, championed by Poland’s ruling conservative party, sparked a bitter dispute with Israel, which said it would inhibit free speech about the Holocaust. The United States also strongly opposes the law, saying it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.
But the law, Czaputowicz insisted on Tuesday, was “about defending the historical truth” and Poland’s good name.
“There were no Polish death camps,” he said. “We were not the perpetrators of the Holocaust, as the state and the Polish nation have been depicted. Nobody has claimed that the matter is simple. Anti-Polish sentiment is significant, and this debate can have a refreshing effect.”
He went on, “We do not deny that individual Poles sent Jews to the Gestapo [and that] there were Poles who, for profit or for other reasons, reported Jews. Such attitudes deserve condemnation.”
But “it was not a system authorized by the state, which functioned in the underground and in exile. The administration in the territory of occupied Poland was carried out by Germans. War is governed by other laws. There are layers of evil that, under normal conditions, do not occur on such a scale and with such brutality.”
Responding to the interviewer’s suggestion that comments about Poles betraying Jews could land the foreign minister in trouble under the new law, Czaputowicz said, “The law does not gag the mouths of those who tell the truth that, for example, among the Poles, there were those who betrayed Jews or even murdered them.”
Asked about ostensible anti-Polish sentiment in Israel, the foreign minister said he thought it was connected to World War ll-related trauma. “Those who survived mention bad contact with Poles,” he said. “Many members of their families did not survive.
“You have to approach this situation with empathy,” Czaputowicz continued. “Look at it through the prism of a person hiding in a cell, whose family members have already been shot, often after denunciation by other Poles.”
Some Israeli reactions also stemmed from “misinterpretation” of the legislation, he added. “Nobody in Poland has the intention of changing history or denying the Holocaust.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Saturday that alongside Poles, “Jewish perpetrators” also bore responsibility for the Holocaust, drawing fierce condemnations from Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.