WARSAW (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned his Polish counterpart on Saturday for saying Jews were perpetrators in World War Two as well as Poles and others, just weeks after Warsaw drew criticism over a new Holocaust law.
Poland passed a law this month imposing jail terms for suggesting the country was complicit in the Holocaust, prompting criticism from Israel and the United States.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was asked by a reporter at the Munich Security Conference in Germany whether, under the new law, the reporter himself could be penalized for telling a story in Poland about his mother who survived the Holocaust and told him that some Poles had collaborated with the Gestapo.
“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 replied.
Netanyahu, who is also attending the Munich conference, was quick to respond.
“The Polish Prime Minister’s remarks here in Munich are outrageous. There is a problem here of an inability to understand history and a lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people,” he said.
“I intend to speak with him forthwith,” he added.
Other officials in Israel, already alarmed by the new Polish legislation, also spoke out against Morawiecki’s comment.
“The Polish prime minister’s statement is anti-Semitism of the oldest kind. The perpetrators are not the victims. The Jewish state will not allow the murdered to be blamed for their own murder,” Israeli lawmaker Yair Lapid wrote on Twitter. He also called for Israel’s ambassador to Poland to be recalled.
Some 3 million Jews who lived in pre-war Poland were murdered by the Nazis, accounting for about half of all Jews killed in the Holocaust.
Jews from across the continent were sent to be killed at death camps built and operated by Germans in occupied Poland - home to Europe’s biggest Jewish community at the time - including Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor.
Thousands of Poles risked their lives to protect Jewish neighbors during the war. But research published since the fall of communism in 1989 showed that thousands also killed Jews or denounced those who hid them to the Nazi occupiers, challenging the national narrative that Poland was solely a victim.
According to figures from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Nazis, who invaded Poland in 1939, also killed at least 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians.
Reporting by Anna Koper in Warsaw and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Writing Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Hugh Lawson