Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Szymon Szynkowski has demanded an apology from Israel after negative comments by Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz over the weekend. Katz stated that “Poles suckle anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk,” and that “there were many Poles who collaborated with the Nazis.”
Following the remarks, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki withdrew from the Visegrad group summit, held in Jerusalem. This is the first meeting of the Visegrad group of Central European nations held outside of Europe, and Poland’s withdrawal has tarnished Israeli what was to be Prime Minister Benjamin Betanyahu’s achievement.
The diplomatic breakdown is the result of Poland’s complicated relationship with Holocaust history. Prior to the Holocaust, Poland was home to a vibrant Jewish community. While Poland has the highest per capita number of countrymen recognized by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial for saving Jews during World War II, the nation’s leader at the time, Jozef Tiso, collaborated closely with Hitler in deporting Jews to concentration and death camps. Katz’s remarks refer to this collaboration.
Poland recently criminalized mention of Polish complicity in Nazi war crimes, drawing international criticism for its revisionist stance on the Holocaust. Netanyahu has refrained from opposing the law.
Poland seeks apologies from Israel on alleged Holocaust role remark
Poland is still awaiting an apology from Israel over its acting foreign minister’s comments on the alleged anti-Semitism of the Poles.
The argument led Warsaw to pull out of a key Jerusalem summit, according to Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Szymon Szynkowski.
Israeli authorities must “reject this declaration … and apologise”, Szynkowski told reporters on Tuesday.
“We leave it to Israeli leaders to choose what form of reaction they will have and who will react, but it should be a unified and definite one,” he said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said over the weekend that “Poles suckle anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk” and that “there were many Poles who collaborated with the Nazis”.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki withdrew from a summit of four Central European nations, the Visegrad group, in Jerusalem over the remarks.
Morawiecki’s chief of staff, Marek Suski, said if no apology was forthcoming “relations will really take a frosty turn”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to save face on Tuesday holding individual meetings with the remaining three leaders, Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, before a joint lunch at his official residence.
The first gathering outside Europe of the Visegrad Group was supposed to be a crowning achievement for Netanyahu in his outreach to Central and Eastern Europe to counter the traditional criticism Israel faces in international forums.
Orban was the only one to address the diplomatic crisis. He said he hoped the countries could resolve their dispute and “improve the situation”.
“It’s always better together with them than without them,” he said of Poland.
Standing alongside Netanyahu, Pellegrini noted with pride that more than 600 of his countrymen had been recognised by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial for saving Jews during World War II.
He claimed the figure marked the highest per capita proportion of any country.
Yad Vashem would not confirm the claim, but said any “statistical conclusions” about a country’s Righteous Among the Nations “should be avoided”.
The Slovak Republic was a client state of Germany in World War II whose leader, Jozef Tiso, collaborated with Hitler and deported Jews to Nazi death camps.
“The government did everything possible to round up all the Jews and send them to Auschwitz and Majdanek. There were a high percentage of victims in Slovakia,” said Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “Many people there idolise Tiso to this day.”
It’s a sensitive subject for Poland, where these concentration camps were located, but which for centuries before was a vibrant centre of Jewish life.
Poland was the first country occupied by Adolf Hitler’s regime and never had a collaborationist government.
Members of Poland’s resistance and government-in-exile struggled to warn the world about the mass killing of Jews, and thousands of Poles risked their lives to help Jews.
However, Holocaust researchers have also collected ample evidence of Polish villagers who murdered Jews fleeing the Nazis, or Polish blackmailers who preyed on the Jews for financial gain and stole their property.
Poland’s nationalist government has been quick to denounce anyone accused of linking the country to the well-documented history.
Israeli officials see Poland’s controversial legislation that criminalises mention of Polish complicity in Nazi war crimes as an attempt to suppress such discussion, and Netanyahu has faced criticism from historians in Israel for not opposing the law, which critics say distorts history.
Source: Al Jazeera, No bylines, Feb.19, 2019. Photo credit to Thomas Kienzle/AFP.