Poland’s government distanced itself Thursday from comments made by the prime minister’s father, who claimed Jews willingly entered ghettos during the German occupation of Poland to get away from their Christian neighbors.
The comment by Kornel Morawiecki, a senior lawmaker and father of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, is the latest episode in weeks of bitterness that have erupted over a controversial new Holocaust speech law.
Kornel Morawiecki claimed in a recent interview that Jews were not forced into ghettos by Germans but went willingly because “they were told there would be an enclave where they could get away from nasty Poles.”
The comment is historically inaccurate. It also seems to minimize the tragedy of the Jews and suggest they partly brought the tragedy upon themselves out of anti-Polish hatred.
The deputy foreign minister, Bartosz Cichocki, said the comment does not reflect the position of the Polish government.
Cichocki has led recent talks in Israel aimed at damage control after an angry dispute triggered by the Polish law, which makes it a crime punishable by up to three years of prison to publicly and falsely blame Poland for German Holocaust atrocities.
The Polish government says it needs a tool to fight cases in which Poland is inaccurately blamed for German crimes that were carried out in occupied Poland during World War II.
Israel and other critics, however, fear that the law — which is in any case unenforceable outside of Poland — is really aimed at trying to stifle research and discussion within Poland into anti-Jewish wartime violence, something that casts a shadow over Polish wartime behavior that was often honorable under conditions of profound suffering.
On Thursday, the prosecutor general, Zbigniew Ziobro, said that one part of the law is unconstitutional. The statement was surprising because Ziobro, who is also the justice minister, was an early proponent of the law, and his ministry wrote it.
It appeared to be a sign that Poland’s authorities might be seeking a way to abandon the law, which has also created tensions with the United States. The constitutional court is expected to review the legislation soon, and many expect it will strike down at least part of it.
Amid the heated debates, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has also sparked criticism with comments seen as insensitive and historically wrong.
At a forum of world leaders in Munich last month he listed “Jewish perpetrators” of the Holocaust along with German, Ukrainian, Russian and Polish perpetrators, seeming also to suggest that Jews were partly responsible for their own genocide.