WARSAW: Poland pulled out of a planned summit in Israel after Israel’s acting foreign minister said on Monday that “many Poles” had collaborated with the Nazis in World War Two and shared responsibility for the Holocaust.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki branded the remarks “racist and unacceptable”. He had previously said he would not join Tuesday’s gathering of central European leaders in Israel, sending instead a lower-level delegation, but said on Monday that no Polish officials would now attend.
“Not only can we not accept such racist comments, but with all our strength we want to stress that we will fight for historical truth, for the honour of Poles,” he told reporters.
The leaders of the other three ‘Visegrad Group’ nations — Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia — all still planned to attend the talks, Israel said, but Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said they would instead consist of bilateral discussions and that the summit would be rescheduled for later in 2019.
Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government has made what it sees as the defence of national honour over its wartime record a cornerstone of foreign policy since taking power in 2015.
Many Poles refuse to accept research showing thousands of their countrymen participated in the Holocaust in addition to thousands of others who risked their lives to help the Jews. They say Warsaw’s Western allies have also failed to acknowledge the scale of Poland’s own suffering under wartime occupation.
The diplomatic row between Poland and Israel has been escalating since Friday, when Israeli media reported remarks by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday suggesting Polish complicity in the Holocaust.
Israel’s Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz exacerbated the dispute on Monday when he told Israel’s Army Radio: “Many Poles collaborated with the Nazis and took part in the destruction of the Jews during the Holocaust.”
The Polish decision is a blow for Netanyahu, who had hoped the Visegrad summit would burnish his diplomatic credentials ahead of Israel’s April 9 election.
Before World War Two Poland was home to one of the world’s biggest Jewish communities but it was almost entirely wiped out by the Nazis who set up camps such as Auschwitz on Polish soil.
Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2019