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Poland says PM remarks were not holocaust denial amid Netanyahu criticism

Mateusz Morawiecki's remarks about 'Jewish perpetrators' in World War Two were dismissed by Israeli PM as 'outrageous'
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki gives a speech during the Munich Security Conference on February 17, 2018 in Munich, southern Germany (AFP)

Poland has moved to clarify remarks made by its Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki about the role of Jews in World War Two, after the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the comments as "outrageous".

Poland's government said Morawiecki’s comments, made at a high-profile security conference in Munich and saying Jews were perpetrators in World War Two as well as Poles and others, were not intended to deny the Holocaust.

"The comments of Prime Minister  Mateusz Morawiecki during a discussion in Munich were by no means intended to deny the Holocaust, or charge the Jewish victims of the Holocaust with responsibility for what was a Nazi German-perpetrated genocide," the Polish government said in a statement released on late on Saturday night.

"The words (...) should be interpreted as a sincere call for open discussion of crimes committed against Jews during the Holocaust, regardless of the nationality of those involved in each crime," the statement said.

Poland sparked international criticism over its stance on the facts of the Holocaust when it passed a law earlier this month imposing jail terms for suggesting the country was complicit in the deaths of millions of Jews during the war.

Prime Minister Morawiecki was asked by reporter Ronen Bergman at the Munich Security Conference in Germany whether, under the new law, the reporter himself could be penalised 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 three-day 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.

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 neighbours 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 US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Nazis, who invaded Poland in 1939, also killed at least 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians.

"Attempts to equate the crimes of Nazi German perpetrators with the actions of their victims - Jewish, Polish, Romani among others - who struggled for survival should be met with resolute, outright condemnation," the government's statement said.

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