(JTA) — In his first speech as Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki said that non-Jewish Poles who saved their “Jewish brothers” during the Holocaust represent the “essence of what it means to be Polish.”
Morawiecki, a former banker who in September spoke about his Jewish roots – two of his aunts are Jewish — in a speech about rescuers of Jews in Warsaw, presented his inaugural address Tuesday to the parliament.
The remark about Jews was unusual because of the reference as brethren and the de facto head of state including the subject in an inaugural address.
Morawiecki, who was the finance minister before his promotion in a surprising reshuffle in the government of the right-wing ruling Law and Justice Party, spoke mostly about the economy and foreign relations.
But in speaking about the national identity, he said: “The deep community dimension is inscribed in our tradition: Assistance to people in flight, Żegota saving our Jewish brothers and Solidarity. This is real proof of what Polishness is and what the community is.”
Żegota is the name of a Polish resistance group that helped Jews during the Holocaust. Solidarity was an anti-communist movement, in which Morawiecki’s father was active during Poland’s subjugation to the Soviet Union.
Morawiecki, 49, succeeds Beata Maria Szydło, also of the right-wing party, who has served in the post since 2015.
Morawiecki, who was not even a member of Law and Justice two years ago, joined the government as minister for economic development in 2015 before adding the post of finance minister last year.
His Jewish roots were known in Poland. Morawiecki spoke about it in some detail earlier this year at a ceremony at the Warsaw Zoo honoring a former zoo director and his wife, Jan and Antonina Żabiński, who saved hundreds of Jews there, and other rescuers.
Polish non-Jews killed at least 1,500 Jews in a series of pogroms during and directly after the Holocaust, according to the Polish chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich.