(JTA) — The prime minister of Poland said his countrymen should be proud rather than ashamed of events that happened 50 years ago when anti-Semitism drove thousands of Jews to leave.
Mateusz Morawiecki during a debate at the University of Warsaw titled “March ’68, National Social Movement against Communism” blamed the Soviet Union, which controlled Poland until the USSR’s collapse, for fomenting anti-Semitism.
Last month, Morawiecki triggered a furious reaction from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when the Polish leader said the Holocaust had some Jewish perpetrators. In the same month, Poland stirred controversy when it enacted a law that criminalizes blaming Poland for Nazi crimes. Israel, Jewish groups and historians are among those who have blasted the measure.
In a speech preceding the debate, Morawiecki said: “We often hear that March ’68 should be a reason for shame for Poland. For Poles who have fought for freedom, they should be a source of pride.”
Polskie Radio’s report of his remarks did not include an explanation by Morawiecki as to why exactly Poles should be proud of the month, in which anti-Semitic posters appeared throughout Poland.
However, his remark about pride appears to be a reference not to anti-Semitic incitement but to a failed student uprising after which Jews were vilified in the media that were closely controlled by the state. The uprising had erupted over the expulsion of two Jewish students, Adam Michnik and Henryk Szlajfer, for their criticism of human rights abuses under communism.
Following months of anti-Semitic incitement in the media, thousands of Jews left for Israel, leaving behind whatever possessions they could not smuggle out before being stripped of their Polish citizenship.
But Poland cannot be blamed for this, Morawiecki said, as it “was not an independent and sovereign state, it was dependent on another superpower.”
The slogan “Zionists to Zion,” which was common during the incitement period, “did not necessarily come from Poles who wanted freedom, from Polish society,” he said. “This foreign power, which was the representative of a great power, implemented its plan and used anti-Semitism.”