A furious Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, has attacked reported comments by the Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, that to give property restitution to Polish Jews would be tantamount to “Hitler’s posthumous victory”.
Mr Lauder has asked for a full explanation of the prime minister’s remarks, but says that if they were genuine then they were “reprehensible and must be thoroughly rejected. As a longtime friend of Poland and the Polish people, I call upon Prime Minister Morawiecki to either deny or retract this deeply offensive and utterly incomprehensible statement.”
The war of words is part of an ongoing row between Poland and the Jewish world in which Poland has repeatedly sought to present itself as a victim of the Nazis in quite as much a way as the millions of Jews who died. Last year Poland passed a law that made it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in Nazi German war crimes, particularly referring to “Polish” death camps — although the Israel politician, Yair Lapid, makes a point of doing so.
In this latest clash, Mr Lauder said that Poland’s failure to confront appropriately the issue of restitution was “especially troubling”. He said: “Successive Polish governments have steadfastly refused to recognise the material losses of Polish Jewry and have essentially treated their homes and other property as the spoils of war — and individual Poles and Polish institutions have profiteered from these assets for more than seven decades.”
The row has played out against a televised election debate in the Polish city of Kielce, in which a far-right politician put a kippah on the head of a candidate from Prime Minister Morawiecki’s Law and Justice party, saying that her party “kneels to the Jews”. But the prime minister has appeared to draw on heated feelings in Poland by saying that it was Poles who deserved compensation for World War II — and last week Poland cancelled a visit by Israeli officials, who they said had intended to raise the issue of Holocaust restitution during the scheduled bilateral talks.