Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has attempted to downplay his claim that Jews were among the perpetrators of the Holocaust.
During the Munich Security Conference, Mr Morawiecki defended a law which would see jail terms handed down for people who suggested the country was complicit in the Nazi genocides from 1941 to 1945.
And while responding to a direct accusation that Poles had collaborated with the Gestapo, he claimed there were “Jewish perpetrators” just as there were Polish ones.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Mr Morawiecki’s comments as “outrageous”, “unacceptable”, and tantamount to denying the Holocaust which involved the systematic murder of around two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe.
The Polish government has defended its Prime Minister’s comments, saying he did not intend to deny the Holocaust nor allege that Jewish victims bore responsibility for “Nazi German-perpetrated genocide”.
Mr Morawiecki’s spokeswoman said his remarks “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.”
She added: “Each crime must be judged individually, and no single act of wickedness should burden with responsibility entire nations, which were conquered and enslaved by Nazi Germany.”
The majority of the Jews murdered across the continent resided in pre-war Poland, and the Nazi death camps operated in occupied Poland included Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor.
Thousands of Poles risked their lives to protect Jewish neighbours during the Second World War and many resisted the Nazis alongside Britain’s armed forces.
Polish airmen were famously among the most successful who flew for the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain.
However, research published following the collapse of the Soviet Union revealed that thousands who remained in Poland also killed Jews and actively collaborated with the German occupiers, contrary to the national narrative of Poland as a victim.
The criminalisation of the description of Auschwitz as a Polish death camp has received support from the far-right in Poland.
Poland’s ultranationalist party, the National Revival of Poland – which is considered an anti-Semitic organisation by international institutions, including the US State Department – has demonstrated in favour the law.
Protesters attended the Polish embassy on Sunday to criticise the Mr Morawiecki’s comments.