In his inaugural speech, Poland’s new prime minister has described how his countrymen and women saved their “Jewish brothers” in the Second World War.
Addressing parliament for the first time in his new role yesterday, Mateusz Morawiecki said that the bravery displayed by some Polish non-Jews was the “essence of what it means to be Polish”.
Though he previously spoke of his desire to “re-Christianize Europe” in an interview with Polish Catholic station TV Trwam, Mr Morawiecki also has Jewish ties. Back in September, the former banker revealed that two of his aunts are Jewish.
Yesterday’s address focused mainly on the economy and financial relations, but when speaking about national identity, Mr Morawiecki 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 was the 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 time behind the Iron Curtain.
Yesterday’s statement was significant because it referred to Jewish Poles as brethren. Poland was home to 3.3 million Jews prior to the Holocaust, more than any other country in Europe. One in ten Poles were Jewish but an estimated three million were wiped out by the Nazis, according to Yad Vashem.
Mr Morawiecki, 49, who was sworn in by the Polish president on Monday, replaced Beata Szydło who tendered her resignation last week. He was previously the finance minister in the government of the right-wing ruling Law and Justice Party.
Earlier this year he spoke of his family’s Jewish connection at a ceremony at Warsaw Zoo, honouring former zoo director Jan Żabiński and his wife Antonina, as well as others who rescued many hundreds of Jews.