A leading Polish human rights official has come under fire for saying the "Polish nation" took part in the implementation of the Holocaust—a controversial statement in a country whose official view is that Poland never collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II.
The statement was made by Adam Bodnar, the country's human rights commissioner, who spoke Wednesday on the state-run TVP Info broadcaster.
"There is no doubt that the Germans were responsible for the Holocaust, but many nations took part in its implementation. Among them—and I say this with regret—the Polish nation," said Bodnar during his interview.
Bodnar later apologized for the comment, but members of Poland's conservative government nevertheless said he should resign.
The flap threatens to weaken Bodnar, who heads one of the last state institutions still independent from the ruling conservative Law and Justice party.
After taking power in 2015, the party moved quickly to consolidate its hold over the Constitutional Tribunal, public media and other state bodies in a way that has eroded checks and balances, sparking criticism by the European Union.
Bodnar's office has criticized the government for its steps against the constitutional court and over other human rights issues.
Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Dziedziczak called Bodnar's comment "scandalous," untrue and added it "disqualifies him from public life."
Bodnar quickly apologized for his choice of words and clarified that he did not mean to say that the entire nation took part in the Holocaust, only that some Poles had committed crimes against Jews.
The behavior of Poles toward Jews during Germany's wartime occupation of Poland remains an extremely sensitive subject.
Poland was subjected to a cruel occupation during the war and was the site of many death camps where the Germans murdered Jews, Roma and other minority groups.
Poles today are hugely offended at suggestions that they took part in the Holocaust. There is a state campaign to fight the term "Polish death camps," which non-Poles have sometimes used. After referring to a "Polish death camp" in a '12 speech of his, then US president Barack Obama raised the ire of the Polish population, until his administration had to issue an apology.