Poland's top rabbi slams honours for accused Nazi collaborators

Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich has said honouring a group of World War II ultra-nationalist underground fighters would be a "personal insult" (AFP Photo/Wojtek RADWANSKI)

Warsaw (AFP) - Poland's chief rabbi on Wednesday criticised plans by the country's right-wing government to honour a group of ultra-nationalist underground fighters accused of collaborating with the Nazis during World War II.

Rabbi Michael Schudrich said he felt "insulted" by an invitation from the Polish veterans' affairs office to a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the creation of the Swietokrzyska Brigade.

The event will be held under the auspices of President Andrzej Duda.

"The organisation of these ceremonies insults the memory of all Polish citizens killed in the fight against Germany," Schudrich said in a letter addressed to Veterans' Affairs chief Jan Kasprzyk.

"I regard being invited to take part in them as a personal insult," the rabbi said in the letter carried by Polish media.

President Duda has come under fire from opposition politicians for agreeing to back the controversial ceremonies.

Kasprzyk on Wednesday flatly denied the unit had ever worked with the Nazis, telling Poland's public broadcaster TVP that "the Swietokrzyska Brigade never collaborated with the Germans."

The unit was part of the National Armed Forces (NSZ), a WWII underground Polish ultra-nationalist and anti-communist armed group that fought the Nazis, the Red Army as well as the Polish communist anti-Nazi resistance.

The Swietokrzyska Brigade, comprised of some 850 to 1,400 men, has been accused of collaborating with the Nazis against the Soviets as the Red Army advanced from the east across Polish territory towards the end of the war.

The brigade was at odds with and refused to join the Home Army (AK), the main Polish underground anti-Nazi resistance that was allied with Poland's government in exile in London.

"These (NSZ) anti-communists, they killed Germans, Russians and they killed Jews" who were Polish citizens, Schudrich told AFP.

"There are so many other Polish heroes, we don’t need to choose the ones who actually killed other Poles, and in this case, many of them of the Jewish religion," Schudrich said, dubbing the ceremonies "dangerous" historical revisionism.

In February 2018, Poland's right-wing Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, a staunch anti-communist, triggered a storm of criticism in Poland and Israel when he became the first Polish official to publicly recognise the Swietokrzyska Brigade by laying flowers on the graves of members near Munich.

Meanwhile, Jewish leaders in Lithuania announced Tuesday they were temporarily closing the Vilnius Synagogue and the community's headquarters amid a highly-charged public debate over commemorations for Lithuanian wartime officials, who the Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC) claims were involved in the Holocaust.