Poland’s justice minister has asked prosecutors to investigate remarks by a television commentator who suggested that immigrants relocated by the EU to Poland could be sent to Auschwitz. His comments have also been condemned by the Auschwitz Museum and President Andrzej Duda’s chief of staff.
However, the commentator himself, Jan Pietrzak, says that he does not understand the anger over his remarks while the conservative TV station on which he made them claims it is being attacked for political reasons by the new, more liberal government.
Tragedia Auschwitz pokazuje, do czego prowadzą idee nienawiści i pogardy wobec innego czlowieka.
Instrumentalizacja losów ludzi, którzy ginęli w niemieckich obozach, w nikczemnej retoryce antymigracyjnej to haniebny i zatrważający przejaw moralnego oraz intelektualnego zepsucia. pic.twitter.com/Af3b32w5CB
— Muzeum Auschwitz (@MuzeumAuschwitz) January 1, 2024
Pietrzak, a veteran satirist and conservative commentator, was appearing on TV Republika to discuss the EU’s proposed migration pact, which would see asylum seekers relocated from frontline countries to other member states. He said he wanted to tell a “cruel joke about these immigrants”.
“They count on the Poles being prepared because we have barracks. We have barracks for immigrants in Auschwitz, Majdanek, Treblinka, Sztutowo,” said Pietrzak, referring to former Nazi-German concentration and death camps.
“We have a lot of barracks built here by the Germans. And there we will keep these immigrants, illegally forced into our territory by the Germans,” he added.
Chory człowiek. Przykry widok. pic.twitter.com/LSVeBxELLi
— kataryna 🇵🇱 (@katarynaaa) January 1, 2024
Pietrzak’s remarks were quickly condemned by a wide range of Polish public figures, as well as by the Auschwitz Museum itself.
“The instrumentalisation of the fate of people who died in German camps in vile anti-migration rhetoric is a shameful and terrifying manifestation of moral and intellectual corruption,” wrote the museum on social media. “The tragedy of Auschwitz shows what ideas of hatred and contempt for other people lead to.”
Auschwitz was established in occupied Poland by Nazi Germany in 1940, originally to house Polish prisoners. Later, around 1 million Jews were killed there. Ethnic Poles were the second largest group of victims of the camp.
Yesterday, justice minister Adam Bodnar, who also serves as public prosecutor general, announced that he had asked prosecutors to initiate an investigation into Pietrzak’s comments.
— Adam Bodnar (@Adbodnar) January 1, 2024
President Duda’s chief of staff, Marcin Mastalerek, later appeared on TV Republika to say that “the president was outraged” by Pietrzak’s remarks. “It was not a joke,” said Mastalerek. “There are topics and issues in Poland that cannot be exploited.”
However, he added that “this is what freedom of speech is all about” and “we cannot agree” with Bodnar’s decision to take the issue to prosecutors.
Poland has a wide range of laws criminalising various forms of speech, covering not only hate speech but also defamation and insulting public officials. During Duda’s term in office, a number of people have been put on trial, and some convicted, for the crime of insulting the president.
Three high school students have been found guilty of insulting the president, which is a crime in Poland, and sentenced to community service
The trio shouted vulgarities about Andrzej Duda and vandalised one of his election banners at an end-of-year party https://t.co/d6jHkmAgti
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) June 30, 2021
In an interview with news website Gazeta.pl, Pietrzak said that he “doesn’t understand the storm” his words created. He claimed that it was the Germans themselves who “said they would send [immigrants] here to camps in Poland…I read it somewhere…This was my response to this information”.
Pietrzak did not provide any evidence of any statement by Germany that it would send immigrants to camps in Poland. The EU’s migration is designed to relocate asylum seekers from frontline countries such as Italy and Greece.
He added that “as a person who lived [through the Second World War] I think I have the right to remind people what the Germans did in Poland”. Pietrzak’s own father, a member of a communist underground resistance organisation, died in German captivity during the war.
Pietrzak has often courted controversy in the past. In 2021, he was ordered by a court to apologise to Klaudia Jachira – then an opposition MP, now part of the new government’s majority – for calling her a “hired slut” with “sludge in her head”.
A court has ordered Polish state TV to apologise for „xenophobic and racist material” it broadcast about immigrants.
The station must also make a 50,000 złoty donation to an immigrant support centre https://t.co/OKL9M9LGIX
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) February 17, 2021
The head of TV Republika, Tomasz Sakiewicz, admitted that Pietrzak’s latest remarks were “awkward and inappropriate” but criticised Bodnar for seeking a criminal investigation. “Only in totalitarian countries are journalists and media prosecuted for saying something live on air,” he said.
Sakiewicz also noted that Germany itself in 2015 housed asylum seekers in former World War Two concentration camps.
“This is not about any concern for migrants, historical memory or respect,” claimed Sakiewicz. “This is about finding any excuse to attack TV Republika and harm us.”
Sakiewicz and his station are strongly supportive of the former ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. Since the new government last month took over public media, which had been under the influence of PiS, many former state TV figures have started to appear on TV Republika instead.
Poland’s government has put public broadcasters TVP and Polskie Radio as well as the Polish Press Agency (PAP) into liquidation.
It says it was forced into the unprecedented decision due to the president’s veto of funding for public media https://t.co/UvwfC4tfvb
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 27, 2023
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Main image credit: Bibi596/Wikimedia Commons (under CC BY-SA 3.0)
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.