BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary has joined Poland in denouncing remarks by FBI director James Comey which seemed to equate Poland’s and Hungary’s roles in the Holocaust with that of Germany.
Hungary’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that Comey’s remarks delivered last week at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and then published in The Washington Post were defamatory of Hungarians. The ministry said it has sent a written complaint to the U.S. Embassy in Budapest.
“The words of the FBI director bear witness to astounding insensitivity and impermissible superficiality,” the ministry said in a statement. “We do not accept from anyone the formulation of such a generalization and defamation.”
Comey, arguing for the importance of Holocaust education, said: “In their minds, the murderers and accomplices of Germany, and Poland, and Hungary … didn’t do something evil.”
“They convinced themselves it was the right thing to do,” Comey said in the speech which was also posted without any clarification on the FBI’s website. “That should truly frighten us.”
Comey’s comments were particularly offensive to Poles, who pointed out that Poland was under brutal German occupation during the entire war and actively opposed it. Hungary first sided with Hitler against Russia but later tried to negotiate a peace deal with the Allies and was then invaded by Germany. Many officials there willingly carried out Nazi orders to deport Jews.
Poland’s Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said Sunday that Comey’s words were “unacceptable,” and that “Poland was not a perpetrator but a victim of World War II.”
In all, 6 million Polish citizens were killed during the war, about half of them Jewish and the other half Christians.
On Tuesday, the directors of several Polish war-time museums wrote to Comey to say they were “deeply concerned” by his words and to invite him to Poland for a “study visit” that could help him understand the complex history of Europe under Nazi German occupation from 1939-45.
“Poles, and especially Polish citizens of Jewish origin, suffered immensely” during the war, in which Poland was the first country to fight German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and where entire families were exterminated if caught hiding Jews, said the letter signed by Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum director Piotr M.A. Cywinski and five others.
The FBI has not issued any public response to the complaints.
Later Tuesday, Poland’s former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa praised the country’s protest and even blamed the Holocaust on the U.S.
“If anybody is to blame, then it’s more the United States than Poland,” Walesa said on TVN24.
Had they listened to Poland’s information, brought by wartime couriers to Allied leaders, they would have joined in sooner to stop Hitler, he said.
In the U.S., Frank Spula, head of the Polish American Congress representing at least 10 million Americans of Polish descent, said he would expect Comey to resign, arguing that a high-ranking official should face the consequences of such a statement.
Hungary’s role in the Holocaust, when some 550,000 Hungarian Jews were killed, was taboo under communism until 1990, but is now subject of intense debate.
Commemorations last year of the 70th anniversary of German-ordered mass deportations to death camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau, where one third of the victims were Hungarian Jews, were marred by the unveiling of a monument marking Germany’s March 1944 invasion of Hungary.
The monument is dedicated to “the victims of the German occupation,” and critics say it is the government’s effort to downplay the role of Hungarian officials in helping carry out the deportations.
Still, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in February that many Hungarians had chosen “evil over good, the shameful over the honorable” during the Holocaust, a rare acknowledgement of Hungarian responsibility.
Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.
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