On Sunday, Poland summoned the U.S. ambassador to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The ambassador received a diplomatic protest note in response to remarks making Poland a nation that is co-responsible for the Holocaust, as stated in a comment made by FBI Director James Comey. The reaction of the Polish authorities was sharp yet justified.
Poland cannot teach history to high-ranking American officials. However, it has the obligation to inform its most important ally that the head of the FBI is incompetent, and that his offensive comments may threaten good relations between Poland and the United States.
I suppose that information about Poland’s diplomatic reaction will get through to the American media and generate a discussion. Probably no one in the United States is interested in our internal attempts to blame Comey’s stupidity on an ideological opponent. Some even believe that the reason for Poland’s reaction is "pedagogy of shame," "poor Polish historical policy" or the fact that "Ida" won the Oscar.
However, ignorance or the bad will of Director Comey is not the result of "poor Polish historical policy." It is not Poland which should feel ashamed, but the American administration, because a man who holds such an important position doesn't weigh his words.
During his speech on April 15 at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum — an excerpted version of which was also printed in The Washington Post — the FBI director asserted that he sends each and every employee in his office to the museum. Probably, he has never been there himself. The museum’s exhibition recounts who, during World War II, planned the Holocaust, who the victims were, who took part in carrying out this criminal plan and to what extent.
So why did Comey say that, "Those sick and evil leaders were joined by, and followed by, people who loved their families, took soup to a sick neighbor, went to church and gave to charity. Good people helped murder millions. In their minds, the murderers and accomplices of Germany, and Poland, and Hungary, and so many, many other places didn’t do something evil. They convinced themselves it was the right thing to do, the thing they had to do."
The FBI director did not mention the “nationality” of the criminals, i.e., citizens of Nazi Germany. However, he did speak about the nationality of their "partners" — these were "good" Germans, Hungarians, citizens of the country that allied with Hitler, and Poles, representatives of the country which was brutally occupied by Hitler.
Could it be that Poland was an ally of Germany and Hitler? Could it be that Polish citizens voluntarily implemented the Holocaust? If so, why didn’t Comey mention France, whose collaborative authorities sent Jews to Auschwitz? Why not Italy, where Jews were hunted by Black Shirts? Well, maybe the FBI director is more considerate of these countries?
On Sunday April 19, U.S. Ambassador Stephen Mull commented on Comey’s speech. "Saying that Poland and any other country other than Nazi Germany were responsible for the Holocaust is a mistake, is harmful and is offensive" Mull said. That proves the diplomat is well aware of the awkwardness of the situation.
Mull explained that what the FBI director said absolutely does not reflect the views of the U.S. administration, and that Comey "certainly did not mean to suggest that Poland was in any way responsible for those crimes." According to the ambassador, what Comey meant to say is that "there were many people in the world that aided the Nazi criminals, or there were people who did not respond sufficiently,...also in the United States. Mull expressed his hopes that on Monday the FBI would publish the relevant explanations. He contacted the FBI office regarding this matter on Saturday.
I admire the ambassador’s effort, but I think this time Comey’s words cannot be excused as a "linguistic lapse” the way it was explained in 2012 when President Barack Obama spoke about "Polish death camps" when he awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski. The statement made by the head of the FBI was a pseudohistorical and moralistic, but, - at the same time, logical assertion.
Comey is not a man out of nowhere. Not only does he stand out as an unusually tall man (204 cm or approximately 6 feet 8 inches), but also as a high-ranking member of the administration. He was the deputy attorney general of the United States, serving in President George W. Bush’s administration; a man who — as he declared himself — deeply loathes lies.
I'm waiting for his response to the Polish diplomatic note and for the invitation made by Ryszard Schnepf, Poland’s ambassador to the U.S. in Washington. An apology issued personally by Director Comey will sound much stronger than a flood of Polish protest letters.