Dispute between Russia and Poland overshadows Auschwitz tributes

ft.com – A political war of words between Warsaw and Moscow has overshadowed the planning of events to commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz, as Europe’s Jewish community prepares to mark the anniversary amid rising trepidation.

Heads of state from across Europe will attend events at the site of the death camp, in Poland, on Tuesday, but Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be present after a diplomatic snub from Warsaw and allegations of “anti-Russian hysteria”, as the conflict in Ukraine looms large over the 70th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation.
Poland has been one of the harshest critics of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and the almost year-long conflict was thought to be behind the decision by Warsaw not to extend a formal invitation to Mr Putin to attend the events at Nazi Germany’s most infamous death camp.

Invitations to the event were sent out by joint organisers the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and International Auschwitz Council, but Moscow was affronted by Warsaw’s decision to not also issue a personal invitation to Mr Putin, who made a speech at a similar event at the camp 10 years ago.
The row over Mr Putin’s involvement in the ceremonies escalated this week when Poland’s foreign minister suggested that Ukrainian troops should be celebrated for liberating the camp, and not the Soviet Red Army, drawing strong condemnation from Russia.

“It is well known that Auschwitz was liberated by Red Army troops that consisted of all ethnic groups participating in the heroic fight . . . One should cease to mock history and extend anti-Russian hysteria to disrespect the memory of those who did not spare their lives for liberation of Europe,” the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said in a statement.
In response the Polish foreign minister Grzegorz Schetyna on Friday clarified his comments from earlier in the week by saying that he had meant that Ukrainian soldiers were the first to break down the gates of the camp, as members of a larger, multinational unit of the army.

Mr Putin’s chief of staff will represent Russia at the ceremony, which the presidents of Germany, France, Poland and Ukraine are among the heads of state expected to attend.
The events at Auschwitz, where over 1.1m people were exterminated, has also focused attention on the attitude towards Europe’s Jewish population after the recent terror attacks in Paris, and similar attacks on Jews in Brussels and Toulouse in recent years. The majority of those killed at Auschwitz were Jews.

At the same time as the ceremony at Auschwitz, the European Jewish Congress (EJC) will hold a conference in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, just a five-hour drive from the former extermination camp, where European politicians and senior Jewish leaders will debate policy proposals to defend against fears of rising anti-semitism.

“All Jews in Europe are thinking about danger. They are frightened to practise Judaism openly . . .  a common feeling,” said Moshe Kantor, president of the EJC. “People going to Auschwitz are doing their symbolic duties, and I think that is good . . . But it is not enough. We need to do something more, something real, something institutional.”

Following the attack on a Jewish supermarket as part of the terrorist siege of Paris this month, Mr Kantor says legislative steps such as establishing a European Union special envoy responsible for acting against anti-semitism and the codifying of a “model law” of tolerance in Europe are needed.
“European Jews are under threat like never before. And there is the very real possibility that another Jewish accident in Europe could happen,” Mr Kantor said.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker are scheduled to attend the conference, which is also hosted by the Czech government.
Earlier this week the UN General Assembly held its first meeting focused on global efforts to tackle anti-semitism, to address what delegates described as an “alarming outbreak of anti-semitism worldwide”.

Henry Foy in Warsaw
“Dispute between Russia and Poland overshadows Auschwitz tributes”
January 23, 2015