Russia-Poland his­tor­i­cal feud clouds Auschwitz an­niver­sary

Antelope Valley Press - - SECOND FRONT - By VANESSA GERA and ARON HELLER

WAR­SAW, Poland — Over the next sev­eral days, world lead­ers will gather twice to mark the 75th an­niver­sary of the lib­er­a­tion of Auschwitz-Birke­nau, the most no­to­ri­ous of Nazi Ger­many’s death camps.

That there will be two com­pet­ing cer­e­monies — one in Jerusalem on Thurs­day and the other at the Auschwitz site in South­ern Poland on Mon­day — un­der­lines how po­lit­i­cally charged World War II re­mains as na­tion­al­ist gov­ern­ments in Russia and Poland seek to use their own in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the past for con­tem­po­rary po­lit­i­cal gain.

Lead­ers at both sites, joined by el­derly sur­vivors, will pay trib­ute to the 6 mil­lion Jews killed in the Holo­caust. Yet the com­mem­o­ra­tions risk be­ing over­shad­owed by a bit­ter dis­pute be­tween Poland — where Nazi Ger­man oc­cu­piers op­er­ated Auschwitz and other in­fa­mous camps — and Russia, the suc­ces­sor state to the Soviet Union.

“I am afraid this will not help the com­mem­o­ra­tion of the Holo­caust,” said Dar­iusz Stola, a Pol­ish his­to­rian and for­mer di­rec­tor of the POLIN Mu­seum of the His­tory of Pol­ish Jews.

Such com­mem­o­ra­tions, he said, should ide­ally be a mo­ment “for the present to serve the past.”

“Now the past is serv­ing the aims of cur­rent pol­i­tics,” he told The Associated Press.

Ahead of Thurs­day’s cer­e­mony in Jerusalem, Is­raeli Pres­i­dent Reu­ven Rivlin im­plored world lead­ers as­sem­bled for a din­ner at his of­fi­cial res­i­dence to “leave his­tory for the his­to­ri­ans.”

“The role of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, of all of us, is to shape the fu­ture,” he said.

Soviet forces lib­er­ated Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945. But the coun­try had also signed a nonag­gres­sion ac­cord with the Nazis shortly be­fore the war be­gan in 1939, known as the Molo­tov-Ribben­trop pact. It con­tained a se­cret pro­to­col in which the to­tal­i­tar­ian pow­ers agreed to carve up East­ern Europe.

Two years later, Ger­many turned on Krem­lin leader Josef Stalin and in­vaded the Soviet Union, bring­ing the So­vi­ets into the war on the side of the Al­lies. Mil­lions of Red Army sol­diers lost their lives in the even­tual de­feat of Adolf Hitler’s Ger­many.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has sought to shift wartime blame to Poland over anger that his­tor­i­cal mem­ory in the West has be­gun to fo­cus more on the Soviet role in trig­ger­ing the war and less on its role in de­feat­ing Ger­many.

The Rus­sian his­tor­i­cal moves have out­raged the Pol­ish gov­ern­ment, which be­lieves Putin’s main mo­tive is to weaken Pol­ish in­flu­ence in the Euro­pean Union. War­saw is one of the strong­est sup­port­ers of main­tain­ing sanc­tions on Mos­cow for its an­nex­a­tion of Crimea and has also been fight­ing a planned Rus­sian gas pipe­line. Pol­ish Prime Min­is­ter Ma­teusz Mo­raw­iecki has ac­cused Putin of ly­ing de­lib­er­ately to de­flect from his own fail­ures, in­clud­ing a ban on Rus­sian ath­letes over dop­ing.

At the same time, Poland has come un­der crit­i­cism for al­legedly min­i­miz­ing the role its own peo­ple played in help­ing Nazi oc­cu­piers kill Jews.

Putin and other Rus­sian of­fi­cials have been claim­ing that Poland — which was in­vaded in 1939 by Ger­man and Soviet forces — ac­tu­ally bears blame for start­ing the war. Western his­to­ri­ans see those al­le­ga­tions as a cyn­i­cal ploy to min­i­mize Soviet re­spon­si­bil­ity as Mos­cow to­day seeks to glo­rify what is known in Russia as the Great Pa­tri­otic War and more gen­er­ally a Stal­in­ist era that in­cluded mass killings of do­mes­tic op­po­nents and suf­fer­ing im­posed on East­ern Europe dur­ing decades of com­mu­nist rule.

In re­cent days, Poland’s gov­ern­ment has de­fended the na­tion’s record, re­call­ing how its wartime gov­ern­ment-in-ex­ile sought to save Jews, and list­ing cul­tural and eco­nomic dam­age that Poland suf­fered af­ter Soviet troops took con­trol of its ter­ri­tory at the end of World War II.

In draw­ing dozens of world lead­ers to the World Holo­caust Fo­rum in Jerusalem, Is­rael had hoped to present a united front in com­mem­o­rat­ing the geno­cide of Euro­pean Jewry and warn­ing against the per­ils of mod­ern-day anti-Semitism.

In­stead, Pol­ish Pres­i­dent An­drzej Duda is boy­cotting the event at the Yad Vashem me­mo­rial be­cause, un­like Putin, he was not in­vited to speak and wouldn’t be able to de­fend his na­tion’s his­tor­i­cal record. Duda will pre­side at the Auschwitz cer­e­mony, which Putin will not at­tend.

In an ap­par­ently re­lated de­vel­op­ment, Is­rael’s For­eign Min­istry said Tues­day that Lithua­nia’s pres­i­dent, Gi­tanas Nauseda, had “un­for­tu­nately” can­celed.

Nauseda’s of­fice said he was busy at the Davos eco­nomic fo­rum and that Lithua­nia’s par­lia­ment chair­man would rep­re­sent the gov­ern­ment in Jerusalem.

But the Lithua­nian gov­ern­ment last week voiced its sol­i­dar­ity with Poland and said it would work with War­saw to re­sist Rus­sian “lies.” Nauseda is at­tend­ing next week’s cer­e­mony at Auschwitz led by Duda.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

In this Dec. 6 file photo, the sun lights the build­ings be­hind the en­trance of the for­mer Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birke­nau in Oswiecim, Poland.

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