Tension Between Poland & Russia Mars Holocaust 75th Anniversary

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The 27th January 2020 marked the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet Army. Auschwitz was the largest, as well as the deadliest of all the Nazi death camps.

On the day of liberation, only 7,000 people were found after over a million people were murdered in the gas chambers of this horror camp.

To mark this Anniversary, world leaders will gather for two ceremonies. One was held on Thursday 23rd January 2020 in Jerusalem and the second a few days later on Monday, 27th January 2020, at Auschwitz itself in southern Poland.

Political leaders will join the elderly survivors of Auschwitz to pay homage to the six million Jewish people slaughtered during the years of the Holocaust.

Guard towers and a railway car stand on the illuminated grounds of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during the official ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the former Nazi-German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz II – Birkenau. On Monday, January 27, 2020, in Auschwitz II-Birkenau Concentration Camp, Oswiecim, Poland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Guard towers and a railway car stand on the illuminated grounds of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during the official ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the former Nazi-German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz II – Birkenau. On Monday, January 27, 2020, in Auschwitz II-Birkenau Concentration Camp, Oswiecim, Poland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

It is a sad fact that these commemorative ceremonies run the risk of being completely overshadowed by the rancorous dispute between Russia and Poland. Poland was the country that hosted many death camps while under occupation by the Nazi regime, and Russia, formerly the Soviet Union, undertook the liberation.

A Polish historian and former director of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Dariusz Stola, said that these commemorative ceremonies should be used by people of the present focusing on those of the past, and not used for contemporary political wrangling.

The political animosity between Russia and Poland goes back many decades.

In 1939 the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, a non-aggression treaty with Nazi Germany, that contained a secret provision saying that Eastern Europe would be carved up when Germany won the war.

Then two years later, the Nazis ignored this pact and invaded the Soviet Union, an act that brought the Soviets into the war on the side of the Allied Forces. The war on the Eastern Front was bloody, and millions of Soviet soldiers lost their lives fighting against the Germans.

Then on the 27th January 1945, Soviet forces liberated Auschwitz.

With historical memory in the West focusing more on the Soviet Union actuating the war rather than their role in defeating Germany, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is now trying to shift the blame for the war onto Polish shoulders.

It is not surprising that this has infuriated Polish leaders who believe that this is a move on Putin’s part to diminish Poland’s influence in the European Union.

Poland has been one of the countries that want to ensure that European Union sanctions are maintained against Russia for the Russian annexation of the Crimea.  The Polish government has also been fighting against a gas pipeline planned by the Russians.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland has come out to accuse Putin of deliberately lying to cover up the many Russian failures, including the recent doping scandals that rocked the athletics world.

On the other side of the coin, Poland stands accused of allegedly talking down the role that Polish people played in assisting the Nazis in killing Jewish people.

The Russians have come out to claim that Poland should shoulder the blame for starting the war, even though the country was invaded by the Nazis in 1939.

This claim has been scoffed at by Western historians as a disingenuous gambit by the Russians to glorify the Great Patriotic War, as WWII is known in Russia, as well as the regime under Stalin that was responsible for the deaths of many thousands of Russians and people from Eastern Europe who suffered under communist rule for decades.

To counteract this, the Polish government has come out to defend Poland’s record during WWII in trying to save the Jews. They have also emphasized the economic and cultural damage done by the Russians while Poland was under Russian control since the end of the war.

Many world leaders were to have gathered in Jerusalem to attend the World Holocaust Forum, that Israel hoped would focus attention on the slaughter of the European Jews and to highlight the hazards of the anti-Semitism prevalent today.

Instead of the united front that Israel hoped for, the Polish President Andrzej Duda will not attend, nor will the Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda.

President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, center, attends the floral tribute in the extermination block 11 of the Auschwitz concentration camp for the 75th anniversary of its liberation on 27 January 2020 in Oswiecim, Poland. (Photo by Celestino Arce/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, center, attends the floral tribute in the extermination block 11 of the Auschwitz concentration camp for the 75th anniversary of its liberation on 27 January 2020 in Oswiecim, Poland. (Photo by Celestino Arce/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Duda was offended that he was not invited to speak. The Israeli’s claim the only reason for this was that they were not one of the countries that liberated the Jewish prisoners.

That is not to say that Israel does not recognize the part played by Poland in the war. The German president was invited to speak as he would take responsibility for the perpetrators.

But, like many things in politics, the actual reason may be a little murky. It seems there are three immediate reasons for Putin being invited to speak.

The first is that the organizer of the Israeli event is Moshe Kantor, a billionaire that is close to Putin. Secondly, the Israelis would like Russia to release a young Israeli woman who is imprisoned on drug charges. Lastly, there is the war in Syria and Israel’s concern over Iranian forces involved there.

Relations between Poland and Israel are not strained. However, there is still a concern in Israel over a Polish law that criminalizes blaming the Polish people for the Holocaust.

This was part of an attempt by the Polish government to downplay the role of the Polish people in the genocide and to emphasize what the Polish people did to rescue the Jews.

Historians and survivors of the Holocaust from all over the world are concerned about how history is being twisted to suit modern political aims.

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It can only be hoped that world leaders rise above these petty irritations and recognize the importance of this 75th Anniversary ceremony.