75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz [LIVE – ENGLISH]
Two competing events in Israel and Poland are timed to coincide with the memorable date.
Over the next two days, world leaders will come together twice to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp..
The fact that the event is timed to coincide with two competing events at once, one in Jerusalem on Thursday and the other on the site of the former camp in Poland on Monday, underlines how politically sensitive the Second World War remains..
During both ceremonies, world leaders, as well as survivors of the prison camps, will commemorate the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust. However, there is a risk that the commemoration will be overshadowed by a dispute between Poland and Russia..
As noted by the Polish historian and former director of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Dariusz Stola, such ceremonies should ideally be the moment when the present serves the past, but in this case the past serves the purposes of today’s politicians..
Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. However, shortly before the outbreak of war in 1939, the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The treaty contained a secret protocol for the partition of Eastern Europe between two totalitarian regimes..
Gateway to the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, Poland (archive photo)
Two years later, Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and the country became involved in a war that killed millions of Soviet soldiers..
Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently been trying to shift the blame to Poland due to the fact that the West has begun to pay more attention to the role of the USSR in unleashing the war, rather than in the victory over Germany..
This rhetoric has angered the Polish government, which believes that Putin’s main goal is to weaken Poland’s influence in the European Union. Warsaw is one of the most staunch supporters of maintaining the sanctions against Moscow imposed in connection with the annexation of Crimea. Poland also opposes the project to build a gas pipeline from Russia to Europe. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accused Putin of deliberately distorting facts in order to divert attention from his own failures, including the disqualification of Russian athletes due to doping.
At the same time, Poland is criticized for trying to downplay the role of Poles in the extermination of Jews..
Putin and other Russian officials have argued that Poland, where both German and Soviet troops invaded in 1939, is really to blame for starting the war. Western historians regard these accusations as a cynical ploy to downplay the responsibility of the Soviet Union..
In recent days, the Polish authorities have been actively defending their point of view, recalling how during the war the Polish government in exile tried to save Jews, warning the world of an impending catastrophe, as well as listing the cultural and economic losses that Poland suffered after Soviet troops took under control of its territory at the end of the war.
Israel, by inviting dozens of world leaders to the World Holocaust Forum, hoped to demonstrate solidarity by providing an opportunity together to honor the memory of the victims of genocide and warn about the dangers of modern anti-Semitism.
However, Polish President Andrzej Duda decided to boycott the event because, unlike Putin, he was not invited to speak. Duda will chair a ceremony in Auschwitz, which will not be attended by Putin.
Israel says Duda was not invited to speak because his country was not among the liberators.
However, deeper reasons seem to be related to the delicate relationship between Israel and Russia..
The event in Jerusalem is organized by Moshe Kantor, head of the European Jewish Congress and an oligarch close to Putin.
In addition, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs Putin to stay on his side because of Russia’s role in the war in neighboring Syria, where Iranian forces are present that are causing Israel’s concern..
He also hopes the Russian leader will free a young Israeli woman who was arrested in Russia on drug-related charges. This could bolster Netanyahu’s image ahead of the March elections. During Putin’s visit, Netanyahu will dedicate a monument to the victims of the blockade of Leningrad in the hometown of the Russian leader.
Tensions remain between Israel and Poland over the 2018 Holocaust law, which was supposed to criminalize allegations of the Polish nation’s involvement in the Holocaust. The passage of the law was part of a large-scale campaign to demonstrate that during the Holocaust, Poles played predominantly the role of saviors of Jews, and to divert attention from the fact that there were people in Poland who helped the occupiers to track down and kill Jews..
The intervention of politics in such a solemn and tragic event worries both historians and those who survived the Holocaust. However, Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial historian Robert Rosett hopes that the co-presence of more than 45 leaders at the event will help deflect unwanted background noise..