Holocaust remembrance must remain in Poland - president

2020-01-08 21:25 update: 2020-01-16, 13:58
Photo PAP/Tomasz Gzell
Photo PAP/Tomasz Gzell
Poland is where the ashes of the Holocaust victims are, and this memory can not be transferred elsewhere, President Andrzej Duda said at a New Year's meeting with members of Poland's Jewish community in the Presidential Palace on Wednesday.

Attending the meeting were Duda's wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda, Poland's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Israel's Ambassador to Poland Alexander Ben Zvi, former Ambassador Shevah Weiss, Deputy Culture Minister Jaroslaw Sellin and presidential officials.

In his address, Duda referred to the approaching 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi-German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in southern Poland, the main Holocaust site. Duda voiced hope for high attendance at the anniversary observations on the Auschwitz memorial site, and said they should send out a message to the world.

Referring to the Holocaust, Duda said that it affected the entire European Jewish community including three million Polish Jews, and stressed that hundreds of thousands of them perished at Auschwitz. He added that the January anniversary with its usually cold weather was also symbolic in light of the biting cold often suffered by the Auschwitz inmates.

Duda said that the cold gave a better understanding of the horrors of Auschwitz, especially "when you imagine that these people remained there over years without heating, that they were dressed only in flimsy striped camp uniforms and very often had to walk barefoot over snow."

"This was the fate that befell the great European Jewish community, and this fate met three million (Polish Jews - PAP) murdered during the Holocaust, hundreds of thousands of whom died at Auschwitz," the president said.

In this context Duda admitted that he had been surprised to receive an invitation to the January 23 Auschwitz liberation commemoration and the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, as the main Holocaust remembrance site was Auschwitz.

"Deep in my soul I believe that this (Poland - PAP) is the appropriate and best place, and it should not be deprived of this remembrance," Duda declared.

Duda said that although he initially intended to attend the Jerusalem commemorations, he later changed his mind in view of their agenda, which did not foresee an address by the Polish president, but gave the floor to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who recently accused Poland of complicity in the outbreak of World War Two and the Holocaust.

"(First - PAP) I decided that I would go to Jerusalem to avert accusations that I do not want to commemorate the Holocaust victims in the Yad Vashem Institute, which has also commemorated Polish holders of the Righteous Among the Nations title," Duda said, adding that he was disappointed to learn that the meeting's itinerary "foresaw addresses by the president of Russia, which in 1939 invaded Poland alongside Nazi Germany, and by other state leaders, but not by the president of the Republic of Poland."

He added that a Polish address in Jerusalem became all the more necessary after Putin's claims that Poland had played a part in the outbreak of World War Two and the Holocaust. Describing Putin's words as "terrible" and historically untrue, Duda said the Polish side tried to convince the event's organisers to include an address by the Polish president though various diplomatic channels, but he finally decided to stay away from the event as there would have been no possibility for him to present the Polish standpoint in the matter.

Duda thanked Poland's Jewish community for its support of Poland after Putin's accusations.

Ben Zwi pointed out that Polish-Israeli relations were friendly and strategic, and observed that any tension in them resembled "differences of opinion that typically appear in families." (PAP)