Polish president defends absence at Jerusalem Holocaust forum

2020-01-23 18:52 update: 2020-01-27, 09:08
Andrzej Duda. Photo PAP/Radek Pietruszka
Andrzej Duda. Photo PAP/Radek Pietruszka
President Andrzej Duda said on Thursday in Davos, Switzerland, he had been right to stay away from the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem as his presence would have legitimised the meeting's false historical narrative.

"I was right not to attend the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem. We should not authorise the false version of history presented by the organisers," Duda said.

Duda announced his absence from the forum after its organisers denied him permission to speak after Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who in December accused Poland of complicity in the outbreak of World War Two and the Holocaust. Duda, who feared the Russian president could repeat his charges against Poland in Jerusalem, asked to be given the floor after Putin's address but was denied.

In Davos Duda said that the reason why he was not allowed to speak at the forum could hang together with film material on World War Two prepared by the organisers, which makes no mention of the Poles' war effort.

"The organisers (...) simply distorted history by completely omitting (to mention - PAP) the Polish share, our soldiers' share in the battle with Nazi Germany," Duda said. He added that this was "a circumstance which made him sad" in view of the fact that Poles fought arm in arm with the Western allies and with the Red Army in the East.

"This once more confirms that I was right not to go, because if I had been there, it would be difficult for me to bear the situation, which I would have had to stand through in silence as I was not given the floor," Duda said.

In this context, Duda thanked US Vice-President Mike Pence for his mention of Poland in his address to the forum.

In his speech, Pence said that the World War Two Nazi-German death camp Auschwitz was located in Poland and took its name from the German name of the nearby town of Oswiecim. In this context, he also said that renaming Polish localities in German was part of the Germans' plan to eradicate Polish culture.

"The town’s name was Oswiecim. As part of their plan to destroy the very existence of Polish culture, the Nazis gave Polish towns German names. And this one they called Auschwitz," Pence said.

"When soldiers opened the gates of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, they found 7,000 half-starved, half-naked prisoners, hundreds of boxes of camp records that documented the greatest mass murder in history. Before the war was over, in its five years of existence, more than 1.1 million men, women, and children would perish at Auschwitz," Pence added.

"As my wife and I can attest firsthand, from this past year, one cannot walk the grounds of Auschwitz without being overcome with emotion and grief. One cannot see the piles of shoes, the gas chambers, the crematoriums, the lone boxcar facing the gate to the camp, and those grainy photographs of men, women, and children being sent to their deaths without asking: 'How could they?,'" Pence said at the World Holocaust Forum.

Duda also thanked the meeting's other speakers who had mentioned Poland and its martyrdom during World War Two, and said that it should be remembered that three million of the six million Holocaust victims were Polish Jews.

Returning to the form organisers' refusal to let him speak, Duda said that he had intended to speak about Poland's human losses during the war and pay tribute to those who had perished.

"This was the truth which I wanted to be able to speak, and bow my head before the memory of those who had been murdered. This was denied me, because, despite our diplomatic efforts, I was not permitted to speak," Duda said in Davos. (PAP)

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