Russia Angry Over Ban At Auschwitz Memorial
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
OSWIECIM, POLAND (Worthy News) – Russia has condemned the decision to ban a Russian delegation from a ceremony marking the liberation of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp in modern-day Poland.
Moscow accused the museum of seeking to “rewrite history.” Russia is usually represented at the event, as the camp in occupied Poland was liberated by the army of the Moscow-led Soviet Union.
But after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum declined to invite Russian officials as its director compared the Ukraine war to the horrors of the Holocaust.
With its barracks, barbed wire, and ruins of gas chambers, the site in the Polish city of Oświęcim, or Auschwitz in German, is one of the world’s most recognized symbols of evil.
At Friday’s event, museum director Piotr Cywinski said Auschwitz-Birkenau was created by the same Nazi “megalomania” as seen today in Ukraine.
He noted that a “similar lust for power” had driven Russia’s destruction of the cities of Mariupol and Donetsk and surrounding areas.
Separately, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Friday used the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day to accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of building “new camps” while waging war against Ukraine.
“On the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi German death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, let us remember that to the east, Putin is building new camps,” Morawiecki added. “Solidarity and consistent support for Ukraine are effective ways to ensure that history does not come full circle,” he said.
Morawiecki did not elaborate on his accusation against Russia, though it echoed a claim made by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The Ukrainian leader spoke of Olenivka, “a concentration camp where our prisoners are kept.”
United Nations investigators also said last year they had documented more than 400 arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances by Russian forces in Ukraine.
Yet Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova rejected the comparison with the Holocaust and expressed anger that Russia wasn’t invited to Friday’s memorial. “No matter how our European ‘non-partners’ contrived in their attempts to rewrite history in a new way, the memory of the Soviet heroes-liberators and horrors of Nazism cannot be erased,” she said.
Jewish Holocaust survivor Phia Baruch, whose mother died in Auschwitz-Birkenau, shared Russia’s anger. “Of course, the war in Ukraine is terrible. But you can’t compare it with the Holocaust. They hijack victimhood by not inviting the Russian delegation,” Baruch told Worthy News from her home in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Supported by churches, Baruch was a child hiding on the Dutch island of Ameland after her mother was deported to the death camp. “My mother died in Auschwitz. She was among the many family members I lost in the Holocaust,” recalled Baruch, editor and founder of the Dutch online lifestyle newspaper De Couturekrant (“The Couture Newspaper”).
“However, many Russians of what was then the Soviet Union also died in the war to liberate Auschwitz 78 years ago. We should remember them too,” she stressed. “Commemorating the Holocaust transcends national boundaries.”
The Holocaust, or “Shoah” in Hebrew, “is a wound in the world that may never heal. The tragedy should not be misused to accentuate political contradictions,” Baruch added.
Yet several Auschwitz survivors attending Friday’s ceremony expressed fears over the fallout of the war in nearby Ukraine. Polish survivor Zdzislawa Wlodarczyk, who arrived at the camp at age 11, explained that she is “scared to hear what is happening in the East.”
Bogdan Bartnikowski, a Pole who was 12 when he was transported to Auschwitz, said the first images he saw on television last February of refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine triggered traumatic memories.
He was shocked watching a little girl in a large crowd of refugees holding her mother with one hand and grasping a teddy bear in the other.
“It was literally a blow to the head for me because I suddenly saw, after almost 80 years, what I had seen in a freight car when I was being transported to Auschwitz. A little girl was sitting next to me, hugging a doll to her chest,” Bartnikowski, now 91, told reporters.
He and other former camp inmates expressed their horror that war has again shattered peace in Europe, and they expressed fears that “the lesson of Never Again” is being forgotten.
In all, at least 1.1 million people, most of them Jews, were killed at the vast complex before it was liberated by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945, according to historical records. It symbolized the extermination of six million Jews during World War Two.
Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, Roma, and others were also targeted for elimination by Nazi-German leader Adolf Hitler and his accomplices.
On Friday, people placed candles at the former crematorium of Auschwitz-Birkenau while marking the 78th anniversary of the camp’s liberation in the Polish town of Oświęcim in southern Poland.
Besides survivors, attendees included religious leaders and Douglas Emhoff, the Jewish husband of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.
Stefania Wernik, born at Auschwitz-Birkenau in November 1944, less than three months before its liberation, called the camp a “hell on earth.”
She said when she was born, she was so tiny that the Nazis tattooed her number — 89136 — on her thigh. Little Stefania was washed in cold water, wrapped in rags, and subjected to medical experiments.
And yet her mother had abundant milk, and they both survived, she explained. After the war, her mother returned home and reunited with her husband, and “the whole village came to look at us and said ‘it’s a miracle.’”
She appealed for “no more fascism, which brings death, genocide, crimes, slaughter, and loss of human dignity.” Those words were echoed by world leaders, including from Germany, Italy, the United States, and others.
Baruch agreed, saying: “Commemorating the Holocaust is confronting a scar on the world that will never heal. That should make us think so that we form a unity at that moment.”
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