For the first time, an uninvited Russian delegation attended the ceremony marking the liberation of the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in present-day Poland.
Russia is often represented at this event, as the camp in occupied Poland was liberated by Soviet troops.
But this year, following Moscow’s gratuitous invasion of Ukraine, the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum declined to invite Russian officials, and its director compared the Ukraine war to the horrors of the Holocaust. In response, Russia accused the museum of trying to “rewrite history”. At Friday’s event, museum director Piotr Cywinski said Auschwitz was created by the “excessive fanaticism” of Nazi Germany and “similar sick fanaticism” and “similar lust for power” ” caused Russia to destroy Mariupol and Donetsk. Addressing an audience that included camp survivors, he warned that “innocent people are being killed once again in Europe”.
“Russia, unable to conquer Ukraine, decided to destroy it. We see it every day, even though we are here. And so it is difficult to stand here today.” Reacting to the decision, Russia said the Soviet soldiers who liberated Auschwitz would not be forgotten.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote: “No matter how our European ‘non-partners’ rewrite history in a new way, the memory of the heroes liberated the Soviet Union and the horrors of fascism cannot be erased.” posted on social networks. Auschwitz survivors also expressed concern about the consequences of the war in Ukraine at the event.
Polish survivor Zdzislawa Wlodarczyk said she was “afraid to hear what is happening in the East”. She told the public that she came to Auschwitz at age 11 after the Warsaw Uprising, a failed attempt by the Polish resistance in 1944 to liberate the city from German occupation. She and her 7-year-old brother remained in the camp until Soviet troops liberated him. “The Russian army that liberated us is now at war with Ukraine. Why? Why? It’s politics,” she said.
The nation of Poland has remained steadfastly supportive of Ukraine during the conflict, with the Poles taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees in their own homes and providing military support to the neighboring country.
Russian officials have engaged in their own commemorative events, with Vladimir Putin meeting Russia’s top rabbis on the eve of Memorial Day on Thursday. The Russian leader said he was “pursuing a policy that means that nothing like this will ever happen again in the history of mankind”. Russia’s chief rabbi Rabbi Berel Lazar expressed regret that Russia was excluded from the celebration, warning that “those political games have no place on Holocaust Day.”
He told AFP: “For us, this is clearly a humiliation because we perfectly know and remember the role of the Red [Soviet] Army in the liberation of Auschwitz and in the victory over Nazism.”Friday’s event marks the 78th anniversary of the Soviet army liberating the concentration and extermination camp in German-occupied Poland, where more than one million people were murdered by the Nazis.
Auschwitz-Birkenau was created as a part of the Holocaust, a process that started with discrimination against Jewish people, and ended with six million Jews being killed because of who they were. In total, 1.1 million people died in the camp, around one million Jews from across Europe as well as Poles, Soviet POWs, Roma and Sinti.