Polish President Andrzej Duda decided not to attend the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem on January 3 because he will not be able to give a speech, he said on Tuesday.
“As the [Polish] president, I will not take part in the event,” he said in a press conference, adding that he takes umbrage with the leaders of Russia, France, Britain, Germany and the US speaking while Poland’s will not.
Poland and Russia have been embroiled in a dispute in recent months over how World War II started.
Earlier Tuesday, Polish Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski tweeted: “In order to dispel any doubts: Yad Vashem and the Israeli authorities have been aware of President Andrzej Duda’s request to speak... for at least four months.”
Forty-two leaders from around the world are expected to attend the Fifth Holocaust Forum, which will be held in Jerusalem on January 23.
Yad Vashem responded that Duda never confirmed his attendance to the World Holocaust Forum but they are pleased with the turnout of leaders expected to participate in the “unique and truly historic event” marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and showing their commitment to the goals of the forum, titled “Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism.”
Responding to Duda’s argument that he can speak for those who suffered in the Holocaust, the memorial pointed that "It is important to note, that out of 1.1 million victims of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, some 1 million were Jews who were murdered simply because they were Jewish, unrelated to their countries of origin. Hence, the nationalities of the victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau have no bearing on the identity of leaders who will address the Fifth World Holocaust Forum.”
In addition, Yad Vashem said “it is especially appropriate that the leaders addressing this event represent the four main powers of the Allied forces, which liberated Europe and the world from the murderous tyranny of Nazi Germany.”
German President Franz-Walter Steinmeier, President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as the organizers of the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, will also address the event.
Duda’s decision came as Warsaw and Moscow have been engaged in a continuing dispute over which one of the countries collaborated with the Nazis.
Poland has sought greater world recognition in recent years of the millions of Polish victims of World War II and of communism.
The spat began with a recent European Parliament resolution blaming the August 23, 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact for the outbreak of World War II, which occurred eight days later. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had secretly agreed to divide Poland and the Baltic states between Germany and the Soviet Union.
The Wehrmacht invaded Poland from the west, south and north on September 1, 1939, and the Red Army occupied Poland from the east on September 17, 1939. Stalin subsequently deported 1.7 million Poles to the Soviet Union, many to the gulag.
Invaded by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Poland considers both countries to be aggressors responsible for the suffering and death of millions of Poles.
Putin argued Western appeasement of Hitler brought about the war, calling the European Parliament resolution “sheer nonsense,” and that the Soviet Union was forced into the non-aggression agreement to stave off a German attack because Britain allowed Hitler to annex Czechoslovakia.
The Russian president also said that Józef Lipski, the Polish ambassador to Berlin at the time, “expressed full solidarity with Hitler in his antisemitic views.”
After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the latter fought the war on the Allies’ side. About 27 million Soviet soldiers and civilians died to free Europe from the Nazis’ grip, although exact figures are disputed.
In 2017, Poland enacted a law making it illegal to accuse Poland or the Polish people of being responsible for World War II or the Holocaust. The legislation originally carried a jail sentence, which was then canceled. Many Israeli officials condemned the law, including President Reuven Rivlin, who said that Poland and the Poles “had a hand in the extermination” of the Jews in the Holocaust.