Holocaust memorial event should be in Poland, not Jerusalem, Duda says

Polish President Andrzej Duda has refused to attend the event as he has not been invited to speak, unlike the leaders of Russia, Germany and France.

Polish President Andrzej Duda (photo credit: AGENCJA GAZETA/DAWID ZUCHOWICZ VIA REUTERS)
Polish President Andrzej Duda
Polish President Andrzej Duda expressed his disappointment that the fifth World Holocaust Forum is being held at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and not in Auschwitz in Poland. His remarks came at a belated Hanukkah event in Warsaw on Wednesday night.
Duda said that he was “astounded” to be invited to an event in Jerusalem marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, which will have the theme “Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism.” He said that he has decided this week that he would not attend the memorial ceremony, because he would not be given the chance to address the forum.
“To me, it is precisely here in Poland, on our soil today, occupied back then by Nazi Germany, where those ashes are scattered,” that such an event should take place.
“This is the place of immense symbolism,” he said. “Deep within my soul, I believe this is the appropriate place, the best one. I believe that one must not deprive this place of its remembrance by transferring it somewhere else.”
The Polish president said being in Auschwitz, where it is “bitterly cold… magnifies the sense of gravity. This stiffening cold makes one truly comprehend the horror of the place.” He pointed out that prisoners in the concentration camps were there for years, with no heating and only wearing thin uniforms, many having to walk barefoot in the snow.
“That was the fate of the great European Jewish community. That was also the fate of three million Polish citizens of Jewish nationality who were murdered during the Holocaust,” he stated.
Poland will be holding its own ceremony at Auschwitz on International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, which is the anniversary of the camp’s liberation. Duda said he had hoped the event would be “momentous” and “send a strong message to the world.”
The Polish president said he originally signaled that he would be willing to go to the Yad Vashem ceremony “to avoid the discussion about my supposed unwillingness to acknowledge the remembrance of the Holocaust victims also at Yad Vashem.”
However, he said he was “astounded” to find that Russian President Vladimir Putin was speaking, despite Russia’s aggression against Poland in 1939 and Putin’s recent remarks, implying that Poland was pro-Nazi during World War II and blaming the West for empowering Hitler before the war.
Poland and Russia have been embroiled in a dispute in recent months over how World War II started.
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.
Germany and the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression pact in 1939, agreeing to divide Poland between them. After Germany attacked 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.
Duda called Putin’s comments “horrible words... which falsify history; which demonstrate a clearly distorted context of events in 1939; [and] which make sweeping generalizations, and slander my country and Poles as a society.”
The Polish president further argued that Poland was not hostile to Jews in 1939, and made sure to emphasize the Polish Righteous Among the Nations memorialized at Yad Vashem. He defended those who did not aid the Jews by saying it was to save their lives, because helping a Jew was punishable by death under German occupation.
Poland’s leadership has been especially sensitive to the way Poles’ actions during the Holocaust were portrayed. In 2018, Poland outlawed accusations that the country or its people were responsible for World War II or the Holocaust.
Duda said that he could not take part in the event because to not have him address the attendees would allow a distortion of history.
“How is it possible that the ones who speak are the presidents of Germany, Russia and France – whose government back then sent people, Jews, to concentration camps – whereas the President of Poland is not allowed to speak: of Poland which never collaborated with Germans?” he asked.
Duda also thanked the Polish-Jewish community for their understanding of his decision “to care for the dignity of my country.” He also reassured attendees that “there is no difficult relationship” either between Poland and Israel, or between Poles and Jews.
Among the attendees at the Warsaw event, held after Hanukkah because the holiday fell during the same week as Christmas, were Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, Ambassador to Poland Alexander Ben-Zvi and Shevach Weiss, former Knesset speaker and former Israeli ambassador to Poland.