Ukraine tensions keep Putin away from Auschwitz anniversary

In lieu of not receiving 'full formal diplomatic invitation', Russia excluded from 70th anniversary of camp's liberation.

Vladimir Putin (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by the Red Army, “although he attaches great importance to all memorial events devoted to World War II,” his spokesman told the InterFax news agency on Tuesday.
On Monday, Reuters reported he was unlikely to attend the event at the former German death camp, because of fears that his presence would cause discussion of Russia’s conflict with Ukraine to overshadow the commemoration.
Host country Poland – one of the most vociferous critics of Moscow over the Ukraine crisis – did not send a full diplomatic invitation to Putin, wary of the domestic political consequences of inviting the Russian leader, according to sources briefed on arrangements for the January 27 event.
“I think that politics should not be more important than the anniversary itself,” asserted Piotr Kadlcik, the immediate past president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland.
“Auschwitz should be a place of memory, prayer and reconciliation.”
Rabbi Boruch Gorin, a senior official of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia and an adviser to Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, a Putin ally, said of Western opposition to Putin’s presence over Ukraine that it was important to remember that when the Red Army arrived in Auschwitz 70 years ago, it “also wasn’t sent by the democratic angels, but was sent by Stalin, so nobody invited them when they came.”
Putin’s absence from Auschwitz is a “very big and shameful scandal, and to commemorate the events of 70 years ago without the head of the country that was at the center of this event is...
questionable,” he said.
“Russia liberated Auschwitz and Russia should be represented,” agreed Moscow’s Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis.
Putin’s decision not attend centered around the format of the invitations to the event sent by the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and International Auschwitz Council, Reuters reported, explaining that rather than send a formal invitation to Russia, which would be an unpopular move in Poland, the various states whose heads were invited were each sent a “note verbale,” a less formal notification.
The Kremlin took the view that if Poland wanted a top Russian official at Auschwitz, it ought to send a formal diplomatic invitation.
Russia will be represented by a delegation headed by Ambassador to Warsaw Sergey Andreev, a spokesman for the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum told The Jerusalem Post.
Last month, the Czech Jewish community protested Putin’s invitation to a rival event marking the liberation in Auschwitz being held in Prague as a joint initiative of the European Jewish Congress and the Czech government, citing opposition to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in Ukraine’s Donbass region.
“The regime Putin established and embodies doesn’t respect international treaties, is aggressive and uses its power to occupy the territory of a neighboring state,” the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic said.
The Holocaust has become politicized in the conflict between Russia and its former Soviet subject, with Lazar holding a Holocaust memorial in Crimea shortly after its annexation by Moscow.
Both Israeli chief rabbis denied involvement in the event following press releases stating that they would be present.
In November, Ukraine voted against a Russian resolution in the United Nations General Assembly condemning neo-Nazism, accusing Moscow of actively supporting neo-Nazism at home and of supporting “nationalistic, xenophobia and chauvinistic policies” in Crimea.
Ukraine’s UN delegation evoked the memory of the Holodomor, a massive famine brought about by forced collectivization of farms that killed millions of Ukrainians from 1923 to 33 and which is generally viewed in the country as a genocide planned by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
Asked about Putin’s absence from the commemoration, Lesław Piszewski, the president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, replied, “The celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau are a very important event of international significance.
Together we pay homage to all the Holocaust victims. Seventy years later we are witnessing the passing of the generation that suffered extermination and genocide of which Auschwitz is the proof. Those few who survived are the main characters of this event. To them we pay tribute and they are the ones we honor.”
Reuters contributed to this report.