Tags: EU | Poland | Holocaust Remembrance

Israeli, Polish Presidents Join Holocaust Remembrance March

Israeli, Polish Presidents Join Holocaust Remembrance March

Thursday, 12 April 2018 01:38 PM

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The Israeli and Polish presidents sought to calm bitter feelings that have flared between their nations as they joined thousands at a Holocaust remembrance event Thursday at the former Nazi death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau.

Presidents Reuven Rivlin of Israel and Andrzej Duda of Poland lit candles, bowed their heads and pressed their hands on the Death Wall, a site at Auschwitz where inmates, chiefly Polish resistance fighters, were executed by Nazi German forces during World War II.

They then led thousands, including many young Jews from around the world, in the March of the Living, a remembrance event that place each year on Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The solemn march began at the main gate of Auschwitz and ended three kilometers (two miles) away at Birkenau, where Jews from across Europe were transported by train and murdered in gas chambers.

Duda said that he and Rivlin were there to give testimony to the destruction of the Jewish people and warn what anti-Semitism, xenophobia and racism can lead to.

"Our common presence here shows the world: never again anti-Semitism, never again genocide, never again Holocaust," Duda said during a joint news conference before the march.

Rivlin recalled how Poland, once home to the world's largest Jewish population, was the cradle of Jewish culture before the Holocaust.

But he also referred to the "deep disagreement" that his country has had with Poland over the country's passage earlier this year of a Holocaust speech law.

The law criminalizes blaming Poland for crimes that were committed by Nazi German forces during their wartime occupation of Poland. The Polish government its aim is to prevent Poland from unfairly being blamed for Germany's crimes.

Israel fears the law's true intent is to whitewash Polish sins by repressing discussion about those Poles who helped in the German destruction of Jews.

Duda, whose wife has a Jewish father, insisted that the intention of the disputed law was never to "block testimony" about the Holocaust.

"Just the opposite. We want to defend historical truth," Duda said. "I as Polish president want to defend this truth with all my power, including those elements that are difficult for Poles."

The Jews of Europe and ethnic Poles were two of the groups who suffered most during the German occupation of Europe, with Jews targeted for total elimination and Poles considered a slave race, with many were killed, tortured or forced into slave labor.

Yet many bitter feelings remain today between Jews and Poles. Jews remember the Polish anti-Semitism that in some cases turned deadly.

Many Poles, meanwhile, feel the extent of Polish anti-Semitism is often exaggerated and that those Polish efforts to help Jews are being forgotten. Many bristle that their own tragedy is not as well known as that of the Jews.

At Birkenau, the leaders paid tribute to the immense suffering that Germany inflicted both on Jews and Poles, a clear effort to show understanding for the other side.

Rivlin noted that Poland barely survived as a nation and acknowledged the thousands of Poles who put their own lives at risk to help Jews, vowing that Israel would "honor them forever."

But he also recalled how Jews were murdered during the war not only by Germans, but also by Lithuanians, Belgians and others, including Poles.

Duda recalled the Polish wartime heroes who struggled to save Jews and said Poland fulfills its duty to remember the Holocaust by preserving sites like Auschwitz.

Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, said he was convinced the efforts by the two presidents moved their countries closer to reconciliation. He described the leaders as "two friends working hard to resolve a serious and difficult problem."

Nazi Germany killed some 1.1 million people in the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps. The victims were mostly Jews, but also included Poles, Roma and Soviet POWs.

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The Israeli and Polish presidents sought to calm bitter feelings that have flared between their nations as they joined thousands at a Holocaust remembrance event Thursday at the former Nazi death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau.Presidents Reuven Rivlin of Israel and Andrzej...
EU,Poland,Holocaust Remembrance
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2018-38-12
Thursday, 12 April 2018 01:38 PM
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