08:35 GMT25 January 2020
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    Russia and Poland are mired in a historical spat about who was responsible for starting the Second World War, with Warsaw expected not to extend an invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Auschwitz on January 27 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the camp’s liberation by the Red Army in 1945.

    Former President of Poland Lech Walesa has criticized the Polish government for its decision not to invite Russia’s president to the upcoming Holocaust remembrance commemorations at Auschwitz, saying Warsaw must remember the historical truth about who liberated the camp from Nazi occupation.

    “Since the Polish side has not invited President Putin to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, it can be expected that [Polish President Andrzej] Duda will not have the right to speak in Israel. In this situation he won’t be able to fly there,” Walesa said, speaking to Onet and referring to Israel’s plans to host the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem on January 22-23, where Putin is expected to make remarks.

    According to Walesa, Putin should be invited to the Auschwitz commemorations event, and Poland must emphasize that it was the Red Army that freed the concentration camp in January 1945.

    “This is the historical truth, no one can change it, and if the Polish government wants to create its own historical narrative, this is frivolous. If we want a good relationship with Russia, we must engage in dialogue with the country, but this must be done in the right way. I know that it’s possible,” Walesa said.

    The former president stressed that if he were invited, he would fly to Jerusalem as soon as possible to resolve the current spat. “We should meet with the widest possible group, including President Putin, and think together about the foundations on which we want to build a new vision of Europe,” he said.

    Earlier, Tomasz Grodzki, the marshal of Poland’s Senate, similarly called on President Duda to invite Putin to Auschwitz, telling Rzeczpospolita that Duda’s current strategy looks like a “collapse of his position.”

    Symbol of the Holocaust

    Auschwitz was Nazi Germany’s largest and longest-serving concentration camp. An estimated 1.4 million people, 1.1 million of them Jews, were killed at the camp between 1941 and 1945. Tens of thousands of Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, and others were also systematically exterminated at the camp. Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet Army on January 27, 1945.

    People walk between barb wire fences in the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz as thousands of people, mostly youth from all over the world, gather for the annual March of the Living during Holocaust Remembrance Day in Oswiecim, Poland April 24, 2017.
    © REUTERS / Agencja Gazeta/Jakub Porzycki
    People walk between barb wire fences in the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz as thousands of people, mostly youth from all over the world, gather for the annual "March of the Living" during Holocaust Remembrance Day in Oswiecim, Poland April 24, 2017.

    Historical Spat

    Russia and Poland are stuck in a historical spat about the origins of the Second World War. Late last year, amid what he said were some countries’ alleged attempts to distort and rewrite history, President Putin pointed to efforts by some countries, including Poland, to appease Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in the run-up to the Second World War. Citing archival documents, Putin recalled that Polish Ambassador to Germany Jozef Lipski once promised to build Hitler a “beautiful monument in Warsaw” if the latter succeeded with his plans to deport Germany’s Jews to Africa. “That bastard! That anti-Semitic pig – I have no other words,” Putin said.

    Putin’s comments sparked outrage in Warsaw, which summoned the Russian ambassador. Last week, Poland’s lower house of parliament adopted a resolution stating that the Soviet Union bears equal blame with Nazi Germany for the start of World War II.

    The Russian-Polish spat has since spilled into plans to commemorate the Holocaust, with President Duda considering skipping the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem due to the “unacceptable” presence of Putin as one of the event’s main speakers.

    Some 600,000 Soviet soldiers and tens of thousands of Polish troops from the Red Army-allied Lublin Army died in the 1944-1945 operation to liberate Poland from Nazi occupation. In recent years, Polish authorities have engaged in the demolition of monuments dedicated to the Red Army and the Lublin Army, and introduced legislation in Poland and at the EU level trying to equate the USSR with Nazi Germany and to blame the Soviets for the start of World War II.

    Soviet and Polish Armia Krajowa soldiers in Vilnius, July 1944.
    © Wikipedia /
    Soviet and Polish Armia Krajowa soldiers in Vilnius, July 1944.

    Lech Walesa, former leader of Poland’s Solidarity Movement and winner of the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize, served as president of Poland from 1990 to 1995, becoming the country’s first post-communist head of state since the Second World War after the collapse of the Soviet bloc.

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