Anger in Warsaw as Russia’s Putin Slated to Speak at Auschwitz Commemoration in Jerusalem, But Not Poland’s Duda
A new controversy between Israel and Poland over the commemoration of the Nazi Holocaust was ignited on Tuesday as it emerged that the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, had not been invited to speak alongside Russia’s leader at a major event in Jerusalem on Jan. 23 to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz extermination camp.
In an interview on Sunday with Polish state television, Duda made it clear that he would not attend the 5th World Holocaust Forum — hosted at Yad Vashem, Israel’s national memorial to the Nazi genocide — if he was not permitted to address the event.
“It turns out that the Presidents of Russia, Germany and France — whose government collaborated with Nazi Germany at the time — will speak, but the organizers do not agree to a speech by the President of Poland,” Duda told the broadcaster. “I absolutely do not agree to this.”
However, a press release from Yad Vashem on Tuesday confirmed that of the “over forty royals, presidents, prime ministers and parliamentary leaders from Europe, North America and Australia” expected in Jerusalem, only five country representatives would actually speak at the event — not including Duda but featuring, to the chagrin of the Polish government, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The other leaders who will speak at the event include French President Emmanuel Macron, HRH Prince Charles of the United Kingdom, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.
Relations between Israel and Poland have been decidedly frosty in recent years because of Holocaust-related disputes. In 2018, existing Polish legislation on Holocaust commemoration was controversially amended to outlaw public discussion or acknowledgement of Polish complicity in the Nazi slaughter of the Jews.
Błazej Spychalski — a spokesman for Duda — told Polish news outlets on Tuesday that “a situation in which the president of Poland will sit and listen to the false words of President Putin without being able to reply is unacceptable.”
Putin sparked fury at the end of December when he claimed during a conference of regional leaders in St. Petersburg that Poland had been responsible for starting World War II. (In Aug. 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with a secret protocol that partitioned Poland between them.)
Later in the same week, Putin told top generals that Josef Lipski — who served as Poland’s ambassador to Nazi Germany in the 1930s — should be remembered as a “scumbag and antisemitic pig.”
Among those condemning the Russian president’s comments was Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, who accused Putin of “outrageous manipulation” of the historical facts around Lipski’s tenure in Berlin.
Meanwhile, reports in the Israeli press on Tuesday that Duda’s office had not submitted a formal request to speak at the event were refuted by Marek Magierowski, Poland’s ambassador in Tel Aviv.
“To dispel all doubts: both Yad Vashem and the Israeli authorities have known about the conditions of participation of President Duda in the Jan. 23 commemorations for at least four months,” Magierowski said on Twitter.
The forum in Jerusalem on Jan. 23 will close with a special commemoration ceremony led by Holocaust survivors Rose Moskowitz and Collette Avital, who will light a memorial torch.
The national delegations will then lay commemorative wreaths at the base of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Monument at Yad Vashem.