Walesa `upstaging' Auschwitz service

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The European Jewish Congress is to hold its own ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz because it believes Polish proposals are badly organised, do not reflect the scale of Jewish suffering and that Lech Walesa is try ing tosteal the limelight.

Elan Steinberg, a spokesman for the World Jewish Congress in New York, said yesterday that the ceremony at the Birkenau camp on 26 January will include Jewish prayers for the dead. "This is an important anniversary . . . we did not want it to pass without an appropriate commemoration of the world's largest Jewish graveyard.".

Serge Cwajgenbaum, its Secretary General, said that Jewish groups were dissatisfied with the official programme prepared by the office of Poland's President, Lech Walesa.

Andrzej Zakrzewski, a senior aide to President Walesa, said he was astonished. The move had been motivated by "personal ambition" and masterminded by "activists".

The dispute is the latest in a long line that has marred preparations for the commemoration. It reflects continuing Polish-Jewish tensions since the Second World War and a wider argument about what Auschwitz represents. The official programmewill take place on 26 and 27 January. On the first day, Nobel prize-winners will gather in Krakow to work on an appeal for world peace and tolerance.

Ceremonies will then be held at the nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau camps . The heads of state of 23 countries whose citizens suffered in the camps have been invited, but only 12, including President Roman Herzog of Germany, have said they will attend. Seven Nobel prize-winners will be there, Maurice Goldstein, chairman of the International Auschwitz Committee, representing 10,000 survivors, said the poor turn-out was due to "chaotic" organisation and that President Walesa's office had failed to consult his organisation sufficiently.

Survivors, he added, were irked becaue Mr Walesa was to give a keynote address during the commemorations, accusing him of trying to take Auschwitz" away from the Jews".