LEADING ARTICLE:Poland's burden

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The Independent Online
A gaggle of pathetic skinheads they may have been, but that parade of Polish anti-Semites through the arch into Auschwitz was deeply repugnant. This was a dingy desecration that in itself deserves little more than passing contempt. Yet it has a context. It speaks ill of Poland. It was not just the evidence offered of the virulence of contemporary anti-Semitism. There was a worrying absence of Polish response. Where were the counter- demonstrations, the shocked reaction of Polish political leaders, the cardinals and the union leaders united in their determination to show the world how unrepresentative these neo-fascists are?

The Polish government may say that the issue of building a supermarket adjacent to Auschwitz is now closed. It may say that permitting a demonstration by ultra-nationalists at Auschwitz was a sign of their country's growing political maturity. Poland, they will say, did not choose to be a principal site of the German extermination programme. Many, many Poles, they will say, suffered too.

Yet Polish history is too tainted by anti-Semitism for the country's government not to see they have special responsibility for Auschwitz. Poland aspires to membership of the European Union. There is talk of Poland's accession to the North Atlantic Treaty. Poles need to see that these moves westward are conditional not on expunging groups that hate - all our societies have their hateful and hating minorities, after all. What is vital is consciousness, about history and the special burden carried by them, the Germans and all those involved in the Holocaust.

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