Holocaust Memorial Day: three unsung heroes who helped Europe's Jews escape the Nazis

Holocaust Memorial Day: Far-right Polish group leads anti-Semitic protest at Auschwitz during commemoration ceremony

Group accuses Jews of covering up number of non-Jewish Polish victims in Holocaust

Tim Wyatt
Monday 28 January 2019 10:38
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Far-right Polish nationalists organised an anti-Semitic protest during a Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony at Auschwitz.

The small group of hardline activists held their demonstration inside the former concentration camp at the same time as the official Holocaust commemorations on Sunday.

The 50 protestors from the Polish Independence Movement were led by Piotr Rybak, who was once jailed for burning an effigy of a Jew.

Mr Rybak told reporters they were there to oppose the official – and historically accurate – narrative that millions of Jews were murdered by the Nazis with the active collaboration of some Poles.

"It's time to fight against Jewry and free Poland from them,” Mr Rybak said, a Polish newspaper reported.

“The Jewish nation and Israel is doing everything to change the history of the Polish nation.”

At the same time as the Polish nationalists demonstrated, politicians including the prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki and other officials gathered inside the grounds of Auschwitz to hold the annual commemoration marking the liberation of the death camp on 27 January 1945.

Survivors of the Holocaust placed flowers at an execution wall inside the camp, which has been turned into an open-air museum.

They wore striped scarves with the red letter P, similar to the uniforms marking them out as Poles which the Nazi regime forced them to wear.

Christian and Jewish religious figures then led joint prayers for all the victims of the concentration camps in Nazi-occupied Poland, including Poles as well as Jews.

Far-right campaigners have claimed for years the official Holocaust commemorations diminish the place of Polish victims.

The Polish Independence Movement activists laid their own wreaths and flowers, including some stamped with the words “Polish Holocaust”, and then sang the national anthem.

Former Auschwitz prisoners walk through the death camp's gates ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations

Many nationalists still echo the propaganda of the Communist post-war era, which insisted Poland did nothing wrong during the Second World War and denied the reality that thousands of Poles had worked with the Nazis in their extermination campaign.

But when an opposition politician asked on Twitter what the current right-wing government of Poland would do to stamp out this growing anti-Semitic narrative, the interior minister said it was not their problem.

“React to what? To the fact that someone is not in their right mind and blames all the evil in this world and his frustrations on a particular nation?”

“If you are trying to blame this government for anti-Semitism in the heads of seriously crazy (I believe) fools, it is indecent and unwise,” he added.

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Last year, the Polish government sought to change the law so anyone claiming Poland was complicit in the Holocaust could be jailed, straining relations with Israel.

Of the 3.2m Polish Jews alive when the Second World War started, just 200,000 survived the Nazi atrocities. Many Jews from elsewhere in Europe were also sent to concentration camps on Polish soil where most were then murdered or worked to death.

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum estimated the Nazis also killed at least 1.9m non-Jewish Polish civilians.

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