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Polish president pulls out of Auschwitz commemoration event in Israel

President Duda refused to attend if he could not speak at the event [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 January, 2020

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Polish-Israeli relations have declined in recent years as the governments row over alleged Polish complicity in Nazi German crimes.
Poland's president on Tuesday pulled out of an event in Jerusalem marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in protest at not being allowed to make a speech there.

World leaders are due to attend the January 23 ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial marking the anniversary, which falls four days later.

"I will be clear: we have decided that I as the Polish president will not participate in the event," Andrzej Duda said.

He had previously said he would attend if he was allowed to make a formal address. Other heads of state, including Russia's Vladimir Putin, are due to speak.

Duda said denying him the opportunity to publicly honour Polish citizens who perished in the Holocaust was tantamount to a "distortion of the historical truth".

Nearly six million Polish citizens, half of whom were Jewish, died in World War II that began with Nazi Germany's 1939 invasion of Poland.

Duda's withdrawal from the Jerusalem commemoration comes after a diplomatic row between Poland and Israel last year.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sparked anger in Poland after he said "the Poles collaborated with the Nazis", claims also repeated by Foreign Minister Israel Katz.

Warsaw has long been at pains to state that Poland, which was occupied by Nazi Germany, did not collaborate in the Holocaust although individual Poles gave up Jews to the Nazis.

The two states also rowed in 2018 when Poland made it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in Nazi German crimes. The offence was later decriminalised after uproar from Israel, the United States and other Europeans states.

The ceremonies in Jerusalem come days ahead of a January 27 event organised by Poland at the site of the former Nazi death camp on the actual 75th anniversary of its liberation. 

While the Soviet Red Army liberated the camp, Poland has not invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to the event, which Duda is due to attend. 

Polish leaders have expressed outrage over recent accusations by Putin that Poland colluded with Nazi Germany and shares responsibility for triggering World War II.

Part of Nazi German dictator Adolf Hitler's genocide plan against European Jews, dubbed the "Final Solution", Auschwitz-Birkenau operated in the then-occupied southern Polish town of Oswiecim between June 1940 and January 1945.

Of the more than 1.3 million people imprisoned there, some 1.1 million - mainly European Jews - perished, either asphyxiated in the gas chambers or due to starvation, exhaustion and disease.

In all, the Nazis killed six million of pre-war Europe's 11 million Jews.

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