Russia not invited to Auschwitz liberation ceremony

Barbed wire and watchtowers mark the perimeter of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp.

The former Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz II-Birkenau in Brzezinka, Poland. (Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch)

Friday will mark the 78th anniversary of the haunting winter afternoon when Red Army troops liberated the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, where more than a million people (the vast majority of among them were Jews, but also political prisoners and Roma) had been murdered. .

But the annual commemoration in Oświęcim, Poland, will not include Russian officials, the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum announced Thursday.

This decision has less to do with the past – never far away in this painful corner of Europe – than with the present.

«Due to the attack on Free and Independent Ukraine, representatives of the Russian Federation were not invited to participate in this year’s event commemorating the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz,» Pawel Sawicki, the museum’s press secretary, told Yahoo News. in an email.

A man stands next to flowers placed on flagstones at the Holocaust Memorial.

A man at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin commemorates the victims of the Nazi regime on International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, 2013. (AP/Markus Schreiber)

Polish President Andrzej Duda will preside over the ceremony, which takes place as fighting continues to rage in eastern Ukraine. Poland has become one of its neighbor Ukraine’s staunchest supporters, accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees and facilitating military transfers from the West.

The crumbling gas chambers, sparse wooden barracks and other facilities visited by some 2.3 million visitors each year are «an eloquent warning to humanity, how eloquent today in light of war crimes from Russia to Ukraine,» museum director Piotr Cywinski said. when the 78th anniversary ceremony was first announced.

Russia reacted strongly. «No matter how our European ‘non-partners’ managed to rewrite history in a new way, the memory of the Soviet liberator heroes and the horrors of Nazism cannot be erased,» the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said. Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, on social networks. Publish.

Soviet prisoners of war at Auschwitz were among the first to be subjected to the Nazi practice of using poison gas to commit mass murder in 1941, before the first of Poland’s death camps opened the year next. Hundreds of thousands of Jews would be murdered there and in a camp that by 1944 had turned into a vast labor colony and killing factory known as Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Two female Auschwitz survivors flanking a huge floral wreath of red roses and palm fronds, with a brick wall behind the crowd of attendees.

Auschwitz survivors lay a wreath at the ‘Death Wall’ of the former Nazi death camp where executions took place by firing squad in Oświęcim, Poland, January 27, 2014, to mark the 69th anniversary of the liberation of the camp by the Soviet Red Army. (AP/Czarek Sokolowski)

No other side would survive intact, as the Nazis sought to hide evidence of their grotesque crimes against humanity.

It was the relentless advance of the Red Army that expelled Hitler’s forces from their conquered lands in Eastern Europe, including Poland, leading to the eventual liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by the 322nd Division riflemen of the 60th Russian army.

It was also the Red Army which marched two months later on Berlin. The costs of triumph were high, with the Soviet Union losing an inconceivable 26 million civilians and soldiers throughout the war. In her message, Zakharova recalled that it was Soviet soldiers who «saved the world from the fascist plague».

The American and British authorities knew what was happening at Auschwitz, but they had refused to bomb the railroad tracks that daily brought thousands of Jews from all over Europe to their deaths.

A train car stands on the train tracks, with the visitor center in the distance.

A wagon stands on the train tracks from where hundreds of thousands of people were herded to the gas chambers of the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz. (AP/Markus Schreiber)

Although the Red Army was exceptionally diverse, drawing from all segments of Soviet society, it was most closely identified with its Russian history and core. And although Russia has a long history of anti-Semitism, its defeat of Hitler relegated it – until the end of the 20th century – to a substantive detail.

Victory over Nazism remains at the heart of Russian identity; the conflict is known in Russia as the «Great Patriotic War».

Russian President Vladimir Putin has attempted to capture the spirit of this era by claiming he ordered the invasion of Ukraine to «denazify» his ruling regime. Putin’s narrative largely overlooks the fact that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish.

To remedy this fact, some Russian officials have twisted World War II history to fit their narrative, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov citing alleged Jewish complicity in the Holocaust. His comments were denounced as false and anti-Semitic, prompting an apology from Putin to the Israeli prime minister at the time.

The absence of Russian officials at Friday’s ceremony will preclude a potentially awkward encounter: American second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, the first Jewish spouse on a successful presidential ticket (his wife is Vice President Kamala Harris) is due to attend the ‘event.

Emhoff, whose family is originally from Eastern Europe, currently visits Holocaust-related sites.

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