Holocaust survivor warns Polish leaders over neo-Nazi groups

Holocaust survivor warns Polish leaders over neo-Nazi groups

1,500 people gather in Gdansk to protest against rally by far-right extremists amid concerns the Polish government tolerates them

The mayor of Gdansk, Pawel Adamowicz,center, addresses a rally he organized in protest against a recent gathering by far-right groups in this Baltic coast city, in Gdansk, Poland, on Saturday, April 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Wojciech Strozyk)
The mayor of Gdansk, Pawel Adamowicz,center, addresses a rally he organized in protest against a recent gathering by far-right groups in this Baltic coast city, in Gdansk, Poland, on Saturday, April 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Wojciech Strozyk)

WARSAW, Poland — A Holocaust survivor told people at a counter-rally held Saturday in a Polish city where far-right groups marched a week earlier that Poland’s leaders tolerate organizations with Nazi-inspired ideologies.

Some 1,500 people gathered in Gdansk, the cradle of Poland’s pro-democracy Solidarity movement in the 1980s, to protest the convention the far-right groups held in the city and to alert Poland’s government to the growing threat of fascism.

Magdalena Wyszynska, 96, a Jewish survivor of the Lvov ghetto, told the crowd that the lack of reaction from Poland’s right-wing government could suggests its leaders are “more concerned for the widening of their electorate than for our security.”

Gdansk Mayor Pawel Adamowicz, who organized the rally Saturday, said it was a “shame” that many Poles haven’t learned from history and don uniforms of nationalist and fascist organizations that sowed hatred before and during World War II.

Hidden camera footage recently shown on Poland’s TVN24 showed neo-Nazis celebrating Adolf Hitler’s birthday in Nazi uniforms in southwestern Poland. There was no condemnation from the authorities.

Members of the Polish neo-Nazi Pride and Modernity group celebrating Adolf Hitler’s birthday in an undated video. (Screen capture: TVN24)

Wyszynska said Polish authorities are giving “silent consent” to groups such as All-Poland Youth and the National Radical Camp that promote ideas that should be banned.

Last year, an annual Independence Day march the groups hold parallel to Poland’s official celebrations featured nationalist and racist slogans.

Poland lost some 6 million citizens, half of them Jews, under Nazi German occupation during the war.

Poland recently caused an outcry in Israel and with Jewish groups after it passed a law that criminalizes blaming the Polish nation or state for the crimes of Nazi Germany during World War II.

Passed in February, the Polish law calls for prison terms of up to three years for attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or nation. The law also sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish.

President Reuven Rivlin, center, and Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, left, participate in the March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau site in Poland, as Israel marks the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, on April 12, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The legislation, which was introduced by Poland’s conservative ruling party, has sparked a bitter dispute with Israel, which says it will inhibit free speech about the Holocaust. The United States also strongly opposes the legislation, warning it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.

Jewish groups, Holocaust survivors, and Israeli officials fear its true aim is to repress research on Poles who killed Jews during World War II. The law and subsequent backlash have unleashed a wave of anti-Semitism in Poland.

One of the first people to be accused of breaking it is Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

Last week the National Movement, a Polish nationalist group, asked prosecutors to investigate whether Rivlin broke a new Holocaust speech law during a visit to Poland

The group’s vice president, Krzysztof Bosak, said it formally filed its request to prosecutors on Tuesday.

He said the matter concerns Rivlin telling his Polish counterpart during commemorations at Auschwitz last Thursday that Poland enabled the implementation of Germany’s genocide.

Rivlin told Polish president Andrjez Duda last week that while some Poles helped rescue Jews during the Holocaust, others took part in their extermination, and that Poland as a country played a role.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda (R) and Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin (L) arrive to attend the March of the Living, a yearly Holocaust remembrance march between the former death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, in Oswiecim on April 12, 2018. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP)

“There is no doubt that there were many Poles who fought the Nazi regime, but we cannot deny that Poland and Poles had a hand in the extermination,” Rivlin said in Krakow.

“The country of Poland allowed the implementation of the horrific genocidal ideology of Hitler, and witnessed the wave of anti-Semitism sparked by the law you passed now,” the president added, challenging the recently passed legislation.

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