KRAKOW, Poland — More than 10,000 Jewish and non-Jewish youth from 40 countries, along with dozens of Holocaust survivors and dignitaries from around the world, are set to participate Thursday in the 31st annual International March of the Living, the three-kilometer march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, to pay tribute to the victims of the Nazi genocide and call for an end to anti-Semitism.
But in a stark departure from last year, notably absent this time will be senior officials from the Jewish state and the host country, Poland.
In 2018, Polish President Andrzej Duda participated in the annual commemoration event. The Israeli delegation featured many top officials, including President Reuven Rivlin, then-army chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, Shin Bet security service head Nadav Argaman, and then-Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich.
This year, the most senior Israelis at the march will be UN Ambassador Danny Danon and Jewish Agency chief Isaac Herzog, organizers confirmed to The Times of Israel on Tuesday.
No Polish officials are known to be planning to attend.
This year’s list of participants does include senior officials from other countries, however, including Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila; the US ambassadors to Israel, Poland, Germany and other countries; and from Greece, Orthodox Christian Archbishop Bartholomew I and Parliament Speaker Nikos Voutsis.
The 2018 March of the Living was overshadowed by tensions between the two countries over Polish legislation that imposed fines or up to three years in prison for anyone who ascribes “responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish nation or state for crimes committed by the German Third Reich.”
The law was heavily criticized in Israel and elsewhere, which led Warsaw to amend it, making such claims no longer a crime punishable by prison. Israel and Poland also issued a joint statement that many Israeli historians condemned as inaccurately adopting Poland’s narrative of the Holocaust.
On the day of the march last year, President Rivlin told his Polish counterpart Duda that while Poles helped rescue Jews during the Holocaust, they also took part in their extermination.
“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,” Rivlin said during a joint press conference with the Polish president in Krakow.
That crisis was triggered anew in February after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a visit to the country that some Poles collaborated with the Germans during the Holocaust.
He said speaking about the complicity of individuals was permissible despite the law. But his comment, which was misrepresented in some media to include all Poles, triggered a diplomatic spat. It escalated when Israel’s acting foreign minister, Israel Katz, later said that Poles take in “anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.”
Polish officials, and also the US ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher, demanded an apology for the remark, but none has been issued.
Earlier this month, residents of a small town in Poland marked Good Friday by making a large doll of Judas Iscariot featuring classic anti-Semitic tropes, beating it up, hanging it from a tree and then burning it.
The ritual drew widespread condemnation from Jewish groups.