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Cablegate: 65th Anniversary of Auschwitz Liberation

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TAGS: PHUM PREL PGOV IS PL
SUBJECT: 65TH ANNIVERSARY OF AUSCHWITZ LIBERATION
HIGHLIGHTS POLISH-JEWISH PROGRESS

REF: WARSAW 57

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1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Polish government officials addressed
Jewish and Polish suffering in ceremonies marking the 65th
anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. FCC
Chairman Julius M. Genachowski, who led the U.S. Presidential
Delegation, participated in a Holocaust education conference
attended by high-level officials from 32 countries. At the
conference, Chairman Genachowki introduced a video message
from President Obama. The delegation later attended the
opening of a new Russian exhibit at Auschwitz-I -- an
important development in terms of Poland's efforts to "reset"
its relations with Russia, although the exhibit retains many
of the themes and elements of its Soviet-era predecessor.
Remarks by Polish President Kaczynski, PM Tusk, and
International Auschwitz Council Chairman Wladyslaw
Bartoszewski all focused on the obligation to remember and to
ensure that Holocaust-era atrocities are never repeated.
Israeli PM Netanyahu noted the prominent role of Polish
Righteous Gentiles who saved Jews during the Holocaust, and
thanked Polish officials for their efforts to preserve the
memory of the Holocaust. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) A U.S. Presidential delegation led by FCC Chairman
Julius M. Genachowski visited Krakow and Oswiecim January
26-28 to take part in ceremonies marking the 65th anniversary
of the liberation of the Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.
Other delegation members included Ambassador Feinstein; Susan
S. Sher, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the
First Lady; U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat
Anti-Semitism Hannah S. Rosenthal; as well as three Auschwitz
survivors: Roman R. Kent, Vice President of the
International Auschwitz Committee; Charlene P. Schiff; and
Edwarda Sternberg-Powidzki. During the commemoration
ceremonies, Polish President Lech Kaczynski presented U.S.
Holocaust Memorial Museum Executive Director Sara Bloomfield
with the Republic of Poland's Order of Merit award for her
achievements in the field of Holocaust education.

"MEMORY, RESPONSIBILITY, EDUCATION"

3. (U) Prior to the January 27 formal ceremony, the
delegation participated, along with Philip Rosenfelt and
Matthew Yale of the U.S. Department of Education, in a
Holocaust Education conference in Oswiecim hosted by Polish
Education Minister Katarzyna Hall. The conference, entitled
"Auschwitz -- Memory, Responsibility, Education," was
attended by high-level government officials from 32
countries. Addressing conference participants, Chairman
Genachowski described his family's experience during the
Holocaust and the heroism of non-Jews who risked their lives
to save his parents. He noted that survival brings with it
obligations: he quoted Elie Wiesel, who taught "If we
forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices." Genachowski
noted that the memory of atrocities committed at Auschwitz
must steel humanity's resolve to fight anti-Semitism, hatred
and racism. He urged the deployment of technology --
perverted for evil by the Nazis -- "to shine a light on
oppression and intolerance, to illuminate persecution and
dehumanization, and to take oppression and mass murder out of
the shadows." He also underscored the moral imperative to
preserve Auchwitz and other physical sites of remembrance,
"because they shock us into an understanding that ideas alone
cannot."

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S VIDEO MESSAGE

4. (U) Following presentations from each delegation,
Genachowski introduced President Obama's video message, in
which the President expressed gratitude to Poland's
leadership for "preserving a place of such great pain for the
Polish people (...) a place of remembrance and learning for
the world." In his remarks, the President emphasized the
"sacred duty to remember," as well as the "burden of seeing
our common humanity; of resisting anti-Semitism and ignorance
in all its forms; of refusing to become a bystander to evil,
whenever and wherever it rears its ugly face." In addition
to recalling the evil committed at Auschwitz, the President
also spoke about humanity's capacity for good and recalled
acts of compassion and resistance, including "Polish rescuers
and those who earned their place forever in the Righteous
Among the Nations." He also praised survivors as "living
memorials to the loved ones you left here. And to the spirit
we must strive to uphold in our time." The President's video
message aired almost simultaneously in Krakow at the Third
International Forum "Let My People Live" hosted by the

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European Jewish Congress.

RUSSIAN EXHIBIT

5. (SBU) Following the Holocaust education conference, the
delegation attended the opening of an exhibit focused on the
Soviet Army's liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The exhibit,
intended to replace a Soviet-era installation, has been the
subject of prolonged negotiations between the Russian
government and the Polish government-run Auschwitz-Birkenau
Museum. At issue are competing narratives of Polish and
Russian heroism/suffering during and after World War II. The
new exhibit -- not yet complete -- opened on a temporary
basis. It still retains many of the same themes and elements
of its Soviet-era predecessor, and fails to mention who the
victims of Auschwitz were. Nonetheless, GOP officials
on-site characterized the fact that the exhibit opened at all
as an important step forward in their efforts to "reset" with
Russia.

OFFICIAL CEREMONY

6. (U) President Kaczynski, PM Tusk, Israeli PM Netanyahu,
Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum Director Piotr Cywinski, and two
survivors -- one a Polish Jew and one a Polish Catholic --
addressed delegates, survivors, those who rescued Jews during
World War II, and the general public. A Roma survivor also
invited to attend was waylaid by a minor auto accident en
route to Oswiecim. Russian Education Minister Fursenko read
a letter from President Medvedev. On the margins of the
ceremony, Ambassador Feinstein and Chairman Genachowski spoke
briefly with President Kaczynski and PM Netanyahu.

7. (U) In his speech, President Kaczynski pointed out that
the Nazis originally tested their extermination technology on
Polish political prisoners interned at Auschwitz-I. Although
Polish Catholics and Jews both suffered disproportionately at
Auschwitz, only Jews were singled out for murder simply
because they were Jews, he said. Kaczynski stressed the
importance of education and memory to ensure that atrocities
committed at Nazi death camps throughout Europe -- many on
occupied Polish soil -- were never repeated again. The
President concluded by noting that the crimes committed at
Auschwitz were not committed by a criminal group, but by a
state -- "by the then-German state, the Third Reich. We must
remember that might does not always make right."

8. (U) Both PM Tusk and his Plenipotentiary for International
Dialogue, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski (an 88-year-old Auschwitz
survivor who chairs the International Auschwitz Council)
invoked the name of Jan Karski, the Polish courier who in
1942-43 carried news of Nazi atrocities to the UK and the
United States. "Why was the world silent? Why did the world
allow it to happen?" Tusk asked, moments after Bartoszewski
noted that the "free world was not interested in our
suffering and death." Bartoszewski expressed hope that
memory of victims' suffering would oblige future generations
to live together in respect for human dignity and in active
defiance of hatred and disdain towards other people "and
especially all forms of xenophobia and anti-Semitism, even
when it is hypocritically called anti-Zionism." Tusk spoke
of the duty to bear witness against the deepest despair and
organized hatred, to ensure that it never happens again.
Tusk and Bartoszewski both highlighted the urgent need to
fund preservation projects at Auschwitz, expressing hope that
more countries would contribute to the Auschwitz-Birkenau
endownment.

9. (U) Israeli PM Netanyahu began his remarks by thanking the
GOP for the "historic effort it is making to commemorate the
greatest catastrophe that befell my people and the greatest
crime committed against humanity." He noted the long history
shared by Poles and Jews, one which includes tremendous
cultural accomplishments and the "lowest low" humanity has
experienced. He noted that one-third of the Righteous
Gentiles -- those who risked their lives and their families'
lives to save Jews -- were Poles.

MEMORIAL EVENT

10. (U) Following the formal ceremony, high-ranking
government officials, religious leaders, heads of delegation,
representatives of the diplomatic corps, and survivors walked
in silence to the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial. After Union
of Jewish Communities president Piotr Kadlcik blew the
shofar, Poland's chief rabbi Michael Schudrich recited

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Kaddish and Lodz rabbi Simcha Keller recited El Maley
Rachamim. After President Kaczynski's chaplain, Reverend
Roman Indrzejczyk, delivered a brief prayer of eternal rest,
Catholic and Jewish religious leaders together recited Psalm
42. Following prayers, President Kaczynski, PM Tusk, heads
of delegation, ambassadors, and survivors were invited to
place candles at the base of the monument.

COMMENT

11. (SBU) GOP officials were clearly intent throughout the
day on demonstrating their responsible stewardship of the
Auschwitz site -- as well as their ownership of the
commemoration and other related events. That said,
participants at the ceremony told Embassy representatives
they had observed since 1989 an evolution in Polish rhetoric
on the nature of suffering at Auschwitz. Rather than
focusing on Polish suffering -- as was the case before 1989
-- President Kaczynski and other GOP officials emphasized
Jewish suffering. Several Embassy contacts in the Jewish
community characterized this as an important development for
Polish-Jewish relations.
FEINSTEIN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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