Polish president won’t attend Yad Vashem event unless given chance to ‘refute Putin’s lies’

Andrzej Duda says he will come to Yad Vashem only if he will be one of the speakers.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Polish president has told Israel that he will come to Jerusalem for the event marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz later this month only if he is allowed to be one of the speakers.

The office of President Andrzej Duda made it very clear why he was setting such a condition: To enable him “to respond to the lies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

Poland and Russia have been in a war of words lately regarding the history of World War II. Putin started it off by speaking very harshly in December at an event held in his Defense Ministry.

“Essentially, they collaborated with Hitler. It’s clear from archival documents,” he said of the Poles.

He then referred to Warsaw’s ambassador to Berlin on the eve of the war as a Nazi collaborator.

“He was a bastard, an anti-Semitic pig, you cannot put it in any other way. He expressed full identification with Hitler in his anti-Semitic views,” Putin added.

Polish Premier Mateusz Morawiecki immediately hit back very hard, saying, “If it were not for the cooperation agreement between Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler, World War II would not have broken out. If it were not for the help Stalin gave Hitler, German would not have been able to conquer Europe.”

He was referring to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact that was signed between the two countries’ foreign ministers in August 1939. This led to the division of Poland between the USSR when Germany invaded in September 1939,  setting off World War II.

It also allowed the USSR to take over the Baltic states and parts of other countries while the Nazis began conquering Western Europe. The USSR joined the Allies only after Hitler violated the pact by invading the Soviet Union in June 1941.

Putin is one of the major speakers at the World Holocaust Forum event  which will be held January 22-23 in the presence of dozens of world leaders at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. The Poles suspect that he will use the platform to besmirch their country again, and they do not want his version of history to be heard without being answered in kind.

A Polish daily, Gazeta Wyborcza, which has already reported that Duda intends to withdraw due to the Russian speech, also gave another reason for the boycott: because the Foreign Ministry, headed by Yisrael Katz, is a cosponsor of the conference.

It has not been forgotten in Poland that barely after his appointment last year, Katz quoted the late prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, saying that the Poles “suckle anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk,” and he refused to issue the apology Warsaw then demanded.

The minister made the statement during a period of tension between the two countries after Poland’s parliament passed a law mandating prison time for those who say that Poles were responsible for any part of the crimes committed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

The law was eventually revised and only fines will be given if the country’s Institute for National Remembrance believes the offender misrepresented Polish history during World War II.

According to Ha’aretz, another reason for Duda’s potential boycott is that he is up for re-election this year, and the nationalist president would not want his image damaged by being seen at an event where his country is slammed as a Nazi stooge by Putin.