The Polish prime minister’s implicit defense of her government’s stance against absorbing migrants were made as the European Commission imposed sanctions on her country for failing to change its policies on migrants.
Poland’s prime minister made comments during a memorial observance at Auschwitz that appear to defend her anti-migrant policies. Critics denounced the prime minister for the comments, saying her words were inappropriate given the location.
Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said, “In today’s restless times, Auschwitz is a great lesson, showing that everything must be done to protect the safety and life of one’s citizens.”
The remark was widely understood as a defense of her conservative government’s refusal to accept refugees as part of a European Union resettlement plan, a position that prompted the European Commission to launch legal action this week against her government. The Commission also took action against the Czech Republic and Hungary.
Szydlo’s Law and Justice party tweeted her comment, but removed it following accusations that she was misusing history for political gain.
“Auschwitz must remind us of the need to defend universal human rights, not closing borders to refugees!” said Rafal Pankowski, the head of Never Again, an organization that fights neo-Nazism and other forms of extremism.
Szydlo, who grew up in the town of Oswiecim, where the former death camp is located, made her remarks during a ceremony marking the 77th anniversary of the first transports of Polish prisoners to the camp.
Polish government spokesman Rafal Bochenek said the entirety of Szydlo’s speech—which focused on Polish suffering and heroism during World War II—made clear no ill will was intended.
The Germans murdered an estimated 1.1. million people at the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex in what was then occupied Poland. Some of the first victims of the camp were Poles who resisted the murderous German occupation of their country, though by war’s end most of the people killed there were Jews transported from across Europe.