80480763 80480761 - Poland-Russia row sours Auschwitz commemoration

A political row has erupted between Poland and Russia ahead of a ceremony marking 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz death camp.

This will be the last big anniversary in which the remaining elderly survivors will be able to come and pay their respects at the camp.

It was where, in occupied Poland between 1940-45, Nazi Germany murdered one million men, women and children simply for being Jews.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the last big anniversary 10 years ago, as representative of the largest country that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Soviet soldiers liberated the camp on 27 January, 1945.

But Russia's annexation of Crimea and its support for separatist rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine put the ceremony's organisers, the Auschwitz Council, in a difficult position.

Poland has been one of the sharpest critics of Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

"The Poles were explicitly not thrilled about the prospect of Putin coming," Konstanty Gebert, columnist for the leading daily Gazeta Wyborcza told the BBC.

Ukrainians credited
The Council decided to send an open invitation to embassies, rather than to individual heads of state and government.

"Had the Russians said 'well our president is coming' that would be it, Putin would be at Auschwitz. But Putin chose to be offended at not having been specifically invited, as I assume the Poles knew he would be, therefore avoiding an embarrassing situation," Mr Gebert said.

"It would have been incongruous to have Putin in Auschwitz with his recent track record. In general the presence of Russia at Auschwitz ceremonies is not only indispensable but also highly desirable, and it needs to be placed within the historical context both then and now," he added.

BBC News - Poland-Russia row sours Auschwitz commemoration