(JTA) — Moscow condemned as “sacrilegious” the Polish foreign minister’s suggestion that Ukrainians, not Russians, liberated Auschwitz.
Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna in an interview Wednesday with Polskie Radio, addressed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s absence from a ceremony scheduled to take place at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on Jan. 27, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the death camp by Red Army troops.
“Maybe it’s better to say … that the First Ukrainian Front and Ukrainians liberated [Auschwitz], because Ukrainian soldiers were there, on that January day, and they opened the gates of the camp and they liberated the camp,” Schetyna said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called Schetyna’s comments “sacrilegious and cynical,” the Associated Press reported Friday.
“Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army, which included Russians, Ukrainians, Chechens, Tatars and Georgians, among others,” Lavrov said. His ministry called Schetyna’s words about Auschwitz a “mockery of history [that] needs to be stopped.”
Relations between Moscow and Poland deteriorated following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last March and its subsequent annexation of Crimea. Poland and other central and east European governments see Russia’s actions in Ukraine as presaging a possible threat to their own sovereignty.
Putin attended 60th-anniversary events in 2005. Putin’s absence from this year’s ceremony has been attributed to Polish reluctance to host him. Schetyna said the decision was Putin’s.
Earlier this month, Latvian delegates to the United Nations education and heritage arm, UNESCO, vetoed an exhibition about the Holocaust that Russian UNESCO delegates had planned to open on Jan. 25.