(JTA) — A leader of Russian Jews called on Poland to avoid any exclusion of Russia from an international forum that is responsible for preserving for educational purposes the former Nazi death camp of Sobibor.
Mikhael Mirilashvili, the president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, issued the call Sunday, following claims by Russian officials that Poland barred Russian experts from participating in the work of the International Steering Committee on Sobibor, even though the Russians had been invited to do so by non-Polish members of the committee.
“Russia is a key player in memorializing Holocaust victims, and her participation in this project is vital,” said Mirilashvili, whose organization is an affiliate of the World Jewish Congress and represents Jewish communities from Ukraine to New Zealand.
Poland’s right-wing nationalist government has responded strongly to Russia’s expansionist policies in Ukraine and beyond, issuing threats and imposing sanctions on Russia.
According to Sputnik News, Russia was invited this year to join the work of the steering committee, a body set up in 2013 with commemoration representatives from Poland, Israel, Slovakia and the Netherlands in order to build a commemoration project befitting Sobibor’s key role in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust. About 200,000 Jews were gassed at the camp in eastern Poland, as were non-Jewish Soviet prisoners. However, in July Moscow received an official message from Warsaw that the project would continue without Russia’s participation.
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that Russia’s exclusion was an “outrageous fact of historical amnesia” and her ministry intends to summon ambassadors from all the countries on the steering committee to offer clarifications.
Earlier this month, Polish Foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski avoided answering a question on Poland’s role in the dis-invitation, telling a RIA Novosti journalist that the steering committee “is an international body” and that Moscow should query all members about the issue if it seeks answers. He later said about the same issue that “Polish authorities did not intend to take care of monuments built in honor of the Red Army,” the Sputnik news agency reported.
In 2015, Polish officials said that Russian President Vladimir Putin was not welcome at the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by Russian troops. The Poles said no heads of state would attend in a bid to focus attention on survivors. Ultimately, however, the heads of state who attended the event included French President Francois Hollande, his German and Ukrainian counterparts, Joachim Guack and Petro Poroshenko, as well as the Dutch and Belgian premiers, Mark Rutte and Charles Michel, respectively.
According to Sputnik, at least one Israeli on the steering committee agreed to Russia’s exclusion. But a spokesperson for Israel’s foreign ministry told JTA Sunday that neither Israel nor the Israeli groups represented on the steering committee oppose Russia’s inclusion in the organization’s work.
Avraham Greenzaid, chairman of Israel’s Veterans Union of World War II, said in a statement that his organization welcomes Israel’s positive view of Russia on the committee, and “condemns any attempt to exclude Russia.”