Posted Friday, July 31, 1998
ON JULY 27, 1998 Ralph Grunewald, the foreign minister ("director of external affairs") of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, issued this press release protesting at new crosses erected outside the entrance to Auschwitz I, the famous Stammlager ("ARBEIT MACHT FREI"). Letters of concern were also sent to the Polish President Kwasniewski, Prime Minister Buzek, and Bishop Rakoczy of the Bielsko-Biala district.
Website visitors can address their comments to Shana Penn, the museum's press officer, at 202 488 0442, or Christine Brown at 202 488 0441.
The attention of AR-Online was drawn to this press release by Adam Tomaszewski. For once, all comment seems superfluous.
New Crosses at Auschwitz Must Be Removed
RALPH GRUNEWALD, Director of External Affairs, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, Miles Lerman, today condemned the placement of new crosses adjacent to the existing 7-meter cross outside the entrance to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi death camp in southwestern Poland.
Over the past weekend, Father Jan Sieminski, a right-wing priest from Gliwice, erected at least 50 additional small crosses and crucifixes outside Auschwitz-Birkenau. Associated with the extremist radio station, Radio Maryja, Sieminski is protesting plans to preserve the death camp site by the Polish Government and a coalition of international Holocaust and Jewish institutions, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Mr. Lerman, who has chaired the Holocaust Museum's Council since 1993, stated: "As I am sure the Polish Government and Church authorities know, there is only one right thing to do, and that is to remove the crosses as soon as possible. The 50-plus crosses do not symbolize the enhancement of religious reverence. To the contrary, the crosses are being used as a tool in a political fight that I condemn in the strongest terms."
These new symbols were erected within the UNESCO protective zones, and are in violation of the letter and spirit of the Polish Government's 1978 application to UNESCO that listed the death camp as a World Heritage Site.
In December of 1997, eight Christian crosses and 11 Stars of David, which had stood on-site since 1983, were finally removed after years of controversy.
This latest incident underscores the necessity of finalizing and implementing the "Declaration" regarding Auschwitz-Birkenau that was initialed in March 1997 by the Government of Poland, leading American Jewish organizations, Yad Vashem in Israel, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
This agreement will create a Master Plan for the death camp site that will preserve the UNESCO protective zones, physically link both camps, and prohibit the introduction of any buildings or religious symbols in the future.
"Extremists in the U.S. and Poland started fanning the fires just as we were on the verge of concluding an agreement to the satisfaction of all parties," stated Mr. Lerman.
"Unfortunately, the venom and hate mongering by individuals who represent only themselves cause intractable problems, which are difficult to untangle. I condemn this provocative act as an effort to destabilize on-going negotiations.
"I hope that in the near future, the Coalition and its Polish partners will find a way to implement an agreement that will preclude irresponsible, fanatical acts of this nature.
"The symbols must be removed immediately, and I am sure the appropriate government and Church authorities in Poland will take the proper steps to ensure that they are removed forthwith," continued Mr. Lerman. "In this way, the potential for another confrontation will be eliminated. For its part, the Coalition will do all in its power to undo this provocation."
US Holocaust council slams Auschwitz crosses
By MARILYN HENRY
NEW YORK (July 29) - As the conflict over religious symbols at Auschwitz escalated with the installation of dozens of Christian crosses, the head of the US Holocaust Memorial Council condemned the crosses and blamed American and Polish extremists for "fanning the fires."
"Extremists in the US and Poland started fanning the fires just as we were on the verge of concluding an agreement" on the protection and preservation of the death camp, said Miles Lerman, chairman of the US Holocaust Memorial Council and head of an international Jewish consortium that has been negotiating on the status of the camp.
Members of a Catholic workers' group, goaded by a right-wing Catholic radio station, Radio Maryja, erected more than 50 crosses -- one of them 3 meters high -- over the weekend just outside the walls of Auschwitz.
"We want the entire escarpment to teem with crosses," Kazimierz Switon, a campaigner who had just ended a 42-day protest fast, told the Polish news agency PAP.
Jewish groups have objected to all religious symbols, arguing that they desecrate what is seen as the largest Jewish graveyard in Europe. Some 1 million Jews were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Earlier this month, the government of Poland and an international coalition of Jewish institutions had been scheduled to sign a 10-point declaration calling for a master plan for "Project Oswiecimski." That plan is intended to preserve Auschwitz-Birkenau and to develop the surrounding community.
The Jewish institutions, including Yad Vashem and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, had reached an agreement with Warsaw and the Polish Church on Auschwitz in March 1997, but the formal signing was delayed by a dispute over the presence of religious symbols at the site.
The symbols originally in question, on the "Field of Ashes" at Birkenau, were removed last December.
A new dispute then arose over a cross erected to commemorate the site where Pope John Paul prayed for the first victims of Auschwitz, Polish political prisoners shot by the Germans in a gravel pit.