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Polish Jewish community head backs president’s decision to skip Holocaust event

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) – Poland’s largest Jewish communal group expressed its support for Polish President Andrzej Duda’s decision to withdraw from a major Holocaust memorial event in Jerusalem.

Artur Hofman, chairman of the Social and Cultural Association of Jews in Poland, the largest Jewish organization in the country, said in an interview that “the Jewish community in Poland and all Jewish organizations” support Duda’s decision.

Duda announced last week that he would not participate in the 5th Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, scheduled for January 23. Duda wanted to give a speech there, but the organizers did not include him on the program. The Polish president will speak on January 27 at the Auschwitz Museum, during a ceremony marking the anniversary of the liberation of the camp.

“This is our president and our government. We unconditionally stand behind them. If Polish memory is under attack, we defend it. The world’s largest commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz will take place in Poland,” said Hofman.

Hofman also emphasized that Israelis know that Poles were not complicit in the Holocaust. He called the Russian attempt to blame Poles for cooperation with Hitler “a provocation.”

“The vast majority of Israelis know history and know what the realities of World War II looked like. Emigrants from Russia [to Israel] may not have historical knowledge. Many of these people have no Jewish background. And Israelis are aware of this,” Hofman said.

Duda has criticized the fact that representatives of the US, Russia, France, the UK and Germany would all speak at the memorial while his request to address the forum had been denied.

The Yad Vashem memorial museum in Jerusalem has said the speakers will represent the winners of World War II and the country that perpetrated the Holocaust — Germany.

The Polish announcement comes amid a dispute between Warsaw and Moscow over allegations of collaboration with the Nazis and responsibility for the outbreak of World War II.

In December, Putin accused Poland of having been in cahoots with Adolf Hitler during the war. He also cast Poland as an anti-Semitic country that welcomed the Nazi dictator’s plans to destroy Europe’s Jews.

The Fifth World Holocaust Forum is scheduled to take place on January 23 at Yad Vashem in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

Representing the winners of World War II are Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, Prince Charles of the UK and a senior US official, most likely Vice President Mike Pence.

Speaking on behalf of the “perpetrators” will be Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a spokesman for Yad Vashem said.

In addition, President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Holocaust survivors are expected to address the event, which will be attended by “dozens of world leaders,” according to organizers.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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