- WARSAW (AP) -- Responding to a plea from Israel, the Polish government
said Thursday it doesn't have the authority to remove dozens of crosses
erected outside the Auschwitz death camp by Roman Catholic faithful.
- More than 50 crosses have been put up
over the last two weeks at the urging of a conservative Catholic radio
station to protest efforts to remove a much larger, eight-metre cross that
has stood just yards from the camp's wall since 1988.
- Jewish groups around the world have long
protested the presence of the cross so close to the Nazi death camp, saying
it harms the memory of the Holocaust's Jewish victims.
- Israel asked Wednesday that the smaller
crosses be taken down. The Polish government, however, said the crosses
were on private property, and that the Roman Catholic Church, not the state,
was responsible for religious symbols in Poland.
- The large cross was used during a 1979
papal mass and was later placed on the grounds of a former Carmelite nunnery
on Auschwitz's periphery to commemorate the event and to honor the memory
of Poles executed at the site by the Nazis.
- The church defended the placement of
additional crosses at the site.
- "This is Polish soil and all imposition
of other will is seen as interference into sovereignty," said Cardinal
Jozef Glemp, the head of the Catholic Church in Poland.
- He said people erected smaller crosses
"not out of fantasy but because of the constant nagging by the Jewish
side for a swift removal of the cross."
- On Thursday, Yisrael Cohen, spokesman
for Israel's Holocaust memorial, said the Polish government was violating
an international agreement protecting the memory of Jews killed by the
Nazis at Auschwitz.
- He said his organization, Yad Vashem,
the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, the Polish government and church
authorities signed an agreement earlier this year forbidding the presence
of "religious, ideological or political symbols," at the death
- "We plan to continue pressuring
the Polish government into meeting its commitment and the immediate removal
of the crosses," Cohen said.
- The Polish government said it viewed
the "aggravating conflict" over the Auschwitz memorial with anxiety,
and that it would spare no effort to prevent the issue from hurting Polish-Israeli
- It called for mutual respect.
- "We are aware of the role that the
cross has for the Poles and we are aware of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp's
meaning to the Jews around the world," the statement said.
- From 1940-45, some 1.5 million people,
mostly Jews, were killed in the camp's gas chambers, executed or died of
starvation, disease and forced labor.