Polish Government Will
Not Remove Christian
Crosses Outside Auschwitz
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 camp.
"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 relations.
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.