27th Oct 2016

European Parliament row mars Auschwitz commemorations

As World leaders prepare to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a behind-the-scenes wrangle over the exact wording of a European Parliament resolution on the issue shows how sensitive the matter remains in Europe.

On 19 January, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament proposed a "resolution on remembrance of the Holocaust, anti-semitism and Racism", which stated, "the concentration and extermination camps built by the German Nazis are among the most shameful and painful pages of the history of our Continent".

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  • Auschwitz was liberated nearly 60 years ago (Photo: Auschwitz Museum)

The EPP resolution, co-signed by its German leader Hans-Gert Pöttering and Polish MEP Boguslaw Sonik, also states that the camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau was "built in May 1940 by the Germans".

But other political groups - Liberals, Greens and Socialists - proposed resolutions which did not mention the word German.

Furthermore, some proposals spoke of the "liberation of the Auschwitz Death Camp in Poland", from which some Poles, including Mr Sonik, have inferred some Polish involvement in the building of Auschwitz.

Sparks flying

A clash then took place during a meeting which was supposed to agree the wording for a common resolution.

Baroness Sarah Ludford, a British Liberal, argued that the word "German" should not be used in connection with "Nazi" since not all Nazis were German and not all Germans were Nazis.

She also defended the phrase "in Poland", saying that it was merely a "geographical description".

This provoked a furious reaction from Mr Sonik, who, insiders have confirmed, stormed out of the meeting in disgust at the inference that Poland had anything to do with the building of Auschwitz or the events that took place there.

But Baroness Ludford told the EUobserver, "there was never any draft that suggested any blame attached to the Poles", adding, "no-one set out to blame the Poles".

She said, "I think it is deeply regrettable that the focus is now on an internal row within the European Parliament, because of confusion and misunderstanding, rather than on a sombre and dignified Holocaust remembrance".

Strong words

Mr Sonik, however, feels there is more at stake than mere geography. "There wasn't even a Poland at the time", he said, "it was territory occupied by the Germans".

"You have to start with history ... you have to start by saying 'German Nazi'".

He also confirmed that Socialist leader Martin Schultz telephoned Mr Pöttering and asked him to remove the phrase "German Nazi". Mr Pöttering, says Mr Sonik, agreed to do this as it was the only way to acheive a common resolution.

Both group leaders are German and Mr Schultz achieved notoriety in 2003 when he was likened by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to a concentration camp guard.

Compromise solution

A compromise resolution has now been tabled upon which MEPs will vote on Thursday (27 January).

This resolution - which is co-signed by the EPP, the Socialists, the Liberals, the Greens and the left-wing GUE party - now refers to the "liberation of Hitler's Nazi death camp", leaving out all references to Poland or Germany.

Mr Sonik said that it was he that suggested the compromise phrase and he would be voting for the resolution on Thursday.

The Independence and Democracy Group, which also tabled a resolution mentioning "German Nazis", has not signed up to the compromise resolution, feeling that their resolution should stand.

The heads of the political groups will join world leaders at a ceremony commemorating Auschwitz victims on Thursday.

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