World leaders flock to Israel to mark 75th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation

World leaders arrive in Israel to commemorate 75th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation

JERUSALEM — More than 40 world leaders arrived in Israel on Wednesday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp and to speak out against the rise of anti-Semitism.

There will be two ceremonies: one in Jerusalem on Thursday, and one at the site of the Auschwitz camp in southern Poland on Monday, according to The Associated Press.

The kings of Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands, Britain’s Prince Charles and the presidents of Russia, France, Germany, Italy and Ukraine are attending the events in Jerusalem, The New York Times reported. After a dinner Wednesday night at the residence of Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, leaders will assemble Thursday for a hillside ceremony at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, the newspaper reported.

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The two leaders who won’t attend are President Donald Trump and Poland President Andrzej Duda. The United States will be represented by Vice President Mike Pence, the Times reported. Poland’s leader declined an invitation when he learned he would not be allowed to speak during Thursday’s ceremony, while Vladimir Putin, of Russia, will make a speech, CNN reported.

“The inability to speak in regard to this matter is against the interests of (Poland),” Duda said in a televised speech earlier this month.

However, organizers for the event said the only planned for leaders from the four wartime allies during World War II -- the U.S., Great Britain, France and Russia (formerly known as the Soviet Union) -- Germany and Israel, CNN reported.

“I am afraid this will not help the commemoration of the Holocaust,” Dariusz Stola, a Polish historian and former director of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, told the AP. “Now the past is serving the aims of current politics.”

Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops on Jan. 27, 1945. The camp, also known as Auschwitz-Birkenau, opened in 1940 and was the largest of the Nazi concentration/death camps. More than 1 million people died at the camp, and Allied forces found thousands of starving prisoners and piles of corpses.

The Soviet Union had signed a nonaggression treaty with Nazi Germany shortly before the war began in 1939. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact contained language where both powers agreed to partition Poland and Eastern Europe. That pact was violated when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941.

Security was tight Wednesday as world leaders arrived in Israel. “Operation Future” has deployed 6,300 police officers in Israel, along with border patrol officers, undercover units, special patrols and anti-terrorist units, the Jerusalem Post reported.

The security angered French President Emmanuel Macron at one point Wednesday, the Times reported. Macron was entering a French church in the Old City of Jerusalem. The newspaper reported that Macron wanted to enter the church with his own security detail, and not with Israeli guards.

“Please respect the rules,” Macron said in English. “They are for centuries. They will not change with me, I can tell you. So everybody respects the rules. Please.”

“I don’t like what you did in front of me, Go outside. I’m sorry. But we know the rules. Nobody — nobody has to provoke. Nobody! OK?"

World leaders gathered in Israel to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. A second ceremony will be held Monday in Poland.
World leaders gathered in Israel to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. A second ceremony will be held Monday in Poland. (Markus Schreiber, Associated Press)