Russian ‘megalomania’ in Ukraine war cited at death camp memorial

The director of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp memorial has compared the recent killing of people in Ukraine by Russian forces with similar suffering experienced during World War II.

Marking the 78th anniversary of the liberation of the camp, set up on Polish soil by Nazi Germany and where more than 1.1 million people — most of them Jews — perished in gas chambers and from starvation, cold and disease, the memorial site’s director compared Nazi crimes to those Russians have recently committed in Ukrainian towns such as Bucha and Mariupol.

“Similar sick megalomania, similar lust for power, and similar-sounding myths about uniqueness, greatness, primacy … only written in Russian. Innocent people are dying en masse in Europe, again,” the director Piotr Cywinski said in an address to an audience including Holocaust survivors on Friday.

“Wola district in Warsaw, Zamojszczyzna, Oradour and Lidice today are called Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel, Mariupol and Donetsk,” he said, referring to places where mass killings took place in World War II and sites where Ukraine and its allies accuse Russian forces of committing atrocities.

“Being silent means giving voice to the perpetrators,” Cywinski said. “Remaining indifferent is tantamount to condoning murder,” he said.

“Russia, unable to conquer Ukraine, has decided to destroy it. We see it every day, even as we stand here.”

Set up by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland in 1940, the camp became the largest of Adolf Hitler’s extermination centres.

Though the camp was liberated by the Soviet-era Red Army on January 27, 1945, Russian officials were not invited to take part in this year’s commemorations due to its war in Ukraine.

Valentina Matvienko, speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, deplored that as a “cynical” move on Friday.

“They refused to invite the liberators so that they could pay tribute to the memory of the victims,” she said. “Of course, this is very worrying.”

In a post on Telegram on Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the West of trying to rewrite history and said, “the memory of the horrors of Nazism and the Soviet heroes-liberators cannot be erased”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who attended observances marking the 60th anniversary of the camp’s liberation in 2005, repeated his claim on Friday that Russian soldiers were fighting against neo-Nazis in Ukraine.

“This is evidenced by the crimes against civilians, ethnic cleansing and punitive actions organised by neo-Nazis in Ukraine. It is against that evil that our soldiers are bravely fighting,” Putin said.

“Forgetting the lessons of history leads to the repetition of terrible tragedies,” he said.

During Friday’s commemorations, Holocaust survivors wearing hats and scarves in the blue and white stripes of camp uniforms laid candles on the ruins of a gas chamber.

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