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Posted Monday, August 3, 1998


WE REPRODUCE with acknowledgements this article from THE JERUSALEM POST July 31, 1998

'Jewish children burned alive at site of Auschwitz crosses'



JERUSALEM (July 31) - Jewish children were burned alive at the very spot where Polish Catholics are now setting up crosses at Auschwitz, according to Naphtali Lavie, the former Israeli consul in New York. Lavie, a Holocaust survivor, who now serves as vice-chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, was reacting to a report in The Jerusalem Post this week about the erection of some 50 new crosses close to the fence of the concentration camp.

MK Shevah Weiss (Labor), another Holocaust survivor, sent a letter to the Polish president asking him to immediately intervene and ensure the removal the crosses.

The Catholic organization that put up the crosses reportedly said it would continue to raise them along the length of the fence around the camp.

The new crosses were placed near the large, 8-meter-high crucifix erected there several years ago, to commemorate a 1979 papal mass.


Lavie said that the burning of the Jewish children was unparalleled among all terrible outrages committed against the Jews throughout their history.

"We know of cases of children being burned alive during the crusades, but not in such numbers," he said.

The documentation for the crime has come in the form of testimony by a Polish Christian, Krystyn Olszewski, of Warsaw, who himself had been imprisoned in Auschwitz for trying to transport arms to a Polish resistance unit.

He related the incident to Lavie and his testimony was later recorded in writing.

"We were both weeping as he told it to me," Lavie recalled this week.

According to his testimony, in February or March of 1944, Olszewski was part of a work crew that had been sent to dismantle makeshift barriers which the guards had constructed to protect their platforms from the freezing winds and blizzards.

At one point, he had been sent up to the tower to take down the barrier materials, while the other workers waited below. It was there that he first heard the children wailing.

"While tearing down the plate that was nailed to the barrier and the roof beam, a gust of wind brought a strange, distant cry of high-pitched children's voices," he said in his testimony, which has been translated to English.


Olszewski related how, as he deliberately prolonged his struggle to dismantle the plate, he saw a truck filled with naked children waving their arms. The truck was slowly rolling toward "the pit," a place where the Germans burned corpses of those who had been gassed, but whose bodies could not be accommodated by the crematoria.

As he covertly watched, the kapo urged him to finish the job.

"I saw that the truck, which meanwhile had turned around, turned out to be a dump-truck. At this very moment the screaming throng of children was sliding down the raised truck-bed to the flaming pit. This was the last thing I saw.

"After I climbed down, nothing could be seen or heard. Gusts of wind brought the smell of smoke but no one thought it strange," Olszewski said.

With his testimony, Olszewski enclosed a drawing of the lay-out of the camp.

"I am willing to participate in the investigation aimed at determining the exact site of the crime, which in my view, was the climax of the Holocaust," he said.

Lavie said this week that he had received confirmation that the Germans burned Jewish children alive at Auschwitz from two other survivors, Polish Chief Rabbi Pinhas Menahem Joskowicz and Rabbi Menashe Klein, rabbi of the Ungvar community in the Jerusalem suburb of Ramot. Both said they had personally seen Jewish children being thrown into fires.



Prof. Yisrael Guttman, the historian of Yad Vashem, had also heard of such instances, Lavie said. He said that even survivors found it difficult to believe and said such a thing could not happen.

"If I had not heard this additional testimony, I myself would not have believed it," Lavie said.

Lavie said that the period in question had been one when, according to the testimony of the Eichmann trial, the Auschwitz commander, Rudolph Hoess, had asked to slow down the transports, complaining that he could not dispose of the bodies quickly enough. In response, Eichmann had pressed him to work faster and faster.

He described the selection, where the men were sent to work and children three to seven were immediately sent to be murdered.

"I was at Auschwitz in 1941, when it wasn't yet that bad," Lavie said.

Lavie is convinced that the site of this outrage was where the crosses are now being erected. The pits in question, he said, were those where the bodies of Russian prisoners of war, who had been gassed, were burned.

"This is not a place for an Auschwitz museum, but for a Jewish memorial, where Jews can come and say kaddish," Lavie said.

Article reprinted unedited except for typography

+++ Associated Press report +++, August 3, 1998

Polish government stays out of Auschwitz cross controversy


WARSAW, Poland (AP) - New crosses erected outside Auschwitz have deepened the dispute over religious symbols at the infamous Nazi death camp, but Poland's government said Monday it has no intention of getting caught up in the controversy.

In the past week, Roman Catholics, many linked to a conservative radio station, have erected 50 smaller crosses around a 26-foot-tall cross put up a decade ago. And over the weekend, a nationalist movement in Silesia erected another cross, this one 10 feet tall.

The crosses have angered Jewish organizations, who want them removed. But Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek said Monday the government would leave the matter to proper authorities, meaning the Roman Catholic church in Poland.

"The Polish government hopes that the cross in Poland will always be a uniting symbol and will not be used for political manifestations," he said.

Local Archbishop Damian Zimon said placing more crosses at Auschwitz was "unnecessary manipulation." But he didn't say if the church would remove them.

Church officials say they have no plans to make any decision on the matter in the near future.

Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial on Sunday called the crosses a provocation that should be removed, warning they "may prevent further dialogue between the sides about the future of the site."

The dispute over crosses near the camp began in 1988, when the largest one was erected to commemorate a 1979 Mass in the area celebrated by Pope John Paul II, who is Polish. It is outside Auschwitz, on neighboring land that used to be a Carmelite cloister.

Jewish organizations complain that the cross, which is visible from the former death camp, violates the memory of Jews who died at Auschwitz.

Many Poles consider the large cross - located where 152 Nazi resisters were murdered in 1941 - a symbol of the nation's martyrdom under German occupation.

The government took over the grounds of the former Carmelite cloister in March, but the land continues to be rented to a war victims' group.

Copyright 1998 Associated Press.
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