Auschwitz director cites "sick megalomania" in Ukraine war at commemoration

Holocaust survivors and their relatives take part in the 78th anniversary of liberation of Nazi German Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Oswiecim, Poland January 27, 2023. Jakub Porzycki/Agencja via REUTERS

WARSAW (Reuters) - The director of the Auschwitz Memorial on Friday compared the deaths of people in Ukraine to the suffering in World War Two during commemorations marking the 78th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi German death camp by Soviet troops.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and Memorial preserves the Auschwitz death camp set up on Polish soil by Nazi Germany during World War Two. More than 1.1 million people, most of them Jews, perished in gas chambers at the camp or from starvation, cold and disease.

"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," Piotr Cywinski said in an address to an audience including Holocaust survivors.

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

Russia denies intentionally targeting civilians.

It calls the war a "special military operation" triggered by Kyiv's increasingly close ties with the West, which Moscow says imperil its security. Ukraine and Western allies call it an unprovoked invasion to erase the independence of a fellow ex-Soviet republic that Moscow sees as a fake country.

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

Set up by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland in 1940, at first to house Polish political prisoners, it became the largest of the extermination centres where Adolf Hitler's plan to kill all Jews - the "Final Solution" - was put into practice.

The camp was liberated by the Red Army on Jan. 27, 1945.

Russia was not invited to take part in this year's commemorations due to the war in Ukraine.

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".

(Reporting by Kuba Stezycki; Writing by Alan Charlish; Editing by Alison Williams)

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