Poland’s prime minister has come under heavy fire for appearing to defend her right-wing government’s anti-migrant policy during a memorial service at the former Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi German death camp.
Beata Szydlo said that “in our troubled times, Auschwitz is a great lesson that everything must be done to defend the safety and the lives of citizens” at ceremonies marking the 77th anniversary of the Nazis’ first transport of Polish prisoners to the camp.
Her comment came one day after the EU launched legal action against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic for refusing to take in their share of refugees under the bloc’s controversial solidarity plan.
Polish government spokesman Rafal Bochenek said on Tuesday that the refugee relocation plan posed a security “threat” to EU members, echoing earlier fiery rhetoric by Szydlo linking refugees and migrants with terror attacks in Europe.
European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, shot back on Twitter on Wednesday, saying that “such words should never be spoken at such a place by a Polish prime minister”.
Katarzyna Lubnauer, head of the centrist Nowoczesna (Modern) parliamentary caucus, was more explicit, accusing Szydlo of “exploiting the cruelty of Auschwitz to make Poles fear refugees”.
Szydlo’s comment at Auschwitz also caused a storm among Polish Twitter users, with leading journalists and pundits questioning her motives.
Government spokesman Bochenek has accused Szydlo’s critics of taking her remark, made in a speech honouring Auschwitz prisoners, out of context.
“If someone wants to, they will find bad intentions in any comment. I propose listening to the entire speech” by the prime minister, Bochenek said on Twitter.
Poland along with Hungary and the Czech Republic are refusing to comply with an EU programme to relocate 160,000 migrants from frontline migrant crisis states Italy and Greece.
The EU set up the plan in 2015 at the height of the migration crisis, when more than 1mn refugees, many of them Syrians fleeing a bloody civil war, landed on Europe’s shores.
Nazi Germany built the Auschwitz death camp after occupying Poland during World War II.
The Holocaust site has become a symbol of Nazi Germany’s genocide of 6mn European Jews, 1mn of whom were killed at the camp between 1940 to 1945.
More than 100,000 non-Jews also died at the death camp, according to the museum.
An estimated 232,000 of the victims were children.
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