SKINHEADS' AUSCHWITZ MARCH
A group of 70 people raises their right arms in the Nazi salute as they march past a gate bearing the words "Arbeit macht frei." This scene took place not during World War II, but on April 6, Holy Saturday, during the Polish National Fellowship's march in Oswiecim.
The crowd was led by fellowship leader Boleslaw Tejkowski, a short, gray-haired, older man sporting a green military coat and surrounded by a few dozen reporters, from Poland, France, Germany and the United States. Before the march, Tejkowski willingly gave interviews, saying that by organizing the protest, the fellowship wants to warn everyone against the "Jewish chauvinists who hold the world's capital in their hands and want to doom Poles to homelessness, poverty and unemployment by buying out national property."
He added that the group has 11,000 members, and at least as many in unofficial youth organizations. "11,000 people pay membership fees?" asked a journalist. "No, we're poor," Tejkowski replied. He also explained the symbolism of the date of the march: "Going out into the streets during Holy Week symbolizes the Polish resurrection to fight German and Jewish organizations, which are buying out our property."
On the way from the train station to the camp, one of the marchers, who goes by the name "Sebol," said that it's difficult to be a nationalist in Oswiecim. "Israeli tourists come with armed bodyguards, so we can't really get to the Jews," explained a 17-year-old from Oswiecim, shortly before some of the group cursed and jostled some Israeli tourists.
The demonstration was to begin at noon in front of a Carmelite convent. Nervous preparations went on until the very last moment. Of the group's five banners, four bear the expression "down with:" "Down with the Jews in the government. We'll settle accounts with you thieves," "Down with the European Union," "Down with stealing our national property," "Down with NATO." Tejkowski stated that the "Down with NATO" banner was most important. Those assigned the honor of carrying it were requested to take special care of it.
Two skinhead teenagers distributed fellowship leaflets from last December to journalists. "The presidential and parliamentary system is conducting a united anti-national policy of damaging Poland and its people. It was run by Walesa-Kohne, now it's run by Kwasniewski-Stolzman. He's not the president of all Poles but an enemy to all Poles," read the leaflet.
Other than Jan Bartula from the fellowship's Katowice branch, Tejkowski and a Katowice activist who declined to reveal his name, all of the protesters were teenagers or young adults-skinheads from Zory, Oswiecim and Krakow.
"Jews repeatedly intervene in the decisions made by Oswiecim's local authorities concerning camp site management," Bartula told the marchers. He told them that they had gathered "to protest yet another Jewish scandal taking place in Oswiecim." However, before the demonstration, Tejkowski had distanced himself from the recent controversy over plans for construction of a supermarket near the camp-blocked by local authorities under international pressure. .
After laying wreaths by the cross near a gravel pit where the Germans executed 80 Poles in 1941, the nationalists headed for the former concentration camp. They walked in groups of four, calmly, in the middle of the street. In the parking lot, one of the demonstrating teenagers shouted "Poland! Poland!" but was immediately reprimanded by Bartula. Before entering the camp, Tejkowski made everyone put out their cigarettes and ordered them again to keep calm. "We're entering the camp quietly," Bartula instructed them over a megaphone.
The delegation laid a wreath in front of the "wall of death" by sector 11, with a ribbon reading "Polish National Fellowship-Polish National Party in memory of murdered Poles." After Tejkowski delivered a short speech in front of the wall, the demonstrators left the camp.
The Polish National Fellowship demonstration in Auschwitz has been given extensive coverage in Italian television news programs and newspapers. On April 7, anonymous callers rang Polish diplomatic offices threatening revenge for the events in Auschwitz, which some Italian media had presented as a profanation of the most widely known site of extermination of Jews. At 3 a.m. on April 8, someone threw two bottles with highly flammable liquid over the fence of the Polish commercial attache's office in Rome. One bottle smashed against the wooden door but failed to ignite. The other caught fire in a parking lot, but office staff extinguished the blaze.
On April 8 about 150 members of the Union of Young Jews of Italy demonstrated outside the Polish Embassy. Political adviser Jacek Bazanski received a five-person delegation, including an elderly Auschwitz survivor. The delegation submitted a letter to the ambassador demanding that the Polish government give a public explanation of the recent events in Auschwitz. The demonstrators, however, distanced themselves from the arson attack.
Jacek Moskwa, Rzeczpospolita, Rome
More than 5,000 Jewish youths from 38 countries will come together in Auschwitz on April 16 for the Fifth March of the Living. The aim of the program, which has been taking place every two years since 1988, is to keep memory of the Holocaust alive and to protest recent ethnic atrocities in Bosnia and Rwanda.
So far the march has brought more than 25,000 high-school students to Poland. All of them have made the 3 km walk from the Auschwitz concentration camp to the destroyed crematorium at Birkenau.
In an airlift involving 35 chartered flights to Warsaw and Krakow, the participants (2,000 from North America, 1,000 from Israel and the rest from elsewhere) will visit five centers that changed from vibrant pockets of Jewish life into sites of mass murder: the Warsaw Ghetto, Treblinka, Majdanek and Krakow (involving Plaszow as well as Auschwitz).
After the march, participants will fly to Israel for Independence Day festivities.
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