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Polish ministry: Russia may take part in anniversary of revolt at Nazi death camp Sobibor

Moscow slammed Poland earlier for barring Russia from renovating Nazi camp memorial
Russian Culture Minister V. Medinsky at Sobibor camp memorial, 2016  Aleksey Vitvitsky/TASS
Russian Culture Minister V. Medinsky at Sobibor camp memorial, 2016
© Aleksey Vitvitsky/TASS

WARSAW, August 1. /TASS/. The decision not to include Russia in the project to establish a museum on the place of a former extermination camp in Sobibor does not mean that the Russian side is not admitted to other forms of participation connected to this memorable place, the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, that monitors the project work, told a TASS reporter on Tuesday.

The culture ministry confirmed that "On June 12-13, the International Management Committee for the project to establish a new memorial museum at the former Nazi death camp Sobibor, consisting of representatives from Poland, Israel, the Netherlands and Slovakia, unanimously agreed to prolong cooperation in the current composition that has been working for 10 years already in order to complete the long work to establish a new place of memory." "It has been decided not to include new partners in the management committee," the ministry informed.

"The decision of the International Committee [and not just Poland] is not a rejection of other forms of Russia’s participation in the project," the press service highlighted. According to the ministry, such participation had already been stipulated "in particular, during the planned events on the 75th anniversary of the uprising at Sobibor."

Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement

Earlier this Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry called Poland’s decision to reject Russia’s participation in the international project to renew the memorial complex in Sobibor a demonstration of Russophobia and the intention to impress its own vision of history by understating the role of the Soviet Union and the Red Army in World War II.

As the ministry reiterated, the Russian side had been invited to join the project to renovate the Sobibor museum in 2013. It was initiated by Poland, Israel, the Netherlands and Slovakia, the representatives of which are members of the managing committee. Russia reacted positively to this invitation and expressed readiness and a make a considerable financial contribution to the memorial’s arrangement.

However, further discussion with the Polish side to include Russia in the project was futile. As a result, an official statement came from Warsaw in July, saying that the meeting of the International Managing Committee, held on June 12-13, 2017, decided to continue cooperation in the existing composition.

Place of memory

Sobibor was a Nazi German extermination camp located near the railway station of Sobibor in Poland. It operated from May 1942 to October 1943. Jews from Poland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union were transported to Sobibor by rail. Most were suffocated in gas chambers disguised as shower enclosures. From 150,000 to 250,000 people were murdered at Sobibor.

The camp was closed shortly after the uprising of October 14, 1943 led by Soviet officer Alexander Pechersky, when about 600 prisoners attempted to escape. The Germans bulldozed the earth and planted pine trees over the camp’s territory to conceal its location. After the end of the war, Polish authorities erected a monument of a mother cuddling a child on this place, made a mound and erected a stone obelisk that symbolized a gas chamber.

There are plans to build a small museum with an area of 700 square meters as part of the approved project to establish a new memorable place. It will become an information center in which the whole camp’s history will be presented. The panoramic windows will oversee the camp’s territory, on which the uprising broke out in 1943 and the forest into which the prisoners escaped. The visitors will also see a railway nearby that had a dead end that concealed all that happened at the death camp.

According to the available information, construction of the Sobibor museum and relating memorial facilities will be completed in 2018. However, it is still unclear if the terms will be observed. Construction of the memorable place is already underway.