Dozens of world leaders gather in Jerusalem to commemorate the Holocaust and liberation of Auschwitz

Russian President Vladimir Putin has provoked Poland’s leader with comments at a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation amid a historical row over the Holocaust.

Polish President Andrzej Duda refused to attend World Holocaust Forum expressing dissatisfaction that representatives of Russia, France, Britain, the United States and Germany would speak, while Poland was told it would not be allowed to.

Putin claimed today that 40 percent of the Jewish Holocaust victims were Soviet, a figure disputed by historians, as he continued a recent effort to play down the Soviet’s pre-war pact with the Nazis. 

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed Putin’s remarks by saying the Soviet ‘sacrifice and contribution’ during WWII should not be forgotten at a ceremony dedicated to the 900-day siege of Leningrad. 

He said: ‘We mustn’t for even one second blur the sacrifice and the contribution of the former Soviet Union’ in defeating ‘the Nazi monster.’

Polish politicians have been infuriated by the central role given to Putin at the historic commemoration today. Poland, which has been criticised for its own wartime revisionism, accuses Putin of unfairly blaming it for the war’s outbreak.   

Dozens of world leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron, Britain’s Prince Charles, US Vice President Mike Pence and the presidents of Germany, Italy and Austria are among more than 40 dignitaries attending. 

The Prince of Wales will later speak at the Yad Vashem memorial centre in the capital and warn in his address how ‘hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart.’   

More than one million people, most of them Jews, were killed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Six million Jews died in the Holocaust. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, at Netanyahu official residence in Jerusalem on Thursday

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, at Netanyahu official residence in Jerusalem on Thursday

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, at Netanyahu official residence in Jerusalem on Thursday

Holocaust survivor Saul Oren lights a candle with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Roglit memorial in Jerusalem on Thursday morning

Holocaust survivor Saul Oren lights a candle with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Roglit memorial in Jerusalem on Thursday morning

Holocaust survivor Saul Oren lights a candle with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Roglit memorial in Jerusalem on Thursday morning 

US Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen are escorted by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (left) upon their arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport earlier on Thursday

US Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen are escorted by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (left) upon their arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport earlier on Thursday

US Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen are escorted by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (left) upon their arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport earlier on Thursday

Prince Charles will today warn how 'hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart' when he joins world leaders in Israel to commemorate the Holocaust and mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz (pictured: meeting with Israel's President Reuven Rivlin at his official residence in the capital on Thursday morning)

Prince Charles will today warn how 'hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart' when he joins world leaders in Israel to commemorate the Holocaust and mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz (pictured: meeting with Israel's President Reuven Rivlin at his official residence in the capital on Thursday morning)

Prince Charles will today warn how ‘hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart’ when he joins world leaders in Israel to commemorate the Holocaust and mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz (pictured: meeting with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin at his official residence in the capital on Thursday morning)

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech at the inauguration of the Memorial Candle monument commemorating the people of Leningrad during the Second World War Nazi siege on the city, in Jerusalem on Thursday

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech at the inauguration of the Memorial Candle monument commemorating the people of Leningrad during the Second World War Nazi siege on the city, in Jerusalem on Thursday

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech at the inauguration of the Memorial Candle monument commemorating the people of Leningrad during the Second World War Nazi siege on the city, in Jerusalem on Thursday

Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a ceremony to inaugurate a memorial commemorating citizens and defenders of Leningrad under siege during World War Two

Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a ceremony to inaugurate a memorial commemorating citizens and defenders of Leningrad under siege during World War Two

Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a ceremony to inaugurate a memorial commemorating citizens and defenders of Leningrad under siege during World War Two

The three-hour-long event at Yad Vashem – called ‘Remembering the Holocaust: Fighting Antisemitism’ – looks to project a united front in commemorating the genocide of European Jews amid a global spike in anti-Jewish violence in the continent and around the world. 

Poland will host its own event at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum on January 27. 

Speeches today are likely to focus on the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust as well as a more recent rise in anti-Semitism rhetoric and attacks worldwide.

A global survey by the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League in November found that global anti-Semitic attitudes had increased, and significantly in Eastern and Central Europe. It found that large percentages of people in many European countries think Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin addressed this at a reception he hosted on Wednesday for the visiting leaders.

‘I hope and pray … that the leaders of the world will stand united in the fight against racism, anti-Semitism and extremism, in defending democracy and democratic values,’ he said.

In Jerusalem, the high-profile guest list includes French President Emmanuel Macron, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Britain’s Prince Charles.

President Macron told members of the roughly 100,000 French-Israeli community today: ‘The dark shadow of anti-Semitism is being reborn. Anti-Semitism is back. It is here and its cortege of intolerance and hate is here. France won’t accept.’ 

‘I responded to the call to come to Yad Vashem to say this shall never happen again. It’s a battle that is never won,’ Macron said. ‘My determination to act on this is total.’  

US Vice President Mike Pence (L) and his wife Karen disembark from a plane upon their arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport on Thursday to attend the World Holocaust memorial which marks the 75th anniversary of liberation of Auschwitz

US Vice President Mike Pence (L) and his wife Karen disembark from a plane upon their arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport on Thursday to attend the World Holocaust memorial which marks the 75th anniversary of liberation of Auschwitz

US Vice President Mike Pence (L) and his wife Karen disembark from a plane upon their arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport on Thursday to attend the World Holocaust memorial which marks the 75th anniversary of liberation of Auschwitz

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives at Ben Gurion International Airport on January 23

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives at Ben Gurion International Airport on January 23

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives at Ben Gurion International Airport on January 23

Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi with President of the European Council Charles Michel during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum

Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi with President of the European Council Charles Michel during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum

Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi with President of the European Council Charles Michel during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum

The Prince of Wales speaks to the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday morning at his official residence in the capital, later today the royal will speak at the World Holocaust Forum

The Prince of Wales speaks to the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday morning at his official residence in the capital, later today the royal will speak at the World Holocaust Forum

The Prince of Wales speaks to the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday morning at his official residence in the capital, later today the royal will speak at the World Holocaust Forum

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah stand with President Vladimir Putin at Netanyahu official residence in Jerusalem on Thursday

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah stand with President Vladimir Putin at Netanyahu official residence in Jerusalem on Thursday

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah stand with President Vladimir Putin at Netanyahu official residence in Jerusalem on Thursday

Putin and Netanyahu shake hands at the official residence in Jerusalem on Thursday morning, Netanyahu's wife Sarah stands between them

Putin and Netanyahu shake hands at the official residence in Jerusalem on Thursday morning, Netanyahu's wife Sarah stands between them

Putin and Netanyahu shake hands at the official residence in Jerusalem on Thursday morning, Netanyahu’s wife Sarah stands between them

Historian and former Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld (left) welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron and French Ambassador to Israel Eric Danon (to Macron's right) upon their arrival at Roglit memorial, a memorial for French Jews, on Thursday

Historian and former Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld (left) welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron and French Ambassador to Israel Eric Danon (to Macron's right) upon their arrival at Roglit memorial, a memorial for French Jews, on Thursday

Historian and former Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld (left) welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron and French Ambassador to Israel Eric Danon (to Macron’s right) upon their arrival at Roglit memorial, a memorial for French Jews, on Thursday

French President Emmanuel Macron (left) places a wreath at Roglit memorial in Jerusalem on Thursday, the memorial is for French Jews and around it is a forest where 80,000 trees have been planted to mark the 80,000 lives

French President Emmanuel Macron (left) places a wreath at Roglit memorial in Jerusalem on Thursday, the memorial is for French Jews and around it is a forest where 80,000 trees have been planted to mark the 80,000 lives

French President Emmanuel Macron (left) places a wreath at Roglit memorial in Jerusalem on Thursday, the memorial is for French Jews and around it is a forest where 80,000 trees have been planted to mark the 80,000 lives

Historian and former Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld (centre right) and French President Emmanuel Macron (centre left) observe a moment of silence at Roglit memorial on Thursday

Historian and former Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld (centre right) and French President Emmanuel Macron (centre left) observe a moment of silence at Roglit memorial on Thursday

Historian and former Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld (centre right) and French President Emmanuel Macron (centre left) observe a moment of silence at Roglit memorial on Thursday

French President Emmanuel Macron observes a moment of silence at the Roglit memorial this morning in Israel ahead of the Wold Holocaust Forum

French President Emmanuel Macron observes a moment of silence at the Roglit memorial this morning in Israel ahead of the Wold Holocaust Forum

French President Emmanuel Macron observes a moment of silence at the Roglit memorial this morning in Israel ahead of the Wold Holocaust Forum

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Emmanuel Macron shake hands during their meeting in Jerusalem yesterday

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Emmanuel Macron shake hands during their meeting in Jerusalem yesterday

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Emmanuel Macron shake hands during their meeting in Jerusalem yesterday

Italian President Sergio Mattarella meets his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin to attend the Holocaust memorial event at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on Thursday

Italian President Sergio Mattarella meets his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin to attend the Holocaust memorial event at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on Thursday

Italian President Sergio Mattarella meets his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin to attend the Holocaust memorial event at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on Thursday

Earlier Macron had met French survivors of the Holocaust at a memorial near Jerusalem to some 76,000 Jews who were arrested in France during World War Two and transported in terrible conditions in railway boxcars to death camps such as Auschwitz, where most died. 

Macron and the French survivors of the Holocaust were joined by young college students at a solemn ceremony at the Roglit memorial, west of Jerusalem, to remember the French Jews deported between 1942-1944.

Serge Klarsfeld, an 84-year-old Nazi hunter, welcomed the participation of Macron and the young people in the ceremony. ‘Your presence today with the education minister and the children from the banlieues (suburbs) who are bravely engaged in studying the Shoah and drawing the consequences touches us deeply and allows us to look with hope towards an uncertain future,’ said Klarsfeld.

Polish President Andrzej Duda turned down an invitation to the conference, expressing dissatisfaction that representatives of Russia, France, Britain, the United States and Germany would speak, while Poland was told it would not be allowed to.

The Prince of Wales meets President Reuven Rivlin at his official residence in Jerusalem on the first day of his visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories

The Prince of Wales meets President Reuven Rivlin at his official residence in Jerusalem on the first day of his visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories

The Prince of Wales meets President Reuven Rivlin at his official residence in Jerusalem on the first day of his visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Prince of Wales meets President Reuven Rivlin at his official residence in Jerusalem on the first day of his visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Prince of Wales meets President Reuven Rivlin at his official residence in Jerusalem on the first day of his visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories

The Prince of Wales shakes hands with Israel's President Reuven as they are surrounded by other officials in Jerusalem on Thursday morning

The Prince of Wales shakes hands with Israel's President Reuven as they are surrounded by other officials in Jerusalem on Thursday morning

The Prince of Wales shakes hands with Israel’s President Reuven as they are surrounded by other officials in Jerusalem on Thursday morning

The Prince of Wales meets President Reuven Rivlin at his official residence in Jerusalem on the first day of his visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories

The Prince of Wales meets President Reuven Rivlin at his official residence in Jerusalem on the first day of his visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories

The Prince of Wales meets President Reuven Rivlin at his official residence in Jerusalem on the first day of his visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories

Israeli organisers said only the four World War Two allies, and Germany, would address the gathering.

Polish leaders have also been angered by comments made by Putin last month suggesting Poland shared responsibility for the war.

Warsaw will be scrutinising speeches by Putin and Netanyahu, who Israel’s Channel 12 TV reported might echo some of the Russian leader’s accusations against Poland in return for the pardon of an Israeli woman imprisoned in Russia on drug charges.

King Felipe VI of Spain prepares to sign the guest book as Israeli President Reuven Rivlin looks on, at the official residence of the President of Israel, ahead of the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem on Thursday

King Felipe VI of Spain prepares to sign the guest book as Israeli President Reuven Rivlin looks on, at the official residence of the President of Israel, ahead of the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem on Thursday

King Felipe VI of Spain prepares to sign the guest book as Israeli President Reuven Rivlin looks on, at the official residence of the President of Israel, ahead of the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem on Thursday

King Felipe VI of Spain signs the guest book as Israeli President Reuven Rivlin looks on, at the official residence of the President of Israel

King Felipe VI of Spain signs the guest book as Israeli President Reuven Rivlin looks on, at the official residence of the President of Israel

King Felipe VI of Spain (L) signs the guest book at the official residence of the President of Israel, ahead of the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem

King Felipe VI of Spain (L) signs the guest book at the official residence of the President of Israel, ahead of the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem

King Felipe VI of Spain signs the guest book as Israeli President Reuven Rivlin looks on, at the official residence of the President (left and right) on Thursday

‘Above all, we are asking that the memory of the Holocaust, that terrible crime, the memory of its victims, is not exploited for political reasons. That would be vile,’ Poland’s deputy foreign minister, Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, said on Tuesday.

The international gathering could burnish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s domestic image as an international statesman. The veteran right-wing leader faces his third election in less than a year on March 2, amid legal woes and political deadlock.

Fighting for his political survival, Israel’s longest-serving premier has been using sideline meetings with international leaders at the conference to call for more sanctions against arch-enemy Iran.

French President Emmanuel Macron prays at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City on Wednesday night

French President Emmanuel Macron prays at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City on Wednesday night

French President Emmanuel Macron prays at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem’s Old City on Wednesday night

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (front L) looks behind him as he stands next to (L to R) French President Emmanuel Macron (front-2nd L), his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin, and German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, as they pose with other heads of state for a group photograph following a dinner reception at the Israeli President's official residence in Jerusalem, on Wednesday night

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (front L) looks behind him as he stands next to (L to R) French President Emmanuel Macron (front-2nd L), his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin, and German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, as they pose with other heads of state for a group photograph following a dinner reception at the Israeli President's official residence in Jerusalem, on Wednesday night

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (front L) looks behind him as he stands next to (L to R) French President Emmanuel Macron (front-2nd L), his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin, and German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, as they pose with other heads of state for a group photograph following a dinner reception at the Israeli President’s official residence in Jerusalem, on Wednesday night

More than one million people, most of them Jews, were killed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Six million Jews died in the Holocaust (pictured: watchtowers of former Nazi German Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex are pictured in Oswiecim, Poland earlier this month)

More than one million people, most of them Jews, were killed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Six million Jews died in the Holocaust (pictured: watchtowers of former Nazi German Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex are pictured in Oswiecim, Poland earlier this month)

More than one million people, most of them Jews, were killed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Six million Jews died in the Holocaust (pictured: watchtowers of former Nazi German Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex are pictured in Oswiecim, Poland earlier this month)

France, along with Britain and Germany, last week declared Iran in violation of a 2015 nuclear pact. They launched a dispute mechanism that could lead to reimposition of U.N. sanctions lifted after the agreement to limit Tehran’s atomic activities was signed.

French President Macron met Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Wednesday and toured Christian, Jewish and Muslim sites in Jerusalem, including the Church of St. Anne, the Muslim Noble Sanctuary that houses al-Aqsa mosque, a site revered by Jews as Temple Mount, and Judaism’s Western Wall.

Macron then headed to Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who issued a statement through the official Palestinian news agency calling upon European leaders to revive the long-stalled Mideast political peace process and ‘save the two-state solution.’

Israel’s sprawling Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem 

Yad Vashem, the sprawling Holocaust memorial centre in Jerusalem, recounts the extermination of six million Jews by Nazi Germany.

The complex spread across 20 hectares (50 acres) is hosting dozens of world leaders Thursday to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a concentration and death camp built by the Third Reich in Poland, where more than a million people perished.

Here are key facts about Yad Vashem, established by the Israeli state in 1953 with a mandate to foster remembrance and research of the Holocaust. 

Visitors to Yad Vashem move through an exhibit tracing a historical narrative from the rise of the Nazis in the early 1930s to the confinement of Jews in ghettos and the mass slaughter perpetrated in gas chambers in the camps.

Visitors enter the Hall of Names to look at pictures of Jews killed in the Holocaust during a visit to the Holocaust History Museum at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem earlier this month

Visitors enter the Hall of Names to look at pictures of Jews killed in the Holocaust during a visit to the Holocaust History Museum at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem earlier this month

Visitors enter the Hall of Names to look at pictures of Jews killed in the Holocaust during a visit to the Holocaust History Museum at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem earlier this month

‘Our goal is to tell the story of the Holocaust but also to be a beacon that reminds the world what happens when anti-Semitic and murderous ideologies hold power,’ Yad Vashem spokeswoman Iris Rosenberg told AFP.

The final feature of the main exhibit is the iconic Hall of Names, where the identities of more than 4.2 million Holocaust victims are documented in rows of files that encircle visitors in a domed structure.

Yad Vashem researchers are continuing to try to identify the remaining unnamed victims.

A separate underground cavern holds a memorial site for the estimated 1.5 million children killed during the Holocaust.

The perpetually dark cavern is lit only by the reflection of candles, while the names, ages and countries of origin of the murdered children are continuously read out. 

The memorial centre, which is free to enter, receives more than a million visitors annually from around the world, Rosenberg said.

Visitors look at part of an exhibition in the Holocaust History Museum at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem earlier this month

Visitors look at part of an exhibition in the Holocaust History Museum at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem earlier this month

Visitors look at part of an exhibition in the Holocaust History Museum at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem earlier this month

A man walks in an area that visitors exit into as they finish touring the Holocaust History Museum at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel's capital earlier this month

A man walks in an area that visitors exit into as they finish touring the Holocaust History Museum at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel's capital earlier this month

A man walks in an area that visitors exit into as they finish touring the Holocaust History Museum at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel’s capital earlier this month

In addition to testimonials of survivors and a Holocaust library with some 120,000 titles in 54 languages, Yad Vashem also includes an exhibit dedicated to those who tried to save Jews from Nazi extermination.

The list, known as the Righteous Among the Nations, counts more than 40,000 names, including prominent figures such as Oskar Schindler and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.

Britain’s Prince Charles, who will attend Thursday’s ceremony at Yad Vashem in a royal visit, also has a personal connection to the Righteous list.

His grandmother Princess Alice was posthumously honoured by Yad Vashem in 1993 for sheltering a Jewish family in Greece from the Nazis.

According to Yad Vashem, the Gestapo grew suspicious that Alice was protecting the Cohen family at her home and questioned her, but the princess pretended not to understand them, citing her partial deafness.

Prince Charles is also due to visit his grandmother’s grave in Jerusalem. 

isitors look at part of an exhibition in the Holocaust History Museum at the Yad Vashem memorial earlier this month

isitors look at part of an exhibition in the Holocaust History Museum at the Yad Vashem memorial earlier this month

isitors look at part of an exhibition in the Holocaust History Museum at the Yad Vashem memorial earlier this month

A trip to Yad Vashem is considered a near-mandatory stop for foreign dignitaries visiting the Jewish state.

But Rosenberg said Thursday’s event was nevertheless ‘unprecedented’ because of its scale, with leaders and delegations from more than 40 states expected to attend.

‘The presence of these leaders underscores that anti-Semitism is not just a problem for Jews but of society as a whole,’ she told AFP.

‘When Jews are in danger, societies are in danger.’

Reporting by AFP

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