An exhibition at the camp museum dedicated to Russians who died in the war with Nazi Germany has been closed for three years and its opening has been delayed by a disagreement over the nationalities of the victims, officials said.
Russian historians say almost half the 6 million Jews who died during the Holocaust were citizens of the Soviet Union.
But the Auschwitz museum disputes this, saying almost 1 million of these Jews were citizens of Poland, Romania and the Baltics, who were only in the Soviet Union as a result of a deal in 1939 between Hitler and Stalin to annex central Europe.
They say these Jews are commemorated elsewhere in the museum, which covers two former German-run concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau, near the southwestern Polish city of Oswiecim.
'We have to respect the people who died'
The row has stirred resentment between Poland and Russia, which have a long history of mistrust and hostility.
Moscow daily Kommersant this week quoted Russian officials as saying Poland was deliberately delaying the opening of the Russian exhibit for political reasons. One member of the Russian parliament said Polish politicians were attempting to “rewrite history”, Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported.
But museum director Piotr Cywinski told Reuters the museum’s actions were not dictated by politics.
He said some of the information displayed within the special exhibition block dedicated to Russia was simply not acceptable to historians at the museum or to the International Auschwitz-Birkenau Council, which oversees the museum.
“We have to respect the people who suffered and died in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp,” Cywinski said. “And if they were Gypsies or Estonians, we cannot agree to call them Russians.”
Up to 1.5 million men, women and children, mostly Jews, were slaughtered by the occupying Germans at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps, which remain Europe’s biggest graveyard.