Auschwitz survivor inspires many, but others find fault

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Heads of State listen to Auschwitz survivor Marian Turski, at the lectern, deliver a speech during a ceremony at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. Heads of State and survivors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp gathered Monday for commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of the Soviet army's liberation of the camp, using the testimony of survivors to warn about the signs of rising anti-Semitism and hatred in the world today. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

An Auschwitz survivor's warning about indifference to discrimination is reverberating strongly in his native Poland, with some people praising the 93-year-old's World War II anniversary speech as wise but others criticizing it as overtly political.

Marian Turski was one of the keynote speakers during observances held Monday to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. He addressed an international audience of world leaders and about 200 other survivors of the notorious Nazi German death camp.

During his speech, Turski said the Holocaust did not “fall from the sky” all at once but took hold step by step as society's acceptance of small acts of discrimination eventually led to ghettos and extermination camps.

Turski, who along with his family was forced into the Lodz ghetto and later deported to Auschwitz, called on people to not remain indifferent when minorities are discriminated against, when history is distorted and when “any authority violates the existing social contract.”

The Warsaw resident never specifically mentioned Poland's current nationalist government in his remarks. But many understood his words as criticism of Polish politicians and public officials who have used discriminatory language against migrants, LGBT people and religious minorities, and have sought to harness history as a political tool.

While Turski received a standing ovation on Monday, some members of Poland's conservative governing party, Law and Justice, who were in the audience did not applaud him.

In the two days since, there have also been angry comments, with some suggesting Turski had no moral authority because he belonged to Poland's communist party before 1989.

Samuel Pereira, the head of Polish state news broadcaster TVP Info's website, wrote on Twitter that a former Auschwitz prisoner going on to work for the Polish United Workers' Party showed that “evil can be contagious.”