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Auschwitz museum criticises Polish ruling party's use of death camp for political video

People visit the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland. 15 February 2019
People visit the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland. 15 February 2019 Copyright Michael Sohn/Copyright 2019 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Michael Sohn/Copyright 2019 The AP. All rights reserved
By Una HajdariAP
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Poland's ruling Law and Justice party has compared the upcoming opposition protests to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

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A political video by Poland's ruling party using the theme of Auschwitz-Birkenau to discourage participation in an anti-government march has been denounced by the memorial museum found on the site of the former concentration camp.

The state-run museum condemned the “instrumentalisation of the tragedy” where 1.1 million people were killed at the site during World War II, arguing it is an insult to their memory.

“It is a sad, painful and unacceptable manifestation of the moral and intellectual corruption of the public debate,” the state museum said.

The 14-second video published on Wednesday by the Law and Justice party shows images of the former death camp, including the notorious “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate, and the words: “Do you really want to walk under this slogan?”

It refers to a now-deleted tweet from journalist Tomasz Lis, who said Andrzej Duda and Jaroslaw Kaczynski deserved prison time. They are Poland's President and leader of the Law and Justice Party, respectively. 

The tweet was published amid a heated debate over a law on Russian influence that critics claim in reality aims to target the country's opposition. The new law has been criticised by the US, the EU and many Polish analysts as anti-democratic.

“There will be a chamber for Duda and Kaczor,” the tweet said, using a nickname for Kaczynski.

The journalist used the Polish word ”komora,” which means simply dark cell or chamber, though many in Poland associate it with the gas chambers used by Nazi Germany for their mass murder of Jews. 

Lis has since deleted the tweet and apologised.

"It is obvious that I was thinking of a cell, but I should have foreseen that people of ill will would adopt an absurd interpretation. I hope that Mr. Duda and Mr. Kaczynski will pay for their crimes against democracy, but on a human level I wish them health and long life,” Lis said. “I never wished death on anyone.”

President Duda weighed in with a tweet. 

“The memory of the victims of German crimes in Auschwitz is sacred and inviolable; the tragedy of millions of victims cannot be used in political struggle; this is an unworthy act," he said.

The stated aim of the new law is to create a commission to investigate Russian influences in Poland. But critics fear it will be misused ahead of fall elections to target opponents, in particular opposition leader Donald Tusk. 

They say the commission could be used by the ruling party to eliminate its opponents from public life for a decade.

Critics in Poland have informally dubbed it “Lex Tusk,” and its passage has energised the opposition. Tusk plans to lead a large anti-government march on Sunday in Warsaw, the capital.

The march is to be held on the 34th anniversary of the first partly free elections in Poland after decades of communism, on June 4, 1989.

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