Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev is to attend Holocaust commemorative ceremonies on January 27 in the Czech capital Prague and at the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz in Poland.
Plevneliev will take part in the “March of Silence” in Krakow, Poland, marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
The Bulgarian delegation will include the head of the Shalom Organisation of Jews in Bulgaria, Maxim Benvenisti.
Foreign leaders attending the ceremony in Poland are to include Germany’s president, Austria’s president, France’s president, King Philip of Belgium, Malta’s president, Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon, the president of Slovenia, Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, and the prime ministers of the Netherlands and of the UK.
Also attending will be the Czech prime minister, accompanied by the Czech Republic’s ministers of defence, labour and culture.
The United States delegation will be led by Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew.
About 1.3 million people, mostly European Jews, but also Poles, Soviet POWs, Roma and Sinti, as well as people of other nationalities died in the Auschwitz camps set up by the Nazi occupiers in 1940. The camp, in what was then occupied Poland, was liberated by the Soviet Army on January 27 1945 .
The Jews murdered in Auschwitz were among more than six million Jews killed by the Nazi death machine during World War 2.
About 300 former prisoners of Auschwitz are to attend the ceremonies at the camp on January 27, including 100 Auschwitz survivors from Israel.
The survivors’ group is being organised by the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and the USC Shoah Foundation and each survivor will attend the event with a child or grandchild.
Other notable guests will include film director Steven Spielberg, founding chair of the USC Shoah Foundation; Israeli-American businessman Haim Saban; and other members of the Auschwitz 70th Anniversary Committee.
The 70th anniversary event at Auschwitz is taking place amid controversies regarding Russia, as well as against a background of data on worsening anti-Semitism in Europe and polls showing Jews feeling less secure about a future in Europe.
Russian president Vladimir Putin has said that he would not attend the January 27 commemorative events at Auschwitz. The Kremlin said that he had not been invited and was too busy.
Meanwhile, Polish foreign minister Grzegorza Schetyna was accused by Russia of a “mockery of history” after crediting Ukrainians for the liberation of the infamous Nazi concentration camp in occupied Poland, Polish media reported.
During a Polish Radio interview, Schetyna was questioned about the decision not to invite Russian President Putin to the 70th anniversary of the liberation, given the role of Soviet forces in liberating the camp. Schetyna replied “maybe it’s better to say … that the First Ukrainian Front and Ukrainians liberated [Auschwitz], because Ukrainian soldiers were there, on that January day. They opened the gates, and they liberated the camp.”
Polish president Komorowski responded that in Poland “we know and remember that the most numerous group of soldiers which operated in the Małopolska [Lesser Poland] region and liberated Auschwitz were Russians, and this should be acknowledged.”
Organisers of the commemorations at Auschwitz said that no invitations had been sent to heads of state and government. The focus in the commemorations was on the survivors. However, foreign leaders had been asked to indicate whether they would be attending.
Earlier in January, a report by the European Union indicated a surge in anti-Semitic attitudes in Europe in 2013, with authorities in several EU countries recording a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in 2014.
Almost half of the Jews in Britain fear they have no long-term future in Britain or Europe, according to a poll, the European Jewish Press reported.
The poll of 2230 British Jews by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA) found that 45 percent feared Jews may have no future in Britain, and 58 per cent were concerned they have no long-term future in Europe.
On January 21, European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said “we have the moral and political duty to bring about a situation as soon as possible where not one Jew in Europe feels the urge to leave Europe because he or she sees no future for them on this continent”.
He was speaking at a memorial ceremony at the EU Jewish building in Brussels for the victims of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.
Four Jews were killed by an Islamist terrorist who took hostages in a kosher supermarket.
Timmermans tried to reassure the Jewish community still shocked by the attack against the Hyper Cacher store which occurred only a few months after another Islamist terrorist killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels.
”If there is no future for Jews in Europe, there is no future for Europe,” he said, as quoted by the European Jewish Press.
Separately, the EJP reported that more than 1.5 million people visited the former Auschwitz concentration camp in 2014.
It was the highest attendance ever at the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial in Poland, according to its museum.
Poland, with 398 000 visitors recorded, led the list, followed by Britain (199 000), the US (92 000), Italy (84 000), Germany (75 000), Israel (62 000), Spain (55 000) France (54 000), Czech Republic (52 000) and South Korea (41 000).
Additionally, several hundred journalists and 180 professional film crews from over 30 countries broadcast and prepared media reports at the Memorial.
The chairman of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev, will deliver the keynote address at a United Nations event marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, on January 27, as well as the 70th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The event at the UN General Assembly will take place with the participation of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, survivors and liberators.
Yad Vashem will also open two new exhibitions – one to be displayed at the United Nations Headquarters in New York and the other at the Yad Vashem Museum of Holocaust Art in Jerusalem.
The new traveling exhibition “Shoah: How Was It Humanly Possible?” will open on January 26 2015, at the United Nations Visitors’ Lobby in New York City. The exhibition, which uses texts, images, and video clips to recount a comprehensive history of the Holocaust from 1933-1945, will remain on display at the United Nations through February 2015.
“The Anguish of Liberation as Reflected in Art, 1945-1947” displayed in the Yad Vashem Museum of Holocaust Art, will open on January 27, as part of a special evening marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem.