Crosses at Auschwitz removed

NEW YORK — Jewish groups are claiming victory in the latest battle at Auschwitz.

Under orders from the Polish government, eight crosses and 11 Stars of David were removed last week from the grounds of the Nazi death camp.

"This is a great achievement," said Kalman Sultanik, the vice president of the Auschwitz Museum Council, which is working to preserve the camp. "I think this will be a step in the improvement of Polish-Jewish relations."

The religious symbols were placed at the former Nazi death camp in 1983 by a Polish scouting group.

Jewish groups protested against the crosses, which had been placed on the "Field of Ashes," where Nazis buried the cremated remains of their victims.

"Auschwitz should remain a place where everyone should be able to go and identify with the place and have their own prayer," said Sultanik, who also is a vice president of the World Jewish Congress.

"If you start with religious symbols, there is no end."

The campaign to rid Auschwitz of the symbols gained steam last year, when the issue was raised by Elie Wiesel at a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of a pogrom in the Polish town of Kielce.

According to Sultanik, the issue was formally raised at a January meeting of the museum council. The council voted at its October meeting to urge the Polish minister of culture to remove the symbols.

Worried about an anti-Semitic backlash, the council worked discreetly, making sure the Polish Roman Catholic Church did not object to removing the crosses, and then waiting until after the recent Polish elections to raise the issue with the new government.

The crosses have been given to a local church, and the stars of David will be given to a Jewish archive in the nearby city of Krakow.