Survey: Most Poles oppose crosses at Auschwitz

ROME — Only a small minority of Poles support the forest of crosses that sprang up this summer near the Auschwitz death camp, according to a Polish opinion poll.

While only 15 percent of the respondents back the placing of new crosses outside Auschwitz by radical Catholic militants, about half of those surveyed support the presence of a much larger cross that was used by Polish-born Pope John Paul II during a Mass at Birkenau in 1979 and erected outside Auschwitz 10 years ago.

The survey, conducted last month by the polling agency OBOP and published in the leading newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, also bore out earlier surveys denoting a strong tendency among Poles to internationalize Auschwitz as a symbol of evil and martyrdom.

It also indicated that many of the respondents feel that Polish suffering during World War II has been downplayed.

The survey was carried out to gauge public opinion in light of the continuing controversy over the crosses placed outside the walls of Auschwitz.

Catholic fundamentalists have set up more than 300 crosses since the end of July in defiance of protests by Jewish groups, and despite calls from the Polish Roman Catholic Church and the Polish government for a halt to the campaign.

The campaign to erect the crosses has given a prominent public platform to virulent anti-Semites normally on the fringe of political life.

In the latest fallout from the controversy, a Polish priest was suspended for his role in the campaign. Ryszard Krol was placed on one-year sick leave after his parishioners erected one of the crosses.

Those involved in the campaign say they are erecting the crosses to prevent the removal of the so-called papal cross and to commemorate 152 Polish Catholics who were killed at the site by the Nazis.

Some 20 percent of the respondents would prefer to see a monument, instead of the crossses, erected to the memory of the murdered Poles.

The poll indicates that "one-half support the official line of the government and the episcopate, only 15 percent support the new crosses and as many as 30 percent want even the papal cross to go," said Stanislaw Krajewski, a member of the board of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland.

According to the survey, he said, those who want the removal of the papal cross mainly included people who are better educated, live in large cities and are less religious.

The survey also touched on how Poles perceive Auschwitz in general.

Some 5 percent said only Jews were murdered at Auschwitz. Eight percent believed it was the site solely of "Polish martyrdom." Some 48 percent considered it the site of the martyrdom of many peoples.

Some 38 percent said the identity of the victims killed there is irrelevant.

About 1.5 million people were killed at Auschwitz, 90 percent of them Jews.

Asked to name which people suffered most during World War II, some 50 percent said Poles, about 28 percent said Jews and some 11 percent said such comparisons could not be made.

Some 54 percent said they think Poles respect Jewish sensitivities regarding Auschwitz, while 35 percent disagreed.

But only 23 percent think Jews respect Polish sensitivities regarding Auschwitz, compared to 59 percent who said Jews do not.

Krajewski recently faulted some Jews for failing to recognize that even though the great majority of people killed at Auschwitz were Jews, Polish Catholics, too, have a right to consider Auschwitz a symbol of Nazi persecution and to mourn the Poles who were murdered there