Auschwitz museum official criticizes Israeli flyover

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The Auschwitz museum Wednesday criticized a planned flight this week by Israeli F-15 fighter planes over the former concentration camp, saying the event meant to pay tribute to victims is "inappropriate.''

At press time, a statement from the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw said that, yesterday, three Israeli F-15 jets — piloted by descendants of Holocaust survivors — were to fly over the former death camp at noon. The Israeli pilots were in Poland to take part in an air show last weekend in the central town of Radom.

Museum spokesman Jaroslaw Mensfelt said the Auschwitz museum wasn't consulted about the flight and that he wouldn't have approved of the idea.

"It's a cemetery, a place of silence and concentration,'' he said. "Flying the [F-15s] is a demonstration of military might which is an entirely inappropriate way to commemorate the victims.''

Mensfelt said the International Auschwitz Council, an advisory body to the museum headed by Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, an Auschwitz survivor and former Polish foreign minister, also "does not support such a way to commemorate the victims.''

In Israel, the Foreign Ministry defended the plans.

"It's a joint Israeli-Polish initiative and for a noble cause,'' Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled said. "We share a tragic history, and obviously it's being done in full cooperation.''

Israel's ambassador to Poland, Shevach Weiss, and some 200 Israeli soldiers will take part in a ceremony at Birkenau, the former death camp next to Auschwitz.

Calls to the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw went unanswered late Wednesday.

The Nazis built the camp in occupied Poland in 1940. More than a million people, 90 percent of them Jewish, perished in gas chambers or died of starvation and disease at the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex before it was liberated by advancing Soviet troops on Jan. 27, 1945.