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Thursday, August 27, 1998 Published at 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK

World: Europe

Rabbi unhappy at Auschwitz cross decision

The rabbi says the crosses are offensive to Jews

The Chief Rabbi of Poland, Menachem Pinchas Joskowicz, has said he is disappointed at the decision by Roman Catholic bishops to leave a single memorial cross standing just outside the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

The bishops have called for the removal of a sea of crosses at the site, in a move to resolve a row between Jewish groups and Roman Catholic activists.

But in a statement released at an emergency meeting of the Polish Episcopate, the bishops said they wanted a larger cross at the centre of the row to remain as a memorial to Catholic victims of the Nazis.

Rabbi Joscowicz said he thought the bishops would have understood the pain caused to Jews who were forbidden to pray in the presence of a cross.

[ image: Cardinal Glemp: change of heart]
Cardinal Glemp: change of heart
The large wooden cross overlooking the Auschwitz site was erected for an historic mass by the Pope to commemorate the spot where 152 Polish prisoners had been shot by the Nazis in 1941.

More recently, over 200 small crosses were planted on the perimeter of Auschwitz by Roman Catholic and Polish nationalist groups in protest at plans to remove the larger cross.

Jewish groups object to the presence of the crosses which they say is provocative and disturbs the climate of remembrance of Jews killed at the camp.

They have called for all religious symbols to be removed from the place where more than a million Jews were killed.

[ image: Extra crosses were added despite Jewish protests]
Extra crosses were added despite Jewish protests
But the leader of the Polish nationalists who planted the crosses vowed to burn himself before allowing them to be dismantled.

The bishops' response came after talks between the Polish Prime Minister, Jerzy Buzek, and the Primate of the Church, Jozef Glemp.

Although the church wields considerable influence in Poland, the bishops' call has no legal authority.

The protestors may choose to ignore the request to remove the crosses as they have in the past.

That would increase the pressure on the Polish government to find a solution to an increasingly international row.

A week ago, it started legal proceedings to claim back the private land where the crosses have been placed.

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