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Complaints: Fry 'slandered' Poland over Auschwitz

Updated on 08 October 2009

By Channel 4 News

Stephen Fry is accused by embassy officials of making "utterly misleading" and "slanderous" comments about Poland after a Channel 4 News interview in which he mentioned links to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp.

Stephen Fry on Channel 4 News

The Polish Embassy in London has launched a forthright defence of its country after the actor made his remarks in an interview with Jon Snow this week.

Fry appeared on the programme to voice his concerns over the alleged homophobic and anti-Semitic background of some Polish members of David Cameron's European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European parliament.

Fry said: "There has been a history, let's face it, in Poland of a right-wing Catholicism which has been deeply disturbing for those of us who know a little history, and remember which side of the border Auschwitz was on, and know the stories, and know much of the anti-Semitic, and homophobic and nationalistic elements in countries like Poland.

"This is a problem that is not going to get smaller because as we start to pay for the financial disaster of the least year - as the bill comes in – a kind of great pimple acne of nationalism and homophobia and racism is going to erupt around Europe because there is going to be trouble with unemployment, there are going to be all the problems."

Fry is one of a group of activists, which also includes comedian Eddie Izzard and the Unite union, who have written to David Cameron asking him to reconsider the Conservative party's links with the Polish Law and Justice party, with whom the Polish MEPs are affiliated.

But Fry's comments on Channel 4 News, as well as prompting complaints from Polish viewers in the UK, also led the Polish Embassy to complain.

Robert Szaniawski, spokesman for the embassy, told Channel 4 News: "I have taken strong exception to the statement made by Stephen Fry in which he suggested Polish complicity in the Nazi atrocities in Auschwitz during World War Two.

"While Mr Fry has every right to express his opinion, be it regarding current political developments or, indeed, historical matters, nonetheless, it should be tempered with some respect for factual accuracy in his public pronouncements.

"Poland was not free from anti-Semitism before World War Two or under the Nazi occupation, but to imply, however vaguely, some form of collective responsibility of the Polish nation and Poland for the notorious death camp which came to symbolise the horrors of the Holocaust, is utterly misleading, and quite frankly, slanderous.

"The mere geographical reference in this context is also incorrect, as Auschwitz-Birkenau was set up and administered by Nazi Germany in the part of Poland directly annexed to the Third Reich at the time."

Michael Burleigh, author of The Third Reich: A New History, and Ethics and Extermination: Reflections on Nazi Genocide, agreed with the Polish objections.

He said: "At that time there wasn't really a Poland to speak of. They [the Nazis] had left a tiny rump of a state but that was about it. There wasn't really anything left.

"To talk about a border is nonsense really; and even if there was technically one the Polish will have been surrounded by Nazi troops anyway. It's absolutely ridiculous for Stephen Fry to imply this."

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