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Polish president honors Warsaw Ghetto Uprising heroes

Poland's president has led state ceremonies honoring the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. With his party in the glare of international disapproval over its alleged xenophobia, the event doesn't do any harm.

President Andrzej Duda led Tuesday's ceremonies on the 73rd anniversary of the start of the Ghetto Uprising: April 19, 1943. The main state ceremonies held in front of a memorial to the Jewish fighters in the heart of the former Warsaw Ghetto in the north of the capital's city-center.

Duda said he was paying homage to "heroes who wanted to fight for their freedom and even though they knew they would die, they wanted to die in battle with their heads held high." He added that the ceremonies also paid homage to their "great dignity."

A wreath was also laid on Tuesday by visiting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the location where former German chancellor Willy Brandt kneeled in 1970.

Brandt's gesture in memory of victims of the wartime Nazi German occupation came to be widely seen as a key moment in reconciliation between Poles and Germans.

Jewish casualties at 13,000

The 1943 uprising was an act of Jewish resistance that began within the Warsaw Ghetto in German-occupied Poland during World War II. A small group of fighters resisted Nazi Germany's final effort to transport the remaining Ghetto population to Treblinka extermination camp.

It started on April 19 when the Ghetto refused to surrender to SS officer Jürgen Stroop, who then ordered the burning of the Ghetto, block by block, ending on 16 May.

In the fighting, about 13,000 Jews died, half of them burnt alive or suffocated. German casualty figures are not known, but likely did not exceed 300.

The event was the largest single revolt by Jews in occupied German territory during World War II.

The politics of history

The Law and Justice (PiS) party's government, elected in September 2015, has been vocal in its antipathies towards Germany, Russia and the EU - sometimes verging on racist rhetoric in reference to refugees entering Europe from the Middle East.

However, it has been keen to show itself in a good light in relation to Poland's historical relationship with its Jewish population, which before the war stood at about 3 million (with around 300,000 in Warsaw) and now stands at about 6,000.

Duda criticized his predecessor Bronislaw Komorowski for acknowledging Polish complicity in the Holocaust. The government has also said it wants to shed Polish-US historian Jan Gross of an official honor for his recent claim that Poles killed more Jews than Germans during the war.

Crowds of people, including many foreign visitors, queue to enter in front of the freshly opened Museum of the History of the Polish Jews on April 20, 2013 in Warsaw

Crowds of people, including many foreign visitors, queue to enter in front of the freshly opened Museum of the History of the Polish Jews on April 20, 2013 in Warsaw

But, the PiS party has played a relatively positive role in Polish-Jewish relations. The late president, Lech Kaczynski, was regarded as a friend by Poland's Jewish community. As mayor of Warsaw he helped initiate the project to build the recently-opened Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which stands opposite the Ghetto memorial.

jbh, ipj/msh (AP)

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