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Poland, Lithuania vow to resist Russian historical offensive

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Poland and Lithuania are working together to defend themselves against a Russian historical offensive that seeks to minimize Soviet responsibility for the outbreak of World War II, their foreign ministers said Thursday.

Linas Linkevicius of Lithuania and Jacek Czaputowicz of Poland described recent Russian statements that put part of the blame on Poland for start of World War II as disinformation that they perceive as a threat to their nations.

“We will not let the Kremlin manipulate history so easily and spread lies,” Linkevicius said after meeting Czaputowicz in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital. Russian President Vladimir Putin and other top Russian officials have made repeated statements in recent weeks blaming Poland — which was the first victim of World War II — for some role in sparking the conflict. The Russian comments have also sought to stress Polish anti-Semitism as a trigger for the conflict.

Historians in the West say the Russian claims are baseless. World War II began in 1939 when Poland was invaded first by Nazi Germany , then by the Soviet Union two weeks later. Right away, the Soviet troops arrested some 22,000 Polish officers who were executed the following year on the orders of Soviet leader Josef Stalin. The dual occupation came days after the two totalitarian states signed a pact with a secret protocol to carve up Poland, the Baltic states and Finland.

“They try to revive an image of Stalin as some sort of a good guy and also justify the Molotov- Ribbentrop pact," Linkevicius said. “We will not allow this to happen.” Czaputowicz added: “We have agreed that our experts would cooperate closely in the area of disinformation so that we can resist those threats together.”

A top European Union official a day earlier also came to Poland's defense. EU Commissioner Vera Jourova told the European Parliament that she “rejects any false claim" that paints Poland as a perpetrator instead of a victim of the 1939-1945 war and that she “will not tolerate these attacks on Poland."

In another disputed Russian claim, Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, said this week that Nazi Germany's location of many of its extermination camps in occupied Poland was “facilitated" by pre-war anti-Semitism.

That is an old anti-Polish stereotype that was debunked by historians long ago. While anti-Semitism was rampant in pre-war Poland among nationalists and those on the right, there were also Poles who opposed it. Furthermore, historians say the reason that so many death camps were operated on occupied Polish soil is because that is where most European Jews — who were marked for destruction by Hitler's regime — were living. Half of the 6 million citizens that Poland lost in the war were Jewish.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau state museum, the custodian of the site of the most notorious German death camp, recommended that Volodin take its online lessons about Auschwitz's complicated history. “Facts can help us to defend ourselves against & prevent shameful falsifying and distortion of history,” the museum said Wednesday.

Gera reported from Warsaw..

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