A Roman Catholic nationalist who directed the controversial placing of crosses at the Auschwitz concentration camp has received a suspended sentence for inciting racial hatred and insulting Polish institutions. On January 12 in the Regional Court in the Polish town of Oswiecim, which is built around the former Nazi-run camp where 1.5 million people, most of them Jews, were killed during the Second World War, Kazimierz Switon was given a six-months suspended sentence for calling the Polish parliamentarians "national traitors," and for slandering Germans and Jews.

After the court handed down its ruling, Switon said he had been "sentenced for telling the truth" and would appeal.

"This judicial system is just like the Stalinist one," the protester told Polish Television's main evening news bulletin, in a reference to Poland's communist past. "Orders are issued from above and implemented by the court judges."

Polish police and soldiers removed more than 300 crosses from Auschwitz's Gravel Pit and arrested Switon last May, leaving a single 8-meter-high cross which had been placed at the site a decade ago after being used at a papal mass in 1979. Arguing against Switon's prosecution, which followed complaints by a group of Oswiecim residents, the protester's defense lawyer, Karol Glogowski, said he had only "expressed an opinion" about the Polish parliament, and had attacked "Zionist bloodthirstiness and Germanic teutonism" rather than Jews and Germans as such.

However, this was rejected by the Regional Court, which said it had ordered the trial to be held in camera to forestall "social unrest."

Switon also faces charges of planting explosives last May, allegedly in an attempt to prevent the removal of the crosses.

Jews made up at least 90 percent of Auschwitz-Birkenau's victims, along with tens of thousands of Poles, Russians and Roma people.

Last year a national law established a 100-meter protected zone around Auschwitz and eight other Nazi camps on Polish territory.

A local official, Wieslaw Konrad Czarnik, also announced this month that citizenship of the Oswiecim district had been conferred by the town's council on Pope John Paul II to commemorate the papal visit to Auschwitz in 1979 and to thank him for supporting the building of churches in the area.

"As one of Poland's newest district councils, founded last January, we wanted to begin by honoring the world's greatest Pole," the official said.

Pope John Paul holds honorary citizenship of 25 towns and cities in his native Poland, which has 38 public statues in his honor. At least 75 schools and 29 streets and squares across Poland are named after him.Copyright © 2000 Ecumenical News International. Used with permission.

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