OSWIECIM, Poland, Jan. 25 -- Polish police Wednesday evicted U. S. Rabbi Avi Weiss from a Roman Catholic church near the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau where he and his supporters staged a protest. The group objects to the presence of Christian symbols near the site where more than 1 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis. Parish priest Rev. Leszek Lysien had called off the regular evening mass and told parishioners he had asked Weiss to leave the church premises, but that no agreement was reached. He said that after consulting with church authorities, he decided to cancel the mass in order not to desecrate the Eucharist and notified police of the protest. Late in the afternoon, police forced the protesters out of the church. Weiss, who passively resisted his removal, was taken to the local police station and released after about two hours. Weiss is well known in Poland for a protest in 1989 in which he and his supporters jumped the fence surrounding a Carmelite convent that was located adjacent to the fence at Auschwitz, from which he was forcibly removed by Polish workers. Two years earlier, an agreement had been signed in Geneva by four Roman Catholic cardinals and three Jewish leaders, calling for 'no permanent Catholic place of worship on the site of the Auschwitz- Birkenau camp.' After the Weiss incident, Pope John Paul II intervened and the nuns were moved to a site several hundred yards (100 m) from the camp.
On Wednesday, Weiss deposited a copy of the agreement in the vestibule of the church, and vowed he would occupy the premises during two days of ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the the Nazi concentration camp. Both Polish leaders and representatives of other Jewish organizations have said the land on which the church is located was never part of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp complex, and should not be an issue. Weiss staged his protest as representatives of 25 countries and seven Nobel Prize winners are joining Jewish groups in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz -- the German name for Oswiecim. Some 1.5 million people died there, 90 percent of them Jews, who consider the grounds hallowed. On Thursday, various invited leaders, including the Nobel laureates, will gather at Jagellonian University in Krakow to work out a world appeal for peace and tolerance. Later in the day, Jews will gather to pray and say Kaddish, the solemn prayer of the dead. On Friday, the actual anniversary of the liberation by the Soviet Red Army, the heads of state will gather at Auschwitz and Birkenau for ceremonies.