Polish PM comes under fire for appearing to defend anti-migrant policy at Auschwitz

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WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo came under fire on Wednesday for what critics called an inappropriate political speech at a ceremony at the wartime Nazi death camp in Auschwitz where she appeared to defend her government’s anti-migrant policy.

At a ceremony commemorating the 77th anniversary of the first transport of prisoners who entered the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, Szydlo said that “Auschwitz is a lesson showing that everything needs to be done to protect one’s citizens”.

The comments caused widespread outrage with many taking them as a defense of the Polish nationalist-minded Law and Justice (PiS) party government’s decision not to accept any refugees under a European Union resettlement plan.

The European Commission opened a legal case on Tuesday against three eastern EU members, including Poland, for failing to take in asylum-seekers to relieve EU states on the front lines of the bloc’s migration crisis.

“Such words in such a place should never come out from the mouth of a Polish prime minister,” Donald Tusk, European Council president and an ex-prime minister of Poland, said in a tweet.

Former Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said in a tweet that Szydlo’s remarks were a “discredit”.

Szydlo’s words first appeared in a tweet by PiS that has since been removed. Rafal Bochenek, the government’s spokesman, said that people should listen to the entire speech of the prime minister before making any judgment.

In the speech, Szydlo said it was a great task for politicians to make sure that “such terrible events as those that took place in Auschwitz and other places of martyrdom never happen again”.

More than a million people, mainly European Jews, were gassed, shot or hanged at the camp, or died of neglect, starvation or disease, before the Soviet Red Army entered its gates in early 1945 during its decisive advance on Germany.

Writing by Lidia Kelly; editing by Mark Heinrich