WARSAW (CWN) - Hundreds of Polish war veterans and concentration camp survivors protested on Sunday against the planned removal of a 26-foot cross near the Auschwitz concentration camp.

      The cross is deemed offensive by many Jews as disrespectful to the beliefs of the nearly 1.5 million Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps. But 400 protesters on Sunday said 75,000 Catholics also died at the camp, including St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Pole, and Blessed Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, and they said the cross should be for them.

      Some Jews do not oppose removing the cross, which was erected to commemorate a 1979 Mass by Pope John Paul, saying its removal will not solve anything. "It will not build reconciliation but it will be an illusory victory of one side," Jonathan Webber, professor of Judaic studies at Britain's Oxford University, told the newspaper Zycie. The cross became a problem for the Polish government this month when the land where the cross stands was turned over to the state by Carmelite nuns forced to abandon their convent at the site because of similar Jewish protests.

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March 17, 1998 volume 9, no. 54         DAILY CATHOLIC