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Poland Cross Organizer Freed

June 18, 1999

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ A radical Catholic activist who inspired people to put hundreds of crosses next to the former Auschwitz Nazi death camp was released from jail Friday, a day after Pope John Paul II ended his pilgrimage to Poland.

Kazimierz Switon, 68, was arrested May 27 for placing explosives in the lot where the crosses were located in an attempt to prevent their removal. The next day, police and soldiers took away 300 crosses, hoping to defuse a controversy over the Christian religious symbols at what Jews consider to be the world’s largest Jewish cemetery.

A local court in Oswiecim, the town where the former death camp is located, ruled May 29 that Switon could be detained, pending trial. But the regional court in Bielsko-Biala, 18 miles south of Oswiecim, overruled the local court on Friday and ordered him freed.

The hearing was closed and no further details were released.

The pope arrived in his homeland June 5 and the removal of the crosses was considered to be an attempt by Polish officials and the Roman Catholic church to prevent protests about the controversy during his visit.

But the chief rabbi in Poland, Pinchas Menachem Joskowicz, brought up the issue during a brief meeting with the pope on June 11, thanking Polish officials for removing the crosses and asking John Paul to have a single larger cross still standing at the site also removed.

Vatican officials responded that the issue was a local one, and local Jewish groups criticized the rabbi, a Holocaust survivor, for raising the issue way he did.

Jewish groups have called for removal of the larger cross, erected outside the camp over a decade ago to commemorate 152 Polish Catholics killed on the site by the Nazis, saying it insults the memory of the more than 1 million Jews who perished at the Aauschwitz-Birkenau death complex.

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