International ignorance about Auschwitz

The Polish Outlook

European News Review
April 10, 2006

Knowing that there is a widespread misconception about the origin of and operation of the Nazi German Auschwitz Birkenau death camps, the Polish government is taking steps to change the name of the camps to emphasize that the camps were Nazi German facilities. This proposal to change the name has met with resistance from some quarters. At the same time it has stirred a sudden debate in Poland that has raised the ire of both the Jewish people who were prisoners at the camp, Polish veterans groups and the families of Polish people who were also prisoners at the camps.

In response to the Polish government's moves to change the name the World Jewish Congress said "That they want to change history by changing the name". This posting on the World Jewish Congress website has created a stir and only reinforced the opinions of those who support the change in name.

The posting on the World Jewish Congress website fosters the opinion that Although the camp had been built and run by Nazi Germany, everybody in the area had known about its existence and workers were recruited from the Polish population in the neighboring village. The government in Warsaw wants the history of Auschwitz, which is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, to be separated from Polish history and make it clear that Poland had no involvement in the death camp.

But members of the board of the Auschwitz Birkenau death camp museum, Jewish and former prisoners of the death camps, take issue with the statements of the World Jewish Congress. They firmly state that the camps were not operated by Polish people recruited from the local population but were in fact built by Polish prisoners rounded up off the streets of Poland, made prisoners, and forced to work at the camps.

Jewish leaders in Poland have opined that the statement on the World Jewish Congress website is probably the opinion of one individual. Reporters from the public television station TVP1 in Poland, however, were not able to get any response from the World Jewish Congress on this matter. Some Polish commentators claim that this is a deliberate disinformation campaign by the World Jewish Congress.

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski says he took issue with the opinions that the camp was run by people recruited from local community. He is a former prisoner of Auschwitz and categorically stated that it was Polish prisoners who were forced to work at the camp and that local people did not work at the camps.

About Wladyslaw Bartoszewski - Member of the Polish resistance Armia Krajowa (codename Ludwik) during World War II, took part in the Warsaw Uprising, member of Zegota. In 1940-1941 prisoner of Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Imprisoned by the communist regime twice in 1946-1948 and 1949-1954, falsely accused of spying, rehabilitated in 1955. As journalist worked for Roman Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny, headed Polish PEN-Club (1972-1982), taught modern history at Catholic University of Lublin, cooperated with Radio Free Europe. Imprisoned during the 1981 - 1983 martial law in Poland. Served as ambassador of Republic of Poland in Austria (1990-1995), minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland in 1995 and 2000. From 1997 until 2001, Bartoszewski was a senator in Senat, the upper house of the Polish parliament. Since June 2001, he has been the chairman of an organization committed to preserving the memory of past victims of wars and persecution, the Rada Ochrony Pamieci Walk i Meczenstwa [1]. He is also the chairman of the International Auschwitz Council [2].

Public television coverage seemed to emphasize that there is a lack of knowledge of the true nature of the camp. TVP1 went to the point of interviewing an Auschwitz tour guide who said that many times that she is told that the camps were Polish camps. Even though the visitors are at the camps and have full information in front of them they keep the opinion that the camps were not Nazi German the Polish.

The statement by the World Jewish Congress is not helpful in its own right but it has galvanized opinion in many circles in Poland to the point that a lot more pressure will be now brought to bear to change the name and a proactive campaign will probably begin to prevent the rewriting of history by those who choose to hang the responsibility for the Nazi German death camps on the Polish people.
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