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The media's slander of Poland: Ignorance, lazy editing, or malicious libel?

October 27, 2010

The New York-born Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, says, "Accusing Poles of participation in the Holocaust is a sin." Yet on a regular basis, American journalists do just that by calling Auschwitz a "Polish concentration camp." This is Holocaust revisionism.

The Nazi concentration camps were built by Germans, run by Germans, and guarded by Germans. The victims of those camps were Polish. Newspaper editors justify use of the term "Polish concentration camp" as geographical shorthand for "a German concentration camp in occupied Poland." But this shorthand is Orwellian doublespeak that turns victim into perpetrator and distorts history. It perpetuates ignorance about the Holocaust and gives impressionable readers the idea that Poles built the camps. The Auschwitz killing factory was a product of German engineering, and both Polish Jews and Catholics were murdered there.

On Sept. 1, 1939, the German blitzkrieg stormed into Poland to burn down cities, enslave the populace, build gas chambers to murder Jews and execute Christian Poles that helped them. Two weeks later, Soviet Russia sent tanks into eastern Poland to execute the leadership and destroy its capitalist system. Poland fought Nazi Germany longer than any other country and the Germans used Auschwitz to kill Polish soldiers and political prisoners, before constructing gas chambers to murder Jews.

Adolf Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, "in the big lie there is a certain force of credibility, because the broad masses of a nation are easily corrupted ... and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie."

Hitler vowed to get rid of "Jews, Polacks and riff-raff." He would be pleased that today American newspapers blame Poles for his Nazi death camps rather than the Germans.
The Nazis themselves gave the camp a German name, "Auschwitz" and then hung a sign over the entrance in German, "Arbeit Macht Frei." Calling it Polish is either lazy or malicious.

This past week, on Oct. 20, The New York Times ran an obituary of Dr. George Mathe, which said that he had been sent to "a Polish concentration camp in a cattle car."

The shifting blame is getting so bad that in June, The Los Angeles Times even ran a piece in which its "Culture Monster" reviewer F. Kathleen Foley used the phrase "Nazi Poland." This is libelous. The Los Angeles Times corrected the mistake on its web site.

In May, The Wall Street Journal used the phrase "Polish concentration camp." Polish-Americans protested outside the newspaper's offices, however The Wall Street Journal refuses to remove the defamatory phrase from its web site. The Polish Consul General in New York, Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka wrote a letter to the editor saying that the Journal is "indicating that Poland was a participant in the Nazi crime. In reality, my country was Hitler's most brutalized victim with more than six million Polish citizens losing their lives during the war."

Of the six million Poles killed during World War II, about half were Jewish while the rest were Christian. German soldiers also transported Jews from 27 other countries into Nazi occupied-Poland to be murdered in deaths camps like Auschwitz. Because Poland resisted Germany, Hitler ordered his army to bomb and burn Warsaw to the ground.

This issue of historic accuracy was taken up by the United Nations, and in 2007, UNESCO officially changed the name of the Auschwitz to "The Auschwitz-Birkenau German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945)."

Jewish leaders have also spoken out on this issue. In Jan. 2005, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, David A. Harris, issued a statement which said in part, "We would also like to remind those who are either unaware of the facts or careless in their choice of words, as has been the case with some media outlets, that Auschwitz-Birkenau and the other death camps, including Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka, were conceived, built and operated by Nazi Germany and its allies. The camps were located in German-occupied Poland, the European country with by far the largest Jewish population, but they were most emphatically not 'Polish camps'. This is not a mere semantic matter. Historical integrity and accuracy hang in the balance."

In April 2006, Executive Director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham H. Foxman, wrote: "As an agency which prioritizes remembrance of the Holocaust, we share Poland's concerns over the frequent description of the camp as a "Polish" camp. Such a description implies that the camp was built in the name of the Polish people. As you know, this is manifestly not the truth. Auschwitz stands as a monument to the barbarity of Nazi Germany. We therefore respectfully request that the camp be officially referred to as the 'Former Nazi German Extermination Camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau.' "

While there were Poles who committed atrocities against Jews during and after World War II, the Polish government convicted and executed those who killed Jews. The Polish underground established the Council to Aid Jews, Zegota, which rescued thousands of Jews. Irena Sendler saved 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto. Jan Karski sneaked through enemy lines to beg Churchill & Roosevelt to stop the Holocaust. They did nothing. Polish Army Captain Witold Pilecki volunteered to be arrested by the Germans and sent to Auschwitz to try to organize a prison break. The Germans executed thousands of Poles who tried to save Jews. The phrase "Polish concentration camp" desecrates their memory.

The Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita has published editorials calling for legal action against newspapers that use these defamatory phrases. But it doesn't have to end this way. Newspaper publishers and the Associated Press can easily rectify this situation by changing their stylebooks to banish the phrase "Polish concentration camps."

Some editors justify the use of this phrase as a geographic location of the camps. But while editors can find lots of reasons to avoid doing the right thing and banning these phrases from news stories, there are six million reasons why they should.

Alex Storozynski
Author, "The Peasant Prince: Thaddeus Kosciuszko and the Age of Revolution"
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