Poland fears world forgets Auschwitz was Nazi camp
Six decades after Holocaust, Poland fears world forgetting Nazi Germany responsible for wartime concentration camps meant to wipe out European Jewry after phrase ‘Polish death camps’ popping up in newspapers around the world. former inmate says he hopes German-born Pope Benedict would give campaign a boost when he visits Auschwitz next week
Six decades after the Holocaust, Poland fears the world is forgetting Nazi Germany was responsible for the wartime concentration camps meant to wipe out European Jewry.
It says the phrase "Polish death camps" has been popping up in newspapers around the world in recent years in reports about camps the Nazis built on occupied territory in today's Poland.
Warsaw takes the issue so seriously that it has started a campaign to ensure the phrase "Nazi German concentration camp" is used in reference to Auschwitz. Newspapers writing "Polish death camps" promptly get a sharp protest letter from the local Polish embassy to the editor.
Visiting the camp in southern Poland this week, August Kowalczyk, former inmate number 6804, said he hoped German-born Pope Benedict would give the campaign a boost when he visits Auschwitz on Sunday at the end of his pilgrimage to Poland.
"If Pope Benedict says we're in the German Nazi camp of Auschwitz, people may finally understand," said Kowalczyk, a retired Polish writer and actor. Up to 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, were killed there during World War Two.
"Lots of people say this camp is Polish, but if a German pope says it isn't, maybe people will listen."
The pope's prayer at the camp will be the only words he says during the trip in German, which he has not used to avoid hurting Polish and Jewish sensitivities.
Part of the reason for the use of "Polish death camps" is geographical confusion, historians say. The passage of time means fewer people know the Nazis set up their death camps in occupied areas far from Germany itself, probably to hide the horrors of the Holocaust.
Auschwitz is the largest of the camps in present-day Poland. Among the others were Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka.
No longer comprehensible
But more serious charges also exist. Former Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld last year said some German intellectuals and far-right leaders seemed to be trying to rewrite history to spread blame for the Holocaust around.
A small minority of Jewish groups see the phrase as a way to accuse Poland of anti-Semitism, said Stefan Wilkanowicz, vice-chairman of the International Auschwitz Council.
But he told Reuters his group had won support for the change from the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
"This talk about Polish camps is propaganda," he told Reuters. "Many journalists and other people don't know history and think the Poles created these concentration camps."
Warsaw has asked United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to change the camp's name on its World Heritage List from "Auschwitz Concentration Camp" to "Auschwitz-Birkenau Former Nazi German Concentration Camp."
"The old name is no longer comprehensible, especially to the younger generation," Deputy Culture Minister Tomasz Merta wrote in the request in late March.
Soon afterwards, Maram Stern, deputy general secretary of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), criticized the request as a bid "to redefine history by changing the name."
In a subsequent statement, the WJC said Poland should not be blamed for the Holocaust and suggested that a small committee including concentration camp survivors study the name change issue and make suitable recommendations.
The Polish Foreign Ministry's Web site quotes media from 24 countries reporting on "Polish death camps," mostly on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in January 2005.
It details the protests made by local Polish embassies and both successful and futile attempts to have corrections made.