Polish bid to rename Auschwitz stirs controversy
11 April 2006
WARSAW – International controversy has erupted over a request by Poland to officially specify that the death camp Auschwitz was built and run during the Second World War by Nazi Germany.
The most notorious of Nazi death camps which claimed the lives of as many as 1.5 million people, most of them European Jews, is currently officially called the “Auschwitz Concentration Camp.”
The Polish government’s request to UNESCO for the name of the World Heritage Site to be changed to the “Former Nazi German Concentration Camp Auschwitz-Birkenau” has met with sharp criticism from both the international Jewish community and Germany’s Berliner Zeitung newspaper.
Poland’s request comes after a string of incidents over the last decade in which international media have mistakenly referred to the camp as “Polish” due to its location in Poland.
Poland’s Foreign Ministry has made numerous calls for corrections to be issued by both broadcast and print media. Many of them have, however, met with resistance from senior editors.
Poland’s request also comes ahead of a visit to the Auschwitz site on May 28 by German-born Pope Benedict XVI. The unprecedented event is sure to draw the undivided attention of the world media.
Maram Stern, a senior official with the World Jewish Congress (WJC), has accused Poland of wanting “to redefine history by changing the name.”
A WJC statement further contends 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 neighbouring village.”
But head of the International Auschwitz Council, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, himself a former prisoner and Polish Foreign Minister disagrees with the WJC argument. He insists that “none of the local residents worked at Auschwitz – it’s a fact.”
Jaroslaw Mensfelt, the official spokesperson for the Auschwitz State Museum, has also pointed out Allied intelligence knew about the camp, but declined to bomb either it or the railway lines which transported more than a million people to their death there.
“Not only the local residents knew about Auschwitz during the war, but the entire free world, which had been informed by those local residents about what was going on in Auschwitz,” Mensfelt was quoted as saying. “Many local residents sacrificed their lives to help camp prisoners,” he added.
Synonymous with the death of more than 6 million European Jews in the Holocaust, Auschwitz was established in the Nazi-German occupied southern Polish town of Oswiecim in June 1940 by the Nazis.
It grew rapidly to become the largest Nazi German death camp, a key element in fascist German dictator Adolf Hitler’s Final Solution plan to kill Europe’s estimated 11 million ethnic Jews.
According to Franciszek Piper, chief historian at the Auschwitz- Birkenau State Museum, between 1.1-1.5 million people perished at the camp, either asphyxiated with Zyklon B gas in its notorious gas chambers or from starvation, disease or exhaustion.
Ninety per cent of the victims were European Jews – men, women and children – most of whom perished in the gas chambers. Poles, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war were among its other prisoners and victims.
Historians point out Auschwitz-Birkenau was one of six Nazi German death camps expressly set up to murder European Jews. Chelmno, Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek and Belzec were also key elements in the Nazi Third Reich’s architecture of death.
All told, historical record shows that between 1933-1945, Adolf Hitler’s regime set up some 1,634 concentration camps and 900 labour camps, where prisoners were held and, more often than not, exploited until death.
Subject: German news