Saturday, April 01, 2006

Q: When is a ‘Nazi death camp in Poland’ a ‘Nazi German death camp’?



A: When it’s a Nazi German death camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

But even that’s not right. It really should be the Nazi German death camp in Oswiecim and Brzezinka, Polska (Auschwitz is what the Germans called it).

For a long while now some foreign journalists have been calling the above one of the Polish concentration camps. The New York Times is especially prone to this slip of the cursor, it appears. The Israel Insider reports:

"In the years after the war, the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was definitively associated with the criminal activities of the national socialist Nazi regime in Germany. However, for the contemporary, younger generations, especially abroad, that association is not universal," [Culture Ministry spokesman Jan] Kasprzyk said.

Poland has applied to UNESCO to formally change the name of the death camp to be German Nazi death camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau. "The proposed change in the name leaves no doubt as to what the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was," Kasprzyk said.

And they are probably correct. What is interesting about the article in the Israel Insider, however, is the headline:

'Poles find name of death camp offensive, seek to shunt all blame to Germans'

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

16 comments:

sonia said...

This is called guilt....

However, it's interesting that while Poles feel guilty about doing very little to help Jews during World War II, they don't feel guilty AT ALL about doing even less to help German civilians raped, killed and expelled from their homes by the Soviets after World War II. Both situations are very similar - crimes committed by foreigners against a despised minority on Polish soil...

Then again, I often wonder how the Israelis would react if Martians invaded their country and started to exterminate all Palestinians...

I wonder how many 'righteous Jews' would get their trees in a Palestinian Yad Vashem....

georgesdelatour said...

Every single decision concerning the camp - its construction, operation and use - was taken exclusively by the Nazis. There was no Polish equivalent of a Vichy or Quisling authority to even pretend to give any orders to anyone. Blaming the Polish state for it is like blaming Black Africans for the British internment camps in the Boer War.

sonia said...

georgesdelatour,

Nobody has ever blamed the Polish state, outside of a small group of survivors driven insane by grief and guilt (for having survived themselves, and therefore determined to impose that guilt on everybody else - including the Allies for not bombing the camps - certainly the strangest accusation ever)...

The serious accusation is not that the camps were "Polish", but that most Catholic Poles weren't exactly grief-stricken about Germans targeting the Jews instead of them... There is only one response to that accusation - "guilty as charged" - and what is strange is that no Pole I know wants to admit it...

They hate the Nazis so much, any accusation of complicity (even indirect) is met with insane rage....

beatroot said...

That headline in the Israeli newspaper seems to say that Poles were somehow to blame in someway for Auscwitz. Which is rediculous of course.

And while there was rising anti-Semitism in Poland during the 1930's (as in the rest of Europe) there was no collaberation, as George says correctly.

At yad vashim, the place where they record all the people who helped Jews during the war, 30,000 names of Poles are written on the walls. No other country gets anywhere near that many names.

So Poles were not aniti-Semitic - but many were. Stiil, that doesn't mean Poles were anything to do with the Holocaust.

sonia said...

there was no collaboration

I have a problem with that argument. Many East Europeans collaborated with the Nazis during WWII (especially early on), not because they were evil people, but because, to them, Stalin was a far greater mass murderer than Hitler. For instance, Stalin killed up to 10 millions of Ukrainians (during the famine, in the gulags, etc.) in the 1920-30s. Therefore, the Ukrainians, Lithuanians, and even the Poles from Eastern Poland (under Stalin rule from 1939 to 1941) welcomed the Germans as liberators in 1941 (most changed their mind soon after, but that's another story).

History is written by victors. After the war, Stalin's crimes were hushed up (even today, most people think that he killed fewer people than Hitler), and only the Nazi crimes were revealed in totality. It created an imbalance, a false sense of reality. The word "collaboration", when applied to Nazi sympatizers, have aquired a needlessly demonic dimension. In reality, the so-called "Nazi collaborators", from their point of view, were simply fighting the greatest evil they knew - Stalinist Communism.

beatroot said...

I agree, Sonia.

But what made Poland different was that a) it had the largest population of Jews in Europe b) it was the only occupied nation that did not have a government that capitulated - formal collaboration - Poles never surrendered c) Poland was the only occupied country where helping Jews meant an automatic death sentence...

gumish said...

Sonia - the terrible acts - rapes, murderers etc - performed on German civilians happened mostly just after the soviets went into the pre-war German territory. There were nearly no Poles there not counting those forced labourers. Halfway into 1946 the Soviets were still keeping authority over lands that later would be under Polish authority. Although there already was some Polish administration it was the Soviets who where in charge. And this is why Poles feel no guilt for not having helped the poor German civilians. Though it's true that many would feel little sympathy for them when the memory of German occupation was so fresh.

Anonymous said...

I have been to Auschwitz museum and it had been quite an experience. You might imagine!
For many younger visitors to that museum it is however a discovery that it was NOT Poles who were the guards, builders, inventors, founders, executioners in this factory of death. The too many simply understand that term "polish concentration camp" - so widely present in all sorts of publication - means that Poles are the ones who operated, created, invented Auschwitz. Now, this would be falsification, right?
How much guilt can we put onto Poles for the whole Holocoust tragedy is for another discussion.
polish stambler

beatroot said...

Poles had nothing to do with the Final Solution. If the Nazis hadn;t invaded then Poland would have gone on being the biggest home to Jews in Europe and, probably, having the highest numbers of anti-Semites as well.

But Polish anti-Semites were no different from other bigots at that time. But nazis were something quantitativly a different altogether.

sonia said...

Polish anti-Semites were no different from other bigots at that time. But nazis were something quantitativly a different altogether

It reminds me of an (in)famous banner widely used in anti-semitic demonstration in pre-war Poland: "Precz z Zydami, a Zydowki z nami" ("Jewish men out, Jewish girls can stay with us")...

It also reminds me that Gomulka, an anti-semitic Polish leader during the most serious official persecution of Jews in 1968 (when tens of thousands were loosing their jobs and forced to flee the country), had a Jewish wife...

beatroot said...

It's true. But you have to remember too that bigots can be particularly self deluding (Hitler!!).

And then there is the matter of what Jewishness is: is it an ethnic group? A religious group? A racial group? The communists took the thrid option. The leading anti-communist acitivists were all secular, ex-marxist Jews...

gumish said...

sonia - you forget to mention that 1968 events were caused by strugle for power within communist factions (and their leaders). There were many Jews in one of them and their rivals weakend the faction inspiring anti-semitism. Global events were used to support this as you probably know. Oh and you use the term persecution for the 1968 which is a bit misleading. Don't forget most Poles those days couldn't leave the country even if they could. Most who left then actually were better off thanks to leaving the country.

richardlith said...

To answer the question on whether Poles are a religious, ethnic or racial group. In all areas of the old Soviet Union, and maybe in Poland though I am not sure, Jews were officially a nation, (narod in Russian). This meant that all people who said they were Jews in the USSR had "Jew" written in the fifth entry in their passport (not only the Nazis did that). Therefore, I know that in Central and Eastern Europe, Jews are seen as a different nationality. A Jew can by Polish or Lithuanian or Russian by citizenship, but not by nationality.

Secondly, the media lazily uses the term "Polish concentration camp" in much the same way that the British media refers to the camps in the Channeel Islands as "British Concentration Camps." I would advocate that the media is calling them Polish because they are in Poland, not because they were Polish run. However, I agree that this can be seen as a slur on Poland, which as you rightly say saw no insitutional collaboratios with the Nazis and virtually none on a person level.

beatroot said...

Jew as a nationality is very common in this part of the world. Otherwise educated Poles still don;t get it...A Pole is a Pole becuase of something to do with history, or something and nothing to do with what's on a passport.

But religious Jews here always used to talk of the 'Jewish nation' before Israel.So we can'tr just blame the Poles.

leniuch102 said...

I dunno....its probably ok to call some or many Poles antisemitic...
but being more or less antisemitic doesn't mean one supports death camps for Jews or builds them or runs them.
Poland was the first country to fight nazis, before that Hitler just incorporated Austria and Czechoslovakia without one shot.
It is plain unfair to mislead people into thinking that Poles had anything to do with nazi death camps.
just my 2 zlotys... :-)

Jess Bell said...

Polish anti-Semites were no different from other bigots at that time. But nazis were something quantitativly a different altogether It reminds me of an (in)famous banner widely used in anti-semitic demonstration in pre-war Poland: "Precz z Zydami, a Zydowki z nami" ("Jewish men out, Jewish girls can stay with us")... It also reminds me that Gomulka, an anti-semitic Polish leader during the most serious official persecution of Jews in 1968 (when tens of thousands were loosing their jobs and forced to flee the country), had a Jewish wife...