For heaven's sake, stop calling them 'Polish death camps'

The Auschwitz Museum has released an app with the aim to educate against phrases that would imply Polish responsibility for the Holocaust.

February 19, 2016 16:20
2 minute read.

'Polish death camps' controversy

'Polish death camps' controversy


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The Auschwitz Museum has released an app with the aim to educate against phrases that would imply Polish responsibility for the Holocaust.

One of the most common mistakes, made by publishers, media and once even in a speech by United States President Barack Obama, is using the sentence "Polish death camps."

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The app is a word processor plug-in which seeks out phrases regarding the Holocaust, underlines the incorrect phrase in red and offers suggestions to replace it.

Poland has long sought to eliminate the misleading phrase from historical and newspaper accounts since it suggests the country, which was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War Two, was responsible for Holocaust-era camps on its territory.

The Auschwitz Museum staff are responsible for preserving one of the key memorials to victims of the Holocaust and say they react to every attempt to blur history - which include denying the Holocaust, lowering the numbers of victims, and also the use of language that would distort responsibility for the crimes.

"[The] museum reacts at every case whenever we are informed, whenever someone informs or we find this case in television, media, radio, press. We inform, we try to contact the journalist and the editorial, we also use social media like Twitter, to give this information because we think that when you write about the history you should use the accurate language," museum press officer Pawel Sawicki, who promotes the new application, said.

The Nazis operated their most infamous death camps, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sobibor and Treblinka complexes, mostly in occupied Poland rather than in Germany.

Sawicki said that many who already know this will be able to distinguish fact from fiction, but others may be misled to believe that Poland was the culprit.

"We understand that maybe individuals who know history will not be interested in downloading such an app because they know history, but we want to encourage editorials, we want to encourage schools and institutions to install the app on their computers, so that people who work there wouldn't make such mistake. But the aspect of this project is also educational because of the YouTube video we created, because of whole media interest in this project more and more people will get the awareness that calling Auschwitz a Polish concentration camp is a historical mistake, is a manipulation of history and it [the project] promotes accurate language in writing about history," he said.

The phrase "Polish death camps" is usually found only in foreign publications, almost never in Poland itself.

Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro has gone one step further and announced his ministry is drawing up new regulations to legally punish use of the phrase "Polish death camps" when referring to wartime Nazi concentration camps on Polish soil.

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