Warsaw stresses: Death camps in Poland were German

Following conviction of John Demjanjuk, Poland tells media not to describe the Nazi’s Sobibor extermination camp as a “Polish death camp.”

May 16, 2011 04:09
2 minute read.
Accused Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk

John Demjanjuk 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Lukas Barth/Pool)

NEW YORK – The consul-general of Poland in New York sent a letter to media organizations on Friday, in the wake of John Demjanjuk’s conviction, to tell the organizations not to describe the Nazi’s Sobibor extermination camp as a “Polish death camp.”

Such an appellation offends “millions of Polish people here in the United States and around the world,” Consul-General Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka wrote.

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The Ukraine-born John Demjanjuk was convicted in Munich on Thursday of complicity in the murder of more than 28,000 Jews while serving at Sobibor in German-occupied Poland.

“As inadequate and late in coming as today’s verdict is, it satisfies our common desire for justice to be meted out. However, I am unhappy with the insensitivity of those media outlets which, once again, have managed to offend millions of Polish people here in the United States and around the world, by repeating in their news reports the slanderous phrase ‘Polish death camp,’ while describing the Nazi death camp of Sobibor,” she wrote.

“Simply and unambiguously, there were no Polish concentration or death camps during WWII. All those terrible places of profound human tragedy were built, operated and administered by the German Nazis. The only death camps were German Nazi death camps, some of which were located in German-occupied Poland.

All references to Poland during the war should be said as ‘Nazi German-occupied Poland,’” Junczyk-Ziomecka said.

“The consul-general is expressing understandable frustration with an unfortunate practice,” David Marwell, director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage Museum in New York, which focuses on the Holocaust, said.

“Although the phrase ‘Polish Death Camp’ may simply be shorthand to describe location, there are many who wrongly conflate the geography of the camps with those who ran them. When it comes to such important issues, absolute clarity and accuracy are essential.”

Representatives of the Anti- Defamation League in New York agreed.

“The Anti-Defamation League has expressed full support for the efforts of the government of Poland to ensure that the official names of the death camps in Poland emphasize that the camps were built and operated by Nazi Germany,” Todd Gutnick, the ADL’s director of media relations and public information, said.

“For example, in 2006 the League wrote to the directorgeneral of UNESCO to ensure that the official name of the Auschwitz death camp, as recorded on UNESCO’s world heritage site registry, emphasizes that the camp was German and run by the Nazis.

“As an agency which prioritizes remembrance of the Holocaust, we share Poland’s concerns over the frequent description of the camps as ‘Polish,’” Gutnick said.

“Such a description implies that the camps were built in the name of the Polish people. This is manifestly not the truth.”

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