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The Anti-Defamation League is urging UNESCO to change the official name of Auschwitz-Birkenau to reflect its German connection, at the behest of Poland.
The ADL has written to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to push for the World Heritage site registry to list the concentration camp as the "Former Nazi German Extermination Camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau."
The move raised eyebrows among some who work on anti-Semitism and Holocaust issues.
"The ADL should be trying to convince the Poles to increase their prosecution of Nazi war criminals," charged Efraim Zuroff, Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. "This basically takes them off the hook because, if they can get this kind of support without doing what they should be doing - which is politically difficult - they won't do it."
Zuroff noted, however, that the clarification of the German role in the camps placed in Poland was appropriate, as did Robert Wistrich, who heads the Hebrew University's Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism.
"It's a legitimate point in terms of historical precision," Wistrich said. "But equally one wants to make sure that Poland does not use this for some political or other purposes," he continued, pointing to past tendencies for the country to present itself as a "martyred, heroic nation" during World War II.
"I don't see why American Jewish organizations," he said, "need to go out on a limb for that."
ADL National Director Abraham Foxman explained his organization's stance as "a correction of history" on a point of importance to Poland. "If we can't be fair, how can we ask other people to be fair? How can we ask other people to be sympathetic?"
Though Zuroff expressed understanding for "the Polish sensitivities on this issue," he suggested the ADL's action stemmed from other consideration.
"It's strange to me, especially because the ADL is hardly involved in Eastern Europe. This strikes me more as help for an American ally and a country that has been positive on a host of Middle East [issues]."
Foxman dismissed any wider political motives and stressed that organization's role in the Auschwitz re-designation should "not be taken out of context."
Polish government spokesman Jan Kasprzyk explained his government's recent request to a Polish news agency.
"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," he was quoted as saying. "However, for the contemporary, younger generations, especially abroad, that association is not universal."
Foxman said the key issues when it comes to Poland are whether they are "dealing honestly" with their past and anti-Semitism.
Wistrich commended Poland for making strides in acknowledging its past, particularly on the official level, but said that "one can question how far this has percolated down to all levels of Polish society."
Zuroff, however, said that Poland had "definitely not" adequately addressed its role in the Holocaust, which he said was indicated in part by fierce opposition from some quarters to his organization's attempts to identify and try Poles for war crimes.
"They weren't responsible for Auschwitz, that's a fact. [But] they were responsible for other crimes," Zuroff said. The effort to have Auschwitz renamed "is a way of trying to distance themselves from Holocaust criminality in general."
But Foxman rejected the assertion.
"Poland doesn't have a Holocaust past. Germany has a Holocaust past. Poland was a site. There were Polish collaborators, but there were Hungarian collaborators, Ukrainian collaborators" and others, he said. "There is no reason we should not accommodate their request... I think it's the right thing to do."