Death Camps in Poland were not Polish – get your facts right!

New laws recently enacted by the Polish right-wing government, makes any statement that implicates Poland in atrocities committed by Nazi Germany on Polish soil, a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison. Censorship is a drastic step for any government to take; so why take such a step?

The answer to this is very simple; the Polish people are sick and tired of being lumped into the same basket as the Nazi’s. They simply want these atrocities identified as Nazi atrocities not as Polish atrocities. This sounds very simple, but there is a misconception that there was some Polish involvement in the Holocaust. This is often because  journalists and other writers do not refer the Holocaust in a responsible and accurate way.

The Polish people are fed up with the generalisation of being labelled as anti-Semitic, when they are nothing of the sort. They are also fed up with all the disinformation perpetrated, when journalists and other writers, negligently refer to ‘Polish Death Camps’ instead of the factually and grammatically correct ‘Nazi Death Camps situated in Poland’. This has caused great confusion among some.

The Poles, like other nations during the war had both sympathisers to the Nazi cause as well as a resistance movement to the Nazis. In general the Poles were fiercely anti-Nazi. The Polish resistance was also very active during the war and many brave Poles lost their lives resisting the occupation of the German forces.

The reality is that Poland had been invaded and because the Jewish population of Poland exceeded that of other European nations, six concentration camps were built on Polish soil by the Nazi’s but they were not run by the Polish people, they were run by the German forces. Germany had enacted laws, during their occupation, that made it a capital offence, to give any assistance, of any kind, to the Jewish people; a law ignored by many Poles who risked their lives on a daily basis to help these beleaguered people.

France had also been invaded by the Germans and whilst the French Vichy government actively rounded up Jewish people and handed them over to the Nazi’s this fact is glossed over by some writers. The Belgians and the Dutch acted in a similar manner, but only the Poles are singled out with sloppy writing. There was little if any Polish collaboration with the Nazi genocide of Jews and other minorities.

Inaccurate and irresponsible writing is not reserved for newspapers, magazines and the Internet alone, it also appears in text books used to teach history to children. In 2000, a Polish woman in England was disgusted to read, in a text book, issued to her child: ‘He [Hitler] now planned to wipe out all the Jews in Europe. There are many others who helped Hitler in this campaign of mass murder including Poles, Ukrainians, and those French who worked for the Nazis after France was invaded in 1940.’ This slapdash text infers that the French who worked for the Nazis helped their cause, whilst all of Poland and all of the Ukraine helped the Germans. When this was brought to the attention of the British Government, the publishers changed the text, but many of the old text books are still in circulation.

Another example is when President Obama, in 2012, referred in a speech to ‘Polish Death Camps’ forcing the White House to later issue a formal apology to Poland.

It is easy for anyone to say, that these errors are merely slips of the tongue, but for a proud people such as the Poles, enough is enough. It is high time that everyone used the correct terminology, and stopped accusing the Polish people, of something they did not do. It is not unreasonable to stand up for your rights and that is all the Polish people are doing. Perhaps the Polish Government have gone a little too far by censoring speech, but it is a direct result of the inaccuracies with which they have been forced to live.

All they are saying is get your facts straight, report them correctly and lay the blame at the correct feet. Surely it can’t be that difficult, can it?

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE