WARSAW, Poland — The Auschwitz-Birkenau state museum has sharply denounced an article in the New Yorker that looks at Holocaust scholarship in Poland, accusing the magazine of publishing lies and distortions of Poland’s role during World War II.
The Auschwitz museum is located in southern Poland, which was under German occupation during the war. Today it is a Polish state institution that acts as the custodian of the remains of Nazi Germany’s most notorious death camp. It is known to denounce cases of Holocaust denial and revisionism.
It spoke out sharply on Saturday after the New Yorker on Friday published an article by Masha Gessen, which looks at the case of two Polish historians of the Holocaust who were recently found guilty by a Polish court of defaming a deceased wartime village official.
The key points of contention surround a subtitle that says: “To exonerate the nation of the murders of three million Jews, the Polish government will go as far as to prosecute scholars for defamation.” That idea is repeated in article’s text.
Some 3 million Polish Jews were killed during the Holocaust, but the vast majority were directly murdered by Adolf Hitler’s occupying Nazi forces in Poland. A Polish underground army resisted the Germans, and the Polish state, unlike other occupied nations, never collaborated.
The issue that is up for debate, however, surrounds the degree to which Poles either helped Jews, acted as bystanders or abetted the German killings in tens of thousands of cases of Jews who managed to escape the ghettos. It is a hugely sensitive issue in Poland, with the Poland’s nationalist authorities keen to stress Polish heroism and discourage explorations of Polish wrongdoing.
The New Yorker article’s claim that the Polish government prosecuted the scholars is not accurate. The government has made its distaste for the scholars clear. Yet the case was a civil suit brought by a right-wing group friendly with the government.
Piotr Cywinski, the director of the Auschwitz museum, said the New Yorker article “contains so many lies and distortions that I find it a bit hard to believe that it is a coincidence.”
“Furthermore, when it concerns the Holocaust, any distortion of historical truth is very dangerous. This applies to all forms of denial, revisionism and deformation of historical truth,” Cywinski said.
David Harris, the CEO of the American Jewish Congress, said Sunday that the article’s subtitle was “defamatory.”
“Germany — and Germany alone — was responsible for the Nazi death camps, from Auschwitz to Treblinka,” Harris wrote on Twitter, adding that “the infamous words at Auschwitz — ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (Work makes you free) — were written in German, not Polish. And that must never, ever, be forgotten.”