Auschwitz Museum Offers App to Halt Use of Term 'Polish' Death Camps

Called Remember, the application erases use of a term that implies Polish responsibility for Nazi crimes on the country's territory.

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Holocaust survivors walk through the main gate of the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, in Oswiecim, Poland, January 2016.
Holocaust survivors walking through the main gate of Auschwitz, January 2016. The UN now calls it Auschwitz-Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945).Credit: AP
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

After Poland called to punish those who use the term "Polish death camps" in reference to the wartime Nazi death camps on Polish soil, the museum at Auschwitz launched software that will help remove the term, which Poland says attributes responsibility for the Nazi crimes to the country.

On Tuesday, the website for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum unveiled the "Remember" software which helps replaces "Polish death camp" with "Nazi death camp."

"A special application 'Remember' is to help avoid the use of the term 'Polish concentration camps' or 'Polish death camps' in 16 languages. The program, which can be installed on a personal computer searches for a false phrase, underlines it and suggests the appropriate wording," the museum explained on its Facebook page.

"So many different media around the world still use the expression ‘Polish death camps’ or ‘Polish concentration camps’ when writing about German camps in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. This is a common but very painful mistake for Poles. Auschwitz Museum wants to stop this mistake from spreading and falsifying history."

The museum has also been seeking the help of members of the public in its effort, asking that websites that use the offending term be made aware of their mistake and of the existence of the new app. From the standpoint of the Auschwitz museum, the effort to halt use of the term "Polish extermination camps" is part of a larger attempt to address what it sees as a historic injustice.

But the Remember project comes just days after the controversial effort by Poland's new conservative right-wing government to impose penalties against those who use the offending turn of phrase. The details of the proposed change in the law have not been published, but in the past there have been attempts to subject offenders to five years in prison for those who use the phrase, as well as provisions to impose penalties on offending foreign journalists.

Last week Polish Justice Minister Ziobro said he would act to put a stop to "the lie" that the extermination camps and the gas chambers were Polish. From the standpoint of Polish officials, at minimum there is a desire that reference be changed to "extermination camps in occupied Poland."

Supporters of the position make reference, for example, to the fact that before Auschwitz was turned into the largest instrument of death directed at European Jewry, it was a detention camp for Polish prisoners. And in 2007, the United Nations officially changed its descriptive title of Auschwitz to "the Nazi concentration and extermination camp."

The battle over the choice of wording is part of a more general campaign being led by the conservative Polish government headed by Beata Szydlo of the Law and Justice Party that was elected in October. But the effort has generated criticism both within the country and abroad.

One of the components of the government's plan is the delegitimization of Polish-born American historian Jan Tomasz Gross, who in his acclaimed 2001 book "Neighbors," exposed the Polish role in the 1941 massacre of 1,600 Jews in town of Jedwabne.  The office of Polish President Andrej Duda, who is also from the Law and Justice party, has said it was considering stripping Gross of the Knight's Cross Medal of Honor that Gross received in 1996 for his opposition to the former Communist regime in the country. Duda is now awaiting the opinion of the Polish Foreign Ministry on the issue.

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