Opinion |

Auschwitz Memorial: We Have No 'Nationalist Bias' Pushing Us to Downplay Jews' Suffering in the Holocaust

We keep far away from political disputes: Our visitors are presented with the fate of all groups of Auschwitz victims – including, but not exclusively, Jews

Bartosz Bartyzel
Bartosz Bartyzel
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January 27, 1945, just after the liberation of the Oswiecim (Auschwitz) Nazi concentration camp by the Soviet army in January, 1945
January 27, 1945, just after the liberation of the Oswiecim (Auschwitz) Nazi concentration camp by the Soviet army in January, 1945Credit: AP
Bartosz Bartyzel
Bartosz Bartyzel

The recent article in Haaretz by Maya Vinokour (90% of Polish Jews Died in the Holocaust. So Why Are Poland's Nationalists Chanting 'Get the Jews Out of Power'?) presents a totally false image of educational activities at the Auschwitz Memorial, and thus, unfortunately, its content is detrimental to all the work connected with commemoration, and harms the people who spend every day trying to share the complicated history of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp with visitors.

The author’s mistake consists of a misunderstanding of one basic fact: the Auschwitz Memorial is not a museum about the entire Second World War, nor of the entire Shoah or, more broadly, genocide in the 20th century.

The work of the Auschwitz Memorial educators and their narration are concentrated on the tragedy of all Auschwitz-Birkenau victims: Jews, Poles, Sinti and Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and others. Their task is also to explain the special character of the tragedy of the Shoah in the authentic space of the former camp.

Holocaust survivors walk through the main gate of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, marking the 71st anniversary of its liberation by the Soviet Red Army in 1945. Jan. 27, 2016Credit: AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski

It is necessary to emphasize that a visit to Auschwitz - where visitors find themselves face-to-face with the remnants of gas chambers and with thousands of artefacts left by the murdered, within the very areas and buildings to which survivors refer in their accounts - constitutes a different experience than a visit to any other museum devoted to the subject of the Shoah. For this reason, it is inappropriate to compare the methodology of guiding visitors in Auschwitz to other sites.

In her article the author writes: "Yet instead of impartially describing what happened at Auschwitz, tours drift into nationalistic bias."

This is a lie. The author formulates the thesis without presenting any example of this "drift into nationalistic bias" and without making any attempt to contact the Museum in order to verify her statement. If she had done this, she would have learnt that the guides’ narrative during a visit at the Auschwitz Memorial has not been subjected to any changes in recent years.

During a visit, the fate of all groups of Auschwitz victims is presented. The last major change, introduced many years ago, consisted in highlighting the function of the camp as a centre of extermination for the Jews more prominently, to those who are being guided through the premises of the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp.

Auschwitz death camp survivor Jacek Nadolny, 77, who was registered with camp number 192685, holds up a wartime photo of his family, as he poses for a portrait in Warsaw. January 7, 2015Credit: REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Ms Vinokour would also have learnt that our educators’ narration concentrates on the subject of Auschwitz, and does not extend to the entire history of the Second World War and the Shoah, and this has been fully accepted for many years by the International Auschwitz Council.

The Council gathers experts from all over the world, connected (amongst others) with Yad Vashem, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Fondation pour la Memoire de la Shoah, the World Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the Documentation and Culture Centre of German Sinti and Roma as well as different research and academic centres. Moreover, the opinion of former Auschwitz prisoners, members of the Council, is also invaluable in such matters.

Indeed, over two decades ago, during a session of the International Auschwitz Council, a rule was adopted to keep the history and memory of Auschwitz far away from any political disputes.

Protesters in Warsaw carry Polish flags and National Radical Camp flags (an anti-Semitic group founded before World War II on extreme nationalist values) during a far-right rally. Nov 11, 2017Credit: AGENCJA GAZETA/REUTERS

At that time among members of the Council were such authorities as Israel Gutman, Wadysaw Bartoszewski, Noah Flug, Kalman Sultanik, Miles Lerman and many other survivors, who, after the collapse of Communism, became involved in the mission of creating the objective image of the tragedy of Auschwitz-Birkenau’s victims.

During the last session of the IAC, which was held on November 13th, the members of the IAC adopted the following resolution:

"The International Auschwitz Council observes with great anxiety the revival of racist and anti-Semitic attitudes as well as the intrusion of hatred and aggressive nationalism into the public space. Having learnt the history of Auschwitz-Birkenau, there is no doubt where it can lead. That is why we call upon European governments to react firmly and undertake efficient measures to prevent this."

Bartosz Bartyzel is the spokesman of the Auschwitz Memorial

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