This week, I got into a Twitter war with Auschwitz. Yes, really. I sparred with @AuschwitzMuseum, the official Twitter account for the memorial at the concentration camp in which my grandmother was once an inmate, which ended in them blocking me.
For months now, Auschwitz Museum’s Twitter account has promoted a narrative that Polish non-Jews were in no way complicit in the Holocaust.
It frequently challenges tweets that note that Polish anti-Semitism predated and contributed to the atrocities, and pushes the line that indigenous Polish anti-Semitism has no relevance to Auschwitz: "Talking about complicity between the occupiers and local civilian population in the history of Auschwitz is false."
This behavior is in accordance with a law passed early last year in Poland, and amended (with the Israeli government’s blessing) in June 2018 that made it illegal to claim Poland was complicit in the Holocaust. It is an attempt, in particular, to prevent people saying that the Nazi death camps located in then-Nazi occupied Poland were Polish concentration camps.
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I reached my boiling point when the account criticized an article from The Jewish Voice entitled "Auschwitz-Birkenau & Its Polish Roots." The piece examines how the new law is part of a wider attempt by the Polish government to relinquish any responsibility for how local anti-Semitism contributed to the murder of 90% of Poland’s Jews.
"The title is not only false & ahistorical. It's disrespectful to the memory of all the victims of Auschwitz: Jews, Poles, Roma, Soviets & others," Auschwitz Museum tweeted. "Zero arguments show the dangerous bias & manipulative character of this editorial. Shame."
The Auschwitz Memorial is located in Poland, is a state-run organization, and is subject to its laws. Therefore it cannot acknowledge Polish national guilt for the Holocaust, which now, since the Holocaust Law's passing, seems to have be interpreted more generally as a refusal to acknowledge how Polish anti-Semitism contributed to violence against Jews during the Holocaust.
But the museum’s recent behavior is not related only to the constraints of Polish law. In this case, and others, it was attacking a Jewish media site and promoting a dangerous narrative, pushed by Polish nationalists, to expunge their record of anti-Semitism at a time when Jew-hatred is on the rise in the country.
"Polish anti-Semitism was a serious problem then and still is today," I fired back, in a comment to the Museum’s tweet, noting reports that the law has actually caused a spike in Jew-hatred in Poland. "Acknowledging it is acknowledging the Polish Jews in my family who were murdered. Don't you dare try to rewrite history."
"It's the matter of historical accuracy and facts. There are no 'Polish roots' within the history of Auschwitz," the account wrote.
But Auschwitz did not happen in a vacuum. The persecution of Polish Jews by their non-Jewish peers predated and outlives Nazi Germany. After WWI, Poland became a hub for nationalism, pogroms, and discriminatory laws against Jews. It was fertile ground for the Nazi slaughter.
However, Polish-Jewish historian Szymon Datner estimated Polish people directly caused the murder of 200,000 Jews during the Holocaust by handing them over to Nazis, informing authorities where they were hiding, and straight up murdering them. Datner, who himself survived the Holocaust, published the study in 1970. In 2019, doing so could be an offense.
In one Polish county, the Polish "Blue Police" slaughtered 115 Jews hiding from Nazis, reports scholar Jan Grabowski. According to his studies, two out of every three Jews who went to Polish gentiles begging for refuge were murdered.
"The people running the @AuschwitzMuseum are promoting a narrative that Polish anti-Semitism did not contribute to the Holocaust, erasing the reality that denying Polish complicity in violence against Jews contributes to anti-Semitism today," I declared to my meager 1,600 followers. Then, I was blocked.
This experience – of the naked politicization of Holocaust memory at the ground zero of Jewish extermination – has led me to fear the current political situation in Poland could compromise Auschwitz’s historical preservation. Could the Auschwitz Museum regress back to the spirit of the times of its founding by Polish parliamentary decree in 1947, when it was established as a "Monument to the Martyrology of the Polish Nation and other Nations," with Jews out of sight and mind?
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is a right-wing nationalist who has stated that Jews were also "perpetrators" of the Holocaust and has been accused of being a Holocaust denier.) He also has an unfortunate habit of complaining about "greedy Jews."
Morawiecki and his ruling Law and Justice party were instrumental in passing the Holocaust censorship law in the name of protecting Poland’s reputation. However, he didn’t seem to think personally marching with 200,000 white supremacists waving neo-Nazi symbols last November would be bad PR for Poland.
By refusing to critically reflect on their role in the Holocaust and instead clinging solely to the fact they were victims of Nazis, most Poles have never confronted their anti-Semitic past. Now, it's no surprise Jew-hatred has reemerged in their present.
How do we combat this? Through education. And where else but Auschwitz can we confront the tangible record of genocide, a place that teaches us about the Holocaust in a manner and closeness we can’t feel elsewhere?
Growing up with blonde hair and blue eyes, I always assumed my "Aryan features"” would have helped me survive the Holocaust. That kind of thinking allowed me to keep the atrocities at arm's length. It wasn’t until I visited Auschwitz, and saw a pile of hair shaved off the heads of prisoners, much of it just as blonde as mine, that I truly identified with the horrors my own family endured.
The Auschwitz Memorial does not just preserve a place where people died, it gives us the ability to let their stories live on in ourselves. It is a mass graveyard, and also a classroom for the world. That’s why we must challenge any and all attempts to subvert its integrity.
Response from the Auschwitz Memorial:
Ariel Sobel was blocked because she called the Auschwitz Memorial official account on Twitter "a propaganda tool" and accused the Auschwitz Memorial of "rewriting history." This is not true. It is also not true that she was blocked for any other reason.
Such accusations are highly disrespectful to hundreds of people who work at the Auschwitz Memorial and dedicate their lives to preserve the memory of all the victims of the German Nazi camp: Jews, Poles, Roma and Sinti, Soviet POWs and other groups.
Most users are blocked because of Holocaust denial or anti-Semitic comments. These tweets are also reported by us. If we see accounts that use Nazi symbols they are reported and blocked as well. However there are also cases when people disrespect the memory of the victims, or are disrespectful to the Auschwitz Memorial and its staff, or are simply rude and vulgar. In such cases we also react.
Spokesman, Auschwitz Memorial