Polish Londoner

These are the thoughts and moods of a born Londoner who is proud of his Polish roots.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

No more "Polish" Concentration Camps!

Like many people of Polish origin I get very irritated when lazy journalists describe the notorious death camps in Poland, such as Auschwitz or Treblinka, as simply "Polish". he lazy unfeeling bastards! These camps are no more "Polish" than Hadrian's Wall is British just because it is in Britain. Do British POWs who survived those horrific camps in Burma describe them as "Burmese"? No brainer. Of course not. They are righfully described as "Japanese". And exactly for that reason camps like Auschwitz should be descibed as "German" or "German Nazi". Certainly not "Polish".

It's funny how it is no longer PC to say something critical about the Germans these days. Here is a recent article in the Daily Star. It's a lovely touching story:

Mother and newborn baby were about to be sent to Auschwitz. There was surely no hope, no escape.
Once they arrived at the Polish death camp, tiny Agnes Grunwald would have been torn from her mother Leona's arms and thrown into the fires.

But the terrified young woman and her daughter were not herded onto trains waiting to transport yet more Hungarian Jews to their deaths. That day, the guard ordered all mothers accompanied by children back to their Budapest homes.

Why they survived the Holocaust when six million others didn't, Agnes, now 66 and a Sheffield JP, will never know. What motivated that soldier to leniency she can only guess.

"I have no means of knowing who he was, what his motives were, or his fate. It may have been an act of kindness; he may simply have been obeying an order from on high, set for an entirely logical, rather than sentimental, reason.

"But it is chilling to think that for his actions, I would have been murdered before I was aware of life," says Agnes.

A mother of three sons and a grandmother thanks to the actions of that unknown guard, she is now the author of a new book charting other amazing stories of survival against the odds.

The Other Schindlers: Why some People Chose To Save Jews In The Holocaust is not a harrowing account of the atrocities, however.

Conversely, it is an uplifting collection of memories from rescuers and rescued, which lift the soul and send a chill of emotion the length of your spine.

It tells of 30 brave and courageous non-Jews from around the globe who risked their own lives to save those of others from Nazi persecution during World War Two.

"The actions of the Holocaust rescuers are truly one of the lights in that great darkness," says Agnes, a trustee of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.

But a book wasn't her initial aim; it began as a personal quest for knowledge to pass down the family line which had so nearly been extinguished in the autumn of 1944.

"Most survivors of the Holocaust don't talk about it. People had horrible experiences; things they want to forget. But this leaves a gap of knowledge with the next generation. It had in mine," she says."

Aerial photograph of Auschwitz-Birkenau

We hear the word "Polish" in this article and references to "Budapest" but where is there any mention of Germans?

Or consider this article. From the Exmouth Journal:

STUDENTS at Exmouth Community College have been listening to harrowing stories associated to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Caitlin Wilson and Ellie Rivers, both post 16 students, visited the Polish camp recently as part of an educational project based on fighting prejudice and discrimination.
The girls delivered a presentation at the college about what they had learnt during the trip.
Auschwitz was the scene where more than a million men, women and children, were murdered during World War II. The site is now a museum.
The school has held a number of Auschwitz-themed events this academic year.
Earlier this term, year 10 art students got the chance to talk to an artist, Vincent Ryszka, whose family owned the land that Auschwitz was built on.
Terri Cooke, the college's head of art, said: "He told students about the death camp and how conditions were so awful prisoners committed suicide by throwing themselves on the electric perimeter wire at night.
"Vincent's father and a friend tried this, and the guards threw a grenade at them. It ripped a limb off the friend as well as blowing a hole in the fence. They escaped through into the woods and joined the resistance.
"These tales have influenced Vincent's artwork and students were encouraged to work from their experiences and passions to create expressive images."

Again a good local story. The camp is described as "Polish". But who organised the camp and massacred the prisoners? Mum's the word! I have nothing against modern Germany - in many ways a model of civilisation and democracy. But historical truth is historical truth.
The Polish Media group run by Jan Niechwiadowicz have spent several harrowing obsessive years monitoring and seeking corrections on so-called "Polish" concentration camps in the British media. Some newspapers agree to print corrections and amend their websites, others treat these interventions with contempt. They either respond by mocking the earnest letter writer, but mainly they just ignore them.
Today the Labour Friends of Poland (in fact 4 MPs - Alan Whitehead, Steve Pound, Andrew Slaughter and Denis MacShane) have brought together some of the Polish Media Group's examples and sent an angry statement about this to the Press Complaints Commission.
It is about time the PCC pulled their finger out on this as these press aberrations are in breach of paragraph 1. i/ of the PCC's Editor's Code of Practice concerning inaccuracy in reporting. If the Ontario Press Council and the Australian Press Board can make statements criticising the misuse of the word "Polish" in relation to extermination camps, then why not the PCC?
Let us hope that Poland's friends in the Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties make similar appeals. It is about time the PCC advised the British press to reform their ways.


  1. Let's not forget the British death camps on Alderney.

    More seriously, this is about lazy, sloppy sub-editing (rather than reporting). The sub-editor sitting at his or her desk has to cut the story by 150 words (say). The camp is in Poland, hence adjective 'Polish' to describe it rather than 'Nazi German' or 'in Nazi-occupied Poland'.

    This is a point to make to the curators of house-style guides that all good newspapers should have.

  2. I quite agree Michael. Those sub-editors are a menace.
    Incidentally, we have an interesting new development.
    The PCC has reacted with exceptional alacrity and have agreed to pursue the issue with 3 of the examples on the LBF list. These concern the South Yorkshire Star, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mirror. Watch this space.

  3. Wiktor it is good to hear they are taking some action. Still the PCC have in the past assisted individual members of the Polonia with getting corrections. However when I pressed for more than one issue in a paper, they ruled against it being an issue as you know. I assume what they are doing here is the former, i.e. a way they think to get the MPs off their back, rather than a form decision which would be enforceable in all future cases.

    From the PCC decision in the case against by me against the Independent:

    The complainant had referred to several instances in which the Commission had negotiated the removal or correction of references to “Polish death camps” or similar phrases in the past. The Commission is well aware of the potential for controversy in articles on this subject, but made clear that these alterations had been made at the discretion of the individual newspapers.

  4. Let's not forget that journalists and other media figures here in writing are very often insistent that the death camps were 'Polish', as in not occurring elsewhere. There is a whole cult of Poland suffering based on this idea, often rendering any discussion I might have on the subject with an educated Pole into 'well you don't know what it was like to suffer...' despite my best attempts to steer the issue in another direction.

    So, what chance do other journalists have if even here in Poland they cannot talk about the subject without due care?

    The above is scary because as a foreigner in Poland I have little right to any opinion, all newspapers even using words for 'Poles' for anything involving people living in Poland, as do the government, many adverts etc. So, don't just hound the British press, hound the Polish press and the Polish government to give us foreigners the right to be included.

  5. No Polish concentration camps? Remind me what happened to Majdanek, Jaworzno, Zgoda and Łambinowice camps. And let's not go into the Bereza Kartuska topic.

  6. First, as someone with International Relations training you should know better. The reference to "German", as a means of smearing the Germans is also not reasonable. The existence of these camps as killing grounds was NOT done in the view of the German public either, and Hitler did NOT ask their permission as he had gone 'extra-constitutional' and removed the Weimar civil rights of the German with the Enabling Act.

    Seond, I wonder if it would be acceptable to you for me to refer to the Polish MBP (early security service after WWII) use of the same 35 camps (Bytom, etc.) for killing of tens of thousands of Germans during the expulsion period, by good Poles like Shlomo Morel, for example. I take it that you are satisfied to have the horrible crimes of the Bieruk administration -- including those in Auschwitz --brought out into the open so we can discuss the Polish MBP use of those facilities?

    (And I really don't need to hear that that was all just NKVD, because I know that to be utterly incorrect.)

  7. My wife and I are Northern Ireland Protestants and visited Auschwitz to pay our respects. Also whilst in Milan we visited the Jewish deportation railway station and left flowers. My late mother had a Jewish neighbour who was the first person to go to in times of trouble. So sorry the Jewish community suffered so much during the War at the hands of the Germans.