In June 2009 UNESCO’s word heritage committee agreed to Polish request the change the name of the previously referred to, “Auschwitz concentration camp” to “Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration Camp and Extermination camp (1939-1945.)” In light of the latter, this essay question will be exploring the apparent reasons for why Poland made this request and if the new title provides a more accurate representation of the history of KL Auschwitz. Apparent reason for changing the name of the site:
An early appearance in print of the term "Polish death camp" is 1944, in a Collier's article by the Polish resistance fighter Jan Karski titled "Polish Death Camp." Post-war uses of the term also include Jewish sources such as The Jewish Veteran magazine. The article states that "2000 Greek Jews repatriated from Polish death camps." A common explanation for the use of the phrase "Polish death camp" even amongst polish and Jewish sources, is that some of the infamous Nazi concentration "death" camps or extermination camps including Auschwitz, were built in occupied Poland. Opponents of these terms argue that they are inaccurate, as they may imply that the camps—located in Nazi-occupied Poland—might have been a responsibility of the Poles (i.e. Polish), when in fact they were designed, constructed and run by Nazi Germany and used to exterminate millions of Poles alongside Polish Jews, as well as Jews transported by the Nazis from across Europe. For example, The use of terms of this kind, explicitly mentioning "Poland" or "Polish", has been discouraged by the Polish government and the Polish diaspora organizations around the world since 1989. Specifically the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs monitors and catalogues the use of the term and is involved in the actions asking for correction and apology. In 2005, the Polish Foreign Minister Adam Daniel Rotfeld suggested that there are instances of "bad will, saying that under the pretext that “it’s only a geographic reference”, attempts are made to distort history and conceal the truth." Adding adjective "Polish" when referring to concentration camps or ghettos located in occupied Poland, or to the world Holocaust in general, can suggest, often unintentionally and always counter factually, that the atrocities in question were perpetrated by the Poles, or that the Poles were active participants in the Nazi rule of Poland during World War II. It is arguably clear then, that polish authorities on behalf of the community, may have requested the change in title, in order to remove any sense of intentional or unintentional misrepresentation regarding who carried out the atrocities at Auschwitz as part of the Nazi regime. Does the new title provide a more accurate representation of the history of KL Auschwitz? There are perhaps three elements to the new title that could provide a more accurate representation of the history of KL Auschwitz. Firstly, the new title seems to pin point exactly who the site was created by and was operated under. As a result, it is less likely that Poland are somehow regarded as accountable for what took place under the Nazi regime at KL Auschwitz because of its geographical location in what was Nazi occupied Poland. However It may also be noted that the referral to “German Nazi” supplies perhaps further historical accuracy on the subject of responsibility. Although it is now clear from the new title that ultimately the holocaust and Auschwitz as part of it, was not due to polish involvement, it also arguably defends perhaps, modern day Germans who are not part of any Nazi regime. By referring to “German Nazi” as a pose to simply “German” it is arguably reminded that Germany is no longer a Nazi state. Despite the relatively small group of “neo-Nazi’s existing in Germany. Therefore, “Germans” in general in the present day (except perhaps for perpetrators still alive) cannot be held accountable for what took place at Auschwitz. The latter is perhaps reflected by scholar Gilad Margalit, who within his work, refers to the language of one particular German pilgrim who discusses the need for a sense of “atonement” and an understanding the guilt that had been placed upon German generations to come as they seem to identify a sense of “collective responsibility” for something that they ultimately did not do themselves. Providing the dates in which Auschwitz operated could perhaps provide historical accuracy regarding Auschwitz and its history. Not only does providing a date enable understanding of when Auschwitz first operated, it arguably also reminds that the Nazi operations at Auschwitz were ultimately put to an end after defeat at the end of the war. The previous title without the addition of dating, could perhaps have created the illusion for a person yet to fully understand the holocaust, (a young person perhaps) that somehow the “Auschwitz contraction camp” was still in operation, causing further potential for inaccurate historical representation. The new title is perhaps more accurate not only because it prevents historical inaccuracy regarding responsibility for what took place. The fact that the site is referred to as both a concentration and extermination camp, perhaps provides further historical accuracy. The latter is supported when considering that the title “Auschwitz concentration camp” could provide support to holocaust deniers who refer to the site as just a labour camp and not a death camp. For example, www.rense.com supplies a page entitled, “let’s stop the holocaust lies.” It refers to the site as not the “alleged Nazi death camp,” but merely a “work camp” were prisoners “could relax in the shade” after working and have their children looked after while they worked. The fact that the previous title only referred to a concentration camp, (suggesting only forced labour rather than mass murder) arguably allows for potential historical inaccuracy in the form of denial. The revised title perhaps provides further historical accuracy in this sense, in that it now refers to “Auschwitz-Birkenau” rather than just “Auschwitz.” Again perhaps, stressing the importance of Auschwitz as an extermination camp rather than just a labour camp. Conclusion:
As a result of exploration into this essay question, it is clear that renaming KL Auschwitz has been carried out with the concern for inaccurate historical misrepresentation regarding who was responsible for the atrocities which took place at the site. However, the change arguably discourages further historical inaccuracy as well as ensuring that Poland are not seen in any way accountable for KL Auschwitz and what took there. As well as the protection given to polish identity, I also understand that the new title also protects the present day German identity, in reminding that German people in general today, cannot be blamed for the holocaust. Further accurate historical representation is supplied through the apparent differentiation between general Germanic population and the Nazi German population responsible for the holocaust. The multifunctional aspect of KL Auschwitz is also emphasised through referring to Auschwitz-Birkenau which includes both the labour and killing complexes of the site. This in some cases seems to also counteract Holocaust denial claims and provide perhaps a sense of “truth” to the events which took place at the site historically. Supplying accurate dating of when KL Auschwitz was in operation not only prevents confusion over when Auschwitz operated but also highlights the fact that it and the rest of the components used at the height of Nazi regime are no longer in operation. As a result, I can confidently state that the new title given to KL Auschwitz goes a long way in ensuring an accurate representation of the history of KL Auschwitz.