JUSTICE - No. 68

31 Summer 2022 the fate of the Poles to the desired “Jewish” level. Willful and deliberate confusing of concentration camps with death camps is one of the preferred methods employed by Holocaust distortionists. It is not an accident that, as mentioned above, close to 50% of Poles queried today associate Auschwitz primarily with Polish suffering, thus transforming this symbol of Holocaust into a Polish lieu de memoire. While most of us know what Auschwitz was, not all are aware of the duality of the camp: Auschwitz I (the so-called “main camp”) was a concentration camp where tens of thousands were killed. Auschwitz II Birkenau, located nearby, was an extermination camp where 1.1 million Jews perished. Auschwitz II Birkenau, unlike Auschwitz I, had only one purpose: to kill its inmates, which meant to kill the Jews. Back in 2006, when Poland was still a democratic country, June 14 of each year was declared a National Day of Commemoration of the Victims of German-Nazi Concentration Camps and Death Camps. The day was chosen to commemorate the arrival at Auschwitz I, in 1940, of the first transport of prisoners, most of whom – as the authorities stress strongly – were ethnic Poles. During an acrimonious debate about Polish victimhood during WW II, the Auschwitz Museum published the following statement: “One can assume that more Poles have been killed in Auschwitz II than in Auschwitz I. Birkenau has been the largest part of Auschwitz and many prisoners selected in Auschwitz I camp hospital were also murdered in gas chambers at Birkenau.”12 It is possible that the statement is true: in some cases, Poles (together with Roma and the Soviet POWs) were murdered in gas chambers. Nevertheless, it is not historical accuracy that is at stake, but a crass attempt at “claiming” gas chambers for the purpose of Polish martyrdom. This “domestication” of Auschwitz, and its gradual transformation into a Polish memory site, allowed the former PM Beata Szydło to deliver a long speech inside the camp in which the offending word “Jew” was pronounced only once: in the context of Poles rescuing Jews.13 Earlier this year, Poland’s President, Andrzej Duda, delivered a speech in Auschwitz during the annual March of the Living in which he placed antisemitism and antipolonism on an equal footing. Thus, the history of the Holocaust has become a “useable” history, to quote the expression coined by Yehuda Bauer. This conquest of memory goes hand in hand with the conquest of space. In 2018, then PM Beata Szydło requested that a museum of “Righteous Poles” be built in Auschwitz. In May 2022, the museum (Remembrance Museum of the Land of Oświęcim) was opened to the public. In the same vein, the former Warsaw ghetto has been covered with so many visible markers of Polish virtue (“Roundabout of the Righteous,” Irena Sendler ’s Path, Park of the Righteous, Jan Karski Bench, Monument of Poles Rescuing Jews, and the list goes on), making one of the last areas of Jewish memory in Poland a hostage of Polish memorial wars. In 2012, a monument was erected on the site of the former concentration camp in Płaszów, close to Kraków, a place immortalized in “Schindler ’s List.” Płaszów is a Jewish memory site, a place where ten thousand Jews were put to death. The monument erected in the camp in 2012 is devoted to the memory of several officers of the Polish collaborationist “Blue” policemen who were executed by the Germans for their involvement with the patriotic underground. The Polish “Blue” police were one of the most important forces charged with the enforcement of Nazi anti-Jewish regulations, and its officers were directly responsible for uncounted thousands of Jewish deaths. The Polish “Blue” police officers executed by the Germans could have been commemorated at several different locations, in and around Kraków. The unveiling of the monument right in the middle of a Jewish memorial site, however, reclaimed the place for the needs of Polish history policy. It allowed Płaszów to become part of the “useable” past. Treblinka death camp, the site of death of 900,000 Jews, has also become a target of Holocaust distortionists. Like Auchwitz I and II, there were also two camps in Treblinka. Treblinka I was a labor camp created by the Germans in 1941, a place where thousands of inmates (Poles and Jews) died. Treblinka II was an extermination camp or, to quote Franz Suchomel, an SS-man in charge of Treblinka work details: “a primitive but efficient factory line of death for Jews.” Blending the history of Treblinka I and II into an account of common Polish and Jewish fate allows for the development of a new narrative of Holocaust distortion. Here too, the conquest of memory goes hand in hand with the conquest of space. In November 2021, the Pilecki Institute, one more institution of the Polish state active on the “memorial” scene, unveiled a monument at the site of the former railway station in Treblinka. The 12. Auschwitz Museum statement published on Twitter, Aug. 17, 2021. 13. Wiez, “Misją Beaty Szydło będzie upolszczenie Auschwitz” [Szydlo’s Mission Will Be to Polonize Auschwitz], WIEZ, Apr. 14, 2021, available at https://wiez.pl/2021/04/14/ misja-beaty-szydlo-bedzie-upolszczenie-auschwitz/

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