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German publishers urged to clean up act over 'Polish death camp' references

PR dla Zagranicy
Victoria Bieniek 29.05.2017 10:30
A group of Polish and German historians and geographers has appealed to German publishers to remove “unacceptable” references to “Polish death camps” from school textbooks.
Photo: Pexels.comPhoto: Pexels.com

The group, known as the Joint Polish-German Textbook Commission, has issued a statement to say that the phrase “Polish concentration/death camps” used in “German media and school textbooks” in reference to German Nazi concentration, labour and extermination camps in occupied Poland during World War II “is a false and unacceptable term” that should be eliminated from historical discourse.

Poland was under German occupation from 1939 to 1945 and there were only German Nazi – and not “Polish” – concentration, labour and extermination camps, said the commission, which was set up in 1972 under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

The commission called on German textbook publishers to correct any misleading wording and provide school students and teachers with “additional materials” to set the record straight over “German occupation policy in Poland and throughout Eastern Europe during World War II”.

The commission, co-chaired by Robert Traba on the Polish side and Hans-Juergen Boemelburg on the German side, also appealed to German history teachers and historians to “counteract errors leading to false interpretations of history.”

'Limited capacity to act'

Deutsche Welle discussed the issue with Krzysztof Ruchniewicz, a historian specialising in Polish-German relations. The German broadcaster pointed out that the term “Polish camps” has been used in one German textbook since 2009, but this particular incident has only just surfaced.

“The Textbook Commission has limited capacity to act,” Ruchniewicz said. “It is a Polish-German team composed of experts who deal with school issues and textbooks, and can express its position only in the form of ‘recommendations’. … But apart from issuing further recommendations, the commission has no other option – it has never had – to directly influence the content of school textbooks. This is the responsibility of the publishers or the authors themselves.”

Ruchniewicz added that in Germany, “almost all attention to Nazi genocide is focused on the extermination of German and European Jews”. He said that less attention “is paid to other victims, including Poles.”

Deutsche Welle said that the statement in the textbook was first brought to light by a Polish man whose son was studying for the Arbitur exams, the equivalent of the UK’s A-levels.

Ruchniewicz said that the student noticed the statement because of his German-Polish upbringing.

He added that another problem “that is still emerging is the issue of multinational classes in German schools”.

“You can say that we have a whole spectrum of different nationalities in classes. Teachers who pass on this kind of knowledge to pupils have a great responsibility to... pay attention to these issues.”

Earlier in May, the Polish embassy in Berlin said it would examine German textbooks for historically inaccurate terms suggesting a Polish role in the Nazi German genocide during World War II.

The announcement followed reports that a German history textbook contained a misleading reference to “Polish” camps when referring to wartime German Nazi concentration and death camps in occupied Poland.

Polish diplomats responded by posting a video on Twitter entitled “Words Matter - German Nazi Camps” and aiming to tell the “truth about German Nazi camps.”

A nongovernmental organisation called the Polish League Against Defamation has also announced steps to stamp out the use of terms suggesting Polish responsibility for German Nazi crimes.

The use of the term “Polish concentration camp” by international media outlets has sparked numerous complaints from Poland in recent years, prompting some news agencies to change their style guidelines.

In 2007, following a Polish request, the World Heritage Committee attempted to clarify the matter by listing the Auschwitz camp as a “German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp”. (str/pk/rg)

Source: PAP, Dziennik Gazeta Prawna

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