Friday, March 31, 2006

Renaming of Auschwitz

According to an article on the BBC website, the Polish government wants Auschwitz to be renamed so that the crimes committed there are associated with German Nazis, not Poland. The government recently submitted a request to UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), in which it asked that the name of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp be changed to "Former Nazi German Concentration Camp Auschwitz-Birkenau."

What prompted the request:
"Polish officials have become unsettled by media references to Auschwitz as a 'Polish concentration camp'.

German newspaper Der Spiegel this week called the camp 'Polish', prompting anger in Warsaw." — from the BBC article

The Polish government's reasoning:
"In the years after the war, the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was definitively associated with the criminal activities of the national socialist Nazi regime in Germany," Polish government spokesman Jan Kasprzyk told a Polish news agency.

"However, for the contemporary, younger generations, especially abroad, that association is not universal." — again, from the BBC article.

To begin with, I think it is silly to assume that, if Auschwitz is not renamed, we will all start blaming Poland for the deaths of Jews, Communists, homosexuals, etc. in Auschwitz. Auschwitz is sometimes called a Polish concentration camp because it is located in Poland. I doubt that anyone who knows anything about the Holocaust would interpret such references differently.

Furthermore, I have yet to meet someone who doesn't know about the prominent role (understatement) played by German Nazis during the Holocaust. It was a German government that began implementing anti-Semitic policies, it was a German government that decided that Jews and other minorites needed to be exterminated, and it was a German government that forced its policies on Poland. In short, it was Germany that invaded Poland, not the other way around. I find it hard to believe that people will suddenly begin forgetting that.

That said, it does not do to imply that German Nazis were the only ones at fault, and that those who didn't call themselves Nazis are blameless. To change the name of Auschwitz is, I think, to undermine the lesson that we are all capable of cruelty and hate, and that few in Europe were entirely blameless during WWII.

In summary, I think that the Polish government's worries are needless, and that changing the name will either make no difference at all, or imply that the Holocaust — and genocide in general — is a purely German affair.


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