June 27, 2007 / 2:53 PM / 11 years ago

Poland says U.N. to rename Auschwitz death camp

WARSAW (Reuters) - The United Nations has accepted Poland’s request to rename the Auschwitz death camp on its list of World Heritage sites to make clear it was run by Germans not Poles, the Polish government announced on Wednesday.

Poland's Minister of Culture Kazimierz Ujazdowski (L) attends a news conference with Israel's Ambassador to Poland David Peleg at the Ministry of Culture in Warsaw, June 27, 2007. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Auschwitz and the linked Birkenau camp in Poland would be known as “Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi German Concentration and Death Camp”, Culture Minister Kazimierz Ujazdowski told a news conference in Warsaw.

But a spokesman for the Paris-based U.N. education and culture arm UNESCO said he could not confirm the news. Last year, Poland announced prematurely that the change had been made.

“UNESCO has made a decision as a result of Poland’s request to change the name of Auschwitz Birkenau to reflect the historical truth,” Ujazdowski said, with the Israeli ambassador at his side. “This is a victory for truth”.

More than a million Jews from across Europe were killed by the Nazis in Auschwitz and Birkenau in occupied Poland during World War Two. Many Poles worry that the world is forgetting the camps were set up by the Germans.

Warsaw points to references to “Polish gas chambers” or the “Polish concentration camps” in world media as evidence Poles are wrongly portrayed as collaborators with the Nazis in killing Jews.

Last year, Poland formally asked UNESCO to change the camp’s name. Jewish organizations and Israel backed the plan after initial reservations. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has been meeting in New Zealand this week.

A visitor to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington walks past a mural of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in a 2007 photo. The United Nations has accepted Poland's request to rename the Auschwitz death camp on its list of World Heritage sites to make clear it was run by Germans not Poles, the Polish government announced on Wednesday. REUTERS/Jim Young

German forces occupying Poland set up Auschwitz in southern Poland in 1940 as a labor camp for Polish prisoners, gradually expanding it into a vast labor and death camp that became the centerpiece of their plans to kill all European Jews.

Between 1.2 and 1.5 million people died there, most of them Jews. Polish political prisoners, Soviet prisoners of war, Gypsies, homosexuals, people with disabilities and prisoners of conscience or religious faith were also killed.

Poland has long battled accusations by some Jewish and Western commentators that Poles were willing Nazi helpers during the war — accusations driven by documented incidents of Polish anti-Semitism and complicity in the Holocaust.

Poles argue that such cases were isolated and point out that 3 million of their ethnic kin perished during the bloody German occupation. Some were killed for trying to save their Jewish compatriots.

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