The UN agency UNESCO has agreed to a Polish government proposal to change the name of the Auschwitz death camp to one that makes it clear it was a German Nazi institution.
Warsaw had asked for the change because several foreign news organizations have referred to Nazi camps as ?Polish extermination camps,? suggesting Poland was behind them, according to the Dziennik newspaper.
UNESCO?s World Heritage Committee changed the name ?Auschwitz Concentration Camp? to ?Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi German Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945).?
The change came during UNESCO?s 31st session June 27 in New Zealand.
Poland?s Vice Minister of Culture Tomasz Merta asked for the change a year ago because of continuing misrepresentations of the camps? ownership in foreign news outlets.
News stories suggesting that Auschwitz was a Polish operation have appeared in the German publications ?Die Tageszeitung? and ?Der Spiegel,? Italy?s newspaper Corriere della Sera and television network RAI3, Canada?s Calgary Herald newspaper and, only two months ago, the Slovakin daily Hospodarskie noviny.
The Slovakian account referred to the ?Polish concentration camp in Oswiecim-Brzezinka.?
All over the world, Auschwitz has become a symbol of terror, genocide and the Holocaust.
The Nazis set it up in the suburbs of Oswiecim — which in German is Auschwitz ? when they occupied Poland.
Auschwitz, 50 kilometers west of Krakow, was the largest Nazi concentration and extermination camp.
The first Polish political prisoners arrived there on June 14, 1940.
Initially, Auschwitz was just another forced-labor camp of the type that the Nazis had been setting up since the early 1930s. Beginning in 1942, however, it also became a death camp.
It?s uncertain how many people were killed at Auschwitz because the Nazis destroyed a lot of records related to the camp.
The estimates ? which are in the millions — are based on the testimony of survivors and the German military and political defendants who were tried as war criminals at Nuremberg.
By changing the camp?s name, ?UNESCO has made a decision to reflect the historical truth,? Poland?s Minister of Culture Kazimierz Ujazdowski, said at a press conference in Warsaw. ?This is a victory for truth,? he emphasized.
Retired history Professor Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, 85, of Warsaw, who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau to become a politician and academic, said ?this is a very important decision from the point of view of historic morality, as well as showing what Auschwitz really was.?
Szewach Weiss, Israel?s former ambassador to Poland, said ?it?s good that the name was changed because it?s an affirmation that the designation Polish concentration camp is not only a lie but also an offense, a bestiality, a shame.?
Weiss said the name change was not just a Polish victory but also a victory for the whole world. ?It will help end the widespread ignorance about the Holocaust,? he said.
Weiss, now living in Israel, has also been a professor of sociology and political science at the University of Haifa.
Professor Bronislaw Geremek, a Polish member of the European Parliament, said the misrepresentation ?Polish camp? had cut deep into the Polish psyche. ?The new name mirrors very well what Auschwitz was,? he convicts.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau name change is likely to prompt news organizations from referring to other death camps as ?Polish.?
These include Treblinka and Sobibor, both on the Bug River on Poland?s eastern border, plus Majdanek, 4 kilometers from Lublin, eastern Poland?s biggest city. Majdanek was originally known as Konzentrationslager Lublin.
Because ?Auschwitz was the biggest camp, and the symbol of extinction,? the Ministry of Culture believes the name change will end misrepresentations of the nature of all the camps, ministry spokesman Jan Kasprzyk said.
Ministry officials think that ?when it gets into people?s minds that it is a German camp, they will not make a mistake when they write about other camps,? Kasprzyk said.
However, he added, if misrepresentations of the other camps occur, steps will be taken to get their names changed, too.
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