Officials at the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial and museum have described how they were subjected to a wave of “hate, fake news and manipulations” as a result of the controversy surrounding a contentious Holocaust speech law passed by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party earlier this year.
The campaign of disinformation and abuse at the hands of Polish nationalists has raised concerns about pressure being exerted on official guides at the site in southern Poland, after the home of one foreign guide was attacked and supporters of a convicted antisemite filmed themselves repeatedly hectoring their guide during a visit to the camp in March.
Conceived in part as a means to prevent facilities established by Poland’s German occupiers from being described as “Polish death camps”, the legislation, which criminalises the false attribution to the Polish state or nation of complicity in the crimes committed by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust, prompted a furious reaction in Israel and elsewhere amid concerns it could be used to restrict open discussion of Poland’s wartime history.
This in turn provoked an angry backlash from nationalist and pro-government media in Poland, many of whom accused the museum – which administers the site, conducts historical research, and trains and licenses official guides – of deliberately downplaying the fate of the approximately 74,000 non-Jewish Polish prisoners who perished in the camp, by focusing exclusively on its Jewish victims.
The brother of the museum’s director published an emotional message on Facebook in March decrying the “50 days of incessant hatred” directed at his brother, Piotr Cywiński. “For 12 long years he’s worked in one of the most terrible places in the world, in an office with a view of gallows and a crematorium,” he wrote. “Dozens of articles on dodgy websites, hundreds of Twitter accounts, thousands of similar tweets, profanities, memes, threats, slanders, denunciations. It’s enough to make you sick.”
My report from Auschwitz for the Guardian can be found here.