Poland’s fabricated death camp: Wikipedia’s longest hoax, exposed (& ‘Tattooist’ author slammed)

October 04, 2019

 

“The bravest person”: Cecilia (Cilka) Klein, above left, the Slovak Jewish woman who survived Auschwitz, only to be sent to a Soviet gulag, with husband Ivan, stepson George Kovach, his wife and child, in Budapest in 1984.

George Kovach has branded the novelist Heather Morris’s version of his stepmother’s story “appalling and extremely hurtful”. He urged people not to buy the new sequel (“Cilka’s Journey”) to her global bestseller “The Tattooist of Auschwitz,” and instead to read real Holocaust history, reports the British paper The Guardian today (article below).

The Tattooist of Auschwitz has already drawn stinging condemnation from the Auschwitz Memorial Museum, which issued a detailed report earlier this year on the book’s “numerous errors and misinformation”.

Kovach has hired lawyers to urge Morris’s American publishers to stop publication of the book that belittles and distorts his step-mother’s experience. At the very least, he is urging her publisher St Martin’s Press to make more clear that the work does not represent what actually happened and to urge readers to read Primo Levi and actual accounts of Auschwitz.

 

 

Above, a church memorial plaque commemorating “200,000 Polish Christian victims” that Polish ultra-nationalists wrongly claim were gassed to death in an “extermination camp” in Warsaw that never actually existed, even though it appears in many Wikipedia entries about the Holocaust.

It’s a made-up camp, “it’s fake history,” part of a Polish nationalist campaign to try and distort the Holocaust and pretend Jews were not its overwhelmingly central victims, Prof. Havi Dreifuss, a leading Holocaust expert at Yad Vashem tells Haaretz today (article below).

The entry about the Warsaw death camp for Poles, invented by Polish nationalists with Polish government encouragement, appeared (until it was finally removed a few weeks ago) for 15 years on the English-language version of Wikipedia in what is said to be Wikipedia’s longest-standing hoax of any kind. A slew of false claims by Ukrainian and other east European nationalists still appear on Wikipedia.

The fabricated Wikipedia article was translated into a dozen languages, and false bits of information from it permeated other Wikipedia entries on related subjects. The invented Polish “extermination camp,” was listed in Wikipedia’s list of camps alongside camps like Auschwitz and Majdanek for over 12 years.

It is only one part of a systematic effort by Polish nationalists to whitewash hundreds of Wikipedia articles relating to Poland and the Holocaust and parrots the revised historical narrative currently being enacted by the Polish government to cover up the Polish cooperation and collaboration with the Nazi murder of Jews.

Among Wikipedia entries in Polish that have been rewritten to pretend the Germans rather than Poles were responsible for mass murders of Jewish civilians, are the July 1941 pogroms at Radzilow (where Poles rounded up hundreds of their Jewish neighbors, barricaded them in a barn and set it on fire) and the Polish massacre of Jews at Jedwabne.

In 2009, WikiLeaks (which is not connected to Wikipedia) released a batch of emails revealing the existence of a group of Wikipedia editors from Ukraine, the Baltic states and Poland, that were coordinating their actions and working together to skew content there to push a nationalistic line with fake history.

 

 

Above, a diagram of the bogus Warsaw “gas chamber” that appeared on Wikipedia. The vents were actually installed in the 1970s.

Christian Davies, the Warsaw correspondent for the British paper The Guardian, has also exposed the myth of the gas chambers for Polish Christians in Warsaw in a recent article in The London Review of Books.

He wrote that the fake ‘Polocaust’ narrative in Warsaw was first developed in the 1970s by Maria Trzcinska, a communist judge.

“Since the rise of the Polish Law and Justice party’s right-wing government in Poland in 2005, this type of Polocaust revisionism has emerged from the shadows to become the law of the land,” notes the Israeli paper Haaretz.

 

I attach two articles below -- Tom Gross


First two additional notes:




PHOTO OF AUSTRALIAN JEWISH BOY BEING FORCED TO KISS CLASSMATE’S SHOES SPARKS OUTRAGE

The Melbourne-based newspaper The Age published the photo above of a 12-year-old Jewish student being forced to kneel to kiss the shoes of a Muslim classmate at Cheltenham Secondary College this week. The victim, was later punched by another classmate and called a “dirty Jew”. He has now been withdrawn by his parents from the school.

The Age also reported a second incident this week, at the Hawthorn West Primary School in Melbourne, where a 5-year-old Jewish student was called a number of anti-Semitic insults, including a “Jewish cockroach.” Educators say these are part of a broader trend of anti-Semitic bullying in Melbourne (home to the world’s highest proportion of Holocaust survivors outside Israel and New York).

“There is mounting evidence that families are forced to take their children out of public schools and to enroll them in Jewish day schools due to a growing sense of insecurity and fear that their kids will be harmed simply because of who they are,” The Age reported.

 

HATE IN KRAKOW

A swastika and the inscription “whores Jews, get the f**k out of Poland” was painted on the last remaining fragment of the ghetto wall on Limanowskiego Street in Krakow on Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) on Monday. Adam Bartosz of the Committee for the Protection of Monuments of Jewish Culture in Tarnow said he believes that this act of vandalism is associated with the current election campaign for the Polish national parliament.


ARTICLES

HOW TO FAKE A DEATH CAMP

The Fake Nazi Death Camp: Wikipedia’s Longest Hoax, Exposed

For over 15 years, false claims that thousands of Poles were gassed to death in Warsaw were presented as fact. Haaretz reveals they are just the tip of an iceberg of a widespread Holocaust distortion operation by Polish nationalists

By Omer Benjakob
Haaretz
October 4, 2019

“The first gassing there took place on October 17, 1943, killing at least 150 Poles caught in a street roundup and about 20 Belgian Jews …. Bodies were either cremated in crematoriums or open-air pyres (including at a former sports stadium) or simply buried under collapsed buildings during the systematic demolition of the former ghetto .... [Some estimates] place the number of the camp’s victims well above 212,000, mainly Poles and several thousand of non-Polish.”

This dry description of the systematic murder of ethnic Poles by Nazi forces during World War II was taken from the English-language Wikipedia article for the “Warsaw concentration camp,” also known as Konzentrationslager Warschau. The site where the camp stood is an object of pilgrimage for some in Poland, who hold periodic ceremonies on what they believe is hallowed ground. They come to honor the memory of thousands of Poles murdered in a gas chamber located near the Warsaw West (Warszawa Zachodnia) train station – which still exists – and have even erected monuments and plaques in their memory.

There’s just one problem: No such death camp ever existed. There is no historical evidence of German gas chambers ever existing in Warsaw, and nowhere near 200,000 people died in the cluster of Nazi internment centers that did stand at the basis of the myth of KL Warschau.

“It’s fake history,” says Prof. Havi Dreifuss, a Tel Aviv University historian and Yad Vashem’s expert on Poland and the Holocaust, when asked about gas chambers in Warsaw. Other Holocaust historians share her unequivocal position: “It’s a conspiracy theory,” says Prof. Jan Grabowski, a Polish-Canadian historian from the University of Ottawa, when asked about the legend behind the death toll. Yet both claims appeared, almost without interruption, for 15 years on the English-language version of Wikipedia in what is said to be Wikipedia’s longest-standing hoax.

Since the Wikipedia article on the “Warsaw concentration camp” was opened in August 2004, and until it was completely rewritten this past August, it falsely claimed that there was an extermination camp in the Polish capital. The article was translated into a dozen languages, and false bits of information from it permeated other Wikipedia entries on related subjects, gaining over half a million views in English alone. For example, bogus details on alleged prisoner numbers and the death toll found their way to central articles on the Holocaust on Wikipedia. These include “Nazi crimes against the Polish nation” and even the entry “Extermination camp,” where KL Warschau was listed alongside camps like Auschwitz and Majdanek for over 12 years.

The nature of this falsehood – the fact that it’s a well-known conspiracy theory that was deliberately pushed out – alongside the scope of its impact on other articles and their longevity within Wikipedia are what turn the extermination camp at KL Warschau into the longest-running hoax ever uncovered on the online encyclopedia. The first version of “Warsaw concentration camp” said the site was home to “death camps” where Warsaw’s Gentile population was “exterminated,” and before the article was partially rewritten this past May, it was called an “extermination camp” in the opening lines.

The person who first discovered the scale of the distortion – and is now arguing to have it recognized as Wikipedia’s longest hoax – is an Israeli editor dubbed Icewhiz, who refuses to be identified by his real name but agreed to speak with Haaretz. Icewhiz has already rewritten the English-language article for KL Warschau to reflect the accepted historical truth, but his attempt to cleanse other Wikipedia articles that incorporate material from it reveal that the principal entry is only the tip of an iceberg. An examination of his claims by Haaretz reveals the existence of what seems to be a systematic effort by Polish nationalists to whitewash hundreds of Wikipedia articles relating to Poland and the Holocaust.

This attempt to revise the accepted history of the Shoah on the internet encyclopedia parrots the revised historical narrative currently being trumpeted by the Polish government. In this narrative, the Poles in general – not just the country’s Jewish population – were the main victims of the Nazi occupation. This line attempts to shift the light away from a growing body of research into cases of Polish cooperation and collaboration with the Nazis in the persecution of Jews. The effort to rewrite Polish history on Wikipedia joins Holocaust distortion efforts by Polish think tanks – picked up and echoed by nationalist media outlets – that try to increase the estimate of the number of Poles who perished during the so-called Polocaust, a term that has gained popularity in recent years and is used to describe the mass murder of non-Jewish Poles at the hands of the Nazis. Many times, this also includes minimizing the number of Jews who died during the Holocaust. And while this new Polish narrative has failed to make headway in academia or the world media, on Wikipedia it has thrived.

How to fake a death camp

One of Wikipedia’s three core principles is “verifiability.” It requires that every factual claim be attributed to a reputable source that can be verified independently. While the print encyclopedias of yesteryear derived their authority from the expertise of their authors, Wikipedia works thanks to a large community of dedicated, volunteer fact checkers. The more eyes – that is, the more diverse the community of editors – the better the quality of the online encyclopedia. That’s why many of the local versions, especially those tied to languages spoken only in one country (like Hebrew or Polish) have a smaller pool of editors and therefore tend to reflect local national biases. However, thanks to the existence of a large community of editors dedicated to maintaining English Wikipedia’s core policies, the site in recent years has emerged as “the last bastion” of truth online, the so-called good cop of the internet. So how is it possible that a fake death camp managed to infiltrate even the English encyclopedia, famous for weeding out conspiracy theories?

One explanation is that though there was no death camp in Warsaw called KL Warschau, there was certainly a concentration camp with that name. The false facts that comprise the death camp hoax – the existence of gas chambers and the 200,000 death toll – managed to survive in Wikipedia because they were inextricably intertwined with real historical facts regarding the Warsaw concentration camp.

There is no dispute that a camp called KL Warschau was set up by the German occupiers and that its existence was tied to the two uprisings that took place in the city during the war – both the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 and the Polish Warsaw Uprising of 1944.

“There were a number of smaller concentration and work camps in and around Warsaw,” explains Prof. Grabowski. “KL Warschau was actually a collection of a few places of internment spread out over the city. The most important was the prison inside the ghetto, which played a role in the putting down of the Warsaw uprising.”

Thus, there was nothing suspicious about the fact that a Polish editor opened an article for the “Warsaw concentration camp.” However, since its initial writing and until it was fixed, earlier this year, the article included false information detailing the existence of an extermination camp in Warsaw.

For example, the first version of the article claimed that per “various estimates, some 200,000 people were killed there by the Germans during the war.”

“This is completely absurd,” explains Prof. Dreifuss, who is the head of Yad Vashem’s Center for Research on the Holocaust in Poland. “There was indeed a concentration camp in Warsaw established on the ruins of the ghetto and Jewish prisoners were brought there – mostly from Hungary, Greece and Italy – to help systematically dismantle any remnants of the Jewish ghetto. But that has nothing to do with this baseless story about 200,000 Poles being murdered in gas chambers – a story that is sadly gaining traction today as part of a wider attempt in Poland to distort the history of the Holocaust.”

The manner by which this myth was preserved by hitching a ride on the Wikipedia article about a real camp reflects the nature of this new bid to rewrite Polish history. Written by Halibutt, the username of the late Krzysztof Machocki, who was a well-known Wikipedia editor as well as also the spokesperson for the Polish branch of Wikimedia, the article also claimed that “the files of the camp were burnt [and] the railway tunnel in which the prisoners were gassed to death [were] blown up” – which purportedly explains why so little is known about it.

The fact that it was a Polish editor who first wrote the article and included the falsehood, as well as the fact that it included the claim that the evidence that would establish the truth of the camp was destroyed, are part of what Grabowski calls the “competing victimology” of the Polish right.

“In the beginning of 1990s, a new narrative was being pushed out by nationalists that there was an extermination camp in Warsaw and that there were gas chambers there. But it was totally, but totally, absurd as a theory.

“What you have are small-time concentration installations which are now getting magnified by right-wing conspiracy theories to include hundreds of thousands of Polish victims – their objective is to increase Polish losses and therefore Polish victimhood,” says Grabowski.

The number 200,000 is significant in the context, both scholars explain. Some 200,000 ethnic Poles were indeed killed during the 1944 Polish uprising. Adding another 200,000 (fictitious) Polish deaths would raise the Polish death toll in the city to 400,000 – almost identical to the number of Jews who were murdered in the ghetto.

“By pulling another 200,000 victims out of thin air,” explains Dreifuss, “they’re trying to equate what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust to what happened to Poles during the Holocaust. In this sense, it is also no coincidence that the manner of death was also by gas,” she says, adding: “But it’s just false.”

There is some debate over the actual death toll at KL Warschau (anywhere between 4,000 and 20,000). However, in Wikipedia, the number 200,000 thrived and in the article for the camp itself it even grew to 212,000. More concerning, this lie fed into other articles: For example, the entry on “Nazi concentration camps” claimed that “up to 200,000” died in Warsaw, with the original article on the camp serving as its internal reference, showing how disinformation can spread inside Wikipedia.

According to Icewhiz, simply the number 200,000 should have served as a red flag, for it would have meant that KL Warschau was a bigger death camp than the likes of Sobibor and Majdanek. That didn’t happen, however, and the disinformation only continued to spread with the help of Polish editors.

On the article on “German camps in occupied Poland during World War II,” for example, false information relating to the camp remained online for almost 13 years. The first time was in 2006, as part of what can only be termed a “Polish cleansing” of the text. In addition to adding the inflated Warsaw death toll, the editor also deleted a line explaining that, “the primary intention of these camps was the extermination of the Jews.” The revision highlights how the attempt to push out the false narrative regarding KL Warschau goes hand in hand with attempts to minimize the Jewish Holocaust and exaggerate the so-called Polocaust.

Fancy footnote work

By piggybacking on a real camp and inflating a real death toll, those peddling the KL Warschau conspiracy theory managed to pass Wikipedia’s first muster. But how did they overcome the Wikipedia community’s demand to attribute and source every claim?

Fancy footnote work with shady sources and a very liberal reading of real historical ones created the scaffolding to support the falsehoods on Wikipedia.

The centerpiece of the hoax – the one that supported the 200,000 claim – was the supposed existence of gas chambers in Warsaw during the war to systematically kill Poles. An early version of the Warsaw concentration camp article claimed that, the “SS, Wehrmacht and police rounded up [Gentile] civilians... Many of those caught were first transferred to the KL Warschau complex… Among those grouped in Warsaw, the majority was either shot to death or gassed in a provisional gas chamber situated in a railway tunnel near the Warszawa Zachodnia train station.”

“Ah, yes, the tunnel that is a gas chamber,” laughs Grabowski, “This is of course a joke,” since a 500-meter long tunnel can hardly serve as a sealed gas chamber. However, this joke has a rich history as a Polish conspiracy theory and shows how even debunked research can turn into seemingly legitimate sources by those seeking to sow disinformation.

Christian Davies, The Guardian’s correspondent in Warsaw, published a brief but riveting history of the myth of the gas chambers at Jozef Bem Street in a recent edition of The London Review of Books. There, he laid out how, riding on the coattails of the populist wind that swept the current government into power in Poland, the story has taken on a life of its own, assuming a key role in the Polocaust narrative and developing a cult-like following among nationalists.

“The argument was first developed in the 1970s,” Davies wrote, “when Maria Trzcinska, a judge who served on the communist government’s Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland, alleged that ... the road tunnel on Jozef Bem Street that runs under the railway line near Warsaw West station had been converted into a giant gas chamber.”

“If it could be proved that the Germans had built a gas chamber for the purpose of exterminating non-Jewish Poles, this would undermine the status of the Holocaust as a crime of unique proportions,” Davies went on.

However, it was never proven and in fact, Trzcinska’s work was never published by the body that employed her or the one that took its place after the fall of the communist regime: Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance, also known as the IPN. Not only that, her findings, which she published independently in 2002, were completely debunked by two historians appointed by the IPN.

The first of the two, Boguslaw Kopka, published a book in 2007 that “completely blew Trzcinska’s theory out of the water,” noted Grabowski. For example, claims, attributed to eyewitnesses, that canisters of Zyklon B poison gas were found at the site, or that bodies were carried out of the tunnel, were found to be full of holes. No evidence of Zyklon B was ever found at the site. Three years later, Zygmunt Walkowski, a specialist on wartime Warsaw who works with photographic and video evidence, was also appointed by the IPN to look into Trzcinska’s claims. Again, he found nothing to support her account. What he did find, instead, was clear proof her claims were baseless: for example, he found that the ventilation shafts that were key to the gas chamber story, were only installed in the 1970s, decades after the war.

However, as Christian Davies wrote, “the more Trzcinska’s claims were challenged, the more determined her supporters became. Marches, demonstrations, public meetings and religious ceremonies were held, bogus maps circulated, false testimonies promoted, Wikipedia entries amended” – it is this line that first piqued Icewhiz’s interest and led him to look into the episode.

Anatomy of a number

Trzcinska’s theory is at the basis of much of the camp’s myth on Wikipedia, for example the number 200,000. For many years, the Wikipedia article for the camp claimed that “between 1942 and 1944, there were about 400 victim roundups in Warsaw daily, with the detainees first being transferred to KL Warschau.” The number 400 was based on a single uncorroborated eyewitness quoted by Trzcinska, but was used by Polocaust proponents on Wikipedia as part of a speculative calculation: 400 deaths a day times the number of days the camp was in operation, amounts to well over 200,000 dead.

In another case that shows how Trzcinska’s work supplied revisionists with the citations they needed, an editor called “Poeticbent” insinuated the 200,000 death toll figure from the Warsaw article to the one about Nazi crimes against the Polish nation. The claim was attributed to a press release from the IPN, which in turn quoted the “Association of the Committee for the Construction of the Monument to the Victims of the KL Warschau Extermination Camp,” a local group that is a proponent of Trzcinska’s book – the same dubious source repackaged as a legitimate reference.

Even though the IPN had already debunked her claims, they were misrepresented on Wikipedia to be said to support her theory that a “considerable amount of Zyklon B was found there.” Through an array of inline references in Polish, and vague attribution to Trzcinska’s book – and with the help of Polish editors, who presented her as a bona fide historian – the number spread through the encyclopedia.

These kinds of claims and calculations “allow the Poles to say, ‘not only you Jews were murdered with gas,” explains Havi Dreifuss. “But the truth is that Jews and Poles were unequal victims. Poles were victims of a horrible ethnic cleansing, but that was not the systematic annihilation that the Jews faced.

“The current attempt to invent slaughters and victims that never took place is a horrible thing that may actually undermine the real history of the vicious persecution Poles suffered at the hands of Nazi Germany. The truth is that there was no systematized mass murder of the Polish population - and that is of course a good thing. The Holocaust is not something one should envy.”

‘Polocaust’

Since the rise of the Polish Law and Justice party’s right-wing government in Poland in 2005, this type of Polocaust revisionism has emerged from the shadows to become the law of the land.

Dreifuss notes as a prime example the so-called Holocaust law from a year and a half ago that banned the attribution of responsibility for Nazi crimes to the Polish people of the nation. It also changed the formal role of the IPN and incorporated in it the obligation to protect the good name of the Polish nation.

“Since the law changed, the IPN’s fundamental role has changed,” says Dreifuss. “Today their official mission statement is to defend Poland’s reputation, and it is in that light that they should be viewed.”

Grabowski adds that up until five years ago, he would still have considered organizaing a conference together with researchers from the IPN, “but today they are focused on Holocaust distortion – they are very simply the new face of this revisionism.”

A clear manifestation of this change has been the new IPN’s reluctance to support its own findings and officially disown Trzcinska’s claims, which has created more footnote fodder for those spreading her narrative on Wikipedia.

Both Dreifuss and Grabowski say that they noticed the attempt to whitewash Wikipedia articles releated to Poland and the Holocaust in recent years.

“I saw articles changing dramatically, in front of my students’ very eyes,” claims Dreifuss. “In recent years, when I examined certain articles with them, I noticed that the text and some of the visual aspects were altered. Holocaust revisionism in Wikipedia deserves to be studied in its own right.

“For example,” she continues, “in the [English] article on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the fighting forces [that battled the Germans] are misrepresented in the info box on the side. A reader that is not well versed in history could think that it was a joint struggle by four equally important organizations - two Polish groups and two Jewish ones. But that’s not true, the uprising was the result of Jewish actions and the Jewish organizations led the fighting, while Polish groups played an extremely marginal role. There are other much more serious examples.”

Surprisingly, perhaps, while the myth of the gas chambers at KL Warschau succeeded in English Wikipedia, it met a very different fate in other languages. For example, though the article was translated into 12 languages, it never made its way into Hebrew, where the camp is only noted in passing as part the article for the Warsaw Ghetto. In German the error was quickly weeded out. Even in Polish, revisionist editors faced greater opposition than in English: The Polish article claimed, for example, that the death count was “contested” and for the past three years it no longer characterized KL Warschau as an extermination camp – while the English version continued to carry the myth until May 2019.

Grabowski explains that “nationalists in Poland don’t care about what’s written in Polish, they already control the public discourse in Poland. They dominate the local narrative, but not the international narrative. That’s why they are flocking in a frenzy to Wikipedia and dedicating so much time and energy to it. I’ve heard there are hundreds of volunteers.”

According to Icewhiz, however, the number is no greater than six or seven: “You don’t need more than that to take over an entire discourse.”

Operation Poland

Icewhiz admits he can be a bit obsessive, and over the past year and a half he has documented almost fanatically what he claims is a systematic attempt by a handful of editors to rewrite the history of the Holocaust. This group, he claims, is comprised of Polish expatriates who have embraced a nationalistic position that is far to the right of the Polish mainstream.

For example, he names Richard Tylman, who edits under the alias Poeticbent. According to his website, Tylman, who declined to be interviewed for this story, was born in Poland but lives in Canada where he works as an artist and poet. In addition to pushing the inflated death toll, Icewhiz claims Tylman also took a very active part in rewriting articles linked to one of the most sensitive topics for Polish revisionists − the murder of Poland’s Jews at the hands of their non-Jewish Polish neighbors. One of the revisionists’ bitterest enemies on this point is Jan Grabowski, whose research has focused on the “hunt” for Jews by local Poles during the later stage of the Nazi occupation.

A famous example of Polish violence against Jews is the July 1941 pogrom at Radzilow. There, local Poles rounded up hundreds of their Jewish neighbors, barricaded them in a barn and set it on fire. However, the article Tylman wrote, with the help of some IPN sources, claimed that these Jews were in fact killed by Nazi Einsatzgruppen paramilitary forces. The error persisted in English on Wikipedia for over a decade. The same edit also indirectly denied the most notorious case of Polish violence against Jews – the massacre at Jedwabne, also in July 1941. Though the historical truth is that Poles were behind the killing of more than 300 Jews, in Poeticbent’s falsified version, it was claimed that the Nazis used “similar methods” in Radzilow as they did Jedwabne – an indirect denial of Polish complicity in both massacres.

Grabowski, whose own Wikipedia page was targeted by members of the group Icewhiz describes, is not surprised. “Everything that is related to negative treatment of Jews by Poles during the Holocaust is now being distorted and manipulated – with the goal of promoting a false narrative and sowing confusion on English Wikipedia.”

Icewhiz points to another editor, called “Pitorus,” as one who works with Poeticbent and other editors to help exaggerate cases of “Holocaust rescue,” in which Poles saved Jews. Icewhiz claims Poeticbent and Pitorus, for example, were active in rewriting numerous articles dealing with Jewish ghettos, with the goal of including a disproportionate emphasis on heroic rescue of Jews by Poles to overshadow any negative aspects. This kind of editorial skewering is the minutiae of Wikipedia politics, where the battle is over framing as much as facts.

That was the case in the article on the Nowy Sacz Ghetto, where the two reworked the article together so that almost half of it would focus on Holocaust rescue. The two also “rescued” the articles for the Sosnowiec Ghetto and the Radom Ghetto.

In his defense, Pitorus said that the edits were not an attempt to push out falsehoods, but rather only to shine light on the topic of Polish rescue of Jews, which he said were “under-researched” and even ignored by the likes of Yad Vashem.

Despite these claims, Wikipedia reveals that aided by the likes of other editors from the group, like “Volunteer Marek,” some members of the group are also active in downplaying Polish violence against Jews – and in some cases have even accused the Jews of violence against Poles. For example, in the Radzilow article, Volunteer Marek defended the claim that “Jewish militiamen” helped “to send Polish families into exile.”

Wikipedia’s Holocaust Law

Most of the examples in this story are taken from Icewhiz’s increasingly quixotic battle against the group of Polish editors. Within thousands of lines of text in which the sides debate death tolls and sources in Polish, his editorial crusade is documented on the back pages of Wikipedia, those dark corners of the online encyclopedia known only to the heaviest of contributors. There, the Israeli editor has spent hours upon hours arguing with what some on Wikipedia call “Team Poland.” A review of Icewhiz’s claims reveals what does indeed look like a concerted attempt by a small group of editors to distort the history of the Holocaust along the lines being espoused by the IPN and the Polish regime. In some cases, articles rewritten by Poles were pushed out on social media, like Twitter. However, his own personal vendetta against them has lost him the upper hand.

Though Icewhiz has earned a bad reputation on Wikipedia, due to his combative personal style and aggressively pro-Israel position, his claims of an encyclopedic conspiracy are not unfounded: In 2009, WikiLeaks (which is not connected to Wikipedia) released a batch of emails revealing the existence of a group of Wikipedia editors from Eastern European nations that were coordinating their actions and working together to skew content there to push a nationalistic line. When the Polish editors were losing an edit war, according to one exchange of emails, the Estonians came to their assistance. Pitorus, a member of the group, wrote about the need to develop “a plan” to create fake users to help gain votes and manipulate internal elections to get themselves elected to key positions within Wikipedia’s oversight mechanisms. This so-called Eastern European Mailing List (EEML) scandal shook Wikipedia and earned bans for all those involved with it.

Pitorus, who agreed to speak with Haaretz, denied Icewhiz’s allegations of a group effort. In an email, he suggested that Russia may be behind the EEML leak and made the misleading claim that all the Polish editors active on Wikipedia at the time were banned as part of the case. In reality, only 12 Polish editors (out of more than 100) were banned from editing – including himself. By 2010, half were back to editing and they form the core of the Polish group at the heart of Icewhiz’s claims.

Just a few weeks ago, for example, an editor whose username is usually a variation of Molobo, and was banned in the wake of the scandal, tried to edit the article for the Warsaw concentration camp. How is it possible that editors embroiled in such a severe breach of Wikipedia’s rules are back to editing? The group has learned to play by the rules, editing under the auspices of Wikipedia’s formal project system, which allows editors to organize and work on shared topics of interest.

If you ask Icewhiz, it’s because they have built strong allies on Wikipedia that currently make them immune to criticism. Icewhiz, on the other hand, has failed to gain much support on Wikipedia.

He says the Poles on Wikipedia benefit from an unholy alliance with editors affiliated with the American left – people who are sensitive to claims of victimhood and reluctant to call out anti-Semitism. It is exactly these kinds of claims that have turned many in the Wikipedia community against Icewhiz. For example, a Twitter account allegedly set up by the Israeli to counter the distribution of revised Wikipedia articles online recently got him banned.

This is exactly the type of behavior that has caused Icewhiz to lose his standing within Wikipedia. For many, his past efforts to defend Israel’s good name on Wikipedia is no different than the Polish editors’ attempt to defend Poland’s. Per Wikipedia’s rules, the fact that he allegedly took to Twitter to fight the Polish editors is akin to what was done by those who were implicated in the EEML scandal. However, the fact that Icewhiz may be guilty of the same sins he accuses the Poles of committing on Wikipedia, does not make his argument factually wrong. It does, however, undermine his ability to lobby for his cause on Wikipedia and get the community’s blessing.

Icewhiz says that he brought his story to Haaretz because he has all but lost the battle against Polish revision on Wikipedia. Having a respected newspaper vet his claims and publish the story of the hoax plays a key role in his attempt to defend history. By reporting on Polish revisionism on Wikipedia, the facts being purged by Polish editors are preserved as true by a verifiable source, granting him ammunition for his last offensive in the footnote war.

Despite having history on his side, on September 28, Icewhiz lost his case against the group of Polish editors. He presented his findings to Wikipedia’s top arbitration body and the Polish editors were given a chance to defend their claims. Much like Piotrus, they shrugged off the allegations as minor errors. Moreover, they accused the Israeli editor of harassing them on Wikipedia, claiming he was driven by hatred of Poland and Poles.

After deliberating the case, Wikipedia’s top panel ruled against Icewhiz and he was banned from editing any article related to the subject of Poland and the Holocaust. In their ruling, the panel members accepted the Polish editors claims and said Icewhiz’s use of terms such as “Polocaust” and “Polophile” were “ethnically derogatory.” As a result of their decision, henceforth, any attempt by one editor to label another editor or source as revisionist or anti-Semitic can be considered a form of hate speech on Wikipedia. The decision, said one editor with knowledge of the debate behind it, all but gives the Polish revisionists free rein on English Wikipedia.

Now, the Wikipedia community – the same one that is shunning Icewhiz – must decide on another question: Will it recognize the debunked version of KL Warschau as the longest-standing hoax in Wikipedia’s history. While historical arguments can be decided by historians, questions regarding Wikipedia have no clear arbitrator. Judging by the battle over Holocaust history, it is very likely that the existence of this hoax too will be struck from the annals of Wikipedia’s history.

The only editor to respond to a request for comment was Pitorus, whose real name is Piotr Konieczny. Though Konieczny, who is a sociologist at Hanyang University, in South Korea, said that, “to some degree… there is a grain of truth” in Icewhiz’s claims, he vehemently denied the existence of a Wikipedia conspiracy. He argued that though he does not support the false narrative regarding the existence of a death camp at KL Warschau, he does not think it constitutes a “hoax.”

In a detailed response to the claims presented in this story, Konieczny said that any errors that existed in Wikipedia on topics related to Poland and the Holocaust were “minuscule and hardly widespread,” and the result of the fact that this was a “controversial” topic on which there is some disagreement between academics. For example, he said that the issue of Holocaust rescue was “under-researched” by Jewish and Israeli scholars and institutes like Yad Vashem, which he compared to the IPN. Regarding the EEML, Konieczny said that the plans detailed there were never actual, and that their publication was almost certainly a “Russian fake news operation.”

 

TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ AUTHOR CRITICIZED

Sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz branded ‘lurid and titillating’ by survivor’s stepson
George Kovach also called Heather Morris’s Cilka’s Journey, which is based on his stepmother Cecilia’s life, ‘appalling and extremely hurtful’

By Alison Flood
The Guardian
October 4, 2019

The stepson of a Slovakian woman who survived Auschwitz, only to be sent to a Soviet gulag, has branded the novelist Heather Morris’s “lurid and titillating” version of his stepmother’s story “appalling and extremely hurtful”.

Morris’s global bestseller The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a novel based on the story of the Slovakian Jew Lale Sokolov, who told Morris how he fell in love with a woman he tattooed while he was in the concentration camp. That book has already drawn stinging condemnation from the Auschwitz Memorial, which said in a detailed report earlier this year that the book “contains numerous errors and information inconsistent with the facts, as well as exaggerations, misinterpretations and understatements”.

One particular area of concern for the Memorial was a character in the novel called Cilka Klein, who has a sexual relationship with the head of the camp SS-Obersturmführer Johann Schwarzhuber – something the Memorial said the possibility of was “non-existent”.

Now Morris’s sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Cilka’s Journey, has been denounced by George Kovach, stepson of Cecilia Kovachova, upon whose story the novel is based. The book claims to be both “based on the heartbreaking true story” of Kovachova/Klein and “a work of fiction”. Kovach has described the portrait of his stepmother as “appalling and extremely hurtful” in a letter from his lawyers to Morris’s American publishers.

“It has nothing to do with the Cecilia that he knew, or her history as she recounted it to him,” says the letter, which goes on to list “two of the most egregious … errors” in the book: the “false” and “patently absurd” storyline that Cilka is “presented as being the mistress of not one but two high-ranking SS camp commanders”, and that Cilka “allegedly steals drugs from the Vorkuta camp hospital (supposedly to protect her reputation)”.

“This gulag hospital had very few drugs for its prisoner patients. If this had been true, can you imagine the suffering and deaths that would have been on Cilka’s conscience?” say Kovach’s lawyers. “His stepmother, who later worked as a senior government accountant, had a reputation in Slovakia for incorruptibility. The idea that she would steal drugs from desperate patients would have devastated her.”

Kovach’s father, Ivan Kovach, met Kovachova when they were prisoners in the Vorkuta gulag in northern Russia. Kovach told the Times of Israel that his father was arrested in Czechoslovakia in 1948. He and his mother escaped to the west, and he didn’t see his father again until he was an adult, when he also met Kovachova and learned of her story.

Kovach said he met Morris last April, when she asked him to contribute pictures and an afterword to Cilka’s Journey. But after hearing her read extracts, he told her publishers that the novel might infringe on his rights. According to Kovach, Morris subsequently removed his father, Ivan Kovach, from the book, replacing him with the character of Alexandr. “I have not included the name of the man she (Cilka) met in Vorkuta and married, in order to protect the privacy of his descendants,” Morris writes in an afterword. But she left her portrait of Cilka in the novel.

After hearing excerpts from the manuscript of Cilka’s Journey and reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Kovach told the Guardian, “I decided not to be associated with this project in any way. It was the characterisation of my stepmother in Tattooist as the sex slave of SS-Obersturmführer Schwarzhuber that appalled me. Of course, in Cilka’s Journey, she also makes Cecilia (Cilka) the sex slave of Anton Taube, another SS commander at Auschwitz.”

Kovach admitted it is not “realistic to hope for the publication to be halted”.

“What I would like is for them [Heather Morris and St Martin’s Press] to publicise that this work is 99% fiction and to apologise for the treatment of my stepmother,” he said. Ten per cent of the revenues should be donated to the Solzhenitsyn Fund or the Russian gulag organisation Memorial, he continued. “As I’ve said to them numerous times, I am not interested in any money for myself and I will not accept any money for this misbegotten project.”

The Slovakian writer Peter Juscak interviewed Kovachova about her experiences, and said he met Morris twice when she was researching the novel: “At the second meeting I warned her that she did not know the story of Cilka … and her writing would be problematic. At that time she was already completing the novel about Cilka.”

Morris’s UK publisher Bonnier Zaffre defended the novel: “Cilka’s Journey is a work of fiction, and it is based on the memories of survivors who knew Cilka at the time these events are described, in particular, Lale Sokolov, the Tattooist of Auschwitz, who regarded Cilka as ‘the bravest person’ he had ever met.”

The publisher said Morris was a regular donor to many charities, and that conversations about making donations to the charities suggested by Kovach were “ongoing and under consideration”.

“Heather is a fiction writer, not a historian,” the publisher said. “This is a novel based around real people and events, as are many other works of fiction.”

In an introduction to Cilka’s Journey, Morris writes that the book is “based on what I learnt from the first-hand testimony of Lale Sokolov … from the testimony of others who knew [Kovachova], and from my own research”. “Although it weaves together facts and reportage with the experiences of women survivors of the Holocaust, and the experiences of women sent to the Soviet Gulag system at the end of the second world war, it is a novel and does not represent the entire facts of Cilka’s life,” she adds, ending with the hope “that further details about Cilka and those who once knew her will continue to come to light once the book is published”.

 

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