West German Jews Protest Removal of Auschwitz Plaque

The Jewish community in West Germany strongly protested Tuesday against Poland’s removal of plaques claiming that 4 million people, mostly Poles, died at the Auschwitz and Birkenau death camps, according to a report in the liberal Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza.

Gazeta Wyborcza said the plaques were removed in accordance with historical surveys that show there were 1.1. million victims of the two camps, of whom European Jews accounted for at least 960,000.

The numbers and identities of the major victims, as detailed on the plaques, has in recent years been disputed by highly respected Jewish scholars of the Holocaust, including Yehuda Bauer in Jerusalem and Professor Raul Hilberg of the University of Vermont.

They estimate the number of Jews killed at Auschwitz was approximately 1.35 million, out of a total of 1.6 million people killed there.

Heinz Galinski, chairman of the Jewish community of West Germany and himself an Auschwitz survivor, said he was appalled by the news of the removal. He called the move a mockery of the victims and said he would not participate in speculation over the number of Nazi victims.

SUPPLY AMMUNITION FOR EXTREMISTS

The West German daily Frankfurter Rundschau, in an editorial Tuesday, also criticized the removal of the plaque, saying it would supply ammunition to extremists who deny the Holocaust altogether.

The plaques, which were placed in front of the International Monument to Victims of Fascism, noted the deaths of 4 million victims, and listed Poles, not Jews, as first among the dead.

The director of the Auschwitz State Museum’s history department, Franciscek Piper, said the overall number now can be given as 1.1 million, Wyborcza Gazeta reported. That figure is based on studies of numbered inmates, letters linked to preparation of transports to the camps and lists drawn up in the ghettos of many countries, Piper said.

He said that 90 percent of the victims were Jewish.

Given that some victims were probably not documented, Piper said, the maximum figure of victims at Auschwitz-Birkenau still cannot be greater than 1.5 million.

According to Gazeta Wyborcza, research Piper conducted between 1980 and 1986 will be published next year by the Auschwitz State Museum and Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.

According to Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, the original figures had been inflated to diminish the number of Jewish victims, in accordance with Communist wishes.

FROM SOVIET FIGURES

The figure of 4 million on the original plaque came from Soviet figures provided by a Soviet commission that visited the camp in February 1945, one week after the Soviets liberated the camp. That commission submitted its finding to the Nuremberg war-crimes trials.

Hier, who just returned from visiting Auschwitz, explained that “by making it sound as if, for example, they said 4 million were killed, if Jewish historians said only 2 million were killed, therefore others could be said to have suffered as much as the Jews.

“That was the purpose,” he said. “Now, with the fall of the Communist regime in Poland, a commission was established to look into charges that the Jewish aspect of the tragedy has been diminished.

“The commission carefully reviewed the records,” he said, “and concluded that it had been an attempt to diminish the Jewish tragedy. Therefore, they concluded they have to remove that sign.”

(JTA staff writer Susan Birnbaum in New York contributed to this report.)

NEXT STORY