By Ed Ziętarski
“Polish concentration camp” has recently appeared in The Economist (May 21, 2005, page 42) and a similar phrase “Polish
death camp” in The Daily Express
(March 22, 2005, page 5).
When is “Polish” Polish? There are many examples in
the English-language media ascribing the adjective Polish to concentration
camps. Should that be Nazi concentration camps in Nazi-occupied Poland, or
possibly German concentration camps in German-occupied Poland?
The topic of
concentration camps in general is no doubt very painful to those who suffered
under the hands of the Nazis. However, any inference that the Poles were in some
way involved in this atrocity must be particularly hurtful to some.
Does use of
terms such as “Polish concentration camp” paint the entire Polish nation as
murderers? English law enables redress for defamation of individuals and the new
Racial and Religious Hatred Bill protects against statements made about racial
and religious groups. However, English law does not protect against
offending comments targeted at groups of people or nations, such as Poles or
Poland. The applicable laws are stronger in Australia (Racial Discrimination Act
1975) and have been invoked when such terms have appeared in the local media.
Use of such
terms has even prompted intervention at an ambassadorial level. In Canada,
comments on CTV Television (November 8, 2003, 23.00 and April 30, 2004, 16.15)
resulted in a complaint from the then Polish ambassador in Canada that was
investigated by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (Decision 04/05-0380
and –0672, reached on December 15, 2004). In the UK, the Polish ambassador
wrote to The Economist pointing out
that the concentration camps were built and operated by the Nazis (letter
published on June 4, 2005).
also support from the American Jewish Committee on this point. It is contained
in its Statement on Poland and the Auschwitz Commemoration issued on January 30,
2005, which also adds that it is not merely a semantic matter.
What is the
provenance of such abusage of the word Polish? Although such unfortunate terms
are not new, have they recently appeared with more frequency via media outlets?
Are their appearances proportional to the amount of coverage of the
anniversaries related to WWII events?
in black and white, there can be little dispute a publication used such a term.
However, if such a term is allegedly used on broadcast media (television and
radio), proof can be more difficult to obtain as such broadcasts are rarely
independently recorded. Even bodies such as the regulator OFCOM (The Office of
Communications) rely on recordings provided by the broadcaster.
perhaps be forgiven for describing Maria Skłodowska-Curie as French, as she
appeared in 4th place of a French poll to find the most famous French
person of all time (March 14, 2005, France 2 Television). However, would the
description of the camp in Guantanamo as Cuban be tolerated?
recipients of the media understand that perhaps the term Polish was intended in
the geographical sense of the word? Even so, being Nazi-occupied land, even the
geographical sense of the word may be regarded as incorrect. Would the recipient
of the media, who is perhaps ignorant of historical details, assume that the
Poles were responsible for deeds carried out at concentration camps?
Is there a
lack of education with respect to historical events associated with this aspect
of WWII? If so, who should be educated – the English-language media or the
English-speaking population at large?
In any case,
if something were spouted often enough from media channels, respectable or
otherwise, would it eventually be believed even if it were false?
merely linguistic imprecision or is there something more sinister at play?
Poles and Poland portrayed in the non-Polish media generally? Is it in a
balanced way, or is the pendulum positioned on the positive or negative side?
the press is a frequently espoused slogan and it is plain to see the injustices
where such a regime does not apply. However, how far should this freedom be
taken and should there be limits to it?