|Falsified image of fake gas chamber|
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...