Unintentional use of the wording “the Polish concentration camp” in the January 7, 2013 issue of the Detroit Free Press
By now everyone in the Polonian community is very much aware of the words “Polish concentration camp” in the caption of a picture on the front page of the January 7, 2013 article entitled “Survivor’s Tale.” The article was written by Free Press Staff Writer Mark Stryker, who did NOT, however, write the offensive caption.
Based on our examination of the article, and conversations with a number of individuals we have concluded that the error was totally unintentional. This includes over two hours of thoughtful and very positive discussion separately with Mr. Mark Stryker, and Ms. Jody Williams who is an assistant to Mr. Paul Anger, the Editor and Publisher of the Detroit Free Press. In our opinion this wording, while hurtful to Polonians, was completely unintentional. Without knowing any of the specifics, it is also our very clear understanding that the Detroit Free Press is currently engaged in a very serious internal discussion to understand how this happened and how to avoid it in the future. We would hope that the Free Press’s internal discussion would include an agreement that, when speaking about Poland during World War II, the proper phrasing “Nazi Germany-occupied Poland” or “Nazi-occupied Poland” would be appropriately used, as opposed to the word “Poland,” which gives the uninformed reader a false impression of conditions during the war.
It is our opinion that the Detroit Free Press has always been very positive and committed to the wellbeing of our community. Furthermore, we believe that, through changes to its internal style manual and simply the corporate process of dialogue, there will be a heightened sensitivity to the unspeakable suffering of the Polish and Jewish people during World War II at the hands of Nazi Germany. This is particularly important given that the long history of Polish-Jewish relations is extremely complex and in many ways has been tragic. As in this case, the tragedy often came from outside Poland. Here it was Nazi Germany and its anti-Semitic and anti-Polish policies and genocidal actions.
We would note that if readers could get past the unintentionally offensive photo caption, they would find a beautiful and sensitive article, including the section titled “A rescued baby” describing the saving of Miriam Ferber (née Monczyk) by the Łaczkowski family. The description of her experience and the accompanying photographs ought to fill any reader of Polish descent with a deep sense of appreciation to Ms. Ferber, the Holocaust Memorial Center and writer Mark Stryker for telling her story.
Important to note: the words “Polish concentration camp” was NOT written by the author of the article.
We would like to make it abundantly clear that the words were NOT written by the author of the article Mark Stryker The unintended error was made by an editor during the process of publication. The production of any article in a major newspaper is a joint effort by many individuals (the writer, photographer, editorial staff, article layout person, copy editor, etc.) often operating somewhat semi-independently to create a particular story. It can be quite a complex process, as was the case in the article “Survivor’s tale.”
A guiding document for the production of any piece is the style manual of the newspaper. It deals with word usage, terms to be avoided, etc. This is probably where the Detroit Free Press will focus its attention. It is this area where speaking with some members of Polonia such as the Polish Consulate in Chicago, the Polish Mission of the Orchard Lake Schools and the Polish Weekly (Tygodnik Polski), as well as with members of the Jewish community, can be very helpful. We would suggest that the Polish Consulate be the lead participant.
Recognizing the problem and the immediate response of the Detroit Free Press
When individuals, such as the Polish Weekly’s video editor Max Cisek, saw the print version early on the morning of January 7, 2013 they called the Detroit Free Press, which immediately corrected the article in its online edition. The paper issued a correction on page two of its print issue on January 8.
Perhaps the most significant involvement of Polonia was that of Ms. Paulina Kapuścińska, he Consul General of the Republic of Poland in Chicago. We have presented her statement in this issue as well as the statement of Marciń Chumięcki of the Polish Mission. Both statements were sent to the Detroit Free Press. In addition we have printed the outstanding letter to the Editor of the Free Press by Andzrej Ładak. The letter, under the heading “There were no ‘Polish concentration camps,” was published in the Friday, January 11 issue of the Free Press. The powerful and clear title was created by the Free Press staff.
Finally we have reprinted the letter from Mark Stryker to Paulina Kapuścinska. He apologized and explained how the situation occurred due to a copy editor error. He also explained what the Free Press was doing internally to prevent this problem from arising again in the future. We would like all of our readers to know that his feelings are very genuine, as was his expression of the intent of the Free Press to address the problem immediately and in a very positive way
American Jewish Committee 2005 statement on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi Germany’s concentration and death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau and other Nazi Germany Concentration and Death Camps in Nazi Germany-occupied Poland
The following is a statement by the National Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee in 2005. This is an important statement that everyone who speaks about the Polish and Jewish suffering and experience in Nazi Germany-occupied Poland should be fully aware of. This observation is particularly applicable to the media, educators and researchers as they deliberate on the language that they will use when speaking or writing about this important topic. We have reproduced the statement in its entirety because of its importance and relevance to what has happened.
Statement on Poland and the Auschwitz Commemoration.
January 30, 2005 – New York – American Jewish Committee Executive Director David A. Harris issued the following statement today:
The American Jewish Committee wishes to express appreciation to Poland for hosting the commemorative event to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and gratitude to Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski for his eloquent and stirring words at the ceremony.
We would also like to remind those who are either unaware of the facts or careless in their choice of words, as has been the case with some media outlets, that Auschwitz-Birkenau and the other death camps, including Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka, were conceived, built and operated by Nazi Germany and its allies.
The camps were located in German-occupied Poland, the European country with by far the largest Jewish population, but they were most emphatically not “Polish camps”.
This is not a mere semantic matter. Historical integrity and accuracy hang in the balance.
Poland was the first nation attacked by the Third Reich, which ignited the Second World War on September 1, 1939. Polish forces fought valiantly, but were overwhelmed by the larger and better equipped Nazi army that invaded from the west, and then by the Soviet army, an ally of Hitler at the time, which attacked from the east. Nonetheless, Polish forces in exile continued the struggle against Hitler, together, of course, with other Allied troops, until the war’s end. And it should also never be forgotten that, in addition to Polish Jews, who were targeted for total annihilation by the Nazi Final Solution, other Poles, including political prisoners such as Professor Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, who spoke so movingly at Auschwitz on January 27, and who was a key figure in the Polish underground, were also seized by the Nazis and incarcerated in concentration camps.
Any misrepresentation of Poland’s role in the Second World War, whether intentional or accidental, would be most regrettable and therefore should not be left unchallenged.
New York, January 30, 2005
The Polish Weekly’s contribution to resolution and moving forward
Of course, all of us have been deeply hurt and many in our community are angry over the use of the words “Polish concentration camp.” At the same, we all know the importance of thoughtful discussion and moving forward in a positive fashion. This is especially true when all of the parties are committed to moving forward together in resolving the problem. We are fortunate that everyone wishes to solve the problem in a positive and effective manner.
Because of everything stated above, Frank J. Dmuchowski, assistant editor of The Polish Weekly (Tygodnik Polski), decided to visit the Holocaust Memorial Center on Wednesday, January 9, in order to write an article about the online exhibit which tells the stories of Michigan survivors of the Holocaust. In his article the story will begin with the words of Mark Stryker describing the experience of Ms. Ferber. Frank’s article, which will appear in the January 30, 2013, issue of the Polish Weekly, has several interesting and surprising turns. We made the decision to delay the publication because we feel that it is an important story that is best told without the current controversy, which may distract from its importance.
Accompanying Frank was longtime friend, Dr. David Levadi, MD, and Emil Kornacki vm. Mr. Kornacki is a recipient of Poland highest military honor, the Virtuti Militari, for extraordinary heroism at the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944. He is the last living survivor in North America of the Moscow-orchestrated Katyń Massacre of 1940 in which over 22,000 Polish Army officers, along with other members of the Polish intelligentsia and police who were prisoners of war, were systematically selected and executed one-by-one by the NKVD in the forests of Katyń near Smoleńsk. Mr. Kornacki was one of fewer than 250 survivors. He has devoted his life to keeping the memory of the Katyń Massacre alive in both the Polonian and non-Polonian communities.
We close with our belief that “errors can happen but integrity is a choice.” Everyone mentioned in this Publisher’s Note has chosen thoughtfulness and integrity.
Alicja Karlic Frank J. Dmuchowski
Editor and Publisher Assistant Editor