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Plaques Changed at Auschwitz-Birkenau

July 18, 1990 GMT

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ Plaques have been removed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp memorial that inflated the total number of victims while understating the preponderance of Jews, the daily Gazeta Wyborcza said Tuesday.

It said the plaques were taken down in line with findings by the Auschwitz State Museum that the number of victims in the two camps in southern Poland actually was 1.1 million to 1.5 million. Of that number, at least 960,000 were Jews, the museum concluded.

Previously, plaques in front of the ″International Monument to Victims of Fascism″ spoke of 4 million victims. Poles, not Jews, were listed first among the victimized peoples.

An estimated 6 million Jews were systematically murdered in the Nazi-led genocide of World War II. The largest death camps were located in occupied Poland, including Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka and Majdanek.

The figure widely used in Poland of 4 million victims at Auschwitz-Birkenau was arrived at by a Soviet commission that came to the camp in February 1945, one week after its liberation. It later submitted its findings to the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

Of the 4 million, the number of Jewish victims was often put at 2.5 million in postwar publications, wrongly suggesting that the Nazis had killed more than 1 million non-Jews there.

However, based on the numbering of inmates, letters linked to transports, and statistical lists made in Jewish ghettos, the number of victims that can be documented is 1.1 million, about 90 percent of whom were Jewish, said Franciszek Piper, head of the Auschwitz State Museum’s history department, in an interview with Gazeta Wyborcza.

Piper said the true number likely was higher because of a lack of documentation of some victims. However, he said, the total probably did not exceed 1.5 million.

In addition to the 960,000 Jews exterminated, Piper estimates the victims included 70,000-75,000 Poles, 21,000 Gypsies and 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and the rest of other nationalities.

Poland has pressed the Soviets since the 1970s to grant historians access to World War II camp records, which were packed up and taken to the Soviet Union soon after the liberation, Piper said.

The research on the camp’s victims carried out by Piper between 1980-86 is to be published next year simultaneously by the Auschwitz State Museum and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum of Israel, Gazeta Wyborcza said.

Some Western scholars have long questioned the 4 million figure. In 1986, French Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld asked Polish leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski to correct the widespread belief in Poland that the Auschwitz camp victims included similar numbers of Jews and non-Jews. At that time, he cited research nearly identical to Piper’s conclusions.

The Polish newspaper Polityka on Jan. 13 also published data by Holocaust scholar Georg Weller estimating that 1.47 million people were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, among them 1.35 million Jews.

The Ministry of Culture of the new Solidarity-led government has appointed a committee to review the state of the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial and museum.

The review wants not only to repair the physical deterioration of the camps, but to correct exhibits dating from the 1950s that the ministry says distort history by concealing the main reason the camps existed was to exterminate Jews.