JERUSALEM (AP) _ An Israeli historian today welcomed Poland's decision to lower the official death toll at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp from 4 million to under 2 million and acknowledge that most of the victims were Jews.

''It's a positive change that the Poles decided not to play politics with the victims anymore,'' said Shmuel Krakowski, head of the archives at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

Krakowski said that until recently Poland had clung to the higher figure of 4 million victims, including more than 1 million non-Jews, to back claims that Poles and other gentiles suffered as much as Jews at the hands of the Nazis.

Revised findings by the Auschwitz State Museum said the number of victims in the Nazi death camp in southern Poland actually was 1.1 million to 1.5 million, the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported Tuesday.

Of that number, at least 960,000 were Jews.

The report cited by Gazeta Wyborcza is to be published next year by the state museum and Yad Vashem memorial. The paper said plaques carrying the inflated death toll have been removed from a memorial at the camp, the largest built by the Nazis.

Krakowski said the revised figures were in line with Yad Vashem estimates that fewer than 2 million people were killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau, among them up to 90 percent Jews.

''We always knew and published the right number,'' he said. ''The Poles didn't want to correct theirs until now because of political considerations.''

Krakowski said because Yad Vashem had always stuck to the lower figure, the new death toll out of Poland did not affect the total of 6 million Jews who perished in the Nazi Holocaust.

Of the 6 million, just under 4 million were gassed to death in Nazi death camps, the largest of which were located in Nazi-occupied Poland, including Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka and Majdanek.

Krakowski said the figure of 4 million victims at Auschwitz-Birkenau alone was first mentioned by Rudolf Hoess, the death camp commander, during his trial in Poland after World War II.

The figure was also cited 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.

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, Franciszek Piper, head of the Auschwitz State Museum's history department, said in an interview with Gazeta Wyborcza.

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 Ministry of Culture of Poland's 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.