Historian pays the price of denial

April 21, 2000

Darijusz Ratajczak, a Polish history lecturer, has been dismissed from his post at the Opole University and banned from academic teaching for three years.

A university disciplinary commission ruled that his book, Dangerous Topics, propagated the "Auschwitz lie" by denying the Nazi genocide of Jews during the second world war. In particular, the commission drew attention to his assertion that the gas chambers at Auschwitz and the Zyklon-B gas used in them were not intended to kill prisoners, but simply to delouse them.

By disseminating these views, the commission stated, Professor Ratajczak had infringed the ethical standards of an academic teacher.

Professor Ratajczak was charged in December 1999 with fomenting inter-ethnic hatred on the basis of Dangerous Topics. He was acquitted on a technicality and the university decided to take its own action.

Auschwitz is a sensitive issue in Poland. The former Nazi death camp, only a suburban train ride from Cracow, has become the worldwide symbol of the Jewish Holocaust. Yet, during the communist period, the memorial there made no mention of Jews, only "Polish citizens".

This has now been changed, and some Poles undoubtedly feel aggrieved at what they see as a "Jewish takeover" of a site where large numbers of Poles perished. Furthermore, cultural differences have generated many sources of conflict - such as the Polish-Catholic wish to have a convent of nuns close by and erect crosses at a gravel pit where Polish officers were shot.

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