WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish Jewish leaders expressed disgust Wednesday over a visit to Poland by British writer and convicted Holocaust denier David Irving, and an anti-racist group called for legal action against him.
Irving, 72, is the author of several books which defend Adolf Hitler and deny that the Nazis murdered six million Jews during World War Two. He has begun an 8-day study tour of wartime sites in Poland with a group of followers.
Poland was home to one of the world’s largest Jewish communities before 1939. The vast majority were killed by the Nazis, many in death camps such as Treblinka which Irving said he plans to visit.
“In Poland, the ideas of Mr Irving sound exceptionally absurd and absolutely unacceptable,” said Piotr Kadlcik, head of the Polish Jewish community.
Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, said: “Mr Irving is not a historian but a charlatan and a vicious liar ... The fact that he is here justifies the strength of democracy in Poland that it does not close its doors. He is not a terrorist threat but a moral threat, to the truth.”
Irving, who spent more than a year in an Austrian jail in 2005-06 for denying the Holocaust, told Reuters he would keep a low profile in Poland for the sake of his “guests” who he said had paid more than 2,000 pounds ($3,000) for the trip.
Their itinerary will include a visit to the “Wolf’s Lair,” Hitler’s Eastern Front headquarters, and the camps of Majdanek, Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec.
“We are not going to Auschwitz this time because I believe it is overrated,” Irving said in a short interview.
“The Jews tried to turn Auschwitz and their tragedy into a money-making machine and they persecute historians who ask legitimate questions about what actually happened there.”
Some 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, perished in Auschwitz during the war.
Elan Steinberg, vice-president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said in a statement Irving’s tour was “an insult to all victims of Nazi brutality.”
“His hostility toward Jews is compounded by accusing Polish authorities of creating fake watchtowers and a “Disney” atmosphere at the site of the Auschwitz death camp,” he said.
“We call on Polish authorities to prevent his efforts to desecrate the memory of the dead.”
Open Republic, a group that fights anti-Semitism and xenophobia, said it had informed Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) about Irving’s visit. The IPN can prosecute those it believes have committed “crimes against the nation.”
“We have asked that he be detained in regard to denying the Holocaust, which in Polish law is called ‘the Auschwitz lie’, as well as in regard to his book ‘Hitler’s War’,” said Anna Kwiecien of Open Republic.
Writing by Gareth Jones, editing by Matthew Jones