While most Poles have already returned from their favourite summer destinations in Greece and Egypt, their country is about to host perhaps one of the most bizarre tours in the history of tourism.
David Irving, the controversial British writer and Holocaust denier, plans to organise a weekly tour of Nazi death campsites in Poland for American and British tourists. The trip is expected to take place between 21-28 September, and it has already sparked outrage in Poland, a country that lost six million citizens, including three million Jews, during the Second World War. The Holocaust plays a significant role in the modern Polish identity. “In the public discourse, the Jewish genocide has for years been overshadowed by the memory of Polish victims,” says Anna Tatar, an editor at the anti-racist magazine Nigdy Więcej (Never Again). “But this has been gradually changing, and more Poles are today aware of how devastating the Holocaust was for the Jews than ever before.”
The tour will be guided by the self-described historian himself, and some of the scheduled “attractions” include: the Treblinka death camp, where over 800,000 Jews were exterminated; the remains of Warsaw’s Jewish ghetto; and Hitler’s Wolfsschanze headquarters in the country’s north-east.
Defending his guided death camp tour, Irving blasted the Poles for turning the Auschwitz concentration camp into a “Disney-style” tourist site. He admitted there was “no question that the Nazis killed millions of people in these camps”, but accused the Polish authorities of setting up fake watchtowers at Auschwitz.
Irving has a long history of similar pronouncements. In 2006, the writer was found guilty of Holocaust denial and sentenced to three years of prison in Austria, where he was prosecuted for a series of lectures in which he negated the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz. Irving was eventually released after 13 months, and since then, he has said that the presence of gas chambers at Nazi concentration camps was an indisputable fact. However, despite this apparent change of mind, Irving has continued to justify the Nazis’ actions against the Jews and downplay the significance of the Holocaust.
Now it seems that the very same revisionism could get him in trouble with the law again. The Polish secret service will reportedly follow Irving on his death camp tour and investigate whether he is violating a Polish law that criminalises denial of Nazi-era crimes. If found guilty, the writer could face up to three years in prison. What could save him from an unpleasant encounter with the Polish justice system is, however, its general slowness and inefficiency.
“This law is well intended and constructed but it is rarely executed. Many cases are never brought to court,” says Tatar.