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Poland lowers official Auschwitz toll

By MACIEK GAJEWSKI

WARSAW, Poland -- A government commission has lowered the number of people believed to have perished at the Auschwitz death camp during World War II from 4 million to 1.5 million and conceded the overwhelming majority were Jews.

The decision to revise the official number of those killed in the Nazi camp was a formal rejection of original figures generated after the war by the Soviet Union, which still holds the records kept by the camp's commanders.

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It is also in line with figures used by historians in West Germany, the United States and Israel who have documented the number of victims of the Holocaust.

Poland's former communist government relied on the figure of 4 million as part of a propaganda effort to make Auschwitz a symbol of Nazi oppression of all peoples, not just the Jews.

The revision was made by a commission appointed by the Culture Ministry which is determining the future direction of a museum at Auschwitz, known in Polish as Oswiecim.

A Soviet commission which came to Auschwitz in February 1945 after its liberation put the number of victims at more than 4 million. That number was questioned by historians in the West, but not in Poland until very recently.

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Franciszek Piper, head of the history department of the Auschwitz Museum, told the Solidarity newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza that examination of the evidence shows at least 1.1 million people died in the camp, including 960,000 Jews. Some 233,000 survived Auschwitz.

The newspaper said the real figure may be higher but does not exceed 1.5 million.

The commission examined transport records, numbers assigned to prisoners and statistical data from ghettos around Europe to arrive at the figure.

Along with the Jews, 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Gypsies and 15,000 Russian prisoners of war were brought to the concentration camp.

Sam Eskanazi, a spokesman for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, said the change by the Polish commission reconciles the numbers of Auschwitz dead with those generally accepted by Western historians.

He said it does not change the figure of 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis.

The question of how many people died at Auschwitz and who they were hit a raw nerve among Jews last summer when Roman Catholic Cardinal Jozef Glemp said the camp was as much a tragedy for non-Jewish Poles as for the Jews.

The Polish cardinal was defending the right of a group of Carmelite nuns to maintain a convent alongside the Auschwitz grounds, which was protested by Jewish groups around the world. After the protests and intervention from Rome, Glemp agreed that the nuns could find a new home.

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The Auschwitz Museum appealed to the Soviet government to return the archives of the camp to help establish the true number of those killed.

Gezeta Wyborcza also reported Tuesday that plaques saying 4 million people died at Auschwitz have recently been taken down from the camp's International Monument of Fascism Victims.

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