2011 Vol. 3 No. 1 — Spring / Commentary

Three Dity Dailies Finally Learn Some Basic History – and Geography

If Cosmopolitan Review had a “Teacher of the Year” award, this year it would undoubtedly be conferred on Alex Storozynski, the indefatigable president of the Kosciuszko Foundation (KF) in New York.

The KF, established in 1925, is the largest and most prestigious Polish American organization, awarding over a million dollars annually in scholarships, and promotes Polish culture through a vast array of program including art exhibits, performances, film, and music.

In recent years, this notable New York institution has taken on a new tempo, bringing New Yorkers – and Washingtonians in the KF’s new premises there – a non-stop series of superb programs, including lectures, films, performances and other activities of interest not only to the Polish community but all Americans.

But while the KF was inviting speakers of such high caliber as Timothy Snyder, it was not lost on Storozynski that some of Americans’ most important cultural institutions were unusually ignorant of Poland’s position during the war, or perhaps just incomprehensibly indifferent to it.

The issue was nothing less than the persistent confusion of Germany’s Nazi era and the first country it attacked, Poland. Despite decades of letter writing by scholars, Polish organizations, and thousands of individual Americans, somehow this issue failed to disturb the thinking of leading editorial decision makers in the US. No matter how often this was pointed out, leading newspapers, most conspicuously The New York Times, refused to consider a change of policy.

In view of this, Alex Storozynski quite rightly came to the conclusion that sponsoring lectures, and book and film events, to shed light on the dual German-Soviet attack on Poland and the barbaric occupations that followed, was a Sysiphian task given that these major news media were continually undermining the historical record.

Last fall, Storzynski launched a petition, and collected well over 200,000 signatories, to challenge the media giants. The Wall Street Journal, faced with such a straightforward and forceful demand, agreed that they had been in the wrong, apologized. The San Francisco Chronicle followed some time later. But The New York Times remained unmovable.

The KF’s president was not intimidated and The NYT soon gave him another opportunity to expose their ignorance and – malice? Surely not, but if not, then what? This time, The NYT not only attributed German camps to Poland, continuing to ignore the fact that German activities during WWII in Poland were in fact in “occupied Poland,” but, most curiously, even moved Dachau to Poland. At this point, The NYT even showed a failing grasp of geography, let alone history.

Alex Storozynski didn’t wait. And this time, The New York Times finally took note, expressed their “shared concern” on this point, and said they would add instructions to their stylebook so that these errors will not continue coming up in future.

While we are surprised the journalists at The NYT are in need of such a basic history lesson, we congratulate Alex Storozynski for providing it. Bravo, Alex!

A copy of The NYT’s letter is reprinted below:

Alex Storozynski
President & Executive Director
The Kosciuszko Foundation
15 East 65th Street
New York, NY 10065

Dear Mr. Storozynski:

After further discussions of the concerns raised by you and others, Times editors have decided to add an entry to the newsroom’s stylebook specifically cautioning journalists to avoid misleading phrases like “Polish concentration camp.”

As we have already pointed out, editors immediately took steps to correct the erroneous references to Dachau in an online caption over the weekend. We also published a correction about the phrase “Polish concentration camp” in an obituary last fall. We understand the great sensitivity of this topic and regret that any such lapses have occurred. But we would like to reiterate that such instances, however unfortunate, are simply mistakes, and it is wrong to suggest that they reflect any malice or deliberate distortion.

Still, to demonstrate our shared concern over this issue, we will add a note on this point to the stylebook and take extra care to try to avoid any further errors.

Eileen Murphy

Eileen M. Murphy
Vice President, Corporate Communications
The New York Times Company
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018

Irene Tomaszewski
Irene Tomaszewski is a writer and editor of CR. She is the co-author, with Tecia Werbowski, of "Codename Żegota: The Most Dangerous Conspiracy in Occupied Europe," published by Praeger in 2010, and translator /editor of "Inside a Gestapo Prison: The Letters of Krystyna Wituska" published by Wayne State University Press in 2005.
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