The Polish government published an online database on Monday, listing the names of and personal details about 9,686 wartime staff who ran the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during the years 1940-1945.
The state-run Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) said they hope the database, built upon historians’ decades of archival research, will bring justice to some of the guards while also curbing the use of the phrase “Polish death camps.”
"The world justice system has failed and I'm doing what a historian should do: expose the responsible individuals as war criminals," historian Aleksander Lasik, who helped prepare the Auschwitz garrison list at the heart of this database, said at a press conference.
Lasik said up to 200 former Nazi guards who worked at the infamous German death camp that killed around 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, could still be alive. An estimated 232,000 children were killed at this concentration camp built in 1940 in the city of Oswiecim in occupied Poland. (The name "Oswiecim" was changed to "Auschwitz" by the Nazis after Poland was annexed to the Third Reich.)
The online list (in five languages), comprised of data from archives in Poland, Germany, Austria, the United States, and Russia, offers detailed information on the camp's guards, including date and place of birth, nationality, education, and military service for most of the entries, with photos for some and judicial documents about those who were tried postwar.
As the German guards burned, destroyed, and transported most of the administration documents when they fled the camp, this database seeks to provide a further understanding of the history of the camp, according to Piotr Cywiński, director at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum that collaborated with the IPN on this new database.
“It is a paradox that at present we are in possession of much more extensive prisoner documentation in comparison with the documentation of SS garrison itself,” Dr. Cywiński said in a statement. “I hope that this database, presented to the public, will help us in our further research on the history of SS garrison of the Auschwitz camp.”
This announcement came days after the Museum appealed to the German and Austrian public to hand over any materials connected with the SS garrison of the Auschwitz camp that could help them “understand the motivation of perpetrators in a better and deeper way.”
“I am deeply convinced that common effort is the only way to fuller understanding of mechanisms of systemic hatred,” Cywiński said on Friday. “We are now in need of new sources for obtaining fuller image of the history of Auschwitz and the Shoah.”
This project, which is available in five languages, is also part of the Polish government’s campaign to prevent international media from identifying the camps as “Polish” due to their geographic location.
“[The new database] is a tool to fight lies,” said IPN Chairman Jaroslaw Szarek, according to AFP. "We're not expressing an opinion, we're presenting the cold, hard facts."
Mr. Szarek also said this list is the beginning of a wide-ranging project that will extend to the staffs of other Nazi German death camps.
“It is a historical day. With this project we are inaugurating the realization of a big project,” he said. “We are beginning from KL Auschwitz, but we are also planning to expand this list with other German Nazi concentration camps.”
This report includes material from the Associated Press.