A 91-year-old US man who had for years lectured school groups and was quoted by the media about his experiences at Auschwitz has admitted he made up the story. He did it to publicize the events of the past.
Joseph Hirt made the admission in a letter to a local Pennsylvania newspaper, saying he falsely claimed to have escaped the concentration camp in order to impress on people "the important truth of the suffering and death of so many."
"I am writing today to apologize publicly for harm caused to anyone because of my inserting myself into the descriptions of life in Auschwitz. I was not a prisoner there. I did not intend to lessen or overshadow the events which truly happened there by falsely claiming to have been personally involved," Hirt wrote in a letter to "Lancaster Online."
The 91-year-old had for years given lectures to school children and spoken to media about his fabricated experience at Auschwitz.
Hirt said "both young listeners and adults responded to my presentations with feeling and often with a desire to share in the task of never forgetting and bearing witness."
History teacher revelations
But his story took a turn in April, when he was questioned by history teacher Andrew Reid in Turin, New York, after he heard the story with his students.
Reid conducted research into Hirt's background and published a 25-page article proving the story was made up. He sent the document to media outlets and organizations who Reid said "unknowingly perpetuated his false claims to an even greater audience."
In the apology letter, Hirt said his Jewish family from Belgrade had suffered fear during World War II before they went to the United States.
He later visited the Auschwitz camp after the war, where he said he found a "clean and polished tourist destination."
"I was distressed at the lack of feeling about the heartache, the suffering, and so much death," he wrote in the apology letter. "Flagrant denial and ignorance of the truth made me determined to keep the memories alive."
"I determined at that moment to do everything in my power to prevent the loss of the truth about wartime life (and death) at Auschwitz," he said in the letter.
Hirt said that information about the concentration camps existed because a small group of survivors shared their stories. But he warned that "soon Holocaust memories will be held entirely by those who were not there."
cw/jm (AP, Lancaster Online)