ADAMSTOWN, Pa. — A 91-year-old Pennsylvania man who has for years lectured to school groups and others about what he said were his experiences at Auschwitz now says he was never a prisoner at the concentration camp.
Joseph Hirt made the admission in a letter to LNP newspaper on Wednesday and apologized. He said he used poor judgment and faulty reasoning in trying to tell the story of those affected by the Nazis.
“I was wrong. I ask forgiveness,” Hirt wrote in his letter to LNP.
“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 was quoted by LNP as writing.
“It wasn’t about me. I was wrong in using an untruth (my presence) in an attempt to enhance the important truth of the suffering and death of so many – not only Jewish people, but also others held in disdain by the Nazi movement. I was wrong. I ask forgiveness. I used poor judgment and faulty reasoning, risking a sullying of the truth I was trying to share.”
The Adamstown man’s admission comes weeks after Hirt’s story of escaping from Auschwitz was questioned by history teacher Andrew Reid in Turin, New York.
Reid attended an April presentation by Hirt in upstate New York with several students. He concluded that many of the speaker’s claims didn’t add up.
Reid began to investigate the matter independently, and summed up his findings in a 25-page document he sent to media outlets and organizations that had written about or hosted Hirt. These organizations “unknowingly perpetuating [Hirt’s] false claims to an even greater audience,” Reid was quoted by LNP as saying.
He challenged Hirt to apologize publicly and said that if he did not, he would petition the district attorneys in Lancaster and Lewis counties to launch a criminal investigation.
Hird called Reid and apologized earlier this month, according to Reid.
In his apology letter sent to LNP, Hirt wrote about a visit he made to the Auschwitz camp several years after World War II. He was shocked to find a place of such persecution and death to be a “clean and polished tourist destination.”
“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,” Hirt wrote in his letter.
— Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.