Netflix to change Holocaust documentary after Poland complains

Streaming service to add text to maps in ‘The Devil Next Door’ to clarify that concentration camps were built by Nazi Germany, and not part of modern-day Polish state

John Demjanjuk in Munich, May 2011. (AP/Matthias Schrader)
John Demjanjuk in Munich, May 2011. (AP/Matthias Schrader)

Netflix on Thursday said it would add information to a Holocaust documentary on Nazi German death camps that Poland said “rewrites history” because it features an “incorrect” map.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki earlier this week called on the popular US streaming and production website to correct the “terrible mistake” that he believed had been “committed unintentionally.”

A map featured in “The Devil Next Door” documentary wrongly shows death camps built by Nazi Germany during World War II inside the borders of modern-day Poland, which were established only after the end of the war.

In reality, Nazi Germany set up the camps inside territory it occupied following its September 1939 invasion and takeover of Poland.

“In order to provide more information to our members about the important issues raised in this documentary and to avoid any misunderstanding… we will be adding text to some of the maps featured in the series,” Netflix said in a statement published on its Polish Twitter site.

“This will make it clearer that the extermination and concentration camps in Poland were built and operated by the German Nazi regime who invaded the country and occupied it from 1939-1945,” the statement said.

The Auschwitz memorial museum also tweeted that historical and geographical information in the Netflix documentary about the locations of Nazi death camps was “simply wrong.”

“Not only is the map incorrect, but it deceives viewers into believing that Poland was responsible for establishing and maintaining the camps, and for committing crimes therein,” Morawiecki said in the letter to Netflix boss Reed Hastings posted on his official Facebook page on Monday.

“As my country did not even exist at that time as an independent state, and millions of Poles were murdered at these sites, this element of ‘The Devil Next Door’ is nothing short of rewriting history,” he said.

Napisałem list do szefa Netflix pana Reeda Hastingsa w sprawie nieścisłości historycznych w produkcjach filmowych na tej…

Posted by Mateusz Morawiecki on Sunday, November 10, 2019

Last year, Morawiecki signed legislation making it a crime to hold Poland responsible for Nazi crimes and banning the use of phrases such as “Polish death camps.” Israeli objections to what many saw as Holocaust revisionism led to diplomatic tensions between Jerusalem and Warsaw.

Earlier this year, Poland pulled out of an international summit in Jerusalem after Foreign Minister Israel Katz, citing the late prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, told Channel 13 that Poles “suckle anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk.”

Poland suffered some of the worst horrors of World War II: nearly six million Poles died in the conflict that killed more than 50 million people overall.

That figure includes the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, half of them Polish.

The map in question appears in a documentary focused on retired US autoworker John Demjanjuk, convicted in a landmark 2011 German court ruling for serving as a guard the Nazi German Sobibor camp in occupied Poland.

Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk was extradited to Israel from the United States for trial over his alleged role at Treblinka death camp in 1986, and two years later was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced to death by hanging.

But in 1993, Israel’s top court unanimously ruled Demjanjuk was not “Ivan the Terrible,” overturning the 1988 verdict and returning him to the US after it received evidence that another Ukrainian, not Demjanjuk, was that Nazi guard.

Demjanjuk later went on to be convicted in Germany of being a low-ranking guard at the Sobibor death camp, in a legal precedent that made him one of the best-known faces of Nazi prosecutions.

John Demjanjuk shouts his innocence as he is led past the judge’s bench of Jerusalem courthouse, on April 18, 1988. (AP Photo/Max Nash)

The conviction of the retired Ohio autoworker in a Munich court in May 2011 on 28,060 counts of being an accessory to murder, which was still being appealed upon his death at 91 in 2012, broke new legal ground in Germany as the first time someone was convicted solely on the basis of serving as a camp guard, with no evidence of involvement in a specific killing.

It opened the floodgates to hundreds of new investigations in Germany, though Demjanjuk’s death served as a reminder that time is running out for prosecutors.

Demjanjuk steadfastly maintained that he had been mistaken for someone else — first wounded as a Soviet soldier fighting German forces, then captured and held as a prisoner of war under brutal conditions.

When they overturned his conviction in Israel, the Supreme Court judges said they still believed Demjanjuk had served the Nazis, probably at the Trawniki SS training camp and Sobibor. But they declined to order a new trial, saying there was a risk of violating the law prohibiting trying someone twice on the same evidence.

Ukrainian-born John Demjanjuk, wearing a brown suit and a white open-neck shirt, is escorted by Israeli policemen on his arrival at Tel Aviv airport, on February 28, 1986, following his extradition to Israel from the United States. It was claimed that he was Ivan the Terrible from the Treblinka concentration camp during world War II. Traveling on an El Al commercial flight, he was accompanied by two United States marshals who handed him over to Israeli police at the bottom of the aircraft stairs. (AP Photo)

After he was released in Israel, Demjanjuk returned to his suburban Cleveland home in 1993 and his US citizenship, which had been revoked in 1981, was reinstated in 1998.

Demjanjuk remained under investigation in the US, where a judge revoked his citizenship again in 2002 based on Justice Department evidence suggesting he had concealed his service at Sobibor. Appeals failed, and the nation’s chief immigration judge ruled in 2005 that Demjanjuk could be deported to Germany, Poland or Ukraine.

Prosecutors in Germany filed charges in 2009, saying Demjanjuk’s link to Sobibor and Trawniki was clear, with evidence showing that after he was captured by the Germans he volunteered to serve with the fanatical SS and trained as a camp guard.

After his conviction in May 2011, Demjanjuk was sentenced to five years in prison, but was appealing the case to Germany’s high court. He was released pending the appeal, and died a free man in his own room in a nursing home in the southern Bavarian town of Bad Feilnbach.

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