The story behind Wikipedia's "longest hoax"
For over 15 years, false claims that tens of thousands of non-Jewish Poles were gassed to death in a death camp in Warsaw were presented as fact on English Wikipedia articles. In my latest report for Haaretz, I reveal they are just the tip of an iceberg of a widespread Holocaust distortion operation by Polish nationalists on English Wikipedia.
In wake of my investigation, the story of KL Warschau was added to Wikipedia's list of hoaxes - where it was as the longest "hoax statement" on Wikipedia.
Since the Wikipedia article on the “Warsaw concentration camp” was opened in August 2004, and until it was completely rewritten this past August, it falsely claimed that there was an extermination camp in the Polish capital. The article was translated into a dozen languages, and false bits of information from it permeated other Wikipedia entries on related subjects, gaining over half a million views in English alone.
For example, bogus details on alleged prisoner numbers and the death toll found their way to central articles on the Holocaust on Wikipedia. These include “Nazi crimes against the Polish nation” and even the entry “Extermination camp,” where KL Warschau was listed alongside camps like Auschwitz and Majdanek for over 12 years.
“It’s fake history,” says Prof. Havi Dreifuss, a Tel Aviv University historian and Yad Vashem’s expert on Poland and the Holocaust, when asked about gas chambers in Warsaw. Other Holocaust historians share her unequivocal position: “It’s a conspiracy theory,” says Prof. Jan Grabowski, a Polish-Canadian historian from the University of Ottawa, when asked about the legend behind the death toll.
The nature of this falsehood – the fact that it’s a well-known conspiracy theory that was deliberately pushed out – alongside the scope of its impact on other articles and their longevity within Wikipedia are what turn the extermination camp at KL Warschau into the longest-running hoax ever uncovered on the online encyclopedia. The first version of “Warsaw concentration camp” said the site was home to “death camps” where Warsaw’s Gentile population was “exterminated,” and before the article was partially rewritten this past May, it was called an “extermination camp” in the opening lines.
The person who first discovered the scale of the distortion – and is now arguing to have it recognized as Wikipedia’s longest hoax – is an Israeli editor dubbed Icewhiz, who refuses to be identified by his real name but agreed to speak with Haaretz. Icewhiz has already rewritten the English-language article for KL Warschau to reflect the accepted historical truth, but his attempt to cleanse other Wikipedia articles that incorporate material from it reveal that the principal entry is only the tip of an iceberg. An examination of his claims by Haaretz reveals the existence of what seems to be a systematic effort by Polish nationalists to whitewash hundreds of Wikipedia articles relating to Poland and the Holocaust.