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Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee investigates Holocaust distortions written by Polish editors

Revisionist editors are accused of distorting Polish Holocaust history to present Poland in a better light

Wikipedia (Photo: Shutterstock)

Following the publication of an academic paper in The Journal of Holocaust Research at the beginning of February, Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee, decided to look into allegations of a “conspiracy” by Polish editors to distort Holocaust history.

Disputes about edits on Wikipedia are resolved internally through mechanisms of arbitration. If those systems fail, the disputes can be referred to the Arbitration Committee. However, in this case, the Arbitration Committee decided to investigate the allegations without a referral, due to the seriousness of the accusations.  

The authors of the study, Prof. Jan Grabowski and Prof. Shira Klein, found that Wikipedia entries related to the history of the Holocaust in Poland were being manipulated by a group of Polish Wikipedia editors and were being edited to conform to popular versions of Polish history that "whitewash" any Polish complicity in the genocide of six million Jews."

Grabowski, a history professor at the University of Ottawa who co-authored the study said, “In the cases which we analyzed in our article, the complicity of Poles in the Holocaust, or the participation of ethnic Poles in anti-Jewish acts, is being downplayed or denied.”

In addition, the editors reportedly tried to blame the Holocaust on the Jews themselves. The study noted that Polish Wikipedia articles tried to present Jews as collaborators with both Communism and Nazism, while idealizing Polish conduct during the Holocaust.

“A myopic decision here could result in untold numbers of people being fed a distorted view of Jewish/WWII history, which could have very real consequences given the recent amplification of violently antisemitic rhetoric by mainstream public figures,” wrote Grabowski and Klein.

That is one aspect of the manipulation, but there is more.

“Simultaneously, the role of Poles in rescuing the Jews during the Holocaust is being inflated to a great degree,” Grabowski said. “At the same time, the nationalistic Wikipedians [those editing Wikipedia articles] spread and propagate antisemitic cliches and stereotypes.”

The historians spent two years attempting to uncover who the editors making these distortions might be, how they work and how they are able to get away with it.

“What our study found is that these Wikipedians operate at the edges of what Wikipedia defines as permissible,” explained study co-author Klein, from Chapman University in Orange, California.

“They abuse the system by contesting the definition of reliable research. They spend hours legitimizing non-academic sources and fringe authors and discrediting trustworthy historians. As a result, when administrators and uninvolved editors arrive to settle a conflict, they have a hard time telling right from wrong.”

The Polish editors involved are familiar enough with Wikipedia’s mechanisms to give the appearance they are following the rules, and they are willing to engage in debates with other editors who step in to intervene. This makes finding the truth more difficult for a non-expert.

However, Klein, does not want to discourage users from using the site.

“I don’t think we should ignore Wikipedia, we should stop the ones who distort it,” she said. “Wikipedia has many ways to preserve credible information which usually works. This case is an exception, not the norm on Wikipedia."

Grabowski and Klein stressed that their focus was to confront revisionist distortions of history without speculating about the Wikipedia editors’ political motivation.

“We’ve been very careful not to make any assumptions on what drives them or what their politics are. Instead, we’ve tried to focus just on what they’ve done, which is in the written record. And as we say in the article, we don’t see any evidence of them being tied to a government or being in the service of anyone

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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