91-Year-Old Man Confesses to, Apologizes for Fabricating Life Story as Auschwitz Survivor
A Pennsylvania man expressed remorse on Friday for having spent years lying about being a Holocaust survivor who escaped a concentration camp, The Guardian reported.
“I was wrong. I ask forgiveness,” said 91-year-old Joseph Hirt in a letter published by LancasterOnline. “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.”
The Lancaster County resident, a Polish Jew, admitted to his fabrication, after history teacher Andrew Reid and his students heard a speech Hirt gave in Lowville, N.Y., UPI.com reported. Attempting to verify the story, they discovered that most of it turned out to be untrue, Reid explained in a letter that was published alongside more than 20 pages of research dissecting Hirt’s tale.
The names of concentration camp victims and survivors are publicly available, and Reid said that there is no indication in the records of Hirt’s ever having been at Auschwitz or any other camp. The teacher also found that the photo of an emaciated prisoner whom Hirt claimed to be himself was not even taken at Auschwitz, but was in fact a picture of a prisoner at Dachau.
“I want to be clear — I am not a Holocaust denier,” Reid wrote. “In fact, the man who hired me for my first teaching job many years ago was a survivor of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and it is partly in his memory and for the preservation of the truth of what millions of people endured that I have taken upon myself the task of exposing Mr. Hirt’s shameful deception.”
After several days of declining to respond to Reid’s accusations, Hirt submitted his letter to LancasterOnline, admitting to the many falsehoods in his story.
Hirt falsely claimed, as well, that he had attended the 1936 Olympics in Berlin when he was a child, and saw Hitler refuse to shake hands with American athlete Jesse Owens — an old tale that was already discredited by experts. He lied about being captured by the Nazis and brought to Auschwitz, where he said he escaped under an electric fence at the camp, UPI.com reported. He also claimed he met the Nazi “Angel of Death” Josef Mengele at Auschwitz, but Reid concluded there was no way for Hirt to have met Mengele, because the latter did not arrive at Auschwitz until months after Hirt claimed to have been there.
Hirt also admitted to having tattooed the number of renowned author and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi on his arm, saying this was “in no way an attempt to take on his identity, but in an effort to incorporate his symbol as a way of remembering him.”
Hirt said his decision to reinvent his past came to him when visiting Auschwitz as a tourist.
He said in his letter that he realized “it wasn’t about me,” and that his motivation to lie was born out of fear that the history and horror of the camps would be forgotten, The Guardian reported. He told readers he was shocked to find that the site of the concentration has become a “clean and polished tourist destination,” where visitors laughed and joked about “propaganda.”
According to UPI.com, Hirt’s family members had had doubts about his story for years, and found relief in Reid’s investigation.
“For what I’ve seen of my Uncle Joe, his story is pretty much correct until the time when he’s kidnapped and taken to Auschwitz,” Michael Hirt told LancasterOnline after Reid’s claims were published, but before his uncle had confessed. He said his uncle’s true story is “fantastic by itself.”