Polish death camp and Polish concentration camp are misleading terms that occasionally appear in international media in reference to Nazi German concentration camps built and run by during the Holocaust in the General Government and other parts of occupied Poland. Usage of the term has been condemned as "insulting" by the Polish foreign minister Adam Daniel Rotfeld in 2005, who also alleged it to - intentionally or unintentionally - shift the responsibility for the construction or operation of the camps from the German to the Polish people. Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita has criticized international media outlets, including Haaretz from Israel, as "holocaust deniers" over usage of the term. However, all foreign media articles so criticized by Rzeczpospolita (as of November 2008) make clear that the perpetrators were German, none claims Poles built the camps.
Opponents of these terms argue that they are inaccurate, as they may imply that the camps—located in Nazi-occupied Poland—might have been a responsibility of the Poles (i.e. Polish), when in fact they were designed, constructed and run by Nazi Germany with no collaboration from Poland or Poles; and, used to exterminate millions of Polish Gentiles alongside Polish Jews, including Jews transported by the Nazis from across Europe. Non-Polish media also make similar references to the German-run extermination program in Nazi-occupied Poland such as the "Polish Ghetto", "Polish Holocaust", "Nazi Poland", etc. Polish Foreign Minister Adam Daniel Rotfeld in 2005 suggested that there are instances of "bad will, saying that under the pretext that “it’s only a geographic reference”, attempts are made to distort history and conceal the truth."
An example of the controversy occurred when an April 30, 2004 CTV News report made reference to "the Polish camp in Treblinka". The Polish embassy in Canada lodged a complaint with CTV. Robert Hurst of CTV, however, argued that the term "Polish" was used throughout North America in a geographical sense, and declined to issue a correction. The Polish Ambassador to Ottawa then complained to the National Specialty Services Panel of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. The Council did not accept Hurst's argument and ruled that the word "'Polish'—similarly to such adjectives as 'English', 'French' and 'German'—had connotations that clearly extended beyond geographic context. Its use with reference to Nazi extermination camps was misleading and improper".
Concerns about the use of the term "Polish death camp" led the Polish government to request that UNESCO change the official name of Auschwitz from "Auschwitz Concentration Camp" to "former Nazi German concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau" in order to make clearer that the concentration camp was built and operated by Nazi Germany. On 28 June 2007 at its meeting in Christchurch, New Zealand, the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO changed the name of the camp to "Auschwitz Birkenau. German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945)." Previously, some media, including Der Spiegel in Germany, had called the camp "Polish". The New York Times regularly refers to Auschwitz as Polish rather than German.
The use of terms explicitly mentioning "Poland" or "Polish" has been monitored and discouraged by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Polonia organizations around the world as well as by all Polish governments since 1989. The American Jewish Committee has also rejected the usage, stating that:
Auschwitz-Birkenau and the other death camps, including Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka, were conceived, built and operated by Nazi Germany and its allies. The camps were located in German-occupied Poland, the European country with by far the largest Jewish population, but they were most emphatically not "Polish camps". This is not a mere semantic matter. Historical integrity and accuracy hang in the balance.
In 2008, due to the continued usage of the term term Polish in regards to atrocities committed and camps built and operated by the German state under Nazi leadership, the chairman of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) issued a letter to local administrations with a call to add German before Nazi in all monuments and tables that commemorate the victims of Nazi Germany. As stated by the IPN official, while in Poland 'Nazi' is definitely connected to 'German' this is not the case everywhere in the world, and the change will help to solve the problem. At the moment several places are undergoing renovation which will make clear that the nationality of the people responsible was German.
The incorrect phrase 'Polish concentration camps' is used in school textbooks outside Poland to refer to the Nazi German concentration camps on occupied Polish territory.