A Polish court of appeal in December ruled that ZDF must run a month-long apology on its main website to a Polish survivor of Auschwitz, Karol Tendera, for using the term “Polish death camps” in relation to Auschwitz and Majdanek.
However, recent allegations that ZDF failed to abide by the ruling has seen social media users campaigning against the broadcaster online.
Polish website Żelazna Logika (Steel Logic), which has prepared images for use in the campaign, said: “Customarily, we could probably appeal to the government for a reaction or to large media [outlets] … but together we are a great force”.
“The campaign is simple. We take one of the images and post it on the Facebook pages of German media, mainly ZDF,” Żelazna Logika said.
The head of the Polish League Against Defamation (RDI) Maciej Świrski told Polish broadcaster TVP that the campaign on social media was a “very good social movement”.
He said the campaign was an “explosion” of the efforts of activists who defend “Poland's good name”.
Meanwhile, ZDF announced on Facebook that it would remove campaigners' comments and block users.
“Users have been posting comments everywhere on our Facebook pages – mostly consisting of hashtags like #GermanDeathCamps #GermanNotNazi #GermanNotPolish," ZDF said.
“Spam comments spreading everywhere and prohibiting a normal discussion on this page will be deleted and those accounts will be blocked,” the broadcaster added.
ZDF also said that an apology to Karol Tendera had been published on its homepage since December 23.
However Tendera's lawyer, Lech Obara, said: “ZDF clearly did not fulfill the Polish court's orders, because the apologies were not published on the broadcaster’s main website, although the court decided they should be visible on their homepage for 30 days”.
Obara said that ZDF only published an image linking to the full text of the apologies, instead of the text itself. He added that the apology published in the form of a picture, did not allow web search engines to find the text.
“I consulted the matter with experts who claim that there were no technical barriers preventing ZDF from publishing the apologies on the homepage,” Obara added. “This is an attempt to manipulate and avoid taking responsibility by the Germany’s largest TV station.”
The December ruling by the appeals court overturned part of an April verdict by a Kraków district court, which found that ZDF had damaged the plaintiff's dignity and national identity.
But the district court dismissed Tendera's complaint, ruling that ZDF had apologized to the plaintiff in a personal letter.
Tendera launched the case over the promotion of a documentary by ZDF about the liberation of Majdanek and Auschwitz, WWII German Nazi death camps on the territory of occupied Poland.
In the promotional material on the zdf.de website, the channel used the expression “Polish death camps”. The description was changed after the Polish authorities protested.
The use of the term "Polish concentration camp” by international media outlets has sparked numerous complaints from Poland in recent years, prompting some news agencies to change their style guidelines.
In 2007, following a Polish request, the World Heritage Committee attempted to clarify the matter by listing the Auschwitz camp as a "German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp".