A history teacher is calling an Adamstown man who says he escaped from Auschwitz a “Holocaust impostor and historical fraud.”
Andrew Reid and some of his students attended a presentation in Lowville, N.Y., in April where Joseph B. Hirt, 86, shared his story about being a Holocaust survivor.
Hirt spoke of being captured by Nazis and being imprisoned in Auschwitz for eight months before escaping in 1942.
But as Reid listened to Hirt's story, he said he noticed a few red flags.
A studied historian, Reid, who grew up in Lancaster County, later conducted extensive research on Hirt's claims.
Many of the claims — that Hirt was a prisoner at Auschwitz, that the identification number tattooed on his arm was his prison ID, that he met Auschwitz officer and physician Josef Mengele and Olympic athlete Jesse Owens — do not line up with history, according to Reid's research.
Andrew Reid letter to media
“I am not a Holocaust denier — I believe in truth, and if someone is not telling the truth, I wonder what the lie is covering,” Reid states in a letter.
"It is my hope that Mr. Hirt will voluntarily recant his fraudulent claims and cease his public presentations."
Reached by phone Thursday, Hirt's wife, Dot Hirt, said she did not want to rush with a response.
“We feel that it is right to wait to speak until we are ready,” she said, adding that her husband is currently facing a medical issue.
'Fantastic' story doesn't include Auschwitz
At least one of Hirt's relatives isn't convinced his story is accurate, either.
Michael Hirt, of Illinois, discovered news articles about his uncle's story a few years ago while working on tracing his genealogy. He's since told his uncle several times that his story is misleading.
Joseph Hirt's real story, he said, is “fantastic by itself.”
According to Michael Hirt, his uncle was born in Horodenka, Poland, on July 10, 1930, to Jewish parents.
Joseph B. Hirt shares his story with seventh- and eighth-grade students at Lititz Area Mennonite School in 2012.
He and his family fled before World War II began and headed to Belgrade, Yugoslavia. They left Belgrade after it was bombed by the Germans and continued migrating west to escape the war. Eventually, they ended up in Italy, where they stayed until it was liberated by the Allies in 1944.
The U.S. had a closed-door policy towards refugees during the war. However, an exception was made with the Liberty Ship project. The ship was dispatched to liberated Italy and brought more than 900 refugees to be guests of the U.S.
The refugees were given sanctuary at Fort Ontario Camp in Oswego, N.Y.
“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 said.
No more speaking engagements
John Ruth began accompanying Joseph Hirt on speaking engagements about two years ago. He was invited by a group sponsoring one of Hirt's talks to attend and give information on the history of Mennonites in Germany.
Ruth, of Montgomery County, wrote a book on the history of the Lancaster Mennonites. He lived in Germany from 1968 to 1969.
When he first heard Hirt's story, he said he found elements of it to be questionable. He said each time he voiced his concerns, Hirt provided an explanation. Otherwise, Ruth said, the relationship was positive.
Reid informed Ruth of his investigation because Ruth was part of Hirt's presentation in April.
Andrew Reid research on Joseph B. Hirt
“I find Mr. Reid's research convincing, and I accept it. I can only approve of his concern. I have no reason to question his findings,” Ruth said.
“People should look at what evidence he supplies and make up their minds on that.”
When asked if he would continue speaking with Hirt, Ruth said he does not think there will be more speaking opportunities for him.
Michael Hirt said he does not know what his uncle's motivation is.
In his report, Reid said he does not think the motivation is about financial gain.
In 2014, Joseph Hirt spoke at an event hosted by the Caernarvon Historical Society. According to an official at the society, the event at the Caernarvon Fire Hall drew an estimated 1,000 people.
The society made a donation to Hirt, and a general offering was taken on his behalf.
Hirt also spoke at Lititz Area Mennonite School at least once in 2012. Retired teacher David Siegrist said he did not want to comment on hosting Hirt as a guest speaker.
“When you speak to him, he's very lucid. He's well spoken. He seems to be normal. I can't for the life of me think what his motivation might be,” Michael Hirt said.
Call for an apology
Reid published a letter to Joseph Hirt in which he asked him to publicly recant his claims.
He said if Hirt does not take any action, he will petition the district attorneys in Lancaster and Lewis counties to launch a criminal investigation.
Andrew Reid letter to Joseph B. Hirt
“Much of your activity fits the legal definitions (in both the states of New York and Pennsylvania) of felonies and misdemeanors such as fraud, identity theft, and forgery," Reid wrote to Hirt.
“I am not particularly interested in seeing you punished — I am mostly interested in (1) stopping you from continuing your false claims and (2) seeing you make things right with people whose trust you have abused,” Reid wrote.