Joseph Hirt: 86-Year-Old Pennsylvania Man Who Spoke About The Holocaust For Years Confesses That He Was Never There

Joseph Hirt, a Pennsylvania man who claimed to have survived the Holocaust, as well as claimed to have met track and field star Jesse Owens and Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, admitted Friday that they were all lies, The Guardian is reporting.

The 86-year-old man confessed his falsehoods in a letter to a local paper.

“I am writing today to apologize publicly for harm I caused anyone for 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.”

Hirt gave speeches at schools about his experiences during the Second World War, talking about how his Jewish family fled from Poland into Belgrade. He said he was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp where he met Mengele, the infamous SS physician who tortured prisoners. Hirt said he escaped the camp by crawling under an electrified fence. His historical fabrications also included seeing Adolf Hitler turn his back on Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and meeting the Olympian alongside Eleanor Roosevelt.

Hirt argued that he did what he did to preserve the truth about what happened at Auschwitz. In his letter, he said he was shocked that the horrors of the dreaded camp had now become a “clean and polished tourist destination” where people made light of the painful times and horsed around over “propaganda.” He went on, saying, “flagrant denial and ignorance of the truth made me determined to keep memories alive. I used poor judgment and faulty reasoning, risking a sullying of the truth I was trying to share.”

It seems Hirt came out with the truth after some people had faulted his story.

New York history teacher Andrew Reid doubted Hirt’s story because things simply did not add up. Reid said all the names of victims and survivors from Auschwitz were available as a matter of public record and Hirt’s name was not there. Hirt had revealed in his letter that he tattooed the number of a famous author and chemist, Primo Levi, who was also an Auschwitz survivor, on his left forearm not to steal his identity, but to honor him after he committed suicide. Further investigations revealed that the number belonged to another prisoner from 1944.

Reid said Hirt’s escape did not also tally with camp records and pointed out that Mengele did not arrive at the camp until after Hirt’s purported escape. He also said Hirt was unlikely to have been near Hitler during the 1936 Olympics because he would have been a 6-year old boy. Reid’s investigation was put inside a 25-page letter and sent to media organizations that he said had fanned Hirt’s fabrication to a large audience.

Hirt confessed that he moved to Yugoslavia with family before finding refuge in Italy where he was captured and detained in a camp. When allied troops invaded Italy, he was transferred to a refugee camp alongside his family before being part of a program that allowed them to come to the United States.

“I ask that you forgive me if you can, forget me if you must, but keep the truth and the memory of the Holocaust always in your ear and mind.”

Historian Ken Waltzer said it was alarming how people swallowed any story about the Holocaust without verifying.

“This was not Holocaust education but miseducation. This shows something about the broad willingness in our culture to confront the difficult knowledge of the Holocaust. All the more important than to have real memoirs that tell of real experience in the camps.”

[Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images]