A 91-year-old Pennsylvania man who claimed for years that he was a prisoner at Auschwitz now admits he only went to the Nazi death camp as a tourist.
Joseph Hirt, who often lectured to school groups, finally confessed the truth after a history teacher in upstate New York questioned his story of escaping from Auschwitz.
"I am writing today to apologize publicly for harm caused to anyone because of my inserting myself into the descriptions of life in Auschwitz," Hirt wrote in a letter to Lancaster Online on Wednesday. "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."
Turin, N.Y., teacher Andrew Reid had launched his own investigation, eventually sending a 25-page letter to media outlets and organizations that had written about or hosted Hirt.
Hirt said he wanted to find a way to honor the "Survival in Auschwitz" author who took his own life in 1987.
"To commemorate his life and as a constant reminder to myself of his influence on my thinking, I had his camp number tattooed on my left forearm — in no way an attempt to take on his identity, but in an effort to incorporate his symbol as a way of remembering him and mourning his loss," Hirt wrote in his letter obtained by the Watertown Daily Times.
In a Pennsylvania TV interview two years ago, Hirt fibbed he was at Auschwitz in 1941 after seeing Hitler in person five years earlier at the Berlin Olympics.
"Our conversation topics were: What do you think is the best and easiest way to die, to be killed," Hirt had told WGAL.
Hirt said he did face perilous moments during World War II, they just were not in a concentration camp. He said his family spent time in Yugoslavia and Italy evading the Nazis before getting assistance from the Allies.
"The dangers involved in the war years for my family were real and frequent," he writes in the long letter. "We spent many months first searching for a place of safety as the war spread all over Europe."
In the letter, Hirt also writes about a post-war visit to Auschwitz, "a clean and polished tourist destination."