Harlan Coben Inadvertently Offends Poland

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Best-selling author Harlan Coben has accidentally ended up in hot water with…. Poland:

Screen capture of author Harlan Coben's Facebook page.
Screen capture of author Harlan Coben’s Facebook page.

The power, and danger, of words. An English e-book version of one of his novels had the phrase “Polish concentration camp,” which in English could easily be read as implying it was a concentration camp run by Poles or by the government of Poland. Coben writes in that Facebook post above that the error has been “corrected” to “concentration camp located in Poland,” but the old e-book version is still floating around out there and he’s trying to get it stamped out.

Poles are – naturally – very sensitive to the use of language in that regard and rightly so. The concentration camps were imposed on, and placed in, a Poland that had been militarily defeated in 1939 by Nazi Germany, and subsequently occupied and ruled brutally by Nazi Germany until Soviet forces swept through in 1945. Hence they were “Nazi German concentration camps” that just happened to have been situated on Polish soil, not “Polish concentration camps.”

Interestingly, a dopey editor reading a manuscript by one of us, uh, less than Coben-level novelists, and seeing a sentence that included the phrase “concentration camp located in Poland,” might well have felt that was “awkward” or “wordy,” and, urr, helpfully suggested to us, “Hey, uh, how about ‘Polish concentration camp’?”

We native speakers know English can at times also be a clumsy language and any author has got to remember that. One thing I’m learning as well is one also never knows who will read your books and what few words could be misconstrued, or even if there is some awful error (beyond a simple typo) lurking in there that has somehow been overlooked. It can happen: books can be how many tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of words long, and even someone like Coben (who probably has quite a few people reading his manuscripts pre-release) can have egregious mistakes, or plain stupid phrasings, slip through.


  1. It should NOT read concentration camp in Poland, but concentration camp in German occupied Poland. Use of the word Poland without German occupied implies Poland was a sovereign country when the camps were functioning. And no, Poland was not Nazi occupied! Poland was occupied by another country – Germany.


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