Polish ruling on Holocaust libel case causes profound concern among Jewish groups

“Selection” of Hungarian Jews on the ramp at Auschwitz II-Birkenau in German-occupied Poland, May-June 1944, during the final phase of the Holocaust. Jews were either sent to work or to the gas chamber. Credit: Yad Vashem Photo Archives, Jerusalem.

“Despite the passing of 75 years since the end of World War II,
Poland still struggles to come to grips with its history,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

A ruling issued by a court in Poland on Tuesday is meeting fierce criticism from Jewish groups and others who claim that the decision will silence further examination of the role of Polish citizens during the Holocaust.

The criticism comes after a court ruled against the authors of Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland. They are Jan Grabowski, professor of history at the University of Ottawa in Canada, and Barbara Engelking, director of the Research Centre for the Extermination of Jews.

The court ruled that the authors must issue a retraction of their work and apologize to the niece of Edward Malinowski, a Polish man, who was briefly mentioned in the book as being complicit in the murdering Jews during the Holocaust.

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“There are those in today’s Poland who want to deny or deflect the fact that some of their countrymen abused and even killed Polish Jews during World War II. They only want to remember the horrors wrought on the Polish nation by the Nazis, while denying this sordid truth,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and global director of its Ed Snider Social Action Institute, told JNS.

“The Jewish people simultaneously revere the memory of thousands of Righteous Poles who, often at great personal risk, saved Jews during this period, while at the same time denouncing the people who abused and killed Polish Jews. Polish history is complicated, and the only ones who should be apologizing are those who seek to rewrite it,” he said.

The libel case in Poland stems from a controversial 2018 law passed by the Polish government that made it a civil offense to make false accusations about Polish history in the Holocaust.

The law originally included criminal penalties but was amended after an international outcry from Jewish groups, as well as outrage in Israel, which led to strained relations between the countries at the time.

Despite the passing of some 75 years since the end of the war, Poland still struggles to come to grips with its history from 1939 to 1945.

In 1939, the country was home to 3.3 million Jews; in 1945, it had been reduced by 90 percent to an estimated 300,000 survivors.

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the World Jewish Restitution Organization issued a joint statement on Tuesday, saying, in part: “The history of the Holocaust requires independent scholarly research that must not be subject to inappropriate efforts at pressure by politicians and the courts. This verdict is a concerning example of Holocaust distortion against which the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, of which Poland is a member has taken a stand.”

Gideon Taylor, president of the Claims Conference and WJRO’s chair of operations, added that “Poland must encourage open inquiry into its history, both the positive and negative aspects, in order to build a society for the future, based on solid ground and a genuine understanding of the past.”

Last week, prior to the ruling, officials from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum weighed in on the case and said that lawsuit “raises serious concerns about the future of independent Holocaust scholarship in Poland and elsewhere. This is one of several troubling trends in the region and beyond … . Honestly reckoning with Holocaust history is essential to the health of societies. Unfettered scholarship and open public discourse are necessary in order to uncover the full scope of Holocaust history and understand its continued relevance.”



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