The honour of Poland is under threat
convincing because even before the amendment was accepted, Polish authorities were trying to limit academic discourse.
Professor Jan T Gross is a wellknown historian of Polish and Jewish origin teaching in Princeton in the United States. His book, Neighbors (Princeton, 2001; published originally in Polish in 2000), dealt with the murder of several hundred Jews in the Polish town of Jedwabne, and described in detail how they were burned to death in a barn — or killed by other horrific means — by their Polish neighbours on July 10, 1941.
In an interview in Die Welt in September 2015, Mr Gross said that during the war the Poles were busier murdering Jews than killing Germans.
After long investigation into Mr Gross’s statement by Polish legal authorities, the case was almost closed. But then, unsurprisingly, the first prosecutor’s decision was overturned. It will now be the same IPN that will decide whether the well-known scholar has “defamed” the Polish nation and thus should be prosecuted and punished.
It should be emphasised: even if Mr Gross were wrong — and he is not — it is his right to express and publish his views and understandings which stem from his historical investigation. In a democratic country, that is.
The problem is one of basic principles. It is not the job of any government (in a democratic country) to determine historical facts, beyond very obvious ones; the fact of the Holocaust, for instance, or the fact of the persecution of Poles by Nazi Germany. To question such facts is indeed outside acceptable discourse.
There are countries, like the US, where even denial of such obvious facts is not prosecuted, in the name of freedom of expression. Others, such as France and Germany, have criminalised Holocaust denial.
If the Polish government wants to similarly criminalise Holocaust denial or justifications of German murder of Poles, that could — perhaps — be defended. But Polish attempts to clear all Poles of anti-Jewish acts, with the exception of what Polish officials call regrettable misbehaviour by marginal elements, are illegitimate in a democratic state. More than that: to threaten a historian with incarceration because of his findings and views is to repeat what one thought Poland had overcome: a return to Bolshevik methods of suppressing freedom of thought.
Polish involvement in the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust is an undeniable part of those dark days.
A group of excellent Polish historians, sociologists and psychologists have shown in detailed research that a very large number of Jews — maybe up to 200,000, a figure Mr Grabowski arrived at — were killed by Polish peasants, the collaborationist socalled Polish Blue Police, and by some units of the mutually hostile Polish anti-German undergrounds. They have also shown how an extremely courageous minority of Poles, peasants and townspeople, risked their very lives — and some of them lost them — to save their Jewish compatriots.
The current atmosphere jeopardises this path-breaking Polish scholarship. In this atmosphere, no wonder young undergraduate students who want to deal with Polish behaviour towards the Jews during the German occupation may well desist from their projects because the government has decided what the “facts” are and they will be threatened and possibly incarcerated.
Despite worldwide condemnations and objections of leading scholars and organisations, the Polish government, which enjoys an absolute majority in the Sejm (parliament), seeks approval of the amendment.
Protests also came from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which, with its 31 member governments (including Poland) and 11 observer/candidate states, provides Holocaust education, remembrance and research with a political umbrella.
A delegation, led by a well-respected Austrian diplomat, went to Warsaw to persuade them of the folly and undemocratic nature of this legislation and reach some kind of a solution. The Polish authorities were very polite, very obstinate and pretended not to understand — or perhaps actually did not comprehend — the problem. They refused to budge.
This is not just a matter of the past. We feel it reflects a deep-seated antagonism on the part of important segments of Polish society towards the Jews, past and present, despite denials by officials and opposition to antisemitism by many Poles.
The anti-Jewish trend is opposed by parts of the intellectual elite, and by an important group of Polish scholars. It is they more than others who are threatened (not so much the small Jewish community).
The Polish government should be told that the honour of the Polish people and the history of courageous resistance to Nazi Germany is being sullied by this kind of behaviour.
A return to Bolshevik methods of suppression
Prof Yehuda Bauer