The hon­our of Poland is un­der threat

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - Yehuda Bauer is Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of His­tory and Holo­caust Stud­ies at the Avraham Har­man In­sti­tute of Con­tem­po­rary Jewry at the He­brew Univer­sity of Jerusalem and Aca­demic Ad­vi­sor to Yad Vashem Havi Drei­fuss is as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of Jewish his­tory at T

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

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