Two Polish historians before the judges for their work on the Shoah

Their work, entitled Further on, it’s still night, disturbs the nationalists in Poland, to the point of leading to legal proceedings. In the latter, Barbara Engelking, president of the Auschwitz International Council, and Jan Grabowski of the University of Ottawa, report numerous cases of Poles complicity in the Jewish genocide during World War II. They are due to appear on Tuesday, February 9 for defamation.

The world of research in turmoil

Filomena Leszczynska, 80, accuses them of “To defile the memory” of his uncle, Edward Malinowski, mayor of Malinowo in eastern Poland during the war. Supported in its approach by the “League Against Defamation”, who pays the legal fees, she asks for 100,000 zlotys (22,000 €) in damages and the publication of an apology in the press. In the book, Uncle Edward Malinowski is briefly cited for his alleged involvement in a massacre of Jews in his village. For the accused Barbara Engelking, it is above all a question of “To discourage other researchers from seeking, knowing and writing the truth about the Holocaust in Poland”.

In Poland, history in the school of nationalists

The case sparked an uproar in the research community on both sides of the Atlantic and even in France, where academics like historian Annette Wieviorka condemned a “Research on the Shoah that we want to silence”. For the Shoah Memorial in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, “This trial constitutes a serious attack on free and open research”, and “Against the efforts to obtain a complete and balanced picture of the history of the Holocaust”.

Ambiguities of memory

The attitude of the Poles towards the Shoah has remained a very delicate subject since the publication, in 2000, of the book Neighbors, by Polish-American historian Jan Gross, who tells how residents of Jedwabne massacred their Jewish neighbors in July 1941. And after the war, the issue of anti-Semitism was not settled, as shown the Kielce massacre in 1946 of Jews returning from the USSR.

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Yad Vashem, it is true, lists more than 7,000 Poles distinguished as “Righteous Among the Nations”, more than in any country. On the other hand, even if there was no collaborative government in Poland, the history of this country under occupation is more ambiguous than the ultra-conservative party in power would like to believe.

Against the “pedagogy of shame”

In 2018, the Polish government claimed to defend its image abroad by adopting the law on the Shoah. The latter provided for three years in prison for those who attributed “The responsibility or co-responsibility of the Polish nation or state for crimes committed by the German Third Reich”. But faced with international indignation, Warsaw had to abolish the criminal sanctions provided for by this text.

→ READ. Antisemitism: new controversies in Poland and Austria

Without denying the facts, the government, supported by part of the public, rejects “The pedagogy of shame”, and wants on the contrary to highlight the cases of heroism during the war. That of the Ulma family, in particular, massacred by the Germans in 1944 for having hidden Jews. A museum inaugurated by President Andrzej Duda in March 2016 is dedicated to them in Markowa.

This is not the first case of its kind in Poland. In 2019, the Polish justice had already abandoned an investigation into a possible offense against the nation attributed to the American historian Jan Tomasz Gross, who had claimed that the Poles had “Killed more Jews than Germans” during WWII.

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