Opinion: Polish court orders apology from scholars over study of Holocaust. It is a threat to democracy – Greenwich Time

Posted By on March 10, 2021

This statement by Yale historian Timothy Snyder in his book On Tyranny came to mind when I learned of a recent punitive ruling by a Polish court against two respected scholars whom I know.

On Feb. 9, the court ordered Professor Jan Grabowski of the University of Ottawa and Barbara Engelking of the Polish Center for Holocaust Studies to apologize for alleged flaws in their study on Polish complicity with Germans in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust.

The court ruling calls for Grabowski and Engelking to apologize to a woman who claims the study, Night Without End, slanders her deceased uncle by suggesting he helped kill Jews during World War II. The scholars are appealing the ruling, which is based on a law passed last year by the Polish Parliament that makes it a criminal offense to blame Poles for the atrocities of the Holocaust.

This law, passed in response to scholarly works that revealed atrocities committed against Jews in Polish pogroms in 1941 and 1946, gives the government great latitude to brand any criticism as slander, and make it subject to court action. Criminal charges against Grabowski and Engelking were eventually reduced to slander due to international pressure.

This law, and the court ruling against Grabowski and Engelking, is an appalling reflection of Polands far-right nationalist government elected in 2015. The government is lavish in its praise for Polish heroism during World War II. Government followers carry placards that say Down with the Pedagogy of Shame. These Polish-First nationalists malign scholars who seek to uncover historical truth.

This abandonment of any commitment to truth this deletion of justice from the judicial system does indeed amount to the abandonment of freedom.

I know Grabowski to be a courageous and determined man, dedicated to scholarly historical research. He is undeterred by the hate mail he receives, or the icy stares after Polish television called him a falsifier of history.

During interviews with reporters, Grabowski has said that Polish nationalists do not understand that his study of the Holocaust is not a question of choice. There is an obligation to the dead and the living, he said. In this sense, his scholarship in search of truth is like a religious calling.

I first met Engelking in the fall of 2011 in her office in Warsaw. She talked about her seminal work, The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City. She had lived in one of the few buildings left standing after the Germans put down the Jewish uprising. She finally had to move from the area where the ghetto had once been. It was like living in a graveyard, she said.

According to German scholar Gunther Jikeli now an associate professor of history and sociology at Indiana University current data shows that right wing nationalism is spreading. In Poland, this nationalism serves to promote a narrative of national pride in which Poles were both victims and heroes during World War II, but never perpetrators.

While it is true that many Poles risked their lives to rescue Jews, with more than 7,000 Poles honored as Righteous Gentiles at Yad Vashem, Israels memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, at the same time thousands of Poles were killing Jews, or turning Jews over to the Germans.

The Polish government continually inflates the numbers of Poles who were Righteous Gentiles, way beyond the 7,111 recognized at Yad Vashem. The government is funding a new museum to honor 40,000 Poles alleged, with little evidence, to have rescued Jews. Father Tadeusz Rydzik, cited by the U.S. State Department for anti-Semitic remarks, is a leader in this effort to establish the museum and its nationalist narrative.

By contrast, the government ousted a distinguished historian and former director of the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Dariusz Stola, because an exhibit, Estranged, documented a government sponsored anti-Semitic campaign that caused an estimated 13,000 Jews to emigrate from Poland.

Such government efforts to promote a national narrative devoid of truth pose a serious threat to democracy.

This case has rightly initiated international outrage, said Deidre Berger, former director of the American Jewish Committees Berlin office during a recent email exchange about the court ruling against Grabowski and Engelking, For it demonstrates the danger to democracy when the independence of scholarship is called into question, challenging the core democratic principle of freedom of expression.

Another statement by Timothy Snyder comes to mind: Post-truth is pre-fascism.

Greenwich resident Don Snyder is a retired producer at NBC News.

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Opinion: Polish court orders apology from scholars over study of Holocaust. It is a threat to democracy - Greenwich Time

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