Polish court libel verdict condemned by Holocaust scholars

Warsaw court finds historians guilty of libel over survivor testimony that wartime mayor of Polish village of Malinowo revealed hiding place of Jews to German soldiers


Historians and Jewish groups have condemned a Polish court’s guilty verdict in a libel suit against two historians, saying the decision will chill research into Holocaust history.

The Warsaw court found professors Barbara Engelking of Poland and Jan Grabowski of Canada guilty of libel in a book they edited, Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland. It includes survivor testimony that a wartime mayor of the Polish village of Malinowo revealed the hiding place of Jews to German soldiers, who then killed them.

Engelking and Grabowski were ordered to apologize to the plaintiff – the mayor’s elderly niece – to retract the statements and to change future editions of the book. According to the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, the scholars plan to appeal the verdict.

Both the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the World Jewish Congress expressed concern about the verdict.

“This decision damages an open and honest coming to terms with the past,” Gideon Taylor, Claims Conference President and COO of the World Jewish Restitution Organizations, said.

Speaking to the JC, Mr Taylor said the trial “was dressed up as a defamation case” but was really about curbing academic research. “Understanding history in all its complexity and all its positive and negative sides is accomplished through academic research, sometimes through arguing, but not through defamations suits in court.”

Calling the libel case “misguided,” WJC President Ronald S. Lauder said it was “simply unacceptable that historians should be afraid of citing credible testimony of Holocaust survivors.”

Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem and the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah were among others that that vociferously criticised the trial and verdict.

In 2018, Poland passed the “Institute of National Remembrance” law making it a civil offence to accuse the state of complicity in the Holocaust, punishable by a fine or jail term of a maximum of three years

Recently, Polish journalist Katarzyna Markusz was arrested and interrogated after an anonymous tipster reported her over an October 2020 article in which she urged Poland to accept the truth about wartime antisemitism among Poles, and complicity in the Holocaust.

The case against Engelking and Grabowski was brought by Filomena Leszczyńska, 81, who demanded compensation and an apology for what she called the defamation of her uncle, Edward Malinowski, mayor of Malinowo under German occupation. Leszczyńska was reportedly backed by a Polish nationalist organization, which raised private money to pay her legal costs.

Engelking heads the Research Centre on the Extermination of Jews (Polish Academy of Sciences) and Grabowski teaches history at the University of Ottawa. Their volume includes survivor testimony about Malinowski, who was acquitted of collaboration in 1950.

According to the New York Times, Grabowski said the article in question mistakenly combined the biographies of two past mayors with the same name. But he said that error made Leszczyńska’s uncle look better by attributing to him the positive deeds of the other.

Judge Ewa Jonczyk insisted the verdict in this case should not have a chilling effect on scholarly research. But Engelking said she had “no doubt this is some sort of an effort” to steer scholars away from such topics.




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