Polish court: Holocaust scholars must apologize ‘for inexact information’

Warsaw District Court rules Prof. Barbara Engelking and Prof. Jan Grabowski ‘violated honor’ of Holocaust era Polish mayor for citing testimony he betrayed 22 Jews hiding near his village to Nazis.

A gavel in a court of law (photo credit: REUTERS)
A gavel in a court of law
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A Polish court has ruled that two Polish historians must issue an apology for including testimony in a 2018 book of a Jewish woman who accused a village mayor of betraying 22 Jews to the Nazis during the Holocaust.
The Warsaw District Court determined that Prof. Barbara Engelking, founder and director of the Polish Center of Holocaust Research, and Prof. Jan Grabowski, a Polish-Canadian historian of the Holocaust at the University of Ottawa, had included “inexact information” in their book.
According to the daily Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper, Judge Ewa Jończyk ruled that the two historians had “violated the honor” of the mayor for citing testimony that he took possessions from the Jewish woman and collaborated with the Nazis through disclosing the location of Jews hiding near his village.
As such, the two historians must publish an apology on the website of the Polish Center of Holocaust Research, apologize to the village mayor’s 80-year-old niece, who brought the libel suit at the prompting of a government-backed NGO, and change the text of the book in any new editions to reflect the ruling.
The court declined, however, to issue a fine against the two historians as demanded by the plaintiff.
The two historians will appeal the decision.
Engelking and Grabowski edited a book in Polish in 2018 called Night Without End which examined the fate of tens of thousands of Jews who escaped the various Nazi ghettos established throughout Poland and fled into the countryside between 1942 and 1945.
In the book, they provided an account of a Jewish woman, Estera Siemiatycka from the village of Malinowo, who was helped by mayor Edward Malinowski to flee the country.
She initially gave evidence in a 1947 Polish court trial in defense of Malinowski, who was accused of betraying 22 Jews hiding in forests close to the village to the Nazis, but her subsequent testimony in 1996 stated that Malinowski had indeed informed the Nazis about the whereabouts of the Jews.
The book also notes that Siemiatycka stated that Malinowski took possessions from her in return for their assistance.
The Warsaw District Court ruled on Tuesday that Engelking and Grabowski must apologize for stating that Malinowski robbed Siemiatycka and collaborated in the death of the Jews hiding in the forest.
Konstanty Gebert, a Gazeta Wyborcza journalist and an expert on Polish society, said the Warsaw court had based its decision on the ruling of the Polish court in 1947 that Malinowski was innocent.
He noted, however, that witnesses from the village who were due to appear for the prosecution had been beaten and threatened with death before the trial, and subsequently did not appear in court.
Only witnesses for the defense testified in the trial, Gebert said.
“The court has essentially ruled that Estera’s 1996 testimony is inadmissible and that the court ruling from 1947 cannot be disputed,” said Gebert.
“The Warsaw court has arbitrarily decided that Siemiatycka’s testimony from 1996 should be disregarded, and the 1947 verdict be considered final.
“Historians don’t deal with final rulings and put evidence in context. This is a clinical example of why a court is not the right place to decide history.”
RABBI MICHAEL Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland, condemned the ruling as “an intimidation tactic” designed to “shut up people who say that Poles did anything bad during the Holocaust.”
Said Schudrich: “People will be afraid to do honest research on Jewish issues in Poland – and this is utterly unacceptable.”
On Monday, a group of 16 Jewish leaders in Poland, including Schudrich and Gebert, criticized the libel suit and the recent questioning by Polish police of journalist Katarzyna Markusz for writing about “Polish complicity in the Holocaust.
“The courtroom is not a place where historical truth is determined; we condemn such attempts and show solidarity with those affected,” they wrote. They also criticized the involvement of the state-backed Polish Anti-Defamation League in the libel suit against Engelking and Grabowski.
The group said that if the state prosecutor investigates Markusz, it should investigate all the signatories to their letter as well.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder said he was “dismayed” by the court’s ruling on Tuesday.
“It is simply unacceptable that historians should be afraid of citing credible testimony of Holocaust survivors,” said Lauder.
“This outcome does not bode well for the future of historical research in Poland and sends precisely the wrong message to those who seek to stifle the work of scholars.”
In their book, Engelking and Grabowski found that the large majority of Jews who escaped Nazi ghettos in Poland were indeed murdered by the Nazis but that many were betrayed by Poles.
They noted that Siemiatycka testified in the defense of Malinowski at the 1947 trial in which he was acquitted. But they also cited her subsequent testimony in 1996 to the Shoah Foundation, where she said she knew Malinowski had been involved in hunting and betraying Jews in the region, but had lied in court because she felt indebted to him for saving her life.