Historian may be charged with 'slandering Polish nation'

Book details anti-Semitism in Poland after World War II.

A Polish-born American Ivy League historian is facing possible criminal charges in Poland for a recent book describing Polish anti-Semitism and violence against Holocaust survivors following World War II. Princeton University Prof. Jan T. Gross could be charged with "slandering the Polish nation" for his book Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz, whose Polish-language edition came out earlier this month in Poland after first being published in English in the US in 2006. The potential charges against Gross stem from a controversial Polish law passed two years ago which stipulates that anyone found guilty of accusing the Polish nation of cooperating with Nazi or Communist war crimes can be imprisoned for a maximum of three years in jail. "I am pretty sure that the law will be overturned and that the prosecution will give up this case," Gross said Monday in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post from Poland, where he is on a book tour. The Polish Prosecutor's Office in Krakow, which is reviewing the case, is currently reading the book, and is expected to announce a decision this week. Polish officials said Monday that they expect the case to be closed. The Prosecutor's Office had no immediate comment on Monday. "I am not enjoying the prospects of going to court, but if I need to I will bring witnesses to say exactly what has happened," Gross said. The book, which had won favorable reviews in the US, has unleashed a torrent of controversy and criticism in Poland which, until the last decade and half, has long viewed itself as being equal victims of Nazi Germany. Even today, many Poles feel they were the forgotten victim of World War II, while others have only recently begun to reexamine the past. Three million Polish Jews were murdered during the Holocaust out of a pre-war population of 3.5 million. Three million Poles were also killed during the war. Gross, 61, who left Poland in 1969 for the US after being imprisoned under Communist rule for taking part in a free-speech movement, noted that even the director of the respected Polish Institute of National Remembrance has accused him of being a vampire of Polish history. Some 45,000 copies of the book had been printed in Poland, an official with the Polish publishing company that printed the Polish edition said Monday. The book focuses on the July 4, 1946 Kielce pogrom in which about 40 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust were massacred by the local Polish population after false rumors spread that Jews had killed a Polish boy. As many as 3,000 of the estimated 250,000-300,000 Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust were killed in similar Polish violence after the Holocaust as they tried to rebuild their lives in their hometowns. Gross has previously angered Poland and spurred intense public soul-searching with a previous book, Neighbors, that led many Poles to review their perception as victims of the war. The book, which came out in 2001, revealed that it was Poles - and not the Nazis as previously thought - that had set fire to as many as 1,600 of their Jewish neighbors in a Jedwabne barn on July 10, 1941. The book, and the large media and public response it provoked, came at a time of increased Polish awareness of their role in the Holocaust, and followed four decades of a virtual news and educational blackout on the subject during Communist rule. Recently, as Holocaust awareness grew, Poland has drawn special focus on the thousands of Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust.