In an appalling incident that should shake the international academic community, and anyone concerned with historical truth and integrity, renowned historian Prof. Jan Grabowski was forcibly prevented from lecturing at the German Historical Institute in Warsaw by a member of the Polish Parliament. Shortly after the academic event began, while Grabowski was speaking, the MP smashed his microphone on the podium, attempted to tear out the sound system and threw a computer onto the floor. This assault is not only a hateful act of violence against an individual but also an abhorrent affront to the history of the Holocaust and the principles of academic freedom and open civil discourse. This incident highlights the ever-deteriorating intimidating atmosphere faced by Holocaust scholars in Poland and the urgent need to safeguard intellectual diversity and freedom of expression in Poland and elsewhere.
Grabowski is a respected, award-winning historian known for his extensive research on the Holocaust and Polish society and the experiences of Jews in Poland during World War II. His work has contributed significantly to our understanding of this dark chapter in history. This latest attack on Grabowski not only threatens his personal safety but also jeopardizes the pursuit of historical truth and the critical examination of past events.
It is scandalous that a Polish parliamentarian entrusted with legitimately representing his constituency would resort to public vandalism and violence against a scholar. His actions display a blatant disregard for the principles of democracy, tolerance and respect for intellectual diversity.
This incident serves as a stark example of the rising tide of intolerance and aggressive efforts to whitewash history to serve a politically driven agenda. When individuals in positions of power and influence resort to violence to suppress ideas that run counter to their opinions and myths it sends a chilling message to us all that academic freedom is at risk. It breeds an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship that stifles unfettered critical thought and prevents the free exchange of ideas.
The importance of academic freedom
Academic freedom is the bedrock of any democratic society. It allows scholars to explore ideas, conduct research and disseminate a broad range of knowledge and opinions without fear of censorship, intimidation or physical harm. Thus, it is imperative that we stand in solidarity with scholars like Grabowski, Prof. Barabara Engelking and others who have been attacked because of their research findings. We roundly condemn such attacks and insist on the protection of academic freedom.
Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, is dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and promoting research and education on this crucial period of history. Academic freedom and open discourse based on facts are essential to this mission. Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research supports scholars and researchers, encouraging a diverse range of perspectives and the pursuit of rigorous scholarship.
Let us unite in committing to defend academic freedom, and nurture open intellectual discourse about the Holocaust and all other important topics.
The writer is the chairman of Yad Vashem. Prior to his appointment to the chairmanship, he served as Israel’s consul-general in New York