Poland moves to strip Jewish Holocaust scholar of award
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Poland moves to strip Jewish Holocaust scholar of award

American-Polish professor Jan Tomasz Gross could lose prestigious honor for asserting Poles’ complicity in the Holocaust

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Poland-born Jewish American historian Jan Tomasz Gross speaks to Polish media on August 28, 2015. (screen capture: YouTube)
Poland-born Jewish American historian Jan Tomasz Gross speaks to Polish media on August 28, 2015. (screen capture: YouTube)

Warsaw’s nationalist government has moved to strip a leading Jewish Holocaust scholar of national honor for asserting Poland was in part responsible for Nazi war crimes against its Jewish population during World War II, the UK’s The Guardian reported on Sunday.

Jan Tomasz Gross, a Polish-born Princeton University history professor, was awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland in 1996 for his extensive work documenting the fate of Polish Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland. In his notable 2001 book “Neighbors,” which examined the massacre of some 1,500 Jews from the village of Jedwabne, Gross concluded it was the Poles, not the Nazis, who committed the atrocity.

The book inspired the 2012 film “Aftermath,” the first Polish movie to address the responsibility of local residents for the massacres of Jews during the Holocaust.

Gross’s work in recent years has triggered furious reactions by Polish nationalists, who claim there is insufficient evidence to support assertions which they say blacken the country’s reputation by falsely depicting Poland as a perpetrator rather than a victim of Nazi occupation.

Memorial in Jedwabne, dedicated to murdered Jews: 'In remembrance of the Jews from Jedwabne and surrounding areas, men, women, children, co-habitants of this earth, murdered, burned alive here on July 10, 1941.' (Fczarnowski, CC-BY-SA, via wikipedia)
Memorial in Jedwabne, dedicated to murdered Jews: ‘In remembrance of the Jews from Jedwabne and surrounding areas, men, women, children, co-habitants of this earth, murdered, burned alive here on July 10, 1941.’ (Fczarnowski, CC-BY-SA, via wikipedia)

In October, Polish prosecutors opened a libel probe against Gross after he sought to explain Poland’s wariness regarding accepting Syrian migrants streaming into Europe by referring to widespread anti-Semitism during the war in an op-ed published in the German newspaper Die Welt.

“The Poles, for example, were indeed rightfully proud of their society’s resistance against the Nazis, but in fact did kill more Jews than Germans during the war,” the 68-year-old historian wrote.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry at the time called Gross’s article “historically untrue, harmful and insulting to Poland.”

Reports that Gross was to be stripped of the honor were met with outrage by Holocaust scholars and academics worldwide, who submitted a number of letters in defense of the historian and slammed Warsaw for attempting to whitewash history.

“The government says Gross is unpatriotic. But he is a patriot who looks at both the darker and lighter periods in Polish history,” wrote one of the signatories, University of Ottawa history professor Jan Grabowski, according to The Guardian.

The measures against Gross come less than a year after Poland elected Andrzej Duda, a previously little-known right-wing politician as president. Duda, who heads the Law and Justice party, had openly criticized his predecessor, Bronislaw Komorowski, for acknowledging Polish complicity in the Holocaust.

According to historians, Polish Jews were massacred by their Polish neighbors with little to no German involvement on a number of occasions. In at least one incident, Polish residents of Kielce killed Jews in a pogrom perpetrated after the Holocaust had ended.

AFP contributed to this report.

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