Holocaust scholar sues group that said he ‘slandered’ Poland

Historian Jan Grabowski faced a public campaign orchestrated by the Polish League Against Defamation for his work on how some Poles helped hunt down Jews who escaped the Nazis

Jan Grabowski (Courtesy)
Jan Grabowski (Courtesy)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A prominent Holocaust researcher said Friday he is suing a Polish organization for libel after it waged a public campaign last year accusing him of slandering Poland’s good name for his work exploring Polish violence against Jews during World War II.

Historian Jan Grabowski, of the University of Ottawa in Canada, told The Associated Press he brought a lawsuit on Thursday against the Polish League Against Defamation, an organization allied with Poland’s conservative ruling party.

The league didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the case. It accused Grabowski last year of ignoring the Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust and of exaggerating the number of Poles complicit in Jewish deaths.

“During World War II, due to the demoralizing circumstances and German actions, it is true that vile-acting individuals could be found among Poles and Jews alike,” the group wrote in a statement about the academic. “Yet, we should remember that the objective of the Germans was also to ‘eradicate the Polish nation’ and ‘completely destroy Poland.'”

The anti-defamation organization has been part of a broader effort under the Law and Justice party-led government to challenge research on Polish participation in the killing of Jews by Nazi Germany. Poland was under German occupation during World War II.

“What is important, from my point of view, is that the militant nationalists who nowadays hold sway in Poland be warned that they will be held to account, that they are wrong if they think that their outrageous statements and slanders will go unnoticed,” Grabowski, who was born and attended university in Warsaw, told the AP.

This Friday, 23 February, 2001 file photo shows a monument in Poland’s eastern village of Jedwabne which commemorates the massacre of 1,600 local Jews burned alive by their neighbors – fellow Poles – on July 10, 1941. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)

Official efforts under the Law and Justice government have included commemorations of the Polish gentiles who sheltered Jews during the war. Scholars who research Polish violence against Jews have faced censure and prosecution.

The issue came under international scrutiny earlier this year when Polish lawmakers voted to make it illegal to blame the nation for Holocaust crimes. The law has since been amended to remove prison as a possible punishment for violators, though individuals can still be tried and fined. The measure created a rift with Israel and was also condemned by the US

Grabowski’s “Hunt for the Jews: Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied Poland” documents the involvement of Poles in one region in finding and killing Jews who had escaped from ghettos and were trying to survive by hiding among non-Jews. It was awarded the 2014 Yad Vashem International Book Prize for Holocaust Research.

The book also sparked heated debates, and the scholar says he received death threats after its publication. After a German newspaper reviewed the book favorably, a far-right Polish website ran an article with a photograph of the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. The headline was “Sieg Heil, Herr Grabowski, Three Times Sieg Heil.”

Grabowski successfully sued for libel

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