Polish police probe journalist for writing about Poles’ Holocaust complicity

Katarzyna Markusz questioned on suspicion of violating law against defaming country after anonymous complaint filed over 2020 article; faces up to 3 years in jail

Katarzyna Markusz. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Katarzyna Markusz. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Polish police are probing a local journalist who wrote last year about Polish complicity in the Holocaust.

Katarzyna Markusz, who runs the Jewish.pl website and writes for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, was questioned last Thursday on suspicion that she violated Article 133 of the Polish constitution, which subjects those who “publicly insults the Nation or the Republic of Poland” to up to three years in prison.

An anonymous complaint was filed against Markusz, which led to her arrest, according to the Oko.press.

In October 2020, Markusz wrote in an article: “Will we live to see the day when the Polish authorities also admit that hostility toward Jews was widespread among Poles, and that Polish complicity in the Holocaust is a historical fact?”

“The steadfastness, hospitality, bravery, and nobility of Poles and, of course, the allegedly enormous help given to Jews during and immediately after the war, is one of those fictions that have been fed to us by Polish politicians for many decades,” she added, according to a translation from the Algemeiner news site.

Markusz told Oko.press after her questioning at a Warsaw police station that cops had asked her whether she had intended to “offend the Polish nation” with her article. She responded that this was not her intention.

A group of Polish Jews are led away for deportation by German SS soldiers, in April/May 1943, during the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto by German troops after an uprising in the Jewish quarter, 1943. (AP Photo)

The reporter added that she had been used to receiving hate mail, but that “this was the first time someone complained to the prosecutor’s office. I believe that such matters are a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

Speaking to Haaretz about her interrogation, Markusz stood by what she had written. “I wrote the truth. There were Poles who were involved in the Holocaust. They betrayed their Jewish neighbors and sometimes even killed them. That’s a fact. It’s stupid that I should have to discuss this with the police and that someone could be offended by it. How can one be offended by the truth?”

“The Polish prosecution does not punish those for espousing anti-Semitic attitudes, but is willing to punish a journalist? It’s crazy!” she added.

Asked why she is so interested in Jewish Polish life, Markusz told Haaretz, “I am 100% Polish” — a response that seemed to imply that Jews are less Polish than their fellow Poles.

“I’m just really interested [in Polish Jewry]. That could be why the Polish right and Polish politicians don’t like me. There are always anti-Semitic comments [from them] on my Twitter, but I will not change. They will not scare me,” she added.

The probe came ahead of a major verdict set to come out Tuesday against two respected Polish historians of the Holocaust in a controversial defamation trial that has raised pointed questions about the freedom to research Poland’s troubled past.

The researchers co-edited a book called “Night Without End” that documented cases of complicity of Catholic Poles in the genocide of Jews during the Nazi German occupation in World War II.

The trial is taking place in a tense political climate, with critics accusing the nationalist government of attempting to whitewash Polish history and discourage academic inquiry into cases of collaboration.

Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial has condemned the case against Professor Barbara Engelking, chair of Poland’s International Auschwitz Council, and Professor Jan Grabowski from the University of Ottawa.

The case is being brought by the niece of Edward Malinowski, who was mayor of the village of Malinowo in northeast Poland during the war.

In a short passage, the book mentions that the mayor may have been implicated in the local massacre of 22 Jews by German soldiers.

The plaintiff says the mayor in fact helped Jews and points to “omissions” and “methodological errors” that have harmed her late uncle’s reputation.

This undated photo released by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial shows Barbara Engelking (Yad Vashem via AP)

The niece is demanding compensation of 100,000 zloty (22,000 euros, $27,000) in damages and a formal apology in the media.

In 2018, the Polish government adopted a law banning anyone from mentioning any responsibility of the Polish nation or state in crimes committed by Nazi Germany on Polish soil.

Six million Poles, including three million Jews, perished between 1939 and 1945 during Nazi occupation.

The attitudes of Catholic Poles to their Jewish neighbors varied greatly at a time in which even offering a Jew a glass of water could be a death sentence.

There were many cases of indifference and sometimes cruelty against Jews that have been documented by historians, but there were also many stories of courage.

More Poles — over 7,000 — have been named “Righteous Among the Nations” than any other nationality.

The honorific is used by Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination.

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