A Warsaw court on Tuesday ruled that two historians had damaged the memory of a Polish villager in a book about the Holocaust and they must apologize. In the event that some academics warn, it could deter impartial research into Poland’s actions during World War II.
For more than seven decades, conflict has remained a living political issue in Poland, where ruling nationalists say studies showing some Poles are complicit in the murder of Jews by Nazi Germany are trying to denigrate a country that has suffered greatly from the conflict.
The court ruled that Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski, editors of the two-volume work “The End of the Night. The Fate of Jews in Certain Counties of Occupied Poland,” should apologize for saying that Edward Malinowski had given up the Jews to the Nazi Germans.
But he stopped ordering compensation.
“The court’s decision should not have a cool effect on academic research. The court believes the amount of 100,000 zlotys ($ 27,017) requested would be such a factor,” said Judge Ewa Jonczyk.
Polish academics and Jewish organizations such as Israel’s Yad Vashem have expressed concern that the trial could undermine freedom of research, and Engelking said the case has such an impact.
“Undoubtedly, this is a kind of effort to create a freezing effect, to show academics that there are issues that are not worth focusing on,” he said.
The decision was “frustrated” by the Jewish World Congress, he said.
Engelking and Grabowski plan to appeal Tuesday’s verdict.
The case was initiated by Malinowski’s 81-year-old niece, Filomena Leszczynska, and was backed by the Polish Anti-Defamation League, which opposes allegations of Polish involvement in the murder of Jews.
Leszczynska’s lawyer, Monika Brzozowska-Pasieka, argued that Engelking and Grabowski did not follow the correct research methodology when compiling the book – Grabowski denied the accusation.
“Filomena is extremely pleased with this verdict,” Brzozowska-Pasieka said after the trial. “The issue of compensation has been a secondary issue from the beginning.”
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It is believed that almost all of Poland’s 3.2 million Jews died during more than five years of Nazi rule, which is estimated to have killed about half of the Jews in the Holocaust. Another 3 million non-Jewish citizens also died during the Nazi occupation of Poland.
Significant research suggests that while thousands of Poles risked their lives to help Jews, thousands also participated in the Holocaust. Many Poles do not accept such statements.
In 2018, an international repercussion forced Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party to drop a law that would have made it a crime to suggest that Poland bear any responsibility for Nazi atrocities.