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The defendants are Professors Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski, co-authors of a two-volume publication tracing the fates of Jews who went into hiding in the Nazi-occupied Poland. Reason for the indictment? Alleged slandered against a former village elder from the Podlasie region in one of the book’s footnotes. A judgement regarding the case is expected on February 9.

Hunt for the Jews

The last hearing took place on January 12. The court proceedings have been reported live by Maciej Świrski, the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Polish Press Agency, the head and founder of the Polish Anti-Defamation League, and former deputy head of the Polish National Foundation.

It is one of the right-wing foundations generously subsidized by the government, which supports the “historical policy” promoted by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. The discourse propagated by the foundation is one of Poles being exclusively the victims of war-time atrocities, and heroes rescuing Jews on a massive scale. PiS calls it a fight against the “pedagogy of shame”.

In practice, it boils down to efforts aimed at discrediting scholars who dare to show the inconvenient truth. The Polish Center for Holocaust Research under the auspices of the Polish Academy of Sciences is one of Poland’s main centers for independent Holocaust research. Over the years, the Center published many studies showing shattering evidence of collaboration and complicity of large segments of the Polish society in the Holocaust. Referencing eyewitness testimonies and post-war documentation, the authors have proven the active involvement of Poles (at least since 1942, when the Germans started to successively destroy ghettos) in the extermination of the Jews. It was at that time when some 300,000 Polish Jews managed to flee the ghettos and became targets of large-scale manhunts. Many Poles who took part in it were volunteers. Prof. Grabowski estimated that nearly 200,000 of the Jews were either murdered or denounced by Poles.

Initially, right-wing institutions and government-friendly media largely ignored the studies and books published by the Centre for Holocaust Research. The publication of “Night Without End”, however, was apparently too much; thousands of detailed accounts, very few of them showing the war-time Polish society in a favourable light, could no longer be swept under the rug. One of the cases described in the book became the subject of the ongoing lawsuit. The ruling will have direct consequences not only on the liberty of academic research in Poland, but also on how the country will be perceived by historians all over the world.

Blacklisted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

During the last court hearing on January 12, Maciej Świrski was tweeting furiously. He sent out over 40 tweets, and made sure that the Polish Press Agency (PAP) spread his side of the news concerning the trial – in addition to being the head and founder of the Anti-Defamation League, Mr. Świrski is also the Chairman of PAPs Supervisory Board. “PAP journalists did not even try to call us. As a matter of fact, this is the usual practice nowadays. The government-controlled and pro-government media do not even bother trying to contact us or hear our side of the story” - prof. Grabowski told Gazeta Wyborcza. At times, it resembles the 1968 anti-Semitic campaign against scientists and intellectuals in socialist Poland. Same methods, same rhetoric. Their goal is to discredit us, to scare us- he adds, saying that he can’t stand reading hateful comments about himself anymore. “When friends or colleagues mention the latest ‘findings’ about me, about my family, about my ‘racial origin’, I ask them to stop. I don’t want to listen to it anymore”.

- Last year, I was invited to the Swedish parliament to deliver a short speech about my Holocaust-related research. After the lecture, I had a conversation with Ms. Ann Linde, Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. She told me that the Polish Ministry sent her a letter with a request to rescind my invitation and to cancel my address - prof. Grabowski recalls. The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent out detailed instructions on how to react to lectures given abroad by Mr. Grabowski, Ms. Engelking, Mr. Jan Tomasz Gross, and other “defiant” historians, to all Polish embassies.

However, it is only a part of a larger effort. In 2017, the rector of the University of Ottawa, Canada (where Mr. Grabowski is a professor of history) received a letter accusing Grabowski of promoting a falsified account of history of the Holocaust and requesting the termination of his tenure. The letter has been signed by the Polish Anti-Defamation League. The Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) has also joined in the attacks on professor Grabowski.

“The slandered hero”

Officially, the authors are being sued by the 80-year-old Filomena Leszczyńska from Malinowo in the Podlasie region in eastern Poland. She accuses the scholars of “slandering the memory” of Edward Malinowski, her uncle who - during the war - was a village elder (sołtys) in Malinowo. In reality, however, it’s Mr. Świrski and the League who are behind the lawsuit. He reached out to Ms. Leszczyńska in the first place, persuaded her to file a lawsuit, and paid the lawyers.

In August 2020, when Leszczyńska was speaking in court, she said that she heard about the story “on the radio”, and that “various people called her” afterwards. She also said that her uncle was a “good man” and that he “saved the Jews”.

The entire lawsuit is based upon a short paragraph, a few lines of text from page 157 (volume I of the study). That’s where the book mentions the village elder Malinowski: “Having lost her entire family, Estera Drogicka (de domo Siemiatycka), equipped with identity papers she bought from a Belarussian woman, decided to leave for work in Prussia. The village elder Edward Malinowski offered her his assistance (and, using the opportunity, also robbed her) and in December 1942 she found herself in Rastenburg (today’s Ke?trzyn), working as domestic help in the house of a German family named Fittkau. That’s where she met her second husband (a Pole, also working in Prussia), but also started a commercial exchange with Malinowski, sending him packages with items for sale. She visited him when she went >home< on vacation. Even though she knew that Malinowski was guilty of betraying many Jews who were hiding in the woods, and were later delivered to the Germans, during his post-war trial, she delivered false statements in his favour”. In the footnotes, prof. Engelking added that after the war, Ms. Drogicka testified in defence of the village elder. Mr. Malinowski’s story is only one of many thousands of cases presented in the book.

The lawsuit claims that the story described in “Night Without End” is a lie, and that it damages Filomena Leszczyn?ska’s personal right “to enjoy the remembrance of a deceased person”, her “right to one’s national pride and identity”, her “right to a fact-based history of WWII”, her “right to the protection of dignity”, and her “right to receive truthful information from historical research funded by her taxes”. Grounds for the claim: Ms. Leszczyńska’s membership in an ethnic group (the Polish nation) and the fact that she is the niece of Edward Malinowski.

Moreover, the lawsuit demands that the authors apologize, and asks them to admit that their goal was to accuse the Poles of murdering the Jews (the apology was to be published, among others, in Gazeta Wyborcza). In the lawsuit, Filomena Leszczyńska requests apologies for unfounded accusation against her uncle, a Pole, and the deliberate manipulation of his story to fit the thesis about Poles murdering Jews – Mr. Świrski writes on the League’s official website. Should the scholars agree with the theses advanced by the lawsuit, they would have to admit in their apologies that they acted deliberately. They would also have to pay PLN 100,000 ($ 26,000) to compensate for the caused damage.

The authors of the lawsuit against the Holocaust scholars based their accusations on the fact that in 1950, after the war, the court found the village elder Malinowski not guilty of the crime of having taken part in murdering the Jews. Among others, three Jewish survivors testified on his behalf. “This lawsuit is intended to protect the memory of deceased Edward Malinowski who rescued Jews during the war. He was a hero and should be perceived as such by his niece, as well as by his friends, acquaintances and other Poles” – Świrski emphasized, adding: “the information included in ‘Night Without End’ was made up, and the scandalous behaviour of the authors is intended to confirm the thesis about Poles killing the Jews. The good name of Edward Malinowski has been tarnished by prof. Grabowski and prof. Engelking, who de facto called him a thief and a murderer. Malinowski was, without any doubt, a hero and we shall prove it in court”.

The problem is that prof. Engelking (contrary to what the lawsuit alleges) based her account on historical sources. The most important one is the several hours-long testimony recorded by Estera Drogicka for the Shoah Foundation. This is what she had to say about Malinowski: “I ran away from the forest; it took me half an hour, 7 kilometers, or more. I ran, and I reached Malinowo. I met a young boy, not more than eight years old, and he said: “you, Jew, you have no right to live!”. I looked around, I asked about the village elder, I went to this Malinowski Edward, the village elder, he told me that this was his name. I told him that I have an Ausweis (German identity papers), so perhaps I can go and work in Germany (that’s because the elders could select people to be sent as forced laborers in Germany). He responded with a question - ‘have you saved anything from the ghetto?’. So, I told him that I have shoes, a dress, a shirt and bed linens. I listed all of these things to him and he said that he would go and fetch all of them. I had a very nice sweater, so he took it away from me and he gave me his wife’s old sweater, I had some silk underwear, so he took that away too. I also had 100 German marks, and he took away 50".

Drogicka later learned that Malinowski took her things (which have been deposited with her neighbors) and told her that he had found nothing. Finally, Estera said that there were 22 Jews hiding in the forest, together with their children. A forest ranger found them and “together with Malinowski, they went to fetch the gendarmes, and they killed all of them, and the children, they killed them all”. After the war, when Malinowski stood accused of his part in the murder, Drogicka testified in his defense. Engelking writes about this in the book. In her testimony, Drogicka admits: “after the war, he would have received a death penalty. I saved him, despite the fact that he committed evil acts against me, but so what? It was really awful when I had to testify, I was in real trouble, but I saved him”.

Why would Drogicka testify after the war in favour of the village elder? Her fear of vengeance could have been a factor. As we can read in OKO press, “in 1949, Malinowski was accused by a group of village inhabitants of various crimes, including contacts with the group of “Sparrow”. That was one of anti-communist partisans active in the area. Malinowski was also accused of having betrayed the Jews back in 1943. Two days after the court announced its upcoming session, “Sparrow’s” people showed up in Malinowo. Malinowski was in custody, but his wife and son enumerated those who gave the elder out to the authorities. Few neighbors were beaten up. The paramedic who tended to their wounds, had been killed the next day. It is not hard to understand why, in these circumstances, the witnesses for the prosecution changed their statements. A note concerning these events has been preserved in the files of the State Security. This is another document related to these events.

During the court proceedings, scholars stated that 80 years after the facts, one has to rely on sources, all witnesses having passed away. They pointed out that the war-time and post-war stories of people mentioned in the book were complicated.

Estera testified in favour of the village elder. I think that she had negative opinion about him but she wanted to do him a favour and express her gratitude for saving her life (sending her to Germany, to work) - said prof. Engelking. According to her, Malinowski was neither a hero, nor a blackmailer, he was someone in between. During the occupation there were many such complex situations. I did not write that he denounced these Jews - I quoted the opinion of the Jewish survivor”. Engelking repeated the same thing in court.

“Deport them! They spat us in the face!”

Each hearing in the case involving the Holocaust scholars went hand in hand with a barrage of right-wing media propaganda. Engelking and Grabowski are being called: “falsifiers who turned a hero into a blackmailer”. But even more depressing are the comments left by readers under the articles published by wPolityce.pl; fronda.pl; or TVP info. Indeed, they bring back the atmosphere of the anti-Semitic campaign in March 1968.

“We have to bring back the institution of infamy and deport people who spit on Poland and on Poles”.

“Jews falsify history. Who is still going to protect them?”?“KICK THIS JEWISH SCUM OUT OF POLAND!?“HOW MUCH POLISH TAXPAYERS’ MONEY Ms. Engelking and Mr. Grabowski are getting??”

“Jan Grabowski’s mother is a Jewess! I wanted to find out more about him, all you get on Wikipedia is only his father’s name, not even a word about his mother, but elsewhere I found more about his mother”.

“Jan Grabowski Abrahamer. Polish-sounding names were mostly given to those who served to consolidate communist power. They were specialists who tore people’s fingernails out, who broke fingers and bones and teeth, exceptional sadists (....) Grabowskis are good noble family, but this one is a first-class consumer of garlic and onions!”.

“If Grabowski becomes a professor of the Polish Academy of Sciences, we will have to close down the Academy. He is not a scholar but a Russian agent, paid and controlled by Israel”.

“Jews attack Poland with the help of lies, slander and they are the Fifth column in Poland”.

“Grabowski, a Jew, attacks Poland in a filthy way. Under such circumstances, how can one not be an anti-Semite?”.

“He got his professorial title from other Stalinist Jews. Take the citizenship away from this liar”.

“What is the real name of this Grabowski and why is he unpunished??

“People like he should be loaded into the cattle cars and sent East where they belong”.

A Jew, sick with hatred for Poles, and meanwhile as a Polish scholar he spits on the Polish nation and falsifies history. We pay him and he slanders us and defiles our nation”.

“We dream of having here Turkey and Erdogan. He would help us to remind this ‘educated’ band are Poles”.

“Mordechai Grabowski talks shit again. Take him to the border and kick him out!”.

***

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