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- I respect court rulings, but I find it difficult to agree with this one. I hope that our arguments will be recognized in the appeal- Prof. Grabowski told “Wyborcza” immediately after the District Court in Warsaw announced its decision.
Judge Ewa Jończyk ruled that the scholars must post a statement on the website of the Polish Centre for Holocaust Research. In it, they need to apologize to Filomena Leszczyńska for "violating the honour" of her late uncle Edward Malinowski by having provided “inaccurate information" about his betrayal of Jews to Nazi Germans in their book “Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland”. Additionally, the Holocaust scholars were ordered to send a letter of apology to Ms. Leszczyńska. The section describing Mr. Malinowski’s case is supposed to be changed in the next editions of the book.
The court dismissed the plaintiff’s demand for a compensation of PLN 100.000. It also proposed its own version of the apology. Other demands included in the lawsuit asked the historians to admit that they have intentionally provided counterfactual information in their book because they wanted to accuse Polish citizens of complicity in the German mass murder of Jews.
The justification of the court’s decision is very complex and shows that the judge tried to weigh the arguments carefully. First of all, the court argued, Filomena Leszczyńska is entitled "to claim the protection of the good name and memory of a deceased person" because she proved that Edward Malinowski had lived with her for many years and was a close family member. However, the lawsuit claimed to defend not only the memory of Mr. Malinowski but also the "right to national identity and pride," the "right to remember Poles who saved Jews," and even the "right to an unbiased representation of the history of World War II".
The court rejected all of these claims, finding them "debatable" or "difficult to agree with". It also objected to the demand that Mr. Malinowski should be referred to as a "hero who saved Jews" and that the plaintiff should receive a PLN100.000 compensation. - The court’s decision cannot have a chilling effect on scientific research. In the court's judgment, the demanded amount demanded would constitute just such an element- Judge Jończyk concluded.
About the book itself, the judge said that it was "written for a noble cause" and that "explaining the historical truth about Poles' attitudes during the Nazi occupation is an important effort”. Why were the scholars ordered to apologize then? The reason for that, according to the court, is that professor Barbara Engelking (who authored the chapter in which Mr. Malinowski's story appears) was not critical enough while considering the account of Ms. Estera Drogicka (a Holocaust survivor), and did not juxtapose it with the fact that several decades earlier Ms. Drogicka had defended Mr. Malinowski in front of a court in communist Poland.
In her defense, professor Engelking explained that after the war survivors were put in a difficult situation and were forced to whitewash their oppressors. This is how Ms. Drogicka explained her testimony years later. According to professor Engelking, Ms. Drogicka's account from the 1970s deserves credibility. Yet, the court claimed that an uncritical "quotation of the statement of a person who is known to have presented her story in a different way should raise doubts about the interpretation of her words”.
Fighting „anti-Polish sentiment”
Although not final or binding, the verdict is the first one in the famous case brought against the authors of "Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland,” a two-volume historical study tracing the fate of Jews who went into hiding in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.
The book consists of detailed and extensive account of thousands of cases, only a few of which present the attitudes of Poles in a positive light. One such case has now been the subject of a libel trial.
Officially, the case against the authors of the book had been brought by the 80-year-old Filomena Leszczyńska from the village of Malinowo in eastern Poland. She accused the researchers of "defaming the memory" of her late uncle Edward Malinowski, who was a village elder in Malinowo during the war. Ms. Leszczyńska demanded an apology, including a statement by the authors’ that the entire purpose of their book has been to accuse Poles of murdering Jews.
Would the defendants agree with the accusations brought against them, they would have to write an official apology, admitting that they have acted intentionally and purposefully, and pay a PLN100.000 compensation.
In fact, the mastermind behind the lawsuit and an attempt to discredit the Holocaust scholars is Mr. Maciej Świrski- founder of a right-wing NGO with close ties to the government named the Polish League Against Defamation. After the book’s publication, he reached out to Ms. Leszczyńska, persuaded her to file a lawsuit, and paid the lawyers. He has actively participated in the lawsuit process and commented on each of its steps in government-friendly media.
The Polish League Against Defamation is a right-wing organization generously subsidized by the government. Its declared aim is to “identify and fight against instances of anti-Polish sentiment”. It follows the line of the “historical policy” promoted by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which propagates a discourse of Poles being exclusively the victims of war-time atrocities and heroes rescuing Jews on a massive scale. PiS refers to it as a fight against the “pedagogy of shame”.
Maciej Świrski, the head and founder of the League, is also the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Polish Press Agency, and a former deputy head of the Polish National Foundation.
The libel case reflects the government’s long-time strategy aimed at discrediting scholars who dare to show the inconvenient historical truth. Once the book has been published, Mr. Świrski began a meticulous examination of the facts it contained. He was supported by the Institute of National Remembrance, which set up a special team to discredit the book, carefully examining every single detail of the thousands of accounts it referenced.
This is how they managed to question the part describing the case of village elder Malinowski, whose actions during the war were presented in two different, contradictory accounts. One of them is the testimony of a Jewish survivor at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., cited “Night Without End”. The other one is a post-war court verdict in which the same person appears among the witnesses testifying in the village elder's defense. Both versions are quoted in the book, but the author of the chapter suggests the one which incriminates Mr. Malinowski is more accurate.
Mr. Świrski also managed to find a passage where professor Engelking confuses two related villagers who happened to have the same surname. The mistake, however, is completely insignificant. Several dozen people named “Malinowski” lived in the village of Malinowo.
The case of Katarzyna Markusz, a young journalist and researcher, follows a similar pattern. She’s been accused of “insulting the Polish nation” after having written that “Poles did not hide their aversion towards Jews”. In this case, an external organization called the Institute for Fighting Anti-Polish Sentiment, financed by the Ministry of Justice, has notified the prosecutor’s office. Ms. Markusz has not yet been charged, but the prosecutor's office is investigating her case and has ordered the police to question her.
Poland’s chief rabbi speaks out
Our article describing the lawsuit against professors Engelking and Grabowski has grabbed the attention of international media outlets. The Yad Vashem Institute expressed its concern about the attacks on independent Holocaust researchers. A day before the verdict, Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland, issued an official statement:
"Attempts to repress historians and journalists who try to present the fate of Polish Jews under the German occupation in a reliable way have recently intensified. The trial of Professors Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski, but also the interrogation of Ms. Katarzyna Markusz, are only the latest examples. The courtroom is not the right place to establish historical truths; we condemn such attempts and sympathize with the people whom they affected ".
Schudrich also points out that the current government is responsible for the lawsuits against the researchers. He writes: "State institutions increasingly support an unreliable historical narrative. Sometimes in a veiled way, sometimes explicitly, financially and by way of professional promotion. The state should not take part in the historical debate, and especially should not support historical lies or hatred: we condemn such attempts to victimize the search for historical truth".
The statement issued by the rabbi has been signed by 16 other prominent Jewish activists. They conclude the document by saying: "We would prefer our history to look as rosy as some people would like to portray it - but history is as it is”.
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