Ten artykuł czytasz w ramach bezpłatnego limitu

Follow the big issues that shape Polish politics and society by signing up to our weekly newsletter "News from Poland: Democracy at Stake". It allows you to stay up to speed on developments concerning the ongoing assault on democratic institutions, rule of law, and human rights in Poland.

„Night Without End”, a book documenting the fates of Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland whose authors have recently been tried and found guilty of libel, continues to spark controversy. It appears that the critics of the court’s verdict are now on the radar of Polish intelligence agencies. At least that is the impression one might get from reading the Tweets of the spokesperson for the intelligence and security services coordinator- Stanisław Żaryn. He claims that some of the critical opinions have “a negative impact on Poland’s information security”.

Mr. Żaryn, a former journalist at the government-friendly right-wing news portal wPolityce.pl, has been a long-time spokesperson for Mariusz Kamiński, the Special Services Coordinator and the deputy chairman of the ruling Law and Justice party. When on February 9 the district court in Warsaw ordered professors Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski to apologize for "providing inaccurate information" in their book “Night Without End,” Mr. Żaryn emerged as a vocal supporter of the court’s decision.

Both historians have been accused by the 80-year-old Filomena Leszczyńska of "defaming the memory" of her late uncle Edward Malinowski, a village elder in Malinowo, who has been said to have betrayed Jews to Nazi Germans. The court argued that the authors had no right to include such far-reaching information since the account of an eye-witness they used was proved inconclusive. The court dismissed the plaintiff’s demand for a compensation of PLN 100.000 but ordered the researchers to apologize.

Although the reference to Edward Malinowski’s story is but a small fragment of the 1000 pages long monograph and the verdict does not apply to the book as such, pro-government media outlets were quick to applaud the court’s decision and brand the book’s authors as liars. Right-wing forums were overflowing with anti-Semitic comments, demands that the historians be expelled from Poland and that all copies of their book should be burned.

Mr. Żaryn’s puzzling statement

Given all this, Mr. Żaryn's tweet seems rather surprising. In it, he criticized media outlets that defended the book and its authors arguing that a court is not a place to settle disputes over historical facts. Some commentators also pointed out that the lawsuit originated with a government-funded organization called the “Polish League Against Defamation,” which means that attacks on independent historians are in fact being sponsored by the ruling Law and Justice party.

The tweet read: "Following the verdict in the case of the book “Night Without End”, multiple insinuations against Poland have entered the public sphere. Media publications which have used the above-mentioned trial to slander Poland on the international arena are a disturbing phenomenon and have a negative impact on Poland's information security".

On Thursday, we sent Mr. Żaryn a series of questions. We wanted to find out whether his entry reflects the official position of the government and the special services coordinator. We also asked him to specify which publications he was referring to, in what way do they threaten Poland's security, and, finally, whether the special services conduct any monitoring activities in this matter or whether they have notified the prosecutor’s office. Mr. Żaryn responded neither to us nor to similar questions asked by Twitter users.

-It is difficult to comment on this, but I don't think that any historical book has ever provoked a similar reaction from government authorities and state institutions"- professor Grabowski tells us.

The Minister of Justice joins in

Zbigniew Ziobro, the Minister of Justice and Prosecutor General, also expressed his enthusiasm about the court’s decision to hold the Holocaust scholars liable for defamation. The Minister took to Twitter to praise the niece of the village elder Malinowski, Filomena Leszczyńska, who has filed the lawsuit: "Ms. Filomena Leszczyńska proved in court the manipulation of B. Engelking and J. Grabowski, whose book “Night Without End” slandered her uncle for betraying Jews to Nazi Germans, even though he was actually hiding them. This brave woman stood up to the false, anti-Polish propaganda!".

Mr. Ziobro elaborated on his thought during an interview with the catholic-conservative Radio Maryja: "There are these cynical propagandists who do everything they can to blame the Polish nation for participating in the Holocaust, in which we did not participate, but of which we were victims. Such propaganda is now in high demand among circles that try, through manipulation, to make it seem as if Poles were co-responsible for these atrocities. Some statements even go as far as to create the impression that Nazis were Polish, not German"- he said, adding: "It is obvious to us that some people don’t treat historical truth as a value in itself, but rather use it as a political propaganda tool to create a self-serving narrative. They treat it as a calculated and cynical game that they play at the expense of the Polish people. Facts did not matter to the authors of this book, because they wrote it only to support a specific thesis. They were looking for arguments for their thesis before they even started writing. Poland must take up the fight and defend historical truth”.

Foundations against anti-Polish sentiment

One of its avid defenders is Dariusz Matecki. He is a council member in the city of Szczecin and a leader of the local chapters of Mr. Ziobro’s United Poland party. Mr. Matecki is also responsible for the Justice Ministry’s Facebook page.

"I know this man. He helps run the ministry's social media profiles. He is very involved in public affairs. He is one of the young politicians ready to change Poland"- Mr. Ziobro said about him.

The Centre for Monitoring Racist and Xenophobic Behavior has found that Mr. Matecki runs about 30 websites under various pseudonyms. He uses these outlets to practice pro-government propaganda and incites hatred against minorities. The Centre tried to notify the prosecutor’s office about his actions, but the case was dropped.

Following the trial against professors Engelking and Grabowski, Mr. Matecki published posts attacking the scholars, but also used the opportunity to promote his soon-to-be foundation called "Center for Monitoring Anti-Polish Sentiment." He declared: "We will fight against all manifestations of anti-Polish sentiment and Christianophobia," adding: "Are Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski receiving public funds? Any grants? Public universities? Why hasn't Jan Tomasz Gross been stripped of Polish orders?".

It remains unknown how the foundation is supposed to be financed. "Wyborcza" wrote about another association connected with Mr. Matecki, "Fidei Defensor" (Defender of Faith) which received PLN 1 million from Minister Ziobro’s Justice Fund.

The Justice Ministry also subsidizes another association that claims to "fight for Poland’s good name". It's the "Institute for Fighting Against Anti-Polish Sentiment Verba Veritatis". The organization is behind the recent prosecution of Katarzyna Markusz. She’s been accused of “insulting the Polish nation” after having written in an article that “Poles did not hide their aversion towards Jews”. Ms. Markusz has already been questioned by the police, and the prosecutor's office has initiated criminal proceedings.

The ministry does not want to disclose the amount of money it gave to Verba Veritatis. Once Mr. Matecki's foundation is registered, it will be the third entity, after the Polish League Against Defamation and Verba Veritatis, whose declared mission is to fight alleged instances of "anti-Polish statement," but whose actual purpose is to prosecute and silence critics of the government’s historical policy.

***

Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about the coronavirus pandemic for you.

They are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities. They work on the ground, reporting from hospitals and airports.

We have decided to open online access to our news stories and special guides focused on the issue of public health, for free.

The access to information should be equal for all.

Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation
DONATE
Czytaj ten tekst i setki innych dzięki prenumeracie

Wybierz prenumeratę, by czytać to, co Cię ciekawi

Wyborcza.pl to zawsze sprawdzone informacje, szczere wywiady, zaskakujące reportaże i porady ekspertów w sprawach, którymi żyjemy na co dzień. Do tego magazyny o książkach, historii i teksty z mediów europejskich. Zrezygnować możesz w każdej chwili.