Yad Vashem Says Libel Suit Against Polish Historians Is an 'Assault' on Holocaust Research

Two researches are facing a libel suit for citing a Holocaust survivor who recounted that a village mayor who saved her had also turned in about 20 other Jews to the Germans

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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The Yad Vashem Museum
The Yad Vashem MuseumCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum expressed support for two Polish historians who are facing a civil libel trial in Warsaw for their publication of historical research on Polish crimes against Jews during the Holocaust, saying the proceedings against them is an "assault" on Holocaust research.

The case centers around the book “Dalej jest noc” ("Night without End,"), which was published in Poland in 2018 and was jointly edited by Prof. Barbara Engelking and Prof. Jan Grabowski. It includes the testimony of Estera Drogicka, a woman who survived the Holocaust and who recounted that a village mayor who saved her had also robbed her and turned in about 20 other Jews to the Germans.

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Yad Vashem issued a statement, saying that they "emphatically reiterates its principled position … that any effort to set the bounds of academic and public discourse through political or judicial pressure is unacceptable. It constitutes a serious assault on free and open research." Grabowski is himself the son of a Holocaust survivor.

The plaintiff in the libel lawsuit is the village mayor's niece, Filomena Leszczynska. Her uncle, Edward Malinowski, was the mayor of the village of Malinow near Bialystok, Poland during World War II. She claims that her uncle had been a national hero and that the allegations not only damaged his reputation but also that of Poland itself.

The case has sparked wide reactions in Poland's academic circles as well as among politicians and in the media. Historians have warned that the case could have major repercussions on their ability to conduct free and independent research and argue that the court should not intervene in academic disputes.

Prof. Jan Grabowski

For their part, however, right-wing national groups in Poland, including some that operate under Polish government auspices and with government funding, say they are determined to defend the Polish nation's good name. They haven't hesitated to use judicial means at their disposal. A verdict in case is expected next month.

"Legal proceedings against Holocaust scholars because of their research are incompatible with accepted academic research norms and amount to an attack on the effort to achieve a full and balanced picture of the history of the Holocaust and on the veracity and reliability of its underlying historical sources," the Yad Vashem statement said. "Yad Vashem continues to be committed to research on the Holocaust and to facilitate in every way the work of scholars and educators around the world and in Israel to confront without limits the complex truth of the Holocaust."

Yad Vashem's statement follows one issued last week by the Historical Society of Israel, expressing its own concern about the trial. "The role of historians is to develop innovative insights based on archival findings, putting them in a broad historical perspective without bias and without distortions of national pride, honor or identity."

"Shifting academic discourse to the court does harm to the freedom to research, to the testimony of Holocaust survivors and to academic knowledge amassed over years relating to the period of the Holocaust," the society said.

The covers of the two-volume 'Dalej Jest Noc,' edited by Prof. Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski.Credit: Centrum Badan nad Zaglada Zydow

The libel suit against Grabowski and Engelking is seeking compensation of 100,000 Polish zlotys ($27,000) along with an apology. The civil suit bypasses legislation passed in Poland in 2018 that authorized the imprisonment of anyone who claims that the Polish nation was involved in the crimes of the Nazis. That provision of the law was later repealed following pressure from Israel and other countries.

After the provision was scrapped, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki issued a joint statement that in part expressed support for "free and open historical expression and research on all aspects of the Holocaust so that it can be conducted without any fear of legal obstacles, including but not limited to students, teachers, researchers, journalists and of course, the survivors and their families, who will not be subjected to any legal charges for exercising the right to free speech and academic freedom with reference to the Holocaust."

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