Poland Orders Science Academy to Disclose Members' Contacts With Israeli Researchers

Warsaw's move follows a rift with Jerusalem over a law limiting restitution claims, and as it continues to discourage research into Polish collaboration with the Nazis

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Poland's President Andrzej Duda speaks during a news conference in Vilnius, October.
Poland's President Andrzej Duda speaks during a news conference in Vilnius, October.Credit: AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

The Polish Foreign Ministry ordered the country’s national Academy of Sciences on Tuesday to disclose any ties members have with researchers in Israel, in a move that has reverberated among researchers and academics in both countries. Some researchers say the unusual demand, which was sent in an official email, is an absurd provocation that cannot be complied with.

Poland's government, headed by the nationalist Law and Justice Party since 2015, has sought to promote a heroic national narrative about the Holocaust that downplays discussion of collaboration with the Nazis, while emphasizing Polish victimhood and resistance.

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On Tuesday, the ministry asked that researchers with the Academy of Sciences and government agencies reply to a dedicated ministry email address regarding contacts with researchers in Israel or with the Israeli embassy in Warsaw. Among the details requested was the telephone numbers of the Israeli researchers with whom they had been in contact.

Polish media reported that the ministry explained the move as “a routine administrative” decision. In response to an inquiry from Haaretz, the Polish embassy in Tel Aviv issued a statement saying in part: “Poland's Foreign Ministry reached out to other ministries, informed them about this step and requested coordination in this new, early stage. Coordination between ministries – also in the field of foreign activities – is a standard policy and a principle that we follow, just like other ministries and other governments.”

The statement also made reference to the return to Warsaw of Israel’s chargé d'affaires, Tal Ben-Ari Ya’alon, who had been recalled in response to a controversial Polish law that in practice restricts restitution claims by Jews for property seized during the Holocaust and the Communist era. The Polish embassy called his return “the step in the right direction – the improvement of the relations between our countries.”

Both Israel and the United States protested passage of that law this year. Two days after the Israeli chargé d'affaires’ recall, Warsaw announced that Poland’s ambassador in Israel, Marek Magierowski, who was on vacation at the time, would not return to Israel and that his children would be returned home for their own safety due to “growing hatred towards Poland and Polish citizens in Israel.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the legislation “an antisemitic and immoral law” at the time. He added that "the Foreign Ministry recommends that the Polish ambassador to Israel prolong his vacation in his country," saying that the Polish ambassador to Israel should use his time in Poland to "explain to the Polish people what the Holocaust means to the citizens of Israel and how we will not tolerate contempt for the memory of the victims and the memory of the Holocaust."

In an additional point of friction between the two countries, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski told a radio interviewer in August that his country should consider limiting Holocaust-related trips to Poland by Israeli high school students. The Polish Onet news website reported that the Polish Foreign Ministry’s request to the academy of science was in response to what it said was the expulsion of Poland’s ambassador in Tel Aviv as well as “aggressive” statements against Poland by Israeli officials.

In 2018, the Polish parliament passed a controversial law penalizing anyone who holds the Polish nation, people or state responsible for Nazi war crimes, and government officials have worked to sideline and delegitimize scholars writing about controversial aspects of Polish history. Facing international pressure, the law’s criminal clause was canceled. However, historians, journalists and the general public, including Holocaust survivors and Holocaust researchers, are still subject to legal action in Poland because of their work on the subject, based on other clauses in Polish law.

Earlier this year, a Polish appellate court dismissed a libel suit against two Holocaust scholars who had been ordered by a lower court to apologize to a woman claiming her deceased uncle had been defamed by their scholarship. Last month, historian Sławomir Poleszak was fired from the state-supported Institute of National Remembrance, Poland's flagship historical research body, after publishing a paper suggesting that an anti-communist insurgent considered by many on the right to be a national hero was involved in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust. His termination came less than a day after the forced resignation of Prof. Sławomir Lukasiewicz, a Cold War historian and one of Poleszak’s most outspoken defenders at the institute.

Meanwhile, the editor-in-chief of a Jewish news website is under investigation in Poland on suspicion of denying Nazi crimes after asserting that Hitler’s Germany never sought to exterminate the entire Polish nation.

Katarzyna Markusz, a non-Jewish historian and journalist who runs the website Jewish.pl, is due to be questioned next week by officials of the Institute of National Remembrance, Poland’s state-supported historical research body. At issue is her tweet this year stating that “there have never been mass extermination camps for Poles.”

The Polish Foreign Ministry had not responded to Haaretz’s request for comment by the time of this article's publication.

Sam Sokol contributed to this article.

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