Polish-American historian Jan Tomasz Gross is being investigated in Poland on suspicion of “insulting the nation” in an article last year where he claimed the Poles killed more Jews than they killed Germans during World War II.
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Gross, who lives in New York and teaches at Princeton, has said he was questioned for five hours this week by a prosecutor in the Polish city of Katowice, where he was asked to give evidence of his claim.
It is not yet clear whether an indictment is forthcoming, or whether Gross might be stripped of the Polish Order of Merit he won two decades ago.
In his article in September, Gross made a connection between East Europe’s approach to refugees today and those countries’ histories during the Holocaust. He argued that Eastern European countries had “revealed themselves to be intolerant, illiberal, xenophobic, and incapable of remembering the spirit of solidarity that carried them to freedom a quarter-century ago.”
He called them “heartless,” adding that the roots of their stance on refugees should be sought in their stance on Jews during World War II.
“All occupied European societies were complicit to some degree in the Nazi effort to destroy the Jews. Each made a different contribution, depending on country-specific circumstances and conditions of German rule,” Gross wrote.
“But the Holocaust played out most gruesomely in Eastern Europe, owing to the sheer number of Jews in the region and the incomparable ruthlessness of the Nazi occupation regimes.”
He said the number of Jews killed by Poles – in pogroms, in murders of Jews fleeing ghettos, and in the handing over of Jews by Poles – was greater than the number of Germans killed by Poles.
As reported by The Associated Press, Gross told the prosecutor he had no intention of insulting the Polish nation; he only wanted to raise awareness of today’s refugee crisis. “I am just telling the truth, and the truth sometimes has a shocking effect on people who are not aware of what the truth is,” he said.
Gross became famous around the world for his 2001 book “Neighbors,” which discussed the killing of hundreds of Jews by local people in the Polish town of Jedwabne after the Germans invaded in 1941. The current right-wing government has denounced him, while the office of the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, has said it is considering stripping him of the Order of Merit.
In February, Gross told Haaretz that since the publication of “Neighbors,” he has gotten used to Poles denying any Polish complicity in the Holocaust.
“It’s absolutely scandalous, but now it’s the president and the establishment who speak in tune with it,” he said. “I get a lot of crazy emails. It’s just awful to read these things .... To have vulgarity like this, and because of what? For saying that people have tragically been killed.”
The subject of Poles and Jews during the Holocaust has engaged Polish society for years. In recent months, Poland’s new nationalist government has ramped up efforts to “correct” perceived distortions of history.
Last month, a museum opened in southern Poland dedicated to Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust. It emphasizes the heroism of Poles who rescued Jews, not the stories of Poles who murdered Jews or turned them over to the Germans.
Meanwhile, the Polish Justice Ministry has said it plans to introduce legislation outlawing the use of the phrase “Polish death camp” when referring to the death camps set up by the Nazis.