Polish Historian May Be Forced to Return State Honor for Views on Holocaust

Jan Gross received the medal for activities in opposition to Polish communism, but his opinions regarding Poland's role in the war may take it away.

A plaque is placed by March of the Living participants on railway tracks at Auschwitz near Oswiecim, Poland, May 2, 2011.
AP

The office of the president of Poland requested the re-evaluation of a state honor conferred on a Jewish historian who researched Polish complicity in the Holocaust.

The office of President Andrzej Duda confirmed on Friday its request in January to reconsider the honor, the Knights Cross of the Order of Merit medal, which was given in 1996 to Prof. Jan Gross , who wrote the controversial 2001 book Neighbors, about a 1941 pogrom perpetrated against Jews by their non-Jewish countrymen in the town of Jedwabne.

Due to numerous petitions [for the] withdrawal of a medal granted to Jan Tomasz Gross, the Presidents Office has asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as the legal applicant, to take a position on the matter, a spokesperson for Dudas office told JTA in answer to a query.

Duda, leader of the rightist Law and Justice party, won Polish presidential elections last year. During the campaign in May, Duda criticized his rival, former president Bronislaw Komorowski, for apologizing for the Jedwabne massacre. Duda called Komorowskis apologies an attempt to destroy Polands good name.

Gross, a Poland-born, Jewish-American historian at Princeton University, received the medal for his activities in opposition to Polands communism and for his historical works on Poles deported to Siberia.

Gross said in an op-ed published by Germanys Die Welt newspaper that Poles killed more Jews than Germans during World War II.

Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Dziedziczak said in November that taking back the medal from Gross would show he is the enemy of Poland.

The British daily The Guardian reported that 2,000 letters had been sent to the presidency calling for the historian to be stripped of his honor.

The office of the presidents move prompted protest by 25 historians, who on Wednesday wrote a letter to Polish authorities warning that: Withdrawal of the medal would be a signal of threat [to] freedom of scientific research and political rationing of freedom of speech.

Piotr Kadlcik, a former president of the umbrella group of Polish Jewish communities, said that revoking the medal would make Gross persecuted by authorities.