'Historical Truth' Is Victim of Poland's Attempts to Silence Holocaust Debate, Jewish Leaders Say

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich poses in a synagogue in Warsaw on January 15, 2021
Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich poses in a synagogue in Warsaw on January 15, 2021Credit: Wojtek Radwanski/AFP
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Poland's Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, condemned the police interrogation of a local journalist who wrote an article about her country's involvement in the Holocaust, in a fierce statement published on Tuesday undersigned by representatives of Polish Jewish organizations.

The journalist, Katarzyna Markusz, 39, told Haaretz on Sunday that she was questioned by Polish police for about an hour last Thursday.

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"Recently, attempts have been made to strike against historians and journalists who are trying to fairly present the fate of Polish Jews under the German occupation. The trial brought against professors Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski and the questioning by the police of editor Katarzyna Markusz are just the latest examples of this," the statement read.

The statement, which was signed by 16 figures from the Jewish community, identified the investigation as part of a top-down initiative from state institutions, who "more and more often support, sometimes in a veiled manner, sometimes directly, financially, or through career advancement, an unreliable historical narrative."

"The announced appointment of the ONR [the National Radical Camp] member as the chairman of the IPN [the Institute of National Remembrance] branch in Wroclaw is only one of the latest examples," it continued.

Polish journalist Katarzyna Markusz.Credit: Courtesy

"The state should not be a side in the historical debate, and especially it should not support historical untruths or hatred: We condemn such attempts whose victim is the quest for historical truth," they wrote. 

The article was published last October on the left-wing Polish website Krytyka Polityczna. Among other things, it states: “Will the day come when the Polish authorities admit there was widespread hostility to the Jews among Poles, and that Polish participation in the Holocaust is a historical fact?” 

The letter said that Markusz's claim about widespread Polish participation "is confirmed in many historical studies and in the collective memory of Polish Jews."

"We would prefer our history to look as rosy as someone would want to picture it – but the history is what it is. If the prosecutor’s office were to initiate an investigation into the words of Markusz, it should also include all signatories of this statement," the statement concluded.

Markusz said she told her interrogators that she believed their probe was “a waste of taxpayers’ money and my time,” adding that she “wrote the truth. There were Polish people involved in the Holocaust – they betrayed their Jewish neighbors and sometimes killed them. That’s a fact. It’s silly I have to even discuss it with the police and that someone is offended. How can you be offended by the truth?”

The maximum penalty for the crime of slandering the good name of the Polish nation is a three-year prison sentence. According to a Polish report, the complaint against Markusz was filed by a right-wing nationalist organization.

Markusz told Haaretz on Sunday: “How can you think of punishing someone with prison for telling the truth? Polish prosecutors do not punish antisemitic views but will punish a journalist? It’s crazy.”

In 2018, Poland passed a controversial Holocaust law that called for a similar punishment – three years’ imprisonment – for anyone who claims that Poland was involved in the crimes of the Nazis during World War II. Facing international pressure, the law’s criminal clause was soon 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.

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