Polish Journalist Quizzed by Police for Writing That Poles Were Involved in the Holocaust

‘How can you be offended by the truth?’ asks Katarzyna Markusz, after being asked by Warsaw police if an article she wrote last October was intended to slander the good name of the nation

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Polish journalist Katarzyna Markusz.
Polish journalist Katarzyna Markusz.Credit: Courtesy
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

A Polish journalist was questioned by police in Warsaw last week on suspicion of “slandering the good name of the Polish nation,” following an article in which she wrote that Poles were involved in the Holocaust.

The journalist, Katarzyna Markusz, 39, told Haaretz on Sunday that she was questioned for about an hour last Thursday. “I was asked if I’m the author of this article, if I wanted to offend the nation [and] if not – what was my goal while writing this piece,” she said.

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?”

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.”

The journalist also writes on a Jewish portal called Jewish.pl, and for other Polish journals and newspapers. She’s also a Ph.D. candidate at the Polish Academy of Sciences. Among other things, she is researching Polish-Jewish history, antisemitism and World War II. She also translates memoirs from Yiddish to Polish, and in recent years organized Holocaust memorials for the Jews of Poland.

“I’m 100 percent Polish, I always say that,” she said. “I’m interested in the truth – that may be the reason the Polish right and Polish politicians do not like me. On my Twitter account, there are always many antisemitic comments, no matter what I write. But I’m not going to change anything. They won’t scare me,” she added.

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.

For instance, a judgment is expected this week in a libel case against two senior Polish historians who wrote in their book that a Pole was involved in the murder of Jews in the Holocaust. They were subsequently sued by the man’s niece.

The investigation against Markusz is based on another legal clause. This one is not for defamation or damage to the good name of an individual, but rather slandering the Polish nation itself. Use of this clause is considered rare.

The last known time it was used was in 2015 when the historian Prof. Jan Tomasz Gross, who studied Polish involvement in Nazi crimes, was questioned. His interrogation did not lead to an indictment and the case against him was eventually closed in 2019.

The monument to the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto in Warsaw, Poland, last month.Credit: AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski

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