Polish nationalism takes a more threatening turn

The verdict against two Holocaust historians in a libel trial has chimed with sinister actions by the Polish state, which are encouraging more open expressions of antisemitism. David Rosenberg reports

Polish nationalism takes a more threatening turn

The judge in a libel trial in Poland has ordered two Polish historians to write a letter apologising to the niece of a deceased Polish village elder who they claim was complicit in the Holocaust. In their two-volume work, published by the Polish Centre for Holocaust research, the historians acknowledge that the man had helped save one Jewish women's life but allege that he was implicated in betraying other Jews hidden in a nearby forest, 18 of whom were subsequently murdered. His niece submitted the libel claim with the encouragement of right-wing Polish organisations.

The judge sided with her claim and ordered the historians to apologise to the niece, make a statement on the website of the Research Institute that had published their book, and amend the record in subsequent editions. The judge did, however, reject the demand from the plaintiff that they pay compensation of 100,000 zlotys (£19,000). The two historians, Jan Grabowski, son a of Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivor and Catholic mother, and Barbara Engelking are defending their claims and appealing against the verdict.

There have been some deeply disturbing developments before and after this trial. A few days before the verdict, Polish police following up an anonymous complaint arrested and questioned a journalist, Katarzyna Markusz. She was suspected of violating Article 133 of the Polish Constitution which threatens those who “publicly insult the Nation or the Republic of Poland” with a penalty of up to three years in prison. In an article published last October she had written: "Will we live to see the day when the Polish authorities also admit that hostility toward Jews was widespread among Poles, and that Polish complicity in the Holocaust is a historical fact?”

The second sinister development was a tweet following the libel verdict by Stanislaw Zaryn, spokesperson for the Director-Coordinator of the Polish Secret Services. He condemned “insinuations against Poland” that "were published after the court verdict" by international media which “have slandered Poland”. He called them a “dangerous phenomenon” which will “have an impact on the information security of the Poland (sic). The authors of the book slandered an innocent person of a serious crime. That’s the truth!” Meanwhile, Zbigniew Ziobro, the Polish Minister of Justice, was tweeting: “this brave woman stood against the lying propaganda slandering the poles!” And yet the Polish state pretends to stand above the whole affair.

In a further disturbing development, the Wroclaw branch of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance – a government agency charged with popularising modern Polish history and prosecuting “crimes against the Polish nation” – has just appointed a new director, Tomasz Greniuch. He was active for several years in the ultra-right National Radical Camp (ONR) which sees itself as the continuity organisation of the deeply antisemitic Catholic Nationalist body of late 1930s Poland of the same name. In Greniuch’s street activity with the ONR he has been photographed giving the Nazi salute on more than one occasion.

The Jewish Socialists’ Group wishes Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking good luck with their appeal. We call upon anti-fascists and Jewish community organisations here in Britain to pressurise our Tory government, which claims to take antisemitism seriously yet has the closest and friendliest relationship with the ultra-nationalist-conservative Polish Government, to condemn and protest against the Polish state's interference in these matters and support those who seek the truth about who was implicated in the Holocaust and how.

The political background to the libel trial is examined in David Rosenberg's History and Freedom on Trial.

Photo: Dr Tomasz Greniuch, new director of Wroclaw Polish Institute of National Remembrance in a former role.

Posted: 12 February 2021