[Update on post below – The verdict is not good. Though the historians do not have to pay damages, they have been ordered to apologize for writing about what they had discovered through rigorous study and research.]
This is very disturbing as to how it potentially affects the study and research of history – and for other reasons. (I have written about my own experiences in Poland as it pertains to the Holocaust.)
The case has its roots in the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II, when terrified Jews took shelter in the forest and, according to a survivor cited in a recent Polish study of the Holocaust, were murdered there after the wartime mayor of Malinowo, a Pole, told the Nazis of their hiding place.
That horror, however, has now resurfaced, revived by a libel suit against two scholars who edited the study and who stand accused of besmirching the honor of the long-dead mayor and the Polish nation. A verdict in the case, which was brought by the elderly niece of the mayor with support from bodies funded in part by Poland’s government, is expected Tuesday.
The targets of the libel action are Jan Grabowski, a Polish-Canadian history professor at the University of Ottawa, and Barbara Engelking, a historian with the Polish Center for Holocaust Research. Together they edited “Night Without End,” a 1,700-page 2018 study on the role played by individual Poles in aiding Nazi murder.
I lived in France for five years and have spent a lot of time elsewhere in Europe, particularly Italy. No question that any discussion of the Holocaust brings up myriad emotions, sensitivities, anger and denials across the Continent and across the board. There are also, of course, those who are honest about the past, those who were heroic and paid the ultimate price for that heroism, as well. But the silencing of historians in Poland is worrying.
A propos, about five years ago, I read this book – along the same lines as the research of the two historians currently facing legal action, and about as cheerful. I seem to recall Grabowski figuring in Bikont’s book and I know Engelking has also written about Jedwabne. Highly recommend. Would be interested to know what Deborah Lipstadt thinks about this.