Feb. 9 (UPI) — Two Holocaust historians were ordered on Tuesday by a Warsaw District Court judge to apologize for “violating the honor” of a Polish village mayor during World War II in a civil libel suit brought by the mayor’s 80-year-old niece.
Judge Ewa Jończyk ruled that professors and co-authors Barbara Engelking at the Polish Center for Holocaust Research in Warsaw and Jan Grabowski, a historian at the University of Ottawa, were guilty of defamation in a 2018 scholarly work “Night Without End,” which examined the fate of tens of thousands of Jews in Poland during the Nazi occupation.
The niece, Filomena Leszczyńska, said in court that her uncle, Edward Malinowski, was defamed in the book in accounts that he led Nazis to the hiding place of 22 Jews in a forest. The two authors failed to mention that Malinowski, who is now dead, was later acquitted in court, Leszczyńska’s lawsuit said.
Critics say the lawsuit is part of a campaign meant to silence Holocaust research in Poland, starting with a 2018 law passed by the ruling Law and Justice party, PiS, that made it illegal to blame Poland for any crimes commited during the Holocaust. That law was not invoked in this case.
Leszczyńska was represented in the case for no charge by lawyers from the Polish League Against Defamation, which is supported financially by the PiS, and affiliated with Roman Catholics in a political movement.
The judge denied Leszczyńska the financial award of $20,000 she demanded in the lawsuit and said Engelking and Grabowski must apologize online and in a letter to Malinowski’s niece. The authors must issue a correction in forthcoming volumes of the book, the judge said. The two historians may appeal, the judge said.
“I respect the court judgments, but it is difficult for me to agree with this decision,” said Grabowski in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. “I hope that our arguments will be recognized in the appeal.”
About 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust, about half of them Polish. About 90% of Polish Jews perished, and the Nazis built the majority of their death camps in Poland.
Although the Polish government seeks to honor Poles who helped Jews during the Nazi occupation at serious risk to themselves and family members, historians say many others betrayed their Polish Jewish compatriots under Nazi rule, and those Jews paid with their lives.
Chief rabbi of Poland Rabbi Michael Schudrich said the ruling was “an intimidation tactic,” designed to “shut up people who say that Poles did anything bad during the Holocaust. … People will be afraid to do honest research on Jewish issues in Poland and this is utterly unacceptable,” Schudrich told the Jerusalem Post.
The Yad Vashem, World Holocaust Remembrance Center, in Israel said in a statement that the lawsuit was a “serious attack on free and open research.”
Canadian scholars at the University of Ottawa’s Human Rights Research and Education Center defended their colleague in a statement saying the Polish legal group was attempting to discredit Grabowski by “criticizing both his academic credibility and his personal integrity.”
“Professor Grabowski has carefully studied the violence perpetrated by Poles against their Jewish neighbors during the Shoah,” the group said. “At a time of rising nationalism and xenophobia … public awareness of past atrocities is all the more important.”