TORONTO — A Polish court order that an eminent Canadian historian and his co-editor apologize for suggesting a man helped kill Jews during the Second World World has angered Jewish human rights activists in Canada and abroad.
They say the ruling against Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking is part of an ongoing effort to obscure Polish complicity in the genocide of Jews during the Holocaust.
Michael Levitt, head of Toronto-based Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, called the ruling shocking and shameful.
“Poland cannot continue to bury the facts and silence Holocaust scholars," Levitt said. "Its actions must be roundly rejected by Canada and the rest of the international community.”
The group said it was reaching out to senior government leaders urging them to speak out against "Holocaust distortion in Poland."
At issue was a short passage in a 1,600-page book "Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland,'' co-edited by Grabowski, a professor at the University of Ottawa, and Engelking, director of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research in Warsaw.
According to the passage, which Engelking wrote, Edward Malinowski robbed a Jewish woman during the war and contributed to the deaths of 22 other Jews hiding in a forest in Malinowo in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943.
Malinowski's niece, Filomena Leszczynska, 81, argued her uncle was a Polish hero who had saved Jews, and that the scholars had defamed her and her family. She demanded a retraction and 100,000 zlotys - about C$34,000 - in compensation.
Judge Ewa Jonczyk, of the District Court in Warsaw, ordered the authors to make a written apology for "providing inaccurate information" and "violating his honour." The judge, however, stopped short of imposing monetary compensation, saying it could hinder academic research.
Nevertheless, Mark Weitzman, with the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, said the ruling opened the door to further intimidation of Holocaust scholars and researchers.
“By ordering the scholars to 'apologize,' it puts both historians and victims on trial, and offers protection to the reputations of Poles and others who collaborated in the murder of Jews,” Weitzman said
Grabowski could not be reached for comment, although Engelking said they planned an appeal.
Grabowski, whose work on the Holocaust has attracted death threats, told The Canadian Press in 2017 that he would not allow fierce criticism of his research in Poland to deter him.
“I feel personally attacked but this is for me a much more dangerous and general problem that has to be dealt with,” Grabowski said. “It’s a pure and simple attack on basic academic freedoms, which we take for granted here in Canada. I’m dismayed.”
The Nazis slaughtered about three million Jews and another two million Christians in Poland during the war. While many Poles resisted the invaders, others collaborated with the Nazis.
Leszczynska was backed by the Polish League Against Defamation, a group that fights harmful and untruthful depictions of Poland. The league, which has previously attacked Grabowski's work, is ideologically aligned with the ruling nationalist Law and Justice Party.
The researchers, however, viewed the case as an attempt to discredit their overall findings and discourage other researchers from investigating the truth about Polish involvement in the German mass murder of Jews.
-With files from The Associated Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2021.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press