Once it became impossible to silence books published by Polish scholars of the Holocaust, a decision has been made to brand them as liars and falsifiers of history. The entire machinery of the nationalist Polish state (including state-funded NGO’s) set in motion. The trial against the authors of “Night Without End” is now to become a testing ground for this strategy.
Sitting on the bench of the accused are Professors Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski, co-authors of a two-volume study devoted to the fates of Jews who, during the war, went into hiding in several counties of occupied Poland. What is the case of the plaintiffs? In one of the footnotes the authors have allegedly slandered a former village elder from the Podlasie region. The sentence will be handed down on February 9.
Hunt for the Jews
The last hearing happened on January 12th. The proceedings have been reported live by Maciej Swirski, the chairman of the Executive Board of the Polish Press Agency, the Chief and founder of the Polish Anti-defamation League and former deputy chief of the Polish National Foundation.
This is one of the right-wing foundations generously financed by the Polish state, which supports the “history policy” espoused by the ruling PiS party. According to this “League”, during the war Poles were nearly exclusively victims and heroes and they rescued the Jews on a massive scale. PiS calls it “fighting the education of shame”.
In practical terms however it boils down to authorities trying to discredit scholars showing the inconvenient truth. The Polish Center for Holocaust Research affiliated with the Polish Academy of Sciences is one of the main centers for independent research on the Holocaust. Over the years, the Center published many studies presenting shattering evidence concerning the complicit participation of large segments of Polish society in the Holocaust.
On the basis of witnesses’ accounts and post-war documentation, the authors have shown the active involvement of Poles (at least since 1942, when the Germans started to liquidate the ghettos) in the extermination of the Jews. That is when close to 300,000 Polish Jews managed to flee the ghettos and became targets of massive manhunts. There were many Poles who took part (oftentimes as volunteers) in this hunt for the fleeing Jews. According to the estimates put forward by Prof. Grabowski, close to 200,000 of these Jews were either murdered or denounced by Poles to the Germans.
Initially, the studies and books published by the Center were largely ignored by PiS institutions and by state-controlled and state-aligned media. But the publication of “Night Without End” could no longer be ignored.; detailed accounts of thousands of cases, few of which reflect well on the war-time Polish society, could no longer be brushed under the rug. One of these cases finds itself to be at the heart of the present lawsuit. The sentence will have a direct bearing not only on the liberty of academic research in Poland but also on the image of our country in the minds of historians all over the world.
On the Blacklist of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
On January 12th, during the last court hearing, Maciej Swirski was tweeting furiously;he published more than 40 tweets on his account. He made sure that the news was carried by the Polish Press Agency (PAP) – the chief of the Anti-defamation League is, at the same time, the chief of the Executive Board of PAP. “PAP journalists did not make even an attempt to call us. This, actually, is the rule nowadays. The government and pro-government media do not even bother trying to contact us or obtain a statement” – said Prof. Grabowski to Gazeta Wyborcza. Sometimes it looks like the 1968 anti-semitic campaign against intellectuals. The same methods, the same rhetoric. Their goal is to discredit us, to instill fear. He said that he was no longer able to read these hateful texts. “When people bring me information about new ‘findings’ about me, about my family, about my “racial origin”, I ask them to stop. I don’t want to listen to this anymore.
Last year I was invited to the Swedish parliament, to deliver a speech about the challenges of Holocaust-related research. After the lecture, I had a talk with Ms. Ann Linde, the Swedish minister of Foreign Affairs. She told me that the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent her a letter with a request to disinvite me and to call off my speech” – recalls Grabowski. Instructions, how to react to lectures given abroad by Grabowski, Engelking and Jan Tomasz Gross and other independent historians, have been sent by the Polish Foreign Office to all Polish embassies.
This is only part of the strategy. In 2017, the rector of the University of Ottawa, Canada (where Grabowski is a professor of History) received a letter accusing Grabowski of falsifying history of the Holocaust and requesting his termination. The sender: Polish Anti-defamation League. The Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) has also joined the attacks on Grabowski.
The ‘slandered’ hero
Officially, the authors are being sued by 80 year-old Filomena Leszczynska from Malinowo in the Podlasie area. She accuses the scholars of “slandering the memory” of Edward Malinowski, her uncle who – during the war – was a village elder (sołtys) in Malinowo. In reality however it’s Swirski and the League who stand behind the lawsuit. It was he who found Leszczynska and who persuaded her to file the lawsuit and financed the lawyers.
In August 2020, when Leszczynska was deposed by the court, she said that she heard about the story “from the radio”, that “various people called her”. She also said that her uncle was a “good man” and that he “saved the Jews”.
The whole lawsuit is based upon a short paragraphs, few lines of text, taken from page 157 (volume I of the study). That’s where village elder Malinowski makes an appearance: “Estera Drogicka (de domo Siemiatycka), having listed her family, armed in identity papers acquired from one Belorussian woman, decided to report for labor in Germany. Village elder Edward Malinowski offered her assistance (and, at the same time, he robbed her) and, in December 1942, she found herself in Rastenburg (today Kętrzyn), working as house help in the home of a German family named Fittkau.
That’s where she has not only met her second husband (a Pole, also working in Germany) but she also started a commercial exchange sending Malinowski parcels with merchandise for the same. She visited him when she went ‘home’, for vacation. She was aware that Malinowski was guilty of betraying scores of Jews who were hiding in the forest and who were delivered to the Germans. Nevertheless, during his post-war trial she delivered false and exculpating evidence”. In the footnotes, prof. Engelking added that after the war Drogicka testified in defense of Malinowski the village elder. Malinowski’s story is only one of the thousands of cases presented in the book.
We can read in the lawsuit that the story as presented in “Night Without End” is a lie and that it damages Filomena Leszczyńska’s personal rights: “right to enjoy the remembrance of a deceased person”, “right to one’s national pride and identity”, “right to a lie-free history of WW II”, “right to protection of dignity”, “right to receiving truthful information from historical research funded by her”. The justification: Leszczynska’s membership in the ethnic group (Polish nation) and the fact that she is a niece of Edward Malinowski.
Furthermore, the lawsuit demands that the authors apologize, that they admit that their goal was accuse the Poles of murdering the Jews (to be published , among others, on the pages of Gazeta Wyborcza). In the lawsuit, Filomena Leszczynska requests apologies for ungrounded accusation of her uncle, a Pole, and deliberate insertion of his ‘manipulated’ story to the thesis about Poles murdering Jews – Swirski writes on Reduta’s internet website. Should the scholars agree with the theses advanced by the lawsuit, they would have to admit in their apologies that they acted deliberately and in a premeditated way. They would also have to pay 100,000 zlotys ($ 26,000) of damages.
The authors of the lawsuit against the scholars based their accusations on the fact that the court, right after the war, in 1950, found village elder Malinowski not guilty of the crime of having taken part in murdering the Jews. Among others, three Jewish survivors testified on his behalf. “This lawsuit is intended to protect the memory of deceased Edward Malinowski who rescued Jews during the war. He was a hero and should be perceived as such by his niece, as well as by his friends, acquaintances and other Poles” – stresses Swirski. He continues: “the information which has been included in ‘Night Without End’ has been invented and the ‘authors’ scandalous behavior is meant to confirm the thesis about Poles killing the Jews”.
The good name of Edward Malinowski has been tarnished by Grabowski and Engelking, who de facto called him a thief and a murderer. Malinowski was,without any doubt a hero and we shall prove it in court”.
The problem is that prof. Engelking (contrary to what the lawsuit alleges) based her account on historical sources. The most important one is the several hours-long testimony recorded by Estera Drogicka for the Shoah Foundation. This is what she had to say about Malinowski: “I ran from the forest; it took me half an hour, 7 kilometers, or more. I ran, and I reached Malinowo. I have met a young boy, not more than eight years old, and he said: “you, Jew, you have no right to live!”. I looked around, I asked about the village elder, I went to this Malinowski Edward, the village elder, he told me that this was his name. I told him that I have an Ausweis (German identity papers) , so perhaps I can go and work in Germany (that’s because the elders could select people to be sent as forced laborers in Germany). So he says: ‘have you saved anything from the ghetto?’. So I say that I have shoes, a dress, a shirt and bed linens. I list all of these things to him and he says that he will go and fetch all of them. I had a very nice sweater, so he took it away from me and he gave me his wife’s old sweater, I had some silk underwear, so he took away too. I also had 100 German marks, and he took away 50″.
Drogicka later learned that Malinowski took her things (which have been deposited with her neighbors) and told her that he had found nothing. Finally, Estera said that there were 22 Jews hiding in the forest, together with their children. A forest ranger found them and “together with Malinowski, they went to fetch the gendarmes, and they killed all of them, and the children, they killed them all”. After the war, when Malinowski stood accused of his part in the murder, Drogicka testified in his defense. Engelking writes about this in the book. In her testimony, Drogicka admits: “after the war, he would have received a death penalty. I saved him, despite the fact that he committed evil acts against me, but so what? It was really awful when I had to testify, I was in real trouble, but I saved him”.
Why would Drogicka testify after the war in favor of the village elder? Her fear of vengeance could have been a factor. As we can read in OKO press, “in 1949, Malinowski was accused by a group of village inhabitants of various crimes, including contacts with the group of “Sparrow”. That was one of anti-communist partisans active in the area. Malinowski was also accused of having betrayed the Jews back in 1943. Two days after the court announced its upcoming session, “Sparrow’s” people showed up in Malinowo. Malinowski was in custody, but his wife and son pointed out those, who pointed out the elder to the authorities. Few neighbors were beaten up and the paramedic, who tended to their wounds , had been killed the next day. It is not hard to understand why, in these circumstances, the witnesses for the prosecution changed their statements. A note concerning these events has been preserved in the files of the State Security. This is another document related to these events.
During the court proceedings, scholars stated that 80 years after the facts, one has to rely on sources, all witnesses having passed away. They pointed out that the war-time and post-war stories of people mentioned in the book were complicated.
Estera testified in favor of the village elder. I think that she had negative opinion about him but she wanted to do him a favor and express her gratitude for saving her life (sending her to Germany, to work) – said prof. Engelking. According to her, Malinowski was neither a hero, nor a blackmailer, he was someone in between. During the occupation there were many such complex situations. I did not write that he denounced these Jews – I quoted the opinion of the Jewish survivor”. Engelking repeated the same thing in court.
“Deport them, because they spit in our face!”
Each hearing in the case involving these Holocaust scholars went hand in hand with a barrage of right-wing media propaganda. Engelking and Grabowski are being called: “falsifiers, who transformed a hero into a blackmailer”. But even more depressing are the comments left by readers under the articles published in wPolityce.pl; fronda.pl; or TVP info. Indeed, they bring back the climate of March 1968 antisemitic campaign.
“We have to bring back the institution of infamy and deport people who spit on Poland and on Poles”
“Jews falsify history. Who is still going to protect them?”
“KICK THIS JEWISH SCUM OUT OF POLAND!
“HOW MUCH POLISH TAXPAYERS’ money ms. Engelking and mr. Grabowski are getting??”
“Jan Grabowski’s mother is a Jewess! I wanted to find out more about him, all you get on Wikipedia is only his father’s name, not even a word about his mother, but elsewhere I found more about his mother”.
“Jan Grabowski Abrahamer. Polish-sounding names were mostly given to those, who consolidated communist power. They were specialists who tore people’s fingernails out, who broke fingers and bones and teeth, exceptional sadists (….) Grabowskis are good noble family, but this one is a first-class consumer of garlic and onions!”.
“If Grabowski becomes a professor of the Polish Aacademy of Sciences, we will have to close down the Academy. He is not a scholar but a Russian agent under the influence and direction of Israel”.
“Jews attack Poland with the help of lies, slander and they are V column in Poland”.
“Grabowski, Jew, attacks Poland in a filthy way. And how one cannot be an antisemite??”.
“He got his professorial title from other Stalinist Jews. Take the citizenship away from this liar”.
“What is the real name of this Grabowski and why is he unpunished??
“People like he should be loaded into the cattle cars and sent East where they belong”.
“A Jew, sick with hatred of Poles, as a Polish scholar he spits on the Polish nation and falsifies history. We pay him and he slanders us and defiles our nation”.
“We dream of having here Turkey and Erdogan. He would help us to remind this ‘educated’ band are Poles”.
“Mordechai Grabowski talks shit again. Take him to the border and kick him out !”.
Wojciech Czuchnowski’s article has been published in Gazeta Wyborcza on January 22, 2021, p. 4. Reprinted here with the permission of Gazeta Wyborcza.