Hundreds of groups defend historian from Polish gov’t attack for telling truth about Poles and Jews in Holocaust

Polish prime minister, education minister slammed Dr. Barbara Engelking for saying Poles “failed” Jews in WWII, threatening to defund her institute.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Over 300 institutions and academics from around the world have risen to defend a noted Polish Holocaust historian from her government’s attack on her after she stated that Poles “failed” their Jewish fellow citizens during World War II.

The historical groups and professors, including Yad Vashem, the foremost Holocaust documentation, research, education and commemoration institute in the world, issued a statement Thursday condemning Warsaw for its threats against Dr. Barbara Engelking, founder and director of the Polish Center of Holocaust Research at the Polish Academy of Sciences.

“We regard such censorious tendencies and the notion that the continued financing of academic institutions should be conditional upon whether the research produced within them meets the expectations of politicians, as extremely dangerous and unacceptable,” the statement says in part.

“Such actions are aimed at discouraging other scholars from undertaking research that might be met with a similar hate campaign.”

Engelking condemned Poles for their antisemitic behavior after the Nazis took over their country in an interview on Poland’s largest private channel, marking the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19th. She said that her countrymen often “falsif[y] history” in overstating how much they helped Jews when the Germans were hunting them down, and that Jews were “unbelievably disappointed with Poles during the war.”

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“Poles had the potential to become allies of the Jews, and one would hope that they would behave differently, that they would be neutral, kind, that they would not take advantage of the situation to such an extent and that there would not be widespread blackmailing,” she said in another part of the interview.

“Poles simply failed,” she said.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki slammed the noted scholar, who has published several books in multiple languages on such subjects as the survival strategies of Jews in Warsaw and on the fate of Jews seeking refuge in Polish villages during the Holocaust. In a tweet of well over 800 words, he criticized her “scandalous opinions” regarding her coreligionists’ behavior, firing back that “We know that there could be tens, if not hundreds of thousands” of cases where Poles saved Jews.

Her statements were part of “an anti-Polish narrative,” he said, as blame for the murder of Polish Jewry rested squarely on Germany.

The Nazis held Poland in their totalitarian grip for over five years.

Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek threatened to defund Engelking’s institute, saying, “I will not finance an institute that maintains the kind of people who simply insult Poles.”

Poles “were the greatest allies of the Jews, and if it had not been for the Poles, many Jews would have died, many more than were killed in the Holocaust,” he claimed.

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Of the 3.3 million Jews who lived in pre-War Poland, only 380,000 survived, according to Yad Vashem’s research.

The state broadcasting authority jumped into the act as well, opening legal proceedings against TVN, because “if the guest on a program is lying, the journalist must tell viewers that it is a lie.” TVN is owned by Warner Bros. Discovery, an American multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate headquartered in New York.

Morawiecki and his nationalist Law and Justice Party made a point of passing a law in 2018 that prescribes criminal proceedings for individuals or organizations who allegedly defame the “Polish nation” by assigning guilt or complicity to Poles for Holocaust crimes committed on Polish soil.

It was widely condemned at the time as an attempt to portray Poles solely as Nazi victims and whitewash the role so many of them played in aiding their oppressors’ mission to wipe out the Jewish people.

While readily acknowledging the heroism of over 7,000 Poles in saving Jews during the Holocaust, who are documented by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations, the Israeli government also saw the law as a distortion of the truth. Knesset members across the political spectrum called it an attempt to deny the Holocaust, and tensions arose between the countries’ administrations.