Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Poland's Treatment of Holocaust Scholar Tests Speech Freedom

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Poland's Treatment of Holocaust Scholar Tests Speech Freedom

Article excerpt

WARSAW, Poland - Poland's nationalistic leadership is refusing to give up a fight against a Polish-American scholar who has claimed that more Jews than Germans were killed by Poles during World War II, a hugely controversial statement in a nation proud of its resistance against the Nazis. The question is whether Princeton professor Jan Tomasz Gross publicly insulted Poland, a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. A prosecutor recently ordered a yearlong investigation be continued until April, overriding a lower-ranking prosecutor who recommended dropping the case after finding no intent to defame Poland.

Gross's lawyer, Agnieszka Wardak, said she thinks the chance he will face criminal charges is small, noting a similar case in the past was dropped. Although Gross lives in the United States, he did return willingly to Poland this year for questioning.

The case is seen as a test of freedom of speech under a right- wing government that has been centralizing power. Government critics believe the ruling party is using state institutions to intimidate Gross, who has Jewish roots and left Poland in the wake of an anti- Semitic purge in Poland in 1968. They fear the authorities' moves will discourage other Holocaust scholars from freely pursuing historical truth.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group, called the decision to continue the investigation "alarming and said it "bears all the hallmarks of a political witch-hunt."

"It's also a form of alienating minorities and people who were victimized, the center's director of government affairs, Mark Weitzman, said. "It's writing their experiences out of the national narrative."

At a gathering of Holocaust scholars in Los Angeles running through Sunday, historians have been adding their names to a letter to Polish President Andrzej Duda condemning the moves against Gross as well as a proposed law they fear will suppress Holocaust scholarship.

Those developments "will place Poland among the states which try to inhibit free speech and censor historical debates, they say.

On the other side are Poles who want to see Gross brought to account for what they see as unfair attacks on the nation's honor over the past 15 years, starting with "Neighbors, a book about a wartime massacre of Jews by Poles. …

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