JUSTICE - No. 68

27 Summer 2022 riting about the history of the Holocaust in Poland has become a risky endeavor, exposing historians to criminal proceedings and to civil litigation conducted, or inspired, by the militant and nationalistic Polish state. This article analyzes the background of this phenomenon, which is part of a larger issue, namely, the “juridification” of history.1 On February 9, 2021, Judge Ewa Jończyk of the Warsaw District Court rendered her judgment in the civil lawsuit filed by Filomena Leszczyńska against Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski. The plaintiff claimed that the defendants (both historians of the Holocaust), in a recently published academic book, slandered the memory of her long-deceased uncle. The claim was that they wrongly accused him of having betrayed hidden Jews to the Germans during the Occupation. On the surface, the case looked like one of the many civil lawsuits filed by a party wishing to defend the good name of the family. In fact, the case was prepared, orchestrated and financed by a right-wing, nationalistic organization serving as a proxy for the Polish state. The justification of the verdict covered 37 pages, but a few sentences were of particular significance for historians in general, and for historians of the Holocaust in particular: In the light of the above presented ideas and jurisprudence, we can assume that ascribing to Poles the crimes of the Holocaust committed by the III Reich can be construed as hurtful and striking at the feeling of identity and of national pride. The unprecedented historical events, which constitute the legacy of the community and of its individual members and which are considered as factual beyond any discussion, cannot be made relative, because it risks striking against the feeling of national belonging and provokes feeling of harm. This forms among the public opinion a drastically untrue image of Poland and ascribes to Poles characteristics which tear away their dignity and undermine their sense of own value. To blame Poles for the Holocaust, for the killing of Jews during WW II and for seizing their property, touches upon the sphere of the national legacy and, consequently, as completely untrue and hurtful, can impact one’s feeling of own national dignity, destroying the justified – based on facts – conviction, that Poland was the victim of war operations initiated and conducted by the Germans...2 Judge Jończyk’s foray into the field of history was a surprise to those scholars who have more than a cursory knowledge of the Holocaust. Ample, uncontested, and easily available historical evidence points to the fact that large segments of Polish society took part in the theft of Jewish property, and that tens of thousands of Jews lost their lives due to the direct or indirect involvement of their Polish neighbors. Rejecting this evidence is not only disingenuous, but also intellectually and morally wrong. More importantly, the judge inserted into the verdict the notion of a “feeling of national dignity”– a vague and legally undefined term which henceforth would be considered on par with other personal rights which are given legal protection. Judge Jończyk’s decision was not an isolated aberration, but part of a larger process known as “Holocaust distortion.” People and institutions engaging in this practice do not negate the factuality of Jewish catastrophe; they simply insist that their nation, or their ethnic group, had nothing to do with the event. During the last two decades, and particularly since 2015 when the populist/nationalist Law and Justice party came to power, the distortion of the Holocaust has become a quasi-official policy of the Polish The Challenges of Writing History in Contemporary Poland W JanGrabowski 1. The “juridification” (Verrechtlichung in German) of history is an expression coined by Jürgen Habermas. 2. Warsaw District Court, verdict of Feb. 9, 2021, court file nr. III C 657/19.