E.in Polish appeals court has overturned a controversial judgment against two renowned Holocaust researchers. A courtroom is “not the right place for a historical debate,” said judge Joanna Wisniewska-Sadomska after she invalidated the conviction of Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski for defamation on Monday.
Engelking and Grabowski had been sued by the descendants of a village mayor. In February, they were convicted of defamation in the first instance. The court ordered the two scientists to apologize to the plaintiff.
Engelking and Grabowski had published the book “And noch ist Nacht”, in which several cases of complicity of Catholic Poles in the murder of Jews during the German occupation are documented. In a short passage it is mentioned that the mayor of the village of Malinowo may have been involved in a massacre of 22 Jews by German soldiers.
Libel suit by a niece
Edward Malinowski’s niece had brought a defamation lawsuit against the authors. Although the court did not impose the required compensation, it demanded an apology from the researchers, since the objectionable passage was “inaccurate”.
The appellate judge overturned this judgment without going into the accuracy of the passage. Instead, she stated that the conviction of the two researchers was an “unacceptable violation of the freedom of research and freedom of expression”.
The trial had sparked a heated debate in Poland about the freedom of research in connection with research into Polish history during World War II and the occupation by Nazi Germany. Sharp criticism also came from abroad, including from the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel and from academics.
Between 1939 and 1945 six million Poles died under German occupation, three million of them were Jews.
The Poles’ attitude towards their Jewish neighbors was not uniform. Historians describe on the one hand cases of indifference and sometimes cruelty towards Jews, on the other hand more than 7000 Poles were honored by the Yad Vashem memorial as “Righteous Among the Nations” because they saved the lives of Jews. No other country in the world counts more “righteous among the peoples”.