Jan Meisels Allen
I recently posted about a case in Poland where two Polish historians, Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking, with the Polish Center for Holocaust Research in Warsaw, were facing a libel trial for a scholarly examination of Polish behavior during World War ll. The case centers on a 1,600-page, two-volume historical work in Polish, Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland, which was co-edited by Grabowski and Engelking. The case is the first major legal test in the wake of a 2018 law that makes it a crime to falsely accuse the Polish nation of crimes committed by Nazi Germany. The law has caused a major diplomatic rift with Israel.
On February 9, a Warsaw Court ruled that the two Holocaust researchers must apologize to the 81-year old woman who claimed her deceased uncle had been slandered in a historical work in which it is suggested he helped kill Jews during World War ll. However, the Court did NOT rule that they pay a fee, 100,000 zlotys ($27,000), as demanded by the plaintiff’s attorneys.
The woman, Filomena Leszczynska, is backed by the Polish League Against Defamation, a group that fights harmful and untruthful depictions of Poland. It argues the woman’s uncle, Edward Malinowski, was a hero who helped save Jews during World War II and accuses the scholars of research errors that resulted in Malinowski appearing as someone who betrayed Jews to the Germans.
Night Without End focuses of the fates of Jews who escaped as the Nazis were “liquidating” ghettos and sending inhabitants to extermination camps. It documents cases of Jews who tried to hide, with those who survived doing so thanks to the help of Poles. It also presents extensive evidence of individual Poles who collaborated in betraying Jews to the Nazis.
At the center of the case is testimony given in 1996 by a Jewish woman, born Estera Siemiatycka, to the USC Shoah Foundation, a Los Angeles-based group that collects Holocaust-era oral histories. When she spoke, she had changed her name to Maria Wiltgren.
Wiltgren, who is no longer alive, described Malinowski, the elder of the village of Malinowo, as someone who helped her to survive under an assumed “Aryan" identity by putting her in a group of Poles sent to work in Germany after she had purchased false papers. But she also said he cheated her out of money and possessions. Two of her sons testified that she considered him a “bad man.”
Engelking, who wrote the chapter, acknowledged one error. In the book she mentioned that when Wiltgren was in Germany during the war, she traded with Malinowski. The book didn't make clear that was a different man with the same name. Engelking argued the mistake had no bearing on the larger question of the village elder's behavior toward Jews.
The ruling may be appealed and is not final.
To read more see:
Note the article was contributed by Jewish Genner and associated Press researcher Randy Herschaft.
Thank you to David Oseas, JGS Conejo Valley and Ventura County (JGSCV) webmaster for sharing the article.
Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee