(JTA) — Some 200 demonstrators outside the Polish consulate in New York protested what they termed “attempts to deny Polish war crimes during the Holocaust.”
The rally was organized by Rabbi Zev Friedman, the dean of a suburban New York high school, over the interrogation last month of a Polish Jewish scholar, Jan Gross, by prosecutors concerning statements he made seen to be in violation of Poland’s law against insulting the Polish nation. Many of the protesters at the rally, held on Israel’s national day of mourning for the Holocaust, were students.
Gross, who in 2001 drew international attention to the murder of Jews by Poles in 1941 in the town of Jedwabne with his research on that pogrom, wrote recently that more Jews than Germans died at the hands of Poles during World War II.
His comment sparked outrage and demands that Poland’s right-wing government, which has highlighted the actions of Poles who saved Jews from the Holocaust, take action against him.
“The attempts of the government of Poland, which holds itself out to be a democracy, to stifle the free speech and historical documentation of an internationally acclaimed professor of history, smacks of charges one would expect to hear emanating from North Korea and other totalitarian regimes,” Friedman, the dean of Rambam Mesivta High School in the heavily Jewish area of Long Island known as the Five Towns, wrote in an email announcing the demonstration.
He also accused Poland of claiming Jedwabne “was an isolated incident,” adding: “I’ve heard many survivors speak of the glee that their Polish neighbors had when Jews were being mercilessly persecuted.”
In March, Polish President Andrjez Duda said at an opening of a museum for saviors of Jews that “we must speak the truth about what had happened, the truth and the heroism, but also the sad truth about traitors.”
In response to Friedman’s protest, several activists on Holocaust commemoration in Poland criticized him for what they said was an inflammatory misrepresentation of history that whitewashes German Nazi crimes and transfers them onto their Polish victims.
“I suggest that you make yourself familiar with the historical documents on Poland during World War II first and do not start a ‘blind’ anti-Polish campaign,” Marek Blazejak, a Polish expatriate living in Germany, wrote to Friedman.
Jonny Daniels, the founder of the From the Depths organization for Holocaust commemoration in Poland, spoke to the protesters. He told JTA he understands “concern of Jewish communities, born in part of lacking communication on the part of the Polish government, but cannot agree with inflammatory speech filled with falsehoods against the Polish government, which is reminiscent of the way Israel is singled out for criticism in some circles.”