Skip To Content
Breaking News

Historians Condemn Poland’s Backtracking on Poles’ WW2-Era Murder of Jews

A group of Poland’s most prestigious Holocaust historians has condemned recent official efforts to deny or downplay the role of non-Jewish Poles in murdering Polish Jews during and immediately after World War II.

The Polish Center for Holocaust Research, which is part of the Polish Academy of Sciences, issued its condemnation on Friday.

The center’s statement specifically cited recent testimony that Jaroslaw Szarek, the government’s newly appointed director of the Institute of National Remembrace, gave to a parliamentary committee. In his testimony, Szarek said that it was the Nazis, not Poles, who killed roughly 300 Jews in Jedwabne, in northeastern Poland in 1941.

Szarek’s statement contradicted a formal 2002 finding by his own institute, which is an official government body, after an exhaustive four-year study. In 2011, the Polish government formally acknowledged the pogrom was the work of non-Jewish Poles and apologized for the killings.

”[Szarek] was a member of the [institute] from its founding,” the statement by the historians noted pointedly.

The center’s statement also targeted Education Minister Anna Zalewska, who last week stated that she was unable to say who perpetrated the mass murder in Jedwabne or the separate 1946 Kielce pogrom, which took place one year after the Nazi surrender.

Historians across the spectrum generally ascribe responsibility for these killings, too, to local non-Jewish Poles. But since its election last October, Poland’s current hard line right-wing government has signaled a determination to recast Polish history. At a November 17 conference in the Presidential Palace, called by President Andrzej Duda, representatives from Polish museums and other cultural institutions were told to galvanize Polish nationalism and to discard narratives that brought Poland shame.

“These were shocking words and equally shocking was the lack of any reaction whatsoever on the part of the Polish government,” the center said in its condemnation of the recent statements.

Polish backtracking on taking national responsibility for its history, they predicted, “will lead to the humiliation of Poland on the international scene.”

A message from our editor-in-chief Jodi Rudoren

We're building on 127 years of independent journalism to help you develop deeper connections to what it means to be Jewish today.

With so much at stake for the Jewish people right now — war, rising antisemitism, a high-stakes U.S. presidential election — American Jews depend on the Forward's perspective, integrity and courage.

—  Jodi Rudoren, Editor-in-Chief 

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.