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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.”

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