In the tiny village of Treblinka a small memorial was erected to Jan Maletka, a Polish railway worker who was shot by Germans at that spot. You’d think this would go unnoticed without criticism, but no. This has outraged holocaust historians like Jan Grabowski, who published a 2000 word editorial in the New York Times yesterday about why the memorial upsets him.
Why? Well it appears to some that Grabowski’s life mission is to expand holocaust guilt to Polish people, who he feels shouldn’t consider themselves as just victims but also as perpetrators of the holocaust. He sees efforts that defend against that as nefarious. He is rather famous in Poland(and disliked!). He was one of the defendants in this case.
I think Grabowski is a hypocrite, and I will write three reasons why.
Eyewitness testimony: Is it sufficient evidence or not?
Jewish historians have frequently criticized the memorialization of Maletka because the main account of the incident comes from a single eye witness, who I believe first publicly told the story in the 80’s. Can we trust this account they ask.
Here is a livestream Grabowski (top left) did with other jews discussing the memorial in Treblinka.
Well in the very article criticising the memorialization Grabowski quotes the memoir of a Mr. Adam Starkopf, published in 1995. “A group of Polish villagers, he wrote, invited him into their plan to hunt down, rob and then turn over to the Gestapo a group of Jews who had escaped from a cattle car. “Just think — all these Jews lying on the ground, ready for the taking! It’s a windfall!,” Mr. Starkopf recalled his neighbors saying to him. “We’ll take their clothes, clean out their pockets and on top of that we’ll get a reward from the Germans for bringing them in.”
If we can note that a story that portrays Poles in a positive light is just based on a single source, and ponder if that story is actually true, should we treat Mr. Starkopf’s story the same way?
Grabowski, perhaps tactically, does not make this argument in this article. I’m including it because he does not object when his colleague make this argument, and I suspect he would object if someone cast doubt on jewish eyewitness testimony, for example the almost 50,000 jewish testimonies collected in the 90s in the so called Spielberg archive.
He does use the phrase “Polish researchers say” in the article. Perhaps Grabowski would not like it if someone described his research and concluded with “Jewish researchers say”, and he didn’t use that phrase when talking about Mr. Starkopf.
Memorials to victims
Grabowski often advocates constructing memorials to jewish victims of Poles all around Poland, to “enrich the narrative” by educating about the instances were Poles harmed and sometimes even killed jews.
Since Grabowski thinks we should have memorials informing about Poles who collaborated with Germans to hurt jews, would he protest if we built memorials that clearly inform about the jews who collaborated with the communists and hurt Poles?
Mr. Grabowski, would you suport construction of memorials to the instances were jews killed Poles? Maybe a memorial educating Polish children about Żydokomuna? In ministry of public security offices where jews were directors, which was the majority, we should put a memorial that says “here jews killed Poles”. You would agree that the communist government killed many Poles, so why shouldn’t we educate people about how it was often jews who were responsible? Do you deny these facts?
Maybe we should add a sign in Majdanek listing any jewish people who worked there, and say “here these jews killed these Poles of the home army.”
If not, why not?
Should people be prosecuted for researching the Holocaust
Jan Grabowski was sued for a book he co-edited about the Holocaust. He often talks about how dangerous it is that this happened, how holocaust historians like him shouldn’t be afraid of the legal consequences of their research. For example in his article he wrote.
“It seemed to me that the real objective of the lawsuit was not to rescue a man’s name or alter his reputation, but to frighten scholars of the Holocaust, to instill Poland’s pervasive atmosphere of fear into an entire discipline and to make students and educators think twice before choosing topics that would challenge the government-sponsored version of history”
This is the point that I assume is the most hypocritical, although I’ve never heard Grabowski elaborate on the obvious. Mr. Grabowski, if you are reading this, do you think that Poland shouldn’t legally punish any historian for writing books on the holocaust the government disapproves us, or just people like you? Could you please elaborate on what historical writings you believe should be legal and what shouldn’t.
Dariusz Ratajczak was a Polish historian working the university of Opole, who wrote a book called “dangerous topics” in 1999. He was charged with a crime for his historical research. He was convicted and his life was ruined, he later died under mysterious circumstances.
Professor Grabowski, do you support repealing the laws that made professor Ratajczak a criminal?