The PLAD aligns itself with the Nationalist Law and Justice party of Poland. Photo: cc, Wikicommons, Prawo-i-Sprawiedliwość
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Government-aligned group accused of libel after attacking research into Poland’s role in the Holocaust

Jan Grabowski, a History professor and prominent Holocaust researcher at the University of Ottawa, is suing the Polish League Against Defamation (PLAD) for libel after accusations of slander made by the organization last year.

The PLAD argues that Grabowski’s conclusions on Poland’s complicity in Nazi Germany’s extermination of Jews constitute slander against the nation and runs contrary to the official narrative of the Polish Government.

“Their leaders are the leaders of the ruling party … it is no secret that (The PLAD) is a front for the ruling government,”  Grabowski said in an interview with the Fulcrum.

The nationalist Law and Justice party — which the PLAD aligns itself with — passed a bill in February that made it illegal to claim Poland had any official role in the Holocaust, punishable by a fine and up to three years in prison. Although the law was quickly met with challenges from constitutional courts and the international community, it demonstrates the party’s hardline policy on defending Poland’s historical reputation.

“What makes my work so offensive to them is that I publish things in languages other than Polish, in Polish they don’t care because that does not hurt their (international) reputation”  Grabowski explained. “Once you start publishing things that deal with the darker parts of Polish history they become pretty aggressive.”

This case is not Grabowski’s first run-in with the Polish far-right. He successfully sued Fronda—a Polish-language nationalist paper—after they compared him to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels for his criticism of the Polish population during World War Two.

“Before it was a mild disease, but it has now grown into this deep paranoia, now whenever you talk about the Holocaust it becomes a matter of these 6,000 olive trees that represent these Poles who protected the jews … but you cannot hide the very sad realities behind the stories of a few thousand very courageous people.”

His 2013 book “Hunt for the Jews: Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied Poland” examined the role of Polish citizens and civil servants in capturing Jews who escaped the government’s Ghettos. Although it won praise from Jewish groups across the world, Polish nationalist elements were quick to argue that Poles were forced to cooperate or face violent punishment from the Nazi Party.

“Everyone wants to believe that their grandfathers and their great-grandfathers did good things,” Grabowski said. “The idea that parts of our society were complicit in one of the worst crimes in human history is abhorrent — people don’t want to hear it.”  

At the time of publication, the PLAD has declined a request to comment on the case.