‘A gift for Holocaust deniers’: how Polish libel ruling will hit historians

The authors of a study on the fate of Polish Jews under Nazism have been told to apologise to a woman for defaming her uncle. The implications for future historical work are alarming

Poland’s nationalists have won their latest battle to defend the country’s wartime reputation. On Tuesday, the Warsaw district court ordered two leading historians to apologise to a woman for defaming a relative in their book about the Holocaust. The landmark ruling has serious implications for academic freedom and the future of Holocaust research, with historians around the world condemning the judgment.

“These are not matters to be adjudicated by courts, this is a point that can be discussed by scholars or interested readers in the exchange of opinions. In that sense, it’s really scandalous,” says Jan Tomasz Gross, whose seminal book Neighbours was a watershed in Poland’s public discussion of the Holocaust more than 20 years ago. “It’s part of a broad effort to stifle any inquiry and particularly the complicity of the local population in the persecution of Jews during that time.”

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