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Open Letter to the President of the American Historical Association

Open Letter to the President of the American Historical Association.Published: November 19, 2016


Dear Prof. Manning,


I refer to your letter of November 14, 2016 (http://bit.ly/2fumLIM) addressed to the President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda. As it was sent in form of an open letter and became part of the public domain, I feel obliged as a representative of the Polish Media Issues group, to respond to it.


Unfortunately, your appeal to President Duda exposes your substantial lack of knowledge of the Polish history, of the never-ending defamation of Poland in the mass media, and of the proposed Polish anti-defamation bill, and it makes a Polish-Jewish dialogue even more difficult. Please allow me some comments.


1. First of all, I wonder why the American Historical Association (AHA) protects Prof. Gross who is not a historian but a sociologist whose work is based on scientific misconduct. Would you expect that a president of an orthopedic association protects a homoeopathist proposing let’s say a hip arthroplasty without anesthesia?


2. I doubt, if you read the proposed Polish law at all. It is based among others on the Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal annexed to the Agreement concerning the international prosecution and punishment of major war criminals of the European Axis, signed in London on 8 August 1945, the decision of the Council of Europe on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law (adopted by the Council on 28 November 2008), as well as the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights. The primary intention of the law was to eliminate from the public and media sphere derogatory and historically false terms such as "Polish death camp", "Nazi Poland" or "Polish concentration camp" (and not to obstruct historical research, as you claim). The organizations like Yad Vashem (http://bit.ly/2fueQvn), American Jewish Committee (http://bit.ly/2gsq8Eh), Anti Defamation League (http://bit.ly/2fulRvS) or German Historical Association, Verband der Historiker und Historikerinnen Deutschlands (VHD) (http://bit.ly/2fujlWP) share concern of the Polish people over derogatory use of the above terms. The Polish law is analogue to the Israeli law on Holocaust Denial.


3. The efforts of the Polish government are part of a struggle against Holocaust Denial according to the Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion (http://bit.ly/2fucn43) adopted by 31 member countries of International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) on 10 October 2013. The Definition condemns among others "Attempts to blur the responsibility for the establishment of concentration and death camps devised and operated by Nazi Germany by putting blame on other nations or ethnic groups".


4. The proposed Polish law excludes prosecution of scientist and artists (Article 55a, paragraph 3).


5. The pseudoscientific work of Prof. Gross has been subject to a lot of criticism from other historians like Prof. Richard Lukas, author of "Forgotten Holocaust" or Prof. Marek Chodakiewicz, author of "The Massacre in Jedwabne, July 10, 1941: Before, During, After" who observed that Prof. Gross violates the basic principles of the historical workshop. For instance Lukas stated: Gross makes the quaint observation that he asked two (German) scholars, both of whom allegedly familiar with German archives, about Jedwabne and neither of them heard of it. Lukas later questioned: Does asking two colleagues about the subject replace the need to immerse oneself personally in critical documents, which are absolutely essential to prove one's allegations about what happened at Jedwabne? In addition, much of Gross’ evidence originates from selected secondary sources, faked pictures or testimonies of victims tortured by security officers of the Soviet era. Rywka Fogel, Stefan Boczkowski, Roman Chojnowski and many other direct witnesses of the pogrom in Jedwabne confirmed the responsibility of German troops for the murder of Jews and praised the dramatic efforts of some Poles to prevent it. These witnesses were completely ignored by Gross.


6. In 1976 the SS officer Hermann Schaper from the German Einsatzgruppen was charged by German prosecutors with responsibility for pogroms of Jews, among others in Jedwabne, and the court in Giessen pronounced Schaper guilty of executions of Poles and Jews by his Kommando SS Zichenau-Schroettersburg. He was sentenced to six years' imprisonment. Do you think that his "six years sentence" was given just for taking pictures of the pogrom? It is Prof. Gross, who claims that the role of German soldiers in Jedwabne in 1941 was limited to recording the massacre carried out by Poles.


7. Your claim that Poles can be proud of J.T. Gross is a pure nonsense. Almost nobody in Poland, except of some frustrated postcommunists and neostalinists, is proud of him. Are you proud of American historian Guenter Lewy, who denied the genocide of Armenians by the Young Turks and relativized the American atrocities in the Vietnam war? Are you proud of the historian David Irving or the former Iranian president Ahmadinejad, who denied the Holocaust? We, Poles, are not proud of J.T. Gross who tirelessly whitewashes the role of Germany in the Holocaust, but we welcome any serious scholar whose work is based on the principles of the historical workshop and not on fraudulent research methods.


8. In all the years of the AHA, have you ever issued statements or open letters condemning the use of inaccurate phrases such as "Polish death camp" and other similar (irrefutable) distortions of history? These occur regularly, even the President of the United States Obama and the FBI Director Comey suffered serious lapses. Former misspoken, latter misremembered. Has AHA ever called on the Associated Press, Standard Oil, Du Pont, Ford or General Motors to investigate the role they played during the Second World War?


Instead of lashing out at the Polish government and protecting Prof. Gross in a letter to the Polish President Duda you should rather urge other historians from your Association to carry out detailed research on the subject of the World War Two including the role of organizations like Zegota rescuing Jews or efforts of individuals like Jan Karski or Witold Pilecki exposing German war atrocities, but also the misdeeds of Polish "Szmalcownicy" and misdeeds of some members of the Jewish "Judenräte" and "Judenpolizei", you should appeal for exhumation in Jedwabne, call for a thorough investigation of the scholarly work of Mr. Gross and not attack the Polish law, which you have never read! It is altogether alarming to witness the president of the American Historical Association compromising himself by such a disgraceful letter.


Best regards,

Marek Blazejak