Holocaust historian probed for claim that Poles killed more Jews than Nazis

An image from the Warsaw Ghetto. Credit: German National Archive via Wikimedia Commons.

(JNS.org) Polish-American Holocaust historian Jan Tomasz Gross is being investigated by a Polish state prosecutor for potentially publicly insulting Poland with a statement he made about Polish violence against Jews during the Holocaust. Insulting the government in such a manner is a criminal offense in Poland that carries a prison term of up to three years.

Gross is under fire after numerous Polish citizens complained about an article published last year by Project Syndicate, in which he said that Poles killed more Jews during the Nazi occupation than the Germans, a claim that flies in the face of the popular view in Poland that the country responded to the German invasion nearly always honorably. Gross made the statement in the context of criticism over Europe’s response to the current migrant crisis, calling Europe’s opposition to accepting more refugees “heartless” and rooted in the continent’s "murderous past."

"Consider the Poles, who, deservedly proud of their society's anti-Nazi resistance, actually killed more Jews than Germans during the war,” Gross wrote in the article.

Gross, who is a professor at Princeton University, told the Associated Press that he was questioned for five hours on Tuesday in Katowice, Poland, but has yet to be told whether he would be charged with the crime.

"I told him straight that I was not trying to insult the Polish nation. I was trying to raise awareness about the problem of refugees in Europe," Gross said. "I am just telling the truth and the truth sometimes has a shocking effect on people who are not aware of what the truth is."

"The claim that Poles killed more Jews than Germans could be really right—and this is shocking news for the traditional thinking about Polish heroism during the war. [It] reveals this dimension of the Polish war experience which was always covered, hidden and suppressed,” said Jacek Leociak, a historian with the Polish Center for Holocaust Research.

In addition to the potential criminal charge, Polish President Andrzej Duda may strip Gross of an Order of Merit he received in 1996.

Posted on April 14, 2016 .