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Rumpus over threat to deprive historian Jan Gross of Polish honour

PR dla Zagranicy
Nick Hodge 16.02.2016 13:00
US historian Timothy Snyder has joined a group of his Polish peers in defence of Jan T.Gross, a specialist in Polish-Jewish affairs who could be deprived of a Polish state honour.
German soldiers during the invasion of Poland, 1939. Photo: wikimedia commonsGerman soldiers during the invasion of Poland, 1939. Photo: wikimedia commons

If they take away Gross's Order, I shall also return mine,” Snyder wrote on his Twitter profile.

Head of President Andrzej Duda's Chancellery Małgorzata Sadurska says that over 2000 requests have been received calling for Gross to be deprived of the Order of Merit, Knight's Cross, which he was awarded in 1996.

Gross, who settled in the US in 1969 following an anti-semitic campaign launched by the then communist government, has published a number of hotly debated books on Polish-Jewish relations.

He is currently a professor of history and sociology at Princeton.

In September 2015, he wrote an article in German daily Die Welt claiming that “Poles killed more Jews than Germans” during World War II.

The claim sparked criticisms both from representatives of the last Polish government, led by the Civic Platform party, as well as members of the currently ruling Law and Justice party.

However, with the president's office now considering the matter of depriving Gross of his honour, several Polish academics have written a letter in his defence.

Timothy Snyder is the latest historian to enter the debate. He specialises in Central European history, and is best known for his award-winning 2010 book Bloodlands: A History of Europe between Europe and Stalin.

Changing attitudes towards Polish-Jewish issues

During the communist era, academic debate concerning the Holocaust was largely frozen in Poland.

An anti-semitic campaign led by the government in 1968 compelled several thousand Polish Jews who had survived the war to emigrate. After that, Jewish issues were taboo in many aspects of officially endorsed Polish culture.

It was not until the 1980s that a reassessment of Polish-Jewish relations began in earnest, a trend that gathered pace following the collapse of communism in 1989.

Previously little discussed issues concerning Poland's wartime treatment of Jews have been highlighted in recent years, owing to books such as Gross's Neighbours (2001), which focused on what had been a largely forgotten massacre of Jews by ethnic Poles in the town of Jedwabne, north eastern Poland.

Meanwhile, awareness is also growing about Polish gentiles who risked their family's lives by aiding Jews during the Nazi occupation. (nh)

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