Two Holocaust scholars have won an appeal against a Polish court ruling ordering them to apologise to the relative of a man whom they said had been involved in the murder of Jews. “Interference in academic research” is not the role of a court, said the judge.
In a case that drew international concerns over academic freedom in Poland, Barbara Engelking, director of the Polish Centre for Holocaust Research, and Jan Grabowski, professor of history at the University of Ottawa, were sued over their book Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland.
The publication included a claim that Edward Malinowski, a village mayor, had during the war stolen from a Jewish woman he rescued and had also been involved in the deaths of other Jews in hiding. His 80-year-old niece, Filomena Leszczyńska, took the scholars to court, accusing them of defaming her deceased uncle.
In February, the district court in Warsaw agreed with Leszczyńska, ordering Engelking and Grabowski to apologise for publishing “inaccurate information” and “damaging a man’s good name”. The scholars appealed that ruling, and Warsaw’s court of appeal has now overturned the earlier verdict in a binding decision.
In justifying this ruling, judge Joanna Wiśniewska-Sadomska wrote that Leszczyńska’s demand for the scholars’ research to be assessed in court “constitutes an unacceptable interference in the freedom of academic research and freedom of expression”, reports Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.
February’s ruling – and the very fact that scholars were being taken to court over their research – drew international concern. Many saw it as part of the Polish government’s “historical policy”, which seeks to promote positive aspects of the country’s past and downplay negative ones.