A response to misinformation of a Soviet educated opinion writer in The New Yorker.

A response to misinformation of a Soviet educated opinion writer in The New Yorker.

The New Yorker opinion piece filled with numerous inaccuracies and falsehoods:


Subj: Letter to the Editor

The following letter was sent to themail@newyorker.com

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing in response to the article titled “The Historians Under Attack for Exploring Poland’s Role in the Holocaust” written by Masha Gessen, which your paper published on 25 March 2021. Ms. Gessen disappointingly presents an all-too-familiar recitation of anti-Polish distortions and falsehoods. Some examples follow below. 

Ms. Gessen claims that Poles and the Polish State killed 3 million Polish Jews. She states: “The two historians’ legal troubles stem from the Polish government’s ongoing effort to exonerate Poland—both ethnic Poles and the Polish state—of the deaths of three million Jews in Poland during the Nazi occupation.” This is an egregious falsehood. Ms. Gessen then supports her nonsensical assertion by citing Jan Gross’s similarly ridiculous contention that “Poles killed more Jews than Germans during the Second World War.” No historian, other than Gross, has made such an asinine claim.

Ms. Gessen cites her February interview with Jan Grabowski, whose proclamations she actually believes add credence to her article. She would do well to examine Grabowski’s falsification of Szymon Datner’s “Bulletin of the Jewish Historical Institute No. 75 (1970)”. Grabowski told “The Times of Israel” reporter Amanda Borschel-Dan that Poles killed 200,000 Jews and cited Datner’s Bulletin as his source. Datner instead stated “I estimated the number of surviving Jews – chiefly thanks to assistance provided by the Polish population – at approximately 100,000. It may be similarly estimated that another 100,000 Jewish victims were captured by the occupying authorities and murdered.” “The Times of Israel” published Grabowski’s falsehood on 8 February 2018.

Ms. Gessen states: “The government’s position is that any statement that connects the Polish state to Nazi murder is unpatriotic and defamatory.” This is nonsense. Certainly she could have cited just one instance of empirical evidence in which the Polish government has publicly issued such a statement.

Ms. Gessen’s ignorance of the history is glaringly evident. She states: “Recently, Grabowski found a letter that his father, a Holocaust survivor, had written in 1973, in an attempt to argue against then-prevailing myths about Polish aid to Jews during the Second World War.” Had she made an attempt to research the subject matter, which any serious writer is required to do, she would have learned that Polish efforts to rescue fugitive Jews were not “myths”. Only in Poland did the Germans have a standing order that anyone aiding a Jew in any way would be executed together with immediate family. Estimates of Poles who aided Jews range from 300,000 to 1 million and estimates of those killed for doing so approach 50,000. In addition, German death squads carried out mass executions of entire villages that aided Jews and some of the annihilated villages became extinct. Moreover, in no other occupied country or in Germany itself were there such large-scale round-ups, searches with dogs, and blockades of whole districts in all of the larger cities that were conducted by the Germans to find fugitive Jews. Also, two Polish institutions were critically instrumental in rescuing Jews. The first, Żegota, was the only government organization in the German-occupied countries established to rescue Jews. Estimates of Jews saved by Żegota range from 30,000 to 60, 000. The second was the Catholic Church, which rescued Jewish children on a massive scale by hiding them in convents, orphanages, and rectories. Two thirds of Polish nunneries took part in the rescue of Jewish children. No German-occupied country had such an organizational infrastructure that aided tens of thousands of Jews.

Ms. Gessen distorts the facts. She states: “In 2018, the government passed a law making it a criminal offense to ascribe blame for Nazi atrocities to Poles or Poland.” In fact, the law made it a crime to publicly attribute to the Polish Nation or to the Polish State (not “Poles” or “Poland”) responsibility or co-responsibility for the crimes against humanity (not “Nazi atrocities”) committed by the German Third Reich. The law made public falsification of historical fact a criminal offense, just as publicly stating that Hitler did not try to destroy European Jewry is a criminal offense under holocaust denial laws in Poland, Israel, and other European countries. Ms. Gessen conveniently omits the fact that the law does not apply to and excludes academic research and artistic activities. She also omits the fact that the law was later amended and made a civil offense.

Finally, Ms. Gessen’s regrettable anti-Polish bias prevents her objective assessment of the facts. The “Dalej Jest Noc” issue is straightforward. This was a civil suit filed by a private citizen. During the trial, Barbara Engelking, who is not an historian, stated that she incorrectly identified Edward Malinowski because she did not know there were so many Malinowskis in the village. This is why the court ruled that Engelking and Grabowski must issue an apology and update their book’s next edition.

Please convey my letter to Ms. Gessen for her consideration and reply as I look forward to engaging with her in civil discourse.


Gene Sokolowski, PhD

Polish Media Issues Group

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