Barbara Engelking, a Polish psychologist and sociologist specializing in Holocaust studies, founder and director of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research in Warsaw, and the author or editor of several works on the Holocaust in Poland, on April 19, the eve of the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, gave an interview to TVN, a Polish free-to-air television station, network and a media and entertainment group, stating that Poles today “falsify history” by exaggerating the role of Poles in helping Jews during WW2.
On Thursday, following a week of relentless attacks on the academic for daring to speak the truth, a group of Israeli institutions for the study of the Holocaust came to Engelking’s aid.
“Jews in the ghetto…were self-sufficient to a large extent, and would have been even more so if it were not for the Polish blackmailers,” she said. She conceded that “people who decided to help Jews really were heroes,” adding, “but there were very few of them. There was reluctance on the Aryan side. There was no atmosphere conducive to hiding Jews.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki responded the next day, saying, “What happened yesterday in the TVN program was a grand obliteration of the truth. It was a lie, it was distorting reality, and at the same time it was an insult to those who had to live in that cruel reality.”
Pinning the vicious and often murderous antisemitism of so many thousands of Poles on the collapse of Polish rule under the German occupation, Morawiecki declared angrily: “It needs to be said loudly that the entire tragedy of the Jewish people started from the destruction of the Polish state. Let these words resonate strongly because some mistake facts for opinions.”
Engelking, for her part, insisted in her interview that “Jews were unbelievably disappointed with Poles during the war. They knew what to expect from the Germans, the enemy…but the relationship with Poles was much more complex.”
“Poles had the potential to become allies of the Jews and one would have hoped that they would behave differently, that they would be neutral, kind, that they would not take advantage of the situation to such an extent, and that there would not be widespread blackmailing,” she continued.
She used the term szmalcownictwa, a pejorative Polish slang expression that originated during the Holocaust, and refers to a person who blackmailed Jews who were in hiding, or who blackmailed Poles who aided Jews, during the German occupation.
“It seems to me that this disappointment plays a role, that Poles simply failed,” Engelking said.
Janusz Młyński on Monday wondered the popular station Radio 7, “Is it possible to say any nonsense and lie in the name of freedom of speech? Last week, on the anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Polish public opinion was once again appalled by a program on TVN. This time, in the program hosted by Monika Olejnik, anti-Polish content appeared, history was falsified, and Poles were blamed for the extermination of Jews in the ghetto. The guest was Prof. Barbara Engelking. Should we react to this kind of media behavior? What is the purpose of such one-sided and slanderous statements about Poles? Is it possible to say any nonsense and lie in the name of freedom of speech? These are the questions we ask in today’s Open Microphone of Radio Zachód. Janusz Młyński invites you.”
No wonder a group of Israeli institutions felt compelled to jump into the fray, intervening in what could develop into a political witch hunt, if not worse. They issued the following letter of support, which concluded: “We look forward to reading and discussing future studies by Prof. Engelking and our Polish colleagues,” because, you know, Poland.
Declaration in support of Prof. Barbara Engelking
We, the institutions for Holocaust Documentation, Research, and Education in Israel, wish to express our definite support for Prof. Barbara Engelking and her research associate from the Polish Center for Holocaust Research in Warsaw, Poland.
Prof. Engelking is a pioneering scholar in the field of Holocaust studies and research. Her studies are cornerstones for every student and scholar in Israel, Poland, and worldwide. Her notes on the complex relationship between Jews and Poles during the Holocaust period reflect the current state of research. This includes her notes on the hostile attitude of the Polish environment towards the Jews, the role of the Poles in attempts to save the Jews, and the limited extent of the phenomenon of the noble and brave Righteous Among the Nations within the Polish nation.
Following the interview Prof. Engelking gave to TVN24 and the reactions in Poland, we condemn the political attempts to question her integrity and research. These disgraceful attacks against her also violate academic freedom and historical facts.
We look forward to reading and discussing future studies by Prof. Engelking and our Polish colleagues.
Ganzach Kiddush Hashem – Memorial Center for Holocaust Research and
Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum
Massuah – International Institute for Holocaust Studies
Moreshet – The Mordechai Anielewicz International Center for Holocaust
Documentation, research, and Education
Shem Olam – Faith & the Holocaust Institute for Education & Research
The Testimony House Nir Galim
WHISC – Women in the Holocaust – International Study Center
Yad Mordechai Museum – From Holocaust to Revival
Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center