US Holocaust columnist defends criticism despite outrage

Paweł Supernak/PAP

A journalist who sparked outrage after suggesting the Polish nation had been responsible for the Holocaust has defended herself saying that Poland's interpretation "ran against the rules of linguistics and logic." 

In an article published in The New Yorker under the title "Historians attacked for researching the role of Poland in the Holocaust," US columnist Masha Gessen wrote about the recent prosecution in Poland of two historians, Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking, for falsely accusing a Polish village official of collaborating with the Nazis during World War Two in their book.

"To exonerate the nation of the murders of three million Jews, the Polish government will go as far as to prosecute scholars for defamation," Gessen wrote.

In response, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek called the article "scandalous" and "an attempt to create a picture that Poles were responsible for the extermination of three million Jews during World War II."

Sek also said that Gessen's article had been criticised by the head of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and the American Jewish Committee. According to the minister, both institutions pointed out that "the text is a form of distortion of the history of the Holocaust."

In a statement published on Saturday on Twitter, the Committee of American Jews for Central Europe (AJC Central Europe) wrote: "We have criticised the Polish government for improving the truth about Poles' approach towards Jews during World War Two. But to say that Poland, understood as a community of ethnic Poles and the Polish state, are guilty of the deaths of three million Jews is a distortion of the Holocaust."

On Monday, Gessen wrote on Facebook that she was fully aware of how her words had been received in Poland, but insisted that she had never claimed the Poles as a people were responsible for the Holocaust, and that her criticism had been aimed only against those who actually did help the Nazis exterminate Jews.

Gessen wrote that the Polish side's interpretation of her article focused on one sentence and "ran against the rules of linguistics and logic.”

She added that she had never said that the Poles were responsible for the Holocaust, only that some collaborated with the Germans, and that her article was aimed at the present Polish government's attempts to deny all Polish complicity in the extermination of Jews.