American professor investigated for alleged crime of 'publicly insult[ing] the People or the Republic of Poland'

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Agence France-Presse reports:

Polish prosecutors on Thursday opened a libel probe against a US historian after he claimed Poles killed more Jews than Germans during the second world war.

Last month, German newspaper Die Welt ran an article by the Polish-born Princeton University professor Jan T Gross in which he sought to explain Poland's wariness of accepting Syrian migrants streaming into Europe by referring to anti-Semitism during the war.

"The Poles, for example, were indeed rightfully proud of their society's resistance against the Nazis, but in fact did kill more Jews than Germans during the war," wrote the 68-year-old Jewish historian.

Gross's statement is based at least in part on his research for the book "Neighbours," which reported that Poles had massacred hundreds of Jews in 1941 in the Polish town of Jedwabne. (The statement, as I understand it, is that the Poles killed more Jews than they killed Germans, not that the Poles killed more Jews than Germans did.) An official of the Polish Embassy in Germany, Marcin Wojciechowski—who is apparently not connected to the prosecutor's office—condemned Gross's statement on the grounds that it is "historically untrue, harmful and insulting to Poland."

Now it may well be that the Polish prosecutor's office is investigating simply because it received many complaints—"more than 100," according to Agence-France Press. And perhaps the investigation will lead to nothing, which is what happened with two prior investigations several years ago (based on Gross's books "Fear" and "Golden Harvest"). But the existence of a criminal law that provides for up to three years in prison for "persons who publicly insult the People or the Republic of Poland" is not enheartening, I think, for those who write about history.

Thanks to my mother, Anne, for translations from Polish.