The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Free Speech

"Polish TV Station Investigated Over Holocaust Scholar's Claim Poles Did Little to Help Jews in WW2"


Daniel Tilles at Notes from Poland ("founded in Kraków in 2014 by Stanley Bill, Director of the Polish Studies Programme at the University of Cambridge") reports:

Poland's broadcasting regulator has launched proceedings against the country's largest private TV network, American-owned TVN, following remarks on air by a leading Holocaust scholar, Barbara Engelking, in which she suggested that Poles did little to help Jews during the war….

In an interview on Wednesday evening with TVN presenter Monika Olejnik, Engelking said that "Jews were unbelievably disappointed with Poles during the war. They knew what to expect from the Germans, [who were] the enemy…but the relationship with Poles was much more complex".

"Poles had the potential to become allies of the Jews and one would hope 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 [szmalcownictwa]," she continued.

"It seems to me that this disappointment plays a role, that Poles simply failed," continued Engelking, who is director of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research, which is part of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN)….

Following Engelking's interview, government figures including the education minister, Przemysław Czarnek, and the prime minister, Morawiecki, condemned her remarks and TVN for airing them. The station, which is often critical of the government, has regularly clashed with the authorities.

These were "scandalous words that have nothing to do with reliable historical knowledge" and are part of an "anti-Polish narrative in some media", wrote Morawiecki in a lengthy social media post accompanied by a photograph showing the names of Poles honoured by Israel for helping Jews during the war….

On Friday, Maciej Świrski, the head of the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT), a state regulator, announced that he was initiating proceedings against TVN over Engelking's interview.

"In Poland, everyone can, using freedom of speech, say any nonsense and lies," wrote Świrski. "[But] the job of journalists is to react to lies because the press law requires them to provide reliable information. If the guest on a programme is lying, the journalist must tell viewers that it is a lie."

"And finally, if Poles did not help Jews, the Germans would not have introduced the death penalty for helping [Jews]," added Świrski, a conservative figure who was appointed to the KRRiT by the government's majority in parliament….

There are similar stories in Haaretz (Ofer Aderet) and THEfirstNEWS. Thanks to the Media Law Resource Center (MLRC) MediaLawDaily for the pointer.