The US isn't the only nation fighting over competing versions of its past. While political and educational arguments rage over the 1619 Project, Poland's internal struggle over the Holocaust has resurfaced in a court case involving a recent academic history, Masha Gessen writes in a New Yorker column. Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland includes testimony that a prewar mayor of a small village, who was long thought of as a hero who saved Jews, showed Nazi forces the hiding place of a group of Jews in a forest; 22 people were then killed. The passage defamed Edward Malinowski, a Polish court ruled, in ordering an apology in print from Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking. The authors, who are Polish, have appealed. The testimony came from a Jewish woman who had said Malinowski saved her life. In more complete testimony years later, she implicated him in the deaths. "The human mind, whether individual or collective, struggles with such contradictory stories as Malinowski's," Gessen writes.
Schools teach that ethnic Poles resisted the occuption by Nazi German during World War II, often by hiding Jews. But half of the European Jews slain—3 million—were killed in Poland, Gessen points out, and not always by or for Germans. The government works to keep any blame for those deaths from its people; a 2018 measure outlaws blaming Poland or Polish people for German atrocities. After the war, ethnic Poles took over the homes and small businesses that had belonged to Jews. There's never been restitution, Gessen writes, and fear remains in Poland that Jews will one day come back to reclaim what was theirs. Gessen compares the "Polish memory wars" to the American struggle to reconsider its myths and realities: "Poles have similar incentives to hold on to the story of noble victimhood rather than examine their history." The conflict is painful, a Polish philosopher said: "To lose the idea of Poles as the best people in the world is really heartbreaking." You can read the full column here. (Read more Poland stories.)