ASA Endorses Statement condemning Polish law criminalizing references to Polish complicity in Nazi war crimes (February 2018)

The AHA has published a statement condemning Polish law criminalizing references to Polish complicity in Nazi war crimes.

The American Historical Association strongly condemns the bill drafted by the Polish legislature and signed into law by Polish President Andrzej Duda on February 6, 2018, that states, in part: “Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes—shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.”

In practice, this legislation pertains specifically to histories that document and explore Polish participation in violence against Jews during World War II. It therefore threatens free pursuit of historical inquiry.

The AHA’s stance is consistent with its longstanding objection to any and all previous efforts by the Polish government or by any party to stifle speech and to restrict the content of scholarship concerned with Poland’s role in the Holocaust and related war crimes. On November 14, 2016, the AHA sent a letter to President Duda expressing concern over the Polish government’s treatment and potential prosecution of Jan T. Gross, professor of history at Princeton University, who was facing a libel investigation from Polish authorities for publishing historical accounts of Poles killing Jews during World War II. That letter already made clear the very real dangers, beyond the specific case of Professor Gross, of criminalizing scholars and scholarship that explored Polish involvement in the Holocaust. As we stated then: “More generally, we are concerned with the law currently being discussed in the Polish parliament that would subject to strong penalties anyone convicted of ascribing to the Polish nation or the Polish state the responsibility for crimes against humanity that prosecutors themselves attribute to other perpetrators—in the first instance, the German Third Reich. We feel strongly that this law will allow police and judicial authorities to overrule the judgments of trained historians, and that it will threaten the ability of historians to conduct impartial research that might reveal facts that these authorities find uncomfortable. No nation’s past is free of blemishes, and Poland will do itself no favors in the eye of world opinion by passing such a restrictive and prejudicial piece of legislation.”

The American Historical Association stands by that statement now, seeing in the new law signed on February 6 a threat both to historians’ freedom of speech and to the future of historical scholarship, which depends upon open inquiry and the pursuit of impartial truth. We urge the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland to reconsider this law.

Approved February 9, 2018 by the American Historical Assocation


Signed as of February 12, 2018, by the following organizations:

American Anthropological Association

American Association of Geographers

American Folklore Society

American Political Science Association

American Sociological Association

American Studies Association

Association of College and Research Libraries

Executive Board of the Association for Jewish Studies

Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies

Conference on Asian History

German Studies Association

Medieval Academy of America

Middle East Studies Association

Modern Greek Studies Association

Modern Language Association

National Communication Association

National Council of English

North American Conference of British Studies

Oral History Association

Organization of American Historians

Society for Austrian and Habsburg History

Society for Classical Studies

Society for French Historical Studies

Western Association of Women Historians

Western Society for French History

World History Association


Posted for ASA Office in Member News
Post date: February 13, 2018

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