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New Polish School of Holocaust Scholarship

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On 21–22 February 2019 a conference titled The New Polish School of Holocaust Scholarship (French: Nouvelle école polonaise d’histoire de la Shoah) devoted to the work of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research took place at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) Paris.[1][2] The conference was disrupted by groups described as Polish nationalists.[1][3][4][5] The conference was criticized for preventing discussion and denying representation to scholars representing Institute of National Remembrance, an institution that was subject of lecture during the gathering.[6]


The conference titled The New Polish School of Holocaust Scholarship (French: Nouvelle école polonaise d’histoire de la Shoah) devoted to the work of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research was scheduled for 21–22 February 2019 at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris.[1][2] The conference was organized by the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah, EHESS, Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Polish Center for Holocaust Research, Polish Academy of Sciences (Paris branch), Strasbourg University, and the L'Histoire journal.[7]

Polonia groups wrote in a latter that they viewed the conference as xenophobic and anti-Polish.[8]

According to University of Warsaw sociology professor Dr. Izabela Wagner, Polish scholars face two dangers: first the possibility of injury by groups present at their public appearances, and second being accused of "damaging the good name of Poland". These dangers are present in fields such as Marxism and gender studies, however Holocaust scholars face the highest risks. Protesters at Holocaust conferences take note of statements by Polish Holocaust researches with the aim of initiating judicial proceedings for harming "the good name of Poland".[9] According to Wagner, the best organized Polish emigre group is Roman Catholics who enjoy institutional support from the Church that reinforces Polish national identity. Wagner states that the Catholicism practiced in Poland and diaspora often differentiates between "us" and "them", with antisemitism being a feature of cultural identity in recent years.[10] Protesters indicated in interviews to public Polish TV and right-wing media that a Polish Catholic Mission priest was a central figure in organizing the disruption.[10]


Speakers at the conference included:[11]

  • Jan Grabowski: Why did so few Jews survive? Results of a comparative study
  • Alina Skibinska: Jews' chances of survival in the occupied territories 1942-1944
  • Karolina Panz: The case of Nowy Targ
  • Sidi N'Diaye: Reflections on hate imagery (Poland, Rwanda)
  • Agnieszka Haska: The fate of Jews as seen by foreigners in Warsaw
  • Barbara Engelking: Communists and Jews in Warsaw 1941-1943
  • Jakub Petelewicz: Databasing and mapping the Holocaust – Warsaw ghetto and ‘aryanside’ database and map project
  • Jan T. Gross: Journey of a Holocaust historian in Poland
  • Barbara Lambauer: Oświęcim before the war
  • Tal Bruttmann: Polish Jews in Auschwitz
  • Anna Bikont: Irena Sendler revisited
  • Karolina Szymaniak: Rachela Auerbach: Chronicle and Archive of the Catastrophe
  • Fleur Kuhn: The literary and the political in the writing of Lily Berger
  • Jean-Yves Potel: Re-hearing the voices of the witnesses
  • Audrey Kichelewski: 1968 in Poland
  • Ewa Tartakowsky: Teaching Holocaust History in Poland since the 2017 Education Reform
  • Valentin Behr: The Institute of National Remembrance
  • Krzysztof Persak: From Jedwabne to Jedwabne
  • Elżbieta Janicka: Participatory observers of the Shoah: a new descriptive category
  • Andrzej Leder: The past and present of Polish society

Criticism prior to the conference

Polish right-wing groups, including the Coalition of Polish Americans, the World Union of Polish Patriots, Polish Media Issues, and the Polonia Institute demanded the cancellation of the conference. In a joint protest letter they wrote: "As descendants of Poles who fought and died en masse in the fight against Nazi Germany on all fronts ... we cannot accept the fact that the prestigious EHESS lends its scientific authority to anti-Polish, unreliable characters from the world of science" and further described the speakers as bearing "a clear xenophobic and anti-Polish character".[12] The letter specifically named Jan Grabowski, Jan Gross, Barbara Engelking, Jacek Leociak, Joanna Tokarska-Bakir, Agnieszka Haska as "dishonest" in their research, and complained that speakers from the Auschwitz Museum, Pilecki Institute, IPN and the Polish Historical Society were not invited.[8][13] These groups are opposed to research finding by historians which show some Polish participation in the murder of Jews in the Holocaust.[14]

According to Times Higher Education, the protest "is a further sign that Polish nationalists are seeking to intimidate historians whose work argues that Poles were complicit in the Holocaust."[15]

The Polish Institute of National Remembrance criticized the conference on social media prior to its opening. The messages were repeated on Twitter by the Embassy of Poland, Paris[16] and by the Polish ambassador to Switzerland Jakub Kumoch. Polish public TV, Telewizja Polska, labelled the conference as "a festival of anti-Polish lies".[5]

Prior to the conference beginning, agitators attempted to intimidate the organizers with e-mails demanding cancellation.[17] According to EHESS, they received numerous e-mails and phone calls demanding the cancellation of the conference. These messages often included extensive quotations of an essay by IPN house historian Tomasz Domanski titled "Correction of the (historical) image" which the IPN addressed at EHESS and co-organizers via Twitter.[5] Historian Claire Zalc, who presided over a session, said she was intimidated by an insult laced telephone call to her home as well as several e-mails.[7] According to EHESS researcher Olga Byrska an individual showed at EHESS demanding to speak with the organizers.[15]

Disruption at conference

The conference was disrupted by shouting Polish nationalists based in France,[3][1] or who had traveled from London or Poland.[15][5] French higher education minister Frédérique Vidal wrote to her Polish counterpart to complain about the disruption of the conference by a group of 30 nationalists associated with the right-wing Gazeta Polska.[16]

Historian Jacek Leociak received death threats in online messages and was insulted as he left the conference. Leociak's speech at the conference was disrupted with shouting. According to Leociak during the conference a large Polish group, "under the spiritual protection of a Catholic priest", was present.[18]

Polish nationalists shouted "shame on you, you dirty Jew!" at historian Jan Grabowski as he left EHESS.[18][5] The Warsaw-based Pilecki Institute tweeted that Grabowski made "controversial and outrageous statements".[15] Grabowski said that such disruption would have been unthinkable in the past, but with "the support of the Polish state, they are ready to show their faces and to confront scholars on their own ground".[18]

Jan T. Gross said protesters with "no scholarly qualifications or intent" handed him leaflets describing "lies" in his research and accused him of making up an uncle.[15]

EHESS director of studies Judith Lyon-Caen reported that heavily edited recordings from the event on YouTube radically deformed what the speakers had actually said by stripping away the context, adding that Gazeta Polska had misquoted speakers entirely.[19]

According to Audrey Kichelewski, a member of the organizing committee, the first day was particularly violent with protesters regularly booing and shouting interjections. Kichelewski reported the distribution of a French language leaflet describing the position of the Polish protesters, which while not incorrect about historical facts was notable in what it chose to omit.[7] Valentin Behr said his colleagues recognized some of the Polish protesters from a previous event with Jan Gross in 2016. He added that the protesters would heckle each time the Catholic church or antisemitism was mentioned in the conference.[7] Clippings from the conference were posted online, accompanied by antisemitic comments. A far-right television station interviewed Polish individuals outside of the EHESS conference. More mainstream Polish media also covered the events, with Polish public TV broadcasting pictures of four Polish participants on their 23 February newscast.[4] According to Izabela Wagner, Polish public TV labelled the conference as a "Sabbath of Witches".[10]

According to literary historian Elżbieta Janicka the protesters inside the conference itself were mostly women gathered around a Polish Catholic Mission priest. She said they were yelling things like "learn Polish before giving lessons to Poles", "Liars", and making antisemitic remarks about the Talmud, while surrounding, and harassing participants with questions outside the conference in a pogrom-like atmosphere. Inside, she said the protesters distributed antisemitic propaganda and a pseudo-scientific booklet authored by the IPN. Janicka said that while she was giving her presentation, one of the protesters simulated cutting her throat in a manner similar to that in the Shoah documentary film directed by Claude Lanzmann.[1] Historian Antoine Marès observed multiple women using a thumb's down signal as if they were spectators in gladiatorial games voting for the death of the orators.[7] Izabela Wagner wrote that after hoots and howls by protesters led to a request for silence, protesters turned to these violent non-verbal gestures.[9]


EHESS management condemned the disruption during the conference.[15][5] EHSSS president Christophe Prochasson said he could not recall such a violent disturbance at any scientific conference.[20] Prochasson protested with the Polish ambassador to France,[21] and EHESS submitted a report to the Paris public prosecutor on the antisemitic discourse during the conference.[20] The Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah issued a statement on 25 February 2019 indicating its supports for conference participants.[7] Human rights ambassador, François Croquette, also indicated his support for academic freedom.[7] The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance also released a statement condemning the disruption.[22]

The Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) which had made social media postings during the conference and sent a delegate,[2] was criticized by French higher education minister Frédérique Vidal,[2][3] who said the disturbances were "highly regrettable" and "anti-Semitic". Vidal further stated the disturbances organized by Gazeta Polska activists, appeared to have been condoned by the IPN whose representative did not condemn the disruption and which criticized the conference on social media that were further re-tweeted by the Embassy of Poland, Paris.[23]

In response to Vidal, Polish Minister of General and Higher Education Jarosław Gowin condemned any acts of antisemitism, whether in France or Poland, and issued a statement saying that he could not identify in the transcripts provided any antisemitic attacks.[5][24] IPN President Jarosław Szarek requested full transcripts of the event and promised to take any necessary actions.[24] The Institute of National Remembrance criticized the conference for not allowing discussion and denying representation to scholars representing it, an institution which was subject of lecture during the gathering.[25]


  1. ^ a b c d e Brent, Jonathan (12 April 2019). "The war between polish nationalism and holocaust history". Tablet.
  2. ^ a b c d Behr, Valentin (2019). "Entre histoire et propagande. Les contributions de l'Institut polonais de la mémoire nationale à la mise en récit de la Seconde Guerre mondiale". Allemagne d'aujourd'hui (in French) (228): 82–92. doi:10.3917/all.228.0082. S2CID 198023025.
  3. ^ a b c Iwaniuk, Jakub (4 March 2019). "La Pologne minimise les incidents lors d'un colloque sur la Shoah à Paris". Le Monde (in French).
  4. ^ a b Szurek, Jean-Charles (4 March 2019). "L'extrême droite polonaise perturbe un colloque sur la Shoah" [Polish far right disrupts Holocaust conference]. Libération (in French). Retrieved 19 August 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Croitoru, Joseph (28 March 2019). "Ein solches Geschichtsbild dulden wir nicht – eine polnische Kampagne gegen die Holocaust-Forschung" [We will not tolerate such an image of history – a Polish campaign against Holocaust research]. Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German).
  6. ^ [1] List prezesa IPN do francuskiej minister szkolnictwa ws. konferencji dotyczącej Holokaustu Onet.pl 08.03.2019
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Un colloque international à Paris sur la Shoah perturbé par des militants polonais, Political, 26 February 2019
  8. ^ a b Konferencja "Nowa polska szkoła historii Holokaustu" w Paryżu. Polonia protestuje, Do Rzeczy, 16 February 2019
  9. ^ a b Wagner, Izabela (17 April 2019). "The Subtext of a Recent International Scandal". Public Seminar.
  10. ^ a b c Wagner, Izabela (24 April 2019). "How Media, Political and Religious Elites Shape Plebian Resistance Part Two: Confronting Polish Responsibility for the Shoah in Paris". Public Seminar. The New School.
  11. ^ "Colloque: La nouvelle école polonaise d'histoire de la Shoah". Ecole Normale Supérieure - Institut d'histoire moderne et contemporaine. Retrieved 2019-08-14.
  12. ^ Right-wing groups in Poland say Holocaust conference anti-Polish, Times of Israel, 18 February 2019
  13. ^ "Antypolska, nierzetelna postać". Polonia protestuje przeciwko konferencji z udziałem Grossa, Polskie Radio 24, 17 February 2019
  14. ^ Polish Holocaust researchers verbally attacked at Paris Shoah research conference, JTA, 24 February 2019
  15. ^ a b c d e f Holocaust historians suffer antisemitic abuse at conference, Times Higher Education, 5 March 2019, David Matthews
  16. ^ a b "Colloque sur la Shoah perturbé à Paris: la France interpelle la Pologne" [Colloquium on the Shoah disturbed in Paris: France challenges Poland]. AFP (Radio France Internationale reprint) (in French). 1 March 2019.
  17. ^ Green, David B. (2 May 2019). "From New Technology to Resurgent Nationalism: The Future of Holocaust Studies". Haaretz.
  18. ^ a b c Markusz, Katarzyna; JTA (25 February 2019). "Polish Holocaust researchers attacked at Paris Shoah research conference". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  19. ^ Lyon-Caen, Judith (5 April 2019). "Les historiens face au révisionnisme polonais" [Historians deal with Polish revisionism]. La vie des idees (in French). Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  20. ^ a b A colloquium on the history of the Holocaust disturbed by Polish nationalists, Le Monde, 1 March 2019
  21. ^ Scherrer, Lucien (2019-10-01). "Holocaust: Polnischer Botschafter Kumoch verteidigt sein Land". Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in Swiss High German). ISSN 0376-6829. Retrieved 2019-10-24.
  22. ^ Statement on Disruption of International Symposium on Polish Research on the Holocaust, IHRA, 7 March 2019
  23. ^ "Colloquium on the Shoah in Paris: France protests with Poland". Le Figaro (in French). 1 March 2019.
  24. ^ a b Minister replies to French counterpart's letter over Holocaust conference, The First news, 4 March 2019
  25. ^ [2] List prezesa IPN do francuskiej minister szkolnictwa ws. konferencji dotyczącej Holokaustu Onet.pl 08.03.2019

Scholarly materials about the proceedings of the conference

External links