Last year I wrote about how Europe's Holocaust denial laws, demanded by Jewish groups, have set a sinister example that is being copied across the world. In Poland, in particular, the "success" of the Jewish approach to officialising and mythologising history seems to have been taken to heart. The Polish government is now trying to Jew the Jews, playing them at their own game by developing approved official accounts of history and criminalising dissent from them (link).
This has posed an awkward dilemma for Jews, a dilemma that assumes concrete form in the person of Jan Gross. Gross is a (partly but not halachically) Jewish historian, born in Poland, now resident in the United States. In 2001 he published a book called "Neighbors" about how some Poles had killed some Jews in WW2. In November 2015 (the height of the refugee invasion when Hungary was blocking the "refugees") he published an article on Project Syndicate which was translated and reproduced in the German newspaper Die Welt. The article was primarily an attack on the anti-refugee policies and attitudes of various east European countries, including Poland. He linked these attitudes to their supposed antisemitism, both historically and in the present day.
Consider the Poles, who, deservedly proud of their society’s anti-Nazi resistance, actually killed more Jews than Germans during the war. Although Poland’s Catholics were cruelly victimized during the Nazi occupation, they could find little compassion for the fate of Nazism’s ultimate victims. In the words of Józef Mackiewicz, a conservative, anti-Communist Polish writer with impeccable patriotic credentials: “During the occupation there was not, literally, a single person who would not have heard the saying – ‘One thing Hitler has done correctly is to wipe out the Jews.’ But one should not talk about this openly.”Source
Gross was then subjected to criminal investigation in Poland, both in regard to his book and other statements he had made, most especially the statement highlighted in bold above.
Defending Gross is tricky for Jews. After all, how can they argue for free speech when they themselves are the source of so many of the laws that suppress it? Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, Jewish historians Yehuda Bauer and bravely attempt this challenging task.
In an interview in Die Welt in September 2015, Mr Gross said that during the war the Poles were busier murdering Jews than killing Germans. After long investigation into Mr Gross’s statement by Polish legal authorities, the case was almost closed. But then, unsurprisingly, the first prosecutor’s decision was overturned. It will now be the same IPN that will decide whether the well-known scholar has “defamed” the Polish nation and thus should be prosecuted and punished.
It should be emphasised: even if Mr Gross were wrong — and he is not — it is his right to express and publish his views and understandings which stem from his historical investigation. In a democratic country, that is.
The problem is one of basic principles. It is not the job of any government (in a democratic country) to determine historical facts, beyond very obvious ones; the fact of the Holocaust, for instance, or the fact of the persecution of Poles by Nazi Germany. To question such facts is indeed outside acceptable discourse. There are countries, like the US, where even denial of such obvious facts is not prosecuted, in the name of freedom of expression. Others, such as France and Germany, have criminalised Holocaust denial. If the Polish government wants to similarly criminalise Holocaust denial or justifications of German murder of Poles, that could — perhaps — be defended.
But Polish attempts to clear all Poles of anti-Jewish acts, with the exception of what Polish officials call regrettable misbehaviour by marginal elements, are illegitimate in a democratic state. More than that: to threaten a historian with incarceration because of his findings and views is to repeat what one thought Poland had overcome: a return to Bolshevik methods of suppressing freedom of thought.Source
The authors here attempt to make a distinction between the acknowledgement of "very obvious facts" and more diffuse explorations and interpretations of historical memory. Here they are dissimulating. Note they say that Gross, in his article, said "Poles were busier murdering Jews than killing Germans". But that's a deliberate obfuscation. What he said was very clear. [Poles] "actually killed more Jews than Germans during the war". What's the difference between the two statements? Gross's original statement is a hard factual claim, capable of confirmation or refutation. They either killed more Jews or they killed more Germans. If you have enough data and time to investigate it, you could determine definitively which was correct. The second statement is more emotive and descriptive "busier murdering" but avoids any precise statement about the relative numbers on either side. It therefore could not be refuted. This can only be deliberate evasiveness since the original article was in English even if it was the German translation that came to the notice of the Polish government.
But if Holocaust denial laws are acceptable because they criminalise denial of a "very obvious fact", what "fact" is it exactly? I doubt there is a single "Holocaust denier" who doubts that some Nazis killed some Jews during the Second World War. Although I'm not familiar with revisionist literature, I gather that the main issues in dispute relate to things like numbers, locations, methods, intent and awareness. These are subtle and multifarious questions of detail, not a simple black-and-white fact that demands acknowledgement.
David Irving, for example, as far as I understand his position at least (and I'm not well acquainted with his work although I am reading his book "Hitler's War" now), does not deny that the Nazis killed a lot of Jews. He quibbles about the location of the killings and who knew about them. But for this he is branded a "Holocaust denier" and has even served time in prison in Austria for his "Holocaust denial".
Irving's position, then, is not, in essence, any different from that of Jan Gross. He sought to explore questions of detail and emphasis within a broader historical tableau and was persecuted for doing so. Jews reacted with glee to Irving's imprisonment and yet now seek to defend one of their own who finds himself in a similar predicament. They cannot do so on the basis of abstract issues of moral principle ("such as governments should not criminalise historical memory") because they have shamelessly undermined those same principles themselves. Their attempt to carve out some subtle distinction between the acceptable and unacceptable persecution of historians is weak and unconvincing.
And even apart from the issue of the criminalisation of historical memory, there is the question of the disparagement of peoples. No one who reads Jan Gross's article can doubt that he is making disparaging collective references to east Europeans in a way that would undoubtedly be branded antisemitism, and prosecuted as such, if applied to Jews. Read the Gross article again, substituting the word "Jewry" for "Eastern Europe" and "Jews" for "Eastern Europeans". Do you think that article would have avoided prosecution? Not a chance in hell, anywhere within our civilisation outside of the United States.
Jews are now finding themselves victims of the precedents they themselves have set (see here for another example). An optimist might hope that this would result in a renewed Jewish respect for free speech, but only a very naive optimist.