News Topic

Academic Freedom, Advocacy

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

Approved by AHA Council, February 9, 2018

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.

Signed by the following organizations:

African Studies Association
Alcohol and Drugs History Society
American Academy of Religion
American Anthropological Association
American Association of Geographers
American Folklore Society
American Musicological Society
American Philosophical Association
American Political Science Association
American Society for Legal History
American Sociological Association
American Studies Association
Association of College and Research Libraries
Association for Israel Studies
Austrian Studies Association
Executive Board of the Association for Jewish Studies
Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies
Canadian Historical Association
Chinese Historians in the United States
Committee on LGBT History
Conference on Asian History
Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes
Coordinating Council on Women in History
Forum on European Expansion and Global Interaction
German Studies Association
History Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
Hungarian Studies Association
International Society for Third-Sector Research
Law and Society Association
Medieval Academy of America
Middle East Studies Association
Modern Greek Studies Association
Modern Language Association
National Communication Association
National Council of Teachers of English
North American Conference of British Studies
Oral History Association
Organization of American Historians
Peace History Society
Polish Studies Association
Society for Austrian and Habsburg History
Society for Classical Studies
Society for French Historical Studies
Society for Reformation Research
Society for Romanian Studies
Society for the Study of Early Modern Women
Western Association of Women Historians
Western History Association
Western Society for French History
World History Association