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Gross Fake News – Open letter to the New York Times

Zygmunt Staszewski

It was a cold and snowy winter in January 1983, when I was invited by Jan Gross, then a Professor of Sociology at the Yale University, to speak to his students about the Martial Law in Poland, which crushed the Solidarity movement. In the first row, there were four young students wearing down vests with red stars on their chests. They were not too happy when I changed the focus of my presentation to the subject of evil socialism and communism, which killed 100 million people in the 20th Century.

After the lecture, I was invited by Jan and his wife Irena to their apartment nearby for a dinner.  Jan and Irena were visibly upset about my anti-communist speech. Afterwards, as I was leaving, I noticed the same four Yale students in down vests, waiting for me outside. This time they were carrying baseball bats. I managed to run to my car, they followed me.  I started the old Chrysler Cordoba, given to me by my uncle Henry, and I locked the doors. They jumped into their car and followed me, but my driving skills earned by years of driving on snow and ice in Poland allowed me to escape. I have not seen or spoken to Jan Gross since then.

Fast forward to 2008. Jan Gross publishes a very controversial book “Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland”, in which he claims that 1,600 Jews were killed by their Polish neighbors in Jedwabne village in German-occupied Poland on July 10, 1941.  Actual witnesses of that tragic event describe the German army rounding up not 1,600 but only about 300 Jews, shooting some of them in a small barn and burning the rest alive using gasoline as an accelerator, which was not available to the Polish villagers.  After this book was published, Jan Gross became a Professor of History at Princeton and for years tried to convince the public opinion that Polish people were as bad as the Germans before and during World War II.  In the recent years, Polish historians found so many inaccuracies in the “Neighbors” storyline, that even the author himself was forced to state that he really does not know who murdered the Jews in Jedwabne.

Fast forward to 2015. As a result of democratic elections in Poland, the Civic Platform (PO) party, strongly supported by Jan Gross and his wife, lost both presidential and parliamentarian elections to Law and Justice (PiS).  Major reforms of the economic and legal system ensued, and dozens of fraud and bribery investigations were initiated by the new Minister of Justice.  Former members of the Communist Police Secret Service (UB and SB) had their pensions reduced to the national median.  Substantial amount of NATO forces were brought into Poland and construction of the United States missile defense complex in Radzikowo, Poland, cancelled by President Obama in 2008, finally began.

With the Civic Platform in a disarray, a new movement called The Committee in Defense of Democracy (KOD) was formed, mostly by the former communists and their collaborators.  Jan Gross and his wife Irena were more than happy to join it, writing articles about the “radical right regime in Poland” and hosting the KOD leader Mateusz Kijowski in the US.  Then Kijowski was exposed as a deadbeat, defaulting  on his alimonies and snatching money from KOD naive supporters.  Under the new leadership, KOD failed to attract more supporters.

On November 16, 2017 Jan Gross published an article “ Poles Cry for ‘Pure Blood’ Again” in the New York Times. It was illustrated by a picture by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto, described as “Nationalists marching in Warsaw”.  As inhis “Neighbors” book,  Gross creates a false narrative about the Polish Independence Day March, which occurs every year on November 11, a National Holiday, to commemorate the re-establishment of Poland after World War I in 1918.

Gross Fake News # 1: “Tens of thousands of people — many of them young men with crew cuts, but some parents with children, too — flocked to the Polish capital to celebrate Independence Day in a march organized in part by two neo-fascist organizations”.

Facts: About 60,000 people, young and old, many with children, participated in this traditional march.  There are no neo-fascist organizations in Poland, which lost 6 million citizen in World War II, killed by the Nazi Germans.   As a matter of fact, many demonstrators carried anti-Nazi banners (see enclosed photo).

(fot. www.facebook.com/PatriaeFidelis/)

Gross Fake News # 2: “They … screamed, “Sieg Heil!” and “Ku Klux Klan!”

Facts: no such things were heard or recorded by any witnesses.

Gross Fake News # 3: “A dozen incredibly courageous women showed up to protest the march. After mixing with the marchers, they unraveled a long strip of cloth emblazoned with “Stop Fascism.” They were immediately attacked. Their banner was ripped apart. Marchers pushed some of the women to the ground and kicked others”.

Facts: This never happened. Totally made-up story. There was not a single incident of violence reported by the police or any media.

Gross Fake News # 4: “Though the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, condemned the march, saying Poland has no place for “sick nationalism…”

Facts: Not true, Pres. Duda did not condemn the march itself, in which many prominent Polish politicians from his own political party participated.  He did condemn violence driven b nationalism, which clearly did not apply to this parade.

Gross Fake News # 5: “Law and Justice … constantly violates the law, breaks constitutional provisions and is hellbent on subjecting the courts to its control”.

Facts: Not true, there are no violations of the Constitution in Poland.  A controversial decision of the Citizens Platform (PO) to appoint some members of the Constitutional Tribunal right after they lost the 2015 elections, was simply reversed.  Furthermore, it is proposed to replace the outdated post-communist Constitution with a new one, referring to the best traditions of democracy.

Gross Fake News # 6: “Two years ago, the party (PiS) bet that latching onto the refugee crisis in Europe would give it purchase on the votes necessary to win. Its calculation proved entirely correct.

Facts: It was the Polish people, are about 90% Roman Catholic, who refuse to admit Muslim immigrants, after the failure of the entire process in other EU countries.

Gross Fake News # 7: “One of the first institutions the party hijacked was public television.”

Facts: Majority of TV stations in Poland currently support the Citizens’ Platform and other opposition parties. Most of these stations are owned by foreign interests, which would be unacceptable in the US.  Public TV provides a much-needed balance to the anti-Polish propaganda of those media. Furthermore, most Polish – language printed media are owned by various German conglomerates and the “paper of record” Gazeta Wyborcza is supported financially by George Soros.

Gross Fake News # 8: “A year ago, a quarter of Poles opposed accepting anyone fleeing the ravages of war in the Middle East; after months of relentless propaganda, 75 percent are now opposed.”

Facts: Actually, a year ago more than 50% of Poles opposed accepting Muslim “refugees”. Now, after a number of terrorist attacks and thousands of rapes committed by Muslims in Western Europe and the US, the number is close to 90%.

Gross Fake News # 8: “This year the country has let in only 1,474 asylum seekers, nearly all of them from Russia or Ukraine

Facts: Poland accepted over 1 million refugees from war-torn Ukraine.

Gross Fake News # 9: “Mr. Kaczynski gave a speech in Krakow expressing a new twist on this familiar narrative: The Poles’ mission now is to save a “sick Europe” from itself. The neo-fascist marchers in Warsaw suggested, as if on cue, how it could be done: “Pure Blood,” read one banner.

Facts: The “Pure Blood” banner referred to by Gross, was carried by members of the XXX movement “Straight Edge” (sometimes abbreviated sXe), which is a subculture of hardcore punk whose adherents refrain from using alcohol, tobacco and other recreational drugs.  This banner had nothing to do with race or neo-fascism.

Gross Fake News # 10: “But most Poles couldn’t tell a Muslim or a Buddhist from Jesus. Their animus, which carries Polish nationalism into such an aggressively xenophobic articulation, springs primarily from a deep pool of ethnic-cum-religious hatred, which is indigenous to Poland and has historically been aimed at Jews.”

Facts: Over the centuries, Poland was one country in Europe that accepted and accommodated people of various religions, including Muslim Tatars and Jews. This is exactly why over 3 million Jews lived and prospered in Poland in 1939, when Hitler’s Nazis and Stalin’s communists simultaneously invaded its’ borders.

Gross Fake News # 11: “Anti-Semitism is a deeply entrenched and historically rooted element of this Polish nationalist worldview.”

Facts: Over the centuries, here was a certain level of anti-Semitism observed in every European country, including Poland, as well as in the United States.  During World War II only in German – occupied Poland there was a mandatory death penalty for anyone trying to hide Jews, which was extended to the entire families.  Yet, thousands and thousands of Jews were saved by the Poles, and over 8,600 of those saviors have been honored by Yad Vashem. Still, thousands of Poles never received that recognition, which is now being handled by the “From the Depths” organization in conjunction with the Catholic Church.

Gross Fake News # 12: “Poland’s leaders have let an evil genie out of the bottle. What we’ve witnessed on the streets of Warsaw represents a threat not only to liberal democracy in Poland but also to the stability and welfare of the European Union.”

Facts: It seems that Angela Merkel’s invitation extended to millions of Muslim “refugees” threatens the stability of EU. More military age male “refugees” are on their way, demanding free housing, welfare money, iPhones and fancy clothing, while not willing to work and contributing to the hosts’ economies. Only the time will show if this will be the end of civilized, safe Western Europe as we all knew and enjoyed visiting. Maybe in a year or two, only countries like Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia will be safe to visit and live in?

Zygmunt Staszewski is a Co-Chair of the Polish-Jewish Dialogue Committee based in New York City, National Director of the Polish American Congress and Board Member of the recently established Coalition of Polish Americans. He was one of the founders of Solidarity Union (1980-81) and a political prisoner of the communist regime (1981-1982) before he emigrated to the US as a political refugee. He was also a public spokesperson for Amnesty International.

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