WARSAW, Poland (JTA) – The office of the president of Poland requested the re-evaluation of a state honor conferred on a Jewish historian who researched Polish complicity in the Holocaust.
The office of President Andrzej Duda confirmed on Friday its request in January to reconsider the honor, the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit medal, which was given in 1996 to Prof. Jan Gross, who wrote the controversial 2001 book “Neighbors,” about a 1941 pogrom perpetrated against Jews by their non-Jewish countrymen in the town of Jedwabne.
“Due to numerous petitions [for the] withdrawal of a medal granted to Jan Tomasz Gross, the President’s Office has asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as the legal applicant, to take a position on the matter,” a spokesperson for Duda’s office told JTA in answer to a query.
Duda, leader of the rightist Law and Justice party, won Polish presidential elections last year. During the campaign in May, Duda criticized his rival, former president, Bronislaw Komorowski, for apologizing for the Jedwabne massacre. Duda called Komorowski’s apologies an “attempt to destroy Poland’s good name.”
Gross, a Poland-born, Jewish-American historian at Princeton University, received the medal for his activities in opposition to Poland’s communism and for his historical works on Poles deported to Siberia.
Gross said in an op-ed published by Germany’s Die Welt newspaper that Poles killed more Jews than Germans during World War II.
Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Dziedziczak said in November that taking back the medal from Gross would show he is “the enemy of Poland.”
The British daily The Guardian reported that “2,000 letters had been sent to the presidency calling for the historian to be stripped of his honor.”
The office of the president’s move prompted protest by 25 historians, who on Wednesday wrote a letter to Polish authorities warning that: “Withdrawal of the medal would be a signal of threat [to] freedom of scientific research and political rationing of freedom of speech.”
Piotr Kadlcik, a former president of the umbrella group of Polish Jewish communities, said that revoking the medal would make Gross “persecuted by authorities.”