Polish Perspective.

The complainant, Bodgan Gawroński, objected to an interview with historian Jan Grabowski on CBC Radio programme Day 6. He thought it was biased and that Mr. Grabowski represented an extreme position, blaming the Polish nation for the crimes of the Germans during World War II.

The interview concerned the new Polish anti-defamation law and the commemoration of the anniversary of the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1944. It did not violate policy.


On April 14, the CBC Radio programme Day 6 aired an interview with historian Jan Grabowski, a few days before the 75th anniversary commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The context was the recent passage of a Polish law which makes attributing blame for Nazi war crimes to Poland an offence. You objected to the interview, as you have on other occasions when he has been featured on CBC platforms, because you think Mr. Grabowski is biased. You characterized it as “one more example of the anti-Polish actions by highly controversial Jan Grabowski.” You believe he is selective in his analysis and citing of facts, and blames the Polish nation for the Holocaust:

The program is a perfect display of Jan Grabowski selective story-telling, focusing on ethnic Poles and omitting facts about some Polish Jews complicity in crimes committed by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

You said Mr. Grabowski holds extreme views, distorts and ignores the historical record, including that of the plight of the Jews and the numbers rescued from the Warsaw Ghetto.


The Senior Producer for Day 6, Gord Westmacott, replied to your concerns. He did not agree with your assessment. He noted the interview did not deal with numbers at all. He pointed out that it is clear, in several places, that Mr. Grabowski is not condemning all Poles. For example, he rejected the word “complicity” to describe the involvement in anti-Jewish activity of individual Poles. He specifically referred to a “level of involvement of certain segments of Polish society in activities which doomed Polish Jews.”

Mr. Westmacott noted that Brent Bambury, the host of the programme, provided the perspective of those who support the new anti-defamation law, and who are critical of Mr. Grabowski. He cited several examples: Mr. Bambury put the defense of the law to his guest when he asked: “It seems to have been borne out of fear that as the Second World War grows more distant, new generations will come to believe that Poles were the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Do you think there's legitimacy to that fear?” He added while Mr. Grabowski rejected that view, he was forced to address the issue. He also pointed out the danger to any Poles resisting the Germans:

Further in the interview, our host Brent Bambury challenges Mr. Grabowski on the idea that Polish citizens had an option to refuse to participate, saying: "The occupying Nazis threatened anyone who offered refuge to the Jews with the death penalty. That must have been an enormous pressure for anyone who observed what was happening and wanted to do something about it."

Mr. Grabowski rejects that idea and argues that "there was no social approval" for Polish citizens to risk their lives to help Jews in this period. That is certainly a contestable argument, but having already challenged it, Brent chose to move on. I think that was justified.


You have complained to this office on several occasions when Professor Grabowski was interviewed and have provided detailed historical background you believe is essential to understanding the events of the German occupation of Poland and the fate of Polish Jews. You believe that broader context, especially the fact that others also worked with the Nazis or independently persecuted Jews, provides balance to the discussion. Broader historical knowledge is always useful but we are dealing with daily journalism and current affairs here. When it comes to history and historical narrative, as I have said before, there are often competing visions and views, contested “fact” and analysis. You are concerned that discussion of the involvement of some segments of Polish society in persecution of Jews or assistance to the Germans is condemnation of the Polish nation. Both the interviewer and the interviewee are clear to point out that is not the case. As I have also said before, this is not a zero-sum game. There is no obligation to mention other collaborators because this was a discussion of events in Poland. The context for the interview was the 75th anniversary of the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto. The Polish government had recently passed its anti-defamation law making it illegal to impugn the crimes of Nazis to the Polish nation, which generated a fair bit of controversy. I note that while Mr. Grabowski as a Canadian academic has figured large in the criticism, he is by no means the only one with concerns.

As Mr. Westmacott pointed out to you, Mr. Grabowski is very clear that this is not a condemnation of all Poles. In the interview he said:

Well, complicity is, of course, a very very difficult term to identify, and, let’s say, defined by historians but the untold story is the level of, I would say, involvement, of certain segments of Polish societies and activities which simply doomed Polish Jews, and this story has never been properly told and each and every time we, as historians of Holocaust try to say and write something about this more dark dark periods and other sides of Polish-Jewish history it immediately triggers an extremely hostile reaction, mostly from the authorities, of course, but also from large segments of Polish society, people who are not inclined to, let’s say, to talk of their own past and to, let’s say, confront it.

You believe the narrative should emphasize the number of Poles who helped Jews and point to the complicity of others. Mr. Grabowski believes that there are aspects of Polish history that have not yet been adequately dealt with, and that this new law makes it difficult to do so - that was the point he made in the interview:

In this case, what should be done is an open, honest discussion of one’s national past - which never is white, which never is black – especially history of world conflict and horrors like the Holocaust, is never painted with one paint.

Mr. Grabowski is putting forward the position, challenged to a degree by the host, that for contemporary political reasons the Polish government would like to frame the Warsaw Ghetto uprising as a more nationalist enterprise of Jews and Poles. Mr. Bambury asked him about the significance of the uprising anniversary to the “whole story of Jews in Europe during the second world war.” He replied:

This is one of those defining moments, as you know, it’s the Yom HaShoah Day, the day of the Holocaust. This is built to commemorate, this is built around this singular event. This became this pivotal moment when the Jews said that we will die with honour, we will die fighting, and it became sort of a symbol. Now, once again, in Poland the commemorations want to portray this as a symbol of Polish-Jewish, let’s say alliance, resisting the Germans. Well unfortunately once again this is not what we know from the period. Jews in Warsaw were dying alone.

You strongly objected to the reference to Jews in Warsaw dying alone, citing an historical work that noted that some Jews escaped, and many were hidden and saved by citizens of Warsaw. It does not negate the fact that many perished unaided. Mr. Grabowski’s point in this context is that he has rejected the current government’s view of the historical record. I appreciate your desire for a broader understanding and knowledge of Polish history, and the degree to which Poles - invaded first by the Soviet Union and then Germany - paid an enormous price in World War II, and thousands of Poles aided Jews. The attention to Polish-Jewish relations and interactions during the war has been brought back into the forefront by the passage of the anti-defamation legislation. Given that to be the context of this interview, the host provided critical questions of his guest and fulfilled CBC journalistic policy.


Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman