‘Moral Provocateur’

Written by
Deborah Yaffe
June 6, 2016

Jan Gross’ views on Polish violence against Jews spark another controversy

When history professor Jan T. Gross spoke in April at the Davis Center Seminar, colleagues praised him as a moral beacon whose groundbreaking Holocaust scholarship had forced an entire nation — Poland, his native country — to reckon with its past.

“We’re glad he’s here and not in jail,” Davis Center Director Philip G. Nord said.

Although a ripple of laughter greeted Nord’s words, the remark wasn’t entirely a joke. Just two weeks earlier, Gross had been questioned by Polish prosecutors weighing whether to charge him with publicly insulting the Polish nation, an offense punishable by up to three years in prison. Poland’s 7-month-old right-wing government is also considering stripping Gross of the Polish Order of Merit, awarded to him in 1996 in recognition of his historical scholarship, his 1960s-era anti-Communist activism, and his later support for political reform in Poland.

Although the latest controversy stems from an opinion article Gross published in a German newspaper in September, his work on anti-Semitism in Poland has long made him a controversial figure there. Twice in the past eight years, prosecutors have opened similar inquiries into his work, but neither investigation led to charges, and the outcome this time remains uncertain.

“It’s up in the air,” Gross said in an interview after the seminar. “They never accused me of anything. They are thinking whether to accuse me.” (The Polish embassy in Washington said that no decision had been made in Gross’ case and that it did not know when a decision would be reached.) Read more at Princeton Alumni Weekly.