A Polish court has decided not to punish a history professor for a "Holocaust denial" book that presents arguments questioning aspects of the familiar Six Million extermination story.
On December 7, 1999, the regional court in Opole, in southern Poland, found that Dariusz Ratajczak supported revisionist views on the Holocaust issue in his book, Tematy Niebezpieczne ("Dangerous Themes"). But it decided not to punish the 37-year-old historian because the self-published volume had limited distribution and was not damaging enough to warrant punishment under a Polish statute that outlaws "public denial" of German wartime crimes. The court called the book "merely a minor social annoyance." It also took into account that the defendant had distanced himself somewhat from revisionist views in a preface to a second edition.
The public prosecutor has appealed the verdict.
In a five-page section entitled "Holocaust Revisionism," Ratajczak matter-of-factly cited the work of such revisionists as Paul Rassinier, Robert Faurisson, David Irving and Ernst Zündel, who contend that there was no German plan or program to exterminate Europe's Jews. He also cited the forensic investigations carried out at Auschwitz and Birkenau by Fred Leuchter and Germar Rudolf, and their conclusions that, for technical reasons, well-known claims of killing millions of Jews in gas chambers are impossible.
While Ratajczak did not explicitly endorse these views, he did call testimony of Holocaust "eyewitness" survivors "useless," and described establishment Holocaust writers as "followers of a religion of the Holocaust" who impose on others "a false image of the past."
As the title of the book suggests, Ratajczak understands the dangers of challenging such prevailing taboos. As he put it (on page 8):
To write about Polish-Jewish relations is a dangerous venture, especially for a Pole who holds the view that this relationship must be based on truth. Paradoxically it is accordingly easy to be accused of narrow-minded nationalism, xenophobia and "obsessive anti-Semitism." The results are often tragic: social exclusion (everyone has the friends he deserves), muzzling of journalistic and publishing activities, and, finally, professional ruin.
Ratajczak, who is popular with students, was suspended in April 1999 from his teaching post at the Historical Institute of the University of Opole after complaints were made to authorities. (See: "Polish Professor Under Fire for 'Holocaust Denial'," May-June 1999 Journal, p. 31.) It was not immediately known whether he would get his position back. With a child to support, his financial situation is precarious.
Commenting on the case, Swiss educator and revisionist author Jürgen Graf writes:
There is concern that Ratajczak's acquittal will be overturned on appeal as a result of pressure from the Jewish lobby, which is extraordinarily powerful in Poland. Especially vicious in the hate campaign against him has been the Jew Adam Michnik, who was a prominent "dissident" during the Communist era.
Dr. Dariusz Ratajczak is a man of firm political and religious convictions, a man of character. Such men are disliked by the government of "liberal democratic" Poland no less then they were by the government of the Polish "peoples democracy."
At his trial in mid-November, Ratajczak said that in his book he had merely summarized arguments of revisionist scholars who dispute Holocaust claims, and that views presented in his book do not necessarily reflect his own. "Historical revisionism is a historical and social fact," he said at the opening of his trial. "My only intention was to present the problem … with the author's commentary."
"I feel great relief after months of a witch hunt against me in the media, but physically I am exhausted," he commented in the aftermath of the court's decision.
The author of Poland's "Holocaust denial" law expressed concern about the verdict: "I am afraid that the world will get the message that denying Nazi crimes in Poland is not socially harmful." A Jewish community leader called the verdict "outrageous" and "a poor testimonial to Polish democracy," and said that Jewish groups would protest. "Theories voiced by this man [Ratajczak] are an approval of genocide," said Szymon Szurmiej, head of the Federation of Jewish Associations in Poland.
Ratajczak published 320 copies of the first edition of the book at his own expense. Only a few were sold at the university bookstore or directly to students, or were given away to friends, before police seized the remaining copies.
"Holocaust denial" is a crime in several European states, including Germany, France, and Austria. Unlike similar laws elsewhere, though, the Polish law additionally bans "denial" of Communist crimes.