Poland: scandal in the German Historical Institute in Warsaw


A right-wing Polish MP raged in the German Historical Institute in Warsaw and prevented a lecture on the Holocaust. The police are powerless.

The far-right MP Grzegorz Braun (right) disrupts an event at the German Historical Institute

The German Historical Institute in Warsaw is usually a place of balanced academic debates, where factual arguments and not political emotions play the decisive role. On Tuesday evening (05/30/2023), however, the Karnicki Palace, which has been the seat of the institute since 2002, became the scene of a political scandal. Violence was also used – for the time being only against the technical equipment.  

The institute had invited Jan Grabowski, a renowned Polish-Canadian Holocaust researcher, to a lecture. The title of his lecture: “Poland's (growing) problems with the history of the Holocaust” caused a stir even beforehand. As early as May 25, President Andrzej Duda's former chief foreign policy adviser, Jakub Kumoch, began agitating against Grabowski on Twitter. Kumoch, who, according to media reports, is to become Polish ambassador to China, was apparently particularly bothered by the fact that the lecture was to be held in the German Historical Institute of all places.

Germans in particular are not entitled to teach the Poles anything about the Holocaust. “Once again: a German historical institute,” he wrote, and accused the institution of “provoking an affair” so that the German newspapers would have something to write about.

Sejm deputy storms the stage

The far-right MP Grzegorz Braun caused the scandal on Tuesday shortly after the start of the lecture. After a few minutes he jumped, shouting “Enough!” got up from his chair, stormed the podium, grabbed the microphone and banged it against the desk several times. He then tore out the cables and overturned the speaker. He explained to the shocked audience that the event was over.

Institute Director Milos Reznik (right) speaks a journalist after the scandal

Neither the security service in the hall nor the police officers who had been summoned were able to expel Braun and his followers from the hall. The parliamentarian invoked his immunity and claimed it was an emergency. When the institute director Milos Reznik accused him of destroying property, Braun responded with an insult: “A German in Warsaw will not teach me that I shouldn't destroy something. Get out of Warsaw, now!”   

Despite boos from the audience and the words “shame”, “fascist”, “Russian footrag” addressed to the provocateur, Braun did not move from the spot. “I am defending the Polish nation from a provoked attack on historical sensitivity,” he told police officers. After unsuccessful negotiations with Braun, the police asked the participants of the event to leave the hall.

Right-wing extremist provocateur

It wasn't until the event was canceled that Braun left the building, only to boast about his victory in front of his supporters on the street. Braun belongs to the small parliamentary group Konfederacja (Confederation), which currently consists of nine people. The group maintains close contacts with the AfD in Germany. Spectacular protest actions are an integral part of his politics. In recent years he has made a name for himself with protests against COVID restrictions. He threatened the Minister of Health in Parliament: “You will hang!” Independent media are also among his opponents. As early as September 2012, he had declared that one in ten journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza and the private broadcaster TVN had to be shot.


Sejm MP Grzegorz Braun (centre) visiting the AfD in the Bundestag on September 26, 2022

“We are reaching a new level of violence against scientists,” historian Grabowski told Wirtualna Polska. In his opinion, the current situation is reminiscent of the situation in Poland in 1937-1939, when scientists were attacked and their lectures disrupted.

Return to the 1930s?

His opinion shares the historian Szymon Rudnicki, author of numerous publications on the Polish radical right in the interwar period (1918-1939). “I feel transported back to the 1930s,” he told DW.

“What can I say? This situation speaks for itself. We have seen who is afraid of debating important current problems,” commented institute director Reznik to journalists. He assured that his institute would take up the topic of the lecture again later. When asked whether the decision to cancel the event meant that the provocateur had been given the field, Reznik said: “If the scientist said that he saw no possibility of continuing the lecture, we have to accept that.”

Polish-Canadian historian Jan Grabowski researches the Holocaust in Poland

Jan Grabowski teaches at the University of Ottawa in Canada. With his publications in Poland, he has made many enemies, especially in the right-wing government camp.  

Among other things, he is co-author of the book “Next is the night. Fates of the Jews in selected districts in occupied Poland”, which was published in 2018. In it he addresses the problem of the violence of Christian Poles against the Jews, especially after the evacuation of the ghettos by the Germans in 1942, when the survivors sought help from Polish families in the countryside. His research results were criticized by the Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN). On the other hand, Grabowski was backed by the Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem and the Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

The Polish government has recently increased pressure on independent scientists studying critical aspects of the Polish – examine Jewish relations in World War II. “I will not fund any research aimed at defaming the good name of the Polish state,” said Poland's Minister of Education and Science, Przemyslaw Czarnek, at a meeting with a delegation from the European Parliament in Warsaw in mid-May 2023. This attitude has also created tensions with the Israeli government and Holocaust researchers around the world.