Jan Maletka Deserves Commemoration. A Response to Adam Leszczyński - Instytut Pileckiego

Jan Maletka Deserves Commemoration. A Response to Adam Leszczyński

                                                                                                           Wojciech Kozłowski

                                                                                                           The Pilecki Institute


Jan Maletka deserves commemoration. A response to Adam Leszczyński


Adam Leszczyński’s article in OKO.press, entitled “Zabili go za pomaganie Żydom? Pomnik postawiony na podstawie jednej relacji po 40 latach” [“Killed for aiding Jews? Monument unveiled on the basis of one account recorded 40 years after the fact”] demands a response.

Firstly, the commemoration of Jan Maletka, held as part of the “Called by Name” project on 25 November 2021 in the village of Treblinka, more than 4 km from the former Treblinka II German death camp, was met with vehement criticism from Prof. Jan Grabowski and others. The Pilecki Institute was accused of organizing this commemoration in order to question the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and to convince Poles of the massive scale of Polish aid to the Jews who were transported to their deaths by the Germans.

I must clarify that both of these allegations are false. A single fieldstone (not a monument) bearing a plaque commemorating Jan Maletka and honoring the Jewish victims of Treblinka II was placed in the village of Treblinka. Furthermore, the “Called by Name” project does not seek to address matters concerning the scale of Polish assistance to Jews; it is devoted exclusively to those individuals who gave aid and who died. This is the fundamental difference. It is impossible to understand how the existence of criminal elements, who profit from the tragedy faced by the Jewish population, might cause the “Called by Name” project to be associated with the falsification of history via a restoration of the memory of local heroes – residents of small towns and villages – about whom very few people knew anything until now. If the iniquity of a few precluded respect for the heroism of others, then there could be no commemoration of Home Army soldiers in Warsaw, because Gestapo agents also existed; there would be no commemoration of activists of the democratic opposition in the Polish People’s Republic, because there were agents of the Ministry of Public Security working parallel to them; and one of the main roundabouts in central Warsaw could not bear the name of General de Gaulle, because the Vichy regime was established. It is heroes, and not traitors, who are commemorated. This does not prohibit a discussion about the negative examples of human behaviour, both in relation to the German occupation and the post-war period. Many of those “Called by Name” died as a result of denunciation, and speaking about these cases in public, condemning the denunciations, and emphasizing the individual (and familial) nature of the aid given cannot in good faith be branded a “sugar-coating” of history.

Secondly, the irritation and resentment toward the commemoration of Jan Maletka that we have witnessed in recent weeks seems to indicate a strong desire to portray Polish actions with regard to Jews in an unambiguously negative light. And yet every Holocaust scholar is aware that Polish-Jewish relations during the period of the German occupation were ambiguous in nature.

Each commemoration is preceded by thorough inquiries in state, social and private archives both in Poland and abroad, including the protocols of post-war investigations and trials (in Poland and Germany), court records, oral histories from the period of the Polish People’s Republic (TVP archives, FINA archives), memoirs, Jewish testimonies, documents from the Ringelblum Archive, and testimonies from Poles under oath given before the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes. This research is further supplemented by in-depth interviews with the victims’ family members, including eye-witnesses. So far, we have commemorated 53 Poles and the Jews they sought to protect. All these stories are presented on the Institute’s website. In accordance with the established practises of similar academic institutions all over the world, the Institute does not make its research results readily available – the proper place for their presentation is in academic publications.

Finally, the argumentation presented in the article in question, made “with the help of a handful of historians looking into the Holocaust”, represents an attempt to undermine the credibility of the surviving accounts of the circumstances surrounding Jan Maletka’s death, because “human memory is fallible, memories are subject to modification, and, what is more, Pawłowicz [an eye-witness to Jan’s shooting – WK] also told Zajączkowski [the historian who recorded his account in the 1980s – WK] about his own heroism (in his account he and Maletka went together to help the Jews)”. The Institute’s historians were also accused of having “expanded on and embellished” Jan Maletka’s story. I will respond to a few points:

  • The story of Jan Maletka has been known about in records for decades. He was murdered for giving water to Jews. At no point was there any suggestion that he did so in exchange for money or diamonds. Nevertheless, Mr. Leszczyński attempts to burden Maletka with collective responsibility by referring to sources that mention other Poles who sold water. In the interest of impartiality, it should be noted that there are also accounts (including from Franciszek Ząbecki) of Poles (and railwaymen and their families!) who gave water out of pure humanity. Consequently, Mr. Leszczyński presents a simplified image of the complex issue of Polish-Jewish relations, seemingly with the desire to give a uniformly negative impression.
  • We at the Pilecki Institute have long been aware that researching a particular story in which a victim was murdered for giving aid requires a special amount of sensitivity and thoroughness. The same is true in the case of Jan Maletka. The team at OKO.press apparently failed to reach source material produced not 40 years after Maletka’s death, but one day after, which reveals that the killing occurred at around 10 a.m. on 20 August 1942, that it was caused by a gunshot wound, and that the witnesses to the event were Stanisław, the victim’s brother, and Remigiusz Pawłowicz. The latter was not simply the “victim’s comrade”, as Mr. Leszczyński wrote, but an eye-witness to the crime! Moreover, this document contains references to Maletka as a “labourer”, which, in addition to the fact of the shooting, reveals a close connection between his death and the “shooting of a road service labourer” mentioned in Ząbecki’s account.
  • Obtaining accounts several decades after the events in question took place does not in itself disqualify their credibility, which is verified by an appropriate analysis of the source. The so-called Spielberg Archive, which records the accounts of witnesses and Holocaust survivors, was not created until 1994, i.e. half a century or more after the events being discussed. The Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes interviewed Poles as witnesses in as late as the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. It is not the witness’ fault that they were questioned so long after the fact. I agree that the stories of those “Called by Name” should have been investigated long ago. Stanisław Maletka died in 2005; Remigiusz Pawłowicz died in 2007. At present, we are rescuing human stories from oblivion.
  • The question remains as to why, in an era when exhaustive archives of “oral history” are being created – including the stories of witnesses and Holocaust survivors – Mr. Leszczyński should so marginalize “family stories”. The circumstances of Jan Maletka’s death were recalled by eye-witnesses, who were shocked by the experience. After all, it is difficult to forget the tragic death of a brother or a friend. Jan and Remigiusz played together at a sporting club in Mińsk Mazowiecki before they were sent to perform forced labour near Treblinka. The Pawłowicz and Maletka families did not remain in contact with each other after the war, and only met at the commemoration ceremony. Their memories of the circumstances of Jan’s death, however, remained confluent.
  • For the sake of reliability, the Institute conducted broad research concerning the circumstances of Jan Maletka’s death. The archives consulted include: the collections of the Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes in Ludwigsburg, the files of Jan Gozdawa-Gołębiowski, the files of Ryszard Nazarewicz, the archives of Władysław Siła-Nowicki, the General Government administration, the Government Delegation for Poland, the Home Army, the Collection of Accounts of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, and testimonies given before the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes. In none of these places did we find any indication that Jan Maletka aided the Jews in exchange for material profit.

To summarize, the entire story of Jan Maletka’s heroic death is based on consistent eye-witness accounts of the crime, preserved in archival literature and in independent family accounts, and in reliable (also in Mr. Leszczyński’s estimation) sources that confirm the date, circumstances, and cause of death. There is no evidence that Jan Maletka gave water in exchange for money or valuables. There are only insinuations.

In conclusion, therefore, I would like to emphasize that a stone with a plaque (not a monument!) was due Jan Maletka in the village of Treblinka, where he died. On the other hand, I would like to ask Mr. Leszczyński and the historians looking into the Holocaust who support his claims, to point to the evidence that proves Jan Maletka sold water.

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