Polish historian with far-right past resigns from state job

International News

FILE – This April 29, 2017 file photo shows members of a right-wing extremist group, the National Radical Camp, marching in Warsaw, Poland. A scandal has erupted in Poland over the appointment of a historian to a state historical body who in his youth took part in demonstrations with the group and was photographed years ago doing a right-armed fascist salute. The historian, Tomasz Greniuch, has apologized for the mistake, calling it ‘youthful bravado’. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, file)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A Polish historian resigned Monday from the government’s historical institute after controversy erupted over his past ties with a far-right organization and photos of him making the stiff-armed fascist salute.

Tomasz Greniuch was recently appointed to head the Wroclaw office of the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), a state organization whose role is to document Nazi and communist crimes carried out on Polish soil.

The head of the institute, Jaroslaw Szarek, said in a statement Monday that Greniuch offered his resignation and it had been accepted. Szarek said the circumstances surrounding the appointment had made it impossible for Greniuch to do his job.

Outrage had been mounting over the appointment in Poland, a country that suffered enormously under Nazi German rule in World War II. However, the fact that Greniuch was even named to the role was seen by some as evidence of right-wing extremism becoming mainstream under Poland’s conservative ruling Law and Justice party.

The party has sought to prevent other right-wing parties from cutting into its base, which has led leaders to sometimes try to appeal to ultra-nationalist voters.

Greniuch also authored a book, “The Way of the Nationalist,” published in 2013, which glorifies Léon Degrelle, a Belgian collaborator of the Third Reich, according to the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper.

President Andrzej Duda had awarded Greniuch in 2018 with the Bronze Cross of Merit, a state decoration awarded for his scholarship on the so-called “cursed soldiers.” Those were Polish resistance fighters who opposed communist forces in the later stages of World War II and in the war’s aftermath.

Greniuch, who is in his late 30s, issued a public apologyFriday for his past behavior.

“I have never been a Nazi. I apologize once again for the irresponsible gesture from several years ago and I consider it a mistake,” he said. He described his past behavior as “youthful bravado” and said he had never meant meant to glorify any form of totalitarianism.

A spokesman for the IPN office in Wroclaw said Greniuch was not available Monday to comment.

Officials close to both President Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had signaled that Greniuch should be dismissed.

“For the sake of the institution and image of Poland, there should be a change in the position of the head of the Institute of National Remembrance in Wroclaw,” Michal Dworczyk, a top aide to Morawiecki, said earlier Monday.

Outrage in Poland has grown as images have been published of Greniuch making the stiff-armed salute years ago and participating in demonstrations as a young man with the National Radical Camp, a far-right group that traces its roots to an anti-Semitic and openly fascist movement which existed before World War II.

Greniuch had already been posted to lead the IPN office in the southwestern Polish city of Opole three years earlier. In a 2019 interview, he said he had not cut himself off from his earlier views but had changed his behavior.

“When you have your dream job, you try to be a professional,” he said.

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