Tuesday, January 26, 2016

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Review by Polish-American Journalist Filip Mazurczak

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is funding by US taxpayer dollars. For that reason, among many others, all American taxpayers have an interest, and a voice, in the museum. The USHMM webpage provides the following numbers:

"Base Operating Budget: $90.8 in FY 2015 ($52.4 million federal revised appropriation; $38.4 million unrestricted private donations and investment income)"

According to many, the USHMM disseminates Christophobic material. Indeed, Jewish leaders have protested this Christophobic material. See, for example, "Anti-Christian Film Draws Ire of Jewish Leaders" linked here.

A quote from this article

"Every 14 minutes, about 32 times a day, 363 days a year, in the shadow of the Washington monument, a woman slowly intones her version of history: 'Christianity emerged from Judaism. Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew,' she begins. 'The early Christian Church condemned Jews as agents of the devil, and blamed them for killing Jesus. This accusation was not renounced until the 1960s with the Second Vatican Council.'

She continues, 'Christian crusaders slaughtered tens of thousands of Jews…. The Protestant Reformation brought no end to the anti-Jewish tradition of Christianity.'
After quoting Martin Luther that Jewish homes should be burned, she gets to the present century: 'Enter Hitler, Austrian-born and baptized a Catholic.' Her voice goes deep as she imitates Hitler: 'In defending myself against the Jews I am acting for the Lord. The difference between the Church and me is that I am finishing the job.'

Finally, she warns, 'This is where prejudice can lead,' clearly meaning that Christian prejudice against Jews led to their murder under Nazism.

Every 14 minutes, a clutch of sober visitors listen to this explanation of the Holocaust, but this woman is not just another individual with a cause, wearing a hand-stenciled placard, a common sight on the Washington mall.

She is the voice-over for a film underwritten with federal money produced by the Holocaust Memorial Museum, which has been prominently featured in the museum's permanent exhibit for several years."

This US taxpayer funded Christophobia and distortion of Holocaust history is not happening in a vacuum. Christians are the people in the world today most likely to be persecuted for their faith. See here. Mongering hatred against Christians, demonizing Christians and Christianity, are not victimless crimes. 

Further, citing Christianity as the Nazis' guiding philosophy is factually wrong. See here.

In brief:

Nazis did not cite Christianity as their guiding philosophy.

Nazis did cite other philosophies as guiding their actions, including nationalism, scientism, atheism, Social Darwinism, and neo-Paganism.

Nazis targeted, persecuted, tortured and murdered Christians.

Filip Mazurczak is a correspondent for the National Catholic Register and the assistant editor of the journal The European Conservative. He has degrees in history and Hispanic studies from Creighton University, international relations from the George Washington University and public relations from the Jagiellonian University. He has lived and worked both in Poland and the United States.

Filip contributed his review, below, of his visit to the USHMM. I include Filip's comments in full, though I don't agree with everything he says, or the way he says it. I'm grateful that he brings the USHMM's Christophobic material to our attention.

I wrote to the USHMM and asked if they cared to respond. They did not respond to my message.
USHMM Review
by Filip Mazurczak

For at least the next six months, I will be living in Washington, DC. I decided to pay a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and share my thoughts. Because the museum’s website boasts that 38 million people have visited it since its dedication in 1993, few institutions in the world shape how the world understands the destruction of European Jewry so much. People longing for an accurate presentation of Polish history will be happy to learn that the museum honors Żegota, details Nazi atrocities against non-Jewish Poles and sells books about Polish rescuers of Jews. Nonetheless, visitors are misled into incorrectly thinking that the Home Army was “nationalist” and “often anti-Semitic.” Most troubling is the museum’s anti-Christian tone, which inaccurately links medieval Christian anti-Judaism with the Final Solution.

The first thing we see upon entering the museum is the bookstore. In it, we can find many books on Polish Righteous Among the Nations (including a picture book on Irena Sendler, the classic memoir The Cracow Ghetto Pharmacy by Tadeusz Pankiewicz and a book by Krystyna Chiger, a Jewish child rescued by Polish sewer inspector Leopold Socha), books on Polish martyrdom (such as Allen Paul’s book on Katyn and Miron Białoszewski’s account of the Warsaw Uprising) and balanced books on Polish-Jewish affairs (including Władysław Szpilman’s The Pianist, the best book on World War II and one of the best books I have read). On the other hand, Jan T. Gross’s ugly polemic Golden Harvests (one of the most biased books I’ve ever read) was on sale, and the disgusting comic book Maus (which presents Poles as anthropomorphic swine and concentration camp guards at Auschwitz, which they were not) and the anti-Polish, historically inaccurate, poorly written novels Mila 18 and Exodus by Leon Uris were showcased.

I had read about the conflict related to the foundation of the Holocaust museum: should non-Jewish victims be included as well? Ultimately, the decision to honor the martyrdom of other groups was made. Thus I was pleased to see that the museum made it clear that Roma were also locked in ghettoes along with Jews by the Nazis, and that the Nazis also wanted their extermination. An exhibit detailing Nazi crimes against ethnic Poles is included. With regards to the September campaign, it is explicitly said that the Poles fought “bravely,” but received no military assistance from France and England, whose declaration of war against Nazi Germany was just a declaration.

It was refreshing to see the museum commemorate the suffering of non-Jews like ethnic Poles and acknowledge the West’s failings. These failings are also acknowledged when the display explains that the Roosevelt White House refused to increase immigration quotas to allow Jewish refugees to escape to the United States, and that the American Department of War failed to bomb the crematoria of Auschwitz. Although I knew about Roosevelt’s callous attitude towards the Holocaust, I didn’t think that the museum would acknowledge these inconvenient facts. I also was pleased that the museum mentioned other genocides (such as Darfur and the abuses of Pol Pot, although it didn’t have the courage to mention the Armenian Genocide). Some promote a ridiculous, chauvinistic doctrine that the Holocaust was “unique.” Genocide is a tragedy, regardless of what group it affects. I’m glad that the museum avoided this balderdash.

Another pleasant surprise was that in the section on rescue, in addition to much information about the bold Danes who endured a mild occupation and were allowed to maintain their parliament and king and at one point didn’t even incur punishments for aiding Jews, there was a display on Żegota. It features photos of Żegota’s founders, and next to it is a copy of the flyer distributed across Poland by the Nazis stating that Poles aiding Jews would be threatened with the death penalty. Thus visitors to the Holocaust Memorial Museum learn that despite such drastic punishments, there were Poles who aided Jews (however, the display says that Żegota helped secure false papers and hiding spots for 4,000 Jews; the actual number was ten times that – did someone forget a zero?).

Shortly after the tribute to Żegota, however, is the most anti-Polish part of the museum. It mentions that “[i]n Poland, the nationalist Home Army was often hostile to Jews.” Next to this display, there is information about Jews serving in the resistance in Yugoslavia, Slovakia and France. In reality, between several hundred and a couple thousand Jews fought in the Warsaw Uprising, and probably more Jews fought in the ranks of the Home Army than any other anti-Nazi resistance across Europe.

The Home Army wasn’t “nationalist”; it was anti-Nazi and anti-communist and loyal to Poland’s government-in-exile. Its members’ ideologies ranged on a wide scale, including both nationalists and socialists. Recently, Joshua Zimmerman of Yeshiva University published an excellent book disproving the stereotype that the Home Army was anti-Semitic. Zimmerman writes that the Polish underground’s attitude towards the Jews varied. While in northeast Poland it issued a pronouncement to fight “Jewish bandits,” in Hanaczów it saved the town’s entire Jewish population from Germans and Ukrainian nationalists. The Home Army had a department devoted to aiding Jews led by Henryk Woliński, and the Home Army’s new newspaper, the Information Bulletin, was edited by a Righteous Gentile, scoutmaster Aleksander Kamiński, and featured frequent condemnation of German atrocities, but also of Polish anti-Semites and blackmailers of Jews.

While I consider Timothy Snyder to be an overrated and unoriginal historian, he is correct when he writes in his Black Earth that the Home Army only occasionally killed Jews and that the far-right National Armed Forces did so much more frequently. Snyder writes that the accounts of anti-Semitic Home Army partisans in many Holocaust survivors’ accounts were often National Armed Forces partisans, and survivors confused the two. I would encourage individuals of good will to write a petition to the museum asking to change the historically incorrect statement insulting the Home Army.

What I found most troubling about the museum was its blatant anti-Christian tone. At the beginning of the exhibit, there is a fifteen-minute documentary film titled “Anti-Semitism” that is on loop. The film immediately starts with Christian anti-Judaism, despite the fact that Egyptian, Persian, Greek and Roman persecutions of Jews predated Christianity.

The film details Christian prejudices against Jews in the Middle Ages, mentioning that they were expelled from many European countries, accused of blood libel and segregated from Christians in ghettoes. Martin Luther’s anti-Jewish rhetoric is presented. Only later does the film discuss secular strands of modern anti-Semitism: the Dreyfus Affair, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Nazi anti-Semitism. However, this is implicitly linked to Christianity. After discussing the Nazi genocide of European Jewry, the film concludes with a statement that the Holocaust made Christian churches reexamine their teachings on Judaism. Thus the viewer can logically infer that the Final Solution was the product of Christianity.

Was there a strong Christian tradition of anti-Judaism? One would have to be intellectually dishonest to deny that. At the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 the Catholic Church decreed that Jews be separated from Christians and wear articles of clothing to distinguish them from Christians. However, the film does not present false information; it presents true information selectively.

For instance, there is no mention that in addition to a strong Christian tradition of anti-Judaism, there was also a Christian tradition of tolerance. It is true that medieval Christians accused Jews of kidnapping Christian children and using their blood to make matzos. What the documentary fails to mention, however, is that multiple medieval popes had issued bulls defending Jews against such charges. Pope St. Gregory the Great was one of the most philo-Semitic rulers of all time, and Renaissance popes employed Jewish court doctors. While Pope Alexander VI may have been corrupt and promiscuous, he invited Jews expelled by the Spanish Inquisition to settle in Rome.

And the documentary makes a big omission. It says that during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Jews were kicked out of England, Spain, Portugal and Germany, “most of whom migrated eastward.” It doesn’t explain where “eastward” was. It completely fails to mention the fact that at the time, Jewish civilization flourished in Polin. While Christian rulers like Isabella I and Edward I kicked Jews out of Spain and England, Christian rulers like Boleslaus the Pious and Casimir the Great made Poland Paradisus Judaeorum.

The film exclusively focuses on Christian anti-Semitism, making no mention of Islamic anti-Semitism. Christian anti-Semitism is a marginal phenomenon today, while anti-Semitism flourishes in the Muslim world. Hitler himself said: “It’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Islam would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?” Meanwhile, a dear friend of Hitler was then-mufti of Jerusalem Amin al-Husseini, who supported Hitler’s “solution” to the “Jewish question.”

The film’s implicit linking of Christian anti-Judaism to the Holocaust is incorrect. None other than Zygmunt Bauman – a secular, Marxist Polish-Jewish sociologist and philosopher – has argued that it was the Enlightenment and its obsession with rationalism that gave birth to eugenics and pseudo-scientific racism, culminating in the Holocaust. Hannah Arendt and Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger (the late archbishop of Paris and a Jewish convert) arrived at similar conclusions. The film makes no mention of the fact that Hitler hated Christianity, and that atheistic anti-Semitism existed in Stalin’s USSR.

In sum, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a mixed bag. It honors Żegota and presents the sufferings of non-Jewish Poles under Nazism, although it shows the Home Army’s record on the Jews in a tendentious way. The worst is the documentary on anti-Semitism. At the risk of sounding cynical, I must admit that I had to keep myself from snickering as I watched its lopsided account of history.

Photo credit: Filip Mazurczak
Photo credit: Filip Mazurczak
Photo credit: Filip Mazurczak
Photo credit: Filip Mazurczak

Saturday, January 9, 2016

I Was America's Favorite Immigrant Ogre for One Hundred Years And I Never Became a Terrorist; I Wrote a Book Instead

I Was America's Favorite Immigrant Ogre for One Hundred Years
And I Never Became a Terrorist; I Wrote a Book Instead

This article first appeared on FrontPage Magazine here

I did a lot of driving on December 25, 2015. National Public Radio offered wall-to-wall coverage of a new power narrative. Americans, US taxpayer-funded NPR drilled into its Christmas day listeners, are an ignorant, violent, lynch mob. Muslims are their potential victims. One thing and one thing only might inspire Muslims to become terrorists: Christian Americans saying mean things.

NPR did not attempt to sell this narrative in the old school tones of voice-of-God journalists broadcasting who-what-when-where-why style news accounts. Stentorian newsmen would immediately activate alarms implanted in listeners during their college classes on sticking it to the man, fighting the power, and questioning authority.

Rather, the Muslims-as-victims narrative was entwined into heartwarming stories told by seductively voiced women distributing cookie recipes. It was the unquestioned premise of curl-up-around-the-fire storytelling. It was the relevant unstated undergirding of irrelevant, cardboard-prop "news." Good propaganda is obvious. Excellent propaganda hides in plain sight, and insinuates itself, like a virus, into every organ, including the heart.

On Christmas day alone, NPR features on the hateful American / Muslim victim theme included the following three broadcasts.

Award-winning author Diana Abu-Jaber has called America "the belly of the beast," "insular," and has declared that "America is not the final word." On NPR Abu-Jaber wove a homespun family tale, accompanied by a recipe, of cookies baked by a bigoted American Catholic shrew and appreciatively consumed by her model Muslim son-in-law. "Gram didn't approve of her Jordanian son-in-law. She saw him as an interloper. He was this Muslim menace … She would just pick at him and peck [sic] him and … then eventually he'd break down and he'd jump into the fray. 'You'd probably run around like a bunch of savages waving turkey legs.' And my father would say 'Well, actually, the Muslims invented civilization.'"

The NPR storytelling program "The Moth" included Khaled Latif's "Shattered Silence." Latif alleged, without evidence, that he has overheard Americans say, "We need to get all the Muslims together, and send them out of the country, because they are all violent, and they are all terrorists." He also alleged, again without evidence, that an American woman tried to push him down a flight of stairs. "It was a really, really tough situation," he moaned helplessly. Latif spoke quietly of the incredible courage Muslims must muster to live among violent American bigots. Latif made no reference to any hadith or Koran verse that might cause Americans to look askance at fealty to Koranic commands. Latif's absence of evidence matters; Muslims have faked hate crimes.

In rural Wyoming, NPR listeners learned, "anti-Muslim rhetoric" from a "Catholic ex-Marine" is terrorizing defenseless Muslims "with deep roots in the area … they've been in Wyoming since 1960s" The broadcast's antagonist, the Catholic, is a fool. He fears a "problem" with Islam that "can't happen" in Wyoming, according to NPR. The Catholic has stirred up locals who "belittled Muslims and even threatened to throw bacon at the mosque." We all know how many tragic deaths have resulted when bacon has been used as an anti-architecture projectile. "The rhetoric has gotten so bad, so negative, so harsh." NPR assured its listeners that there is no significant difference between Islam and other belief systems. "It's not entirely unlike what I've experienced when I've gone to church … [the Catholic] has no reason to be nervous … Everyone wants to be peaceful and coincide [sic] with each other."

In mid-December, 2015, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai said that it's "really tragic that you hear these comments which are full of hatred, full of this ideology of being discriminative towards others … The more you speak about Islam and against all Muslims, the more terrorists we create … If your intention is to stop terrorism, do not try to blame the whole population of Muslims for it because it cannot stop terrorism. It will radicalize more terrorists."

The power narrative is wrong. Jihadis commit violence for the reason jihadis have always given for committing violence. They are following the commands found in the Koran and hadiths.

Further, being the butt of bigotry does not compel anyone to commit violent acts. I know. I am the butt of bigotry far worse than Malala Yousafzai, Diana Abu-Jaber, Imam Khaled Latif, or Aftab Khan have ever faced. 

I, and others like me, have been America's favorite ogre. We were denounced in Congress by powerful scientists who defined us as quite literally subhuman. We were mocked and demonized in high and low culture. We didn't become terrorists. We put our shoulders to the wheel and we worked to make America great.

Goldstein, Merkel and Biegański by Michal Karski

Goldstein, Merkel and Biegański
Michal Karski

"What's in a name?" asks Juliet in Shakespeare's famous play. The answer must be: "much more than one would at first suppose, my lovely innocent idealist." Just as a picture is said to be worth a thousand words, so a single name, whether it be first name or last name, will usually conjure up many associations. In the case of citizens of Poland, names can often lead to hasty generalisations, if not to immediate and frequently damning judgements.

The trio pictured above, as any sharp-eyed reader who is familiar with pre-war Polish radio will know, is not that of Goldstein, Merkel and Biegański, but they could quite easily have been. Radio and theatre and the arts in general were the milieus in inter-war Poland where ethnic prejudices were for the most part quite irrelevant and where regional and ethnic variety only enriched the sum total of Polish cultural life. One has only to think of the Yiddish humour of the szmonces written by people such as Marian Hemar and broadcast by Lwów radio station "Lwowska Fala". Piłsudski himself was said to have been a big fan of the station's brand of humour.

That Jews were often involved in theatrical life is reflected in Jack Benny's 1942 film "To Be or Not To Be" – a release quite daring in its day, because the outcome of the war was by no means a foregone conclusion – and which was successfully remade by Mel Brooks in the eighties. Although my own opinion is that this is a pro-Polish film – in both original and remake – since its Polish protagonists are presented in a sympathetic light, nevertheless there has been criticism which pointed out that the Polish foreign office officials are portrayed as cravenly wanting to appease Germany by refusing to sanction an anti-Nazi satire in a Warsaw theatre.

There is some justice in this criticism, but if films were permitted footnotes, then a little bit of extra information would reveal that the Polish government was indeed under pressure from its western Allies who insisted that Poland should avoid doing anything which would antagonize Hitler. The people exerting this pressure on Poland have largely managed to distance themselves from this uncomfortable truth and Poland's belated mobilization in the face of the German assault has often been characterized as the result of governmental chaos alone, with no diplomatic input from Whitehall or the Quai d'Orsay.

As for the name Goldstein, many readers will know that the name was chosen not so long ago by German broadcaster ZDF for one of the five protagonists of its controversial TV series "Generation War" ("Our Mothers, Our Fathers"). I reviewed it at the Krakow Post.

It might seem churlish to suggest that ZDF could have been a bit more creative in its choice of names for its Jewish character. Then again, the same comment could be made about the name Kowalski as used by Tennessee Williams. "What's in a name?" asks Juliet. "A quick and handy shortcut, my beloved," Romeo might well have replied, "to an entire nation".

The second name in the list above is, of course, immediately associated with that of the current German chancellor. As an aside, it might be of interest to know that Angela Merkel has recently discovered that there was a Polish connection in her family, but the clearly German name Merkel in the title of this piece belongs to a Polish citizen, quite possibly of German descent, but no less patriotic for being so.

It need hardly be stressed that not all Polish nationals who bore German surnames were either Volksdeutsche or at least suspect in their allegiance to the state – one has only to think of army heroes such as Anders or Fieldorf – just as not all Poles who bore clearly Jewish surnames were Bolshevik fifth columnists or those with Ukrainian or Lithuanian surnames would have been happy to see the demise of the Polish Republic. Unfortunately stereotypes persist to this day.

The mention of stereotype brings me neatly to the third in the trio: that of Biegański, the name chosen by William Styron for his repellent, German-sympathizing, extreme nationalist character who is the father of Sophie in "Sophie's Choice" and who also gives his name to the blog you are reading and the book by Danusha Goska about stereotypes. Nowadays a rather classless ethnically Polish surname, it has no particular connotations of either aristocracy nor does it suggest any rural provenance; if anything, it is probably associated with the szlachta, the minor nobility of Poland.

I should now elaborate not only on my choice of illustration above but I should also offer an explanation for the choice of the three names in the title. May I say that since I have no photos of the trio of Goldstein, Merkel and Biegański – who were real people and all Polish citizens – I chose instead to show a photo of Alfred Schütz (composer of the famous Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino), Włada Majewska and Wiktor Budzyński, who were performers at the hugely popular above-mentioned radio station "Lwowska Fala". They are pictured here in Kraków in 1936.

And, you may ask, what about the names in the title? Anyone who has read my previous columns will not be surprised at the revelation that the names Goldstein, Merkel and Biegański – quite clearly not chosen at random – belong to Poles who were victims of the Second World War.

Would the three have known each other before the war? Possibly. They might have been a firm of lawyers, for instance, in Warsaw or in Kraków's Kazimierz district. Would they have socialized before the war? Again, quite possibly. Warsaw and Kraków and other cities were cosmopolitan centres. Contrary to the picture suggested by works such as Lanzmann's epic "Shoah", Poland was not exclusively mired in medieval ignorance and superstition or totally in thrall to backward clerics. It was precisely the cosmopolitan and progressive elements which were targeted for elimination by both Nazis and Soviets when they partitioned the country between them. Goldstein, Merkel and Biegański, citizens and patriots, might have been names found on the lists of victims of Auschwitz or Majdanek or any other of the death camps constructed by the Third Reich on Polish soil.

Instead, Second Lieutenant Salomon Goldstein, reserve officer Zygmunt Merkel, and Lieutenant Tadeusz Biegański were just three individuals among the thousands of Polish army officers who were murdered by Stalin's NKVD at the killing grounds of Katyń.

Farewell and rest in peace, Goldstein, Merkel, and Bieganski, martyred soldiers and representatives of a vanished world, and to borrow from Horatio in Shakespeare's Hamlet, may flights of angels sing you to your rest. 

Polish American Congress Bestows Polonia Award on Jan Peczkis

Jan Peczkis wrote to inform me that the Polish American Congress has bestowed upon him the Polonia Award in recognition of his 2,200 Amazon reviews. 

Let us congratulate Jan Peczkis for his undeniably impressive number of Amazon reviews, and for receiving the award. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Jewish Boy At Auschwitz. Random Memories Of An Accidental Visitor by Andrew Schonberger

A Jewish Boy At Auschwitz - Random Memories Of An Accidental Visitor.

"Hey, let's visit Auschwitz tomorrow," said one of the group leaders. We were standing in the Krakow train station, having just come back from the Wielicka salt mines. Trying to figure out what to do next day, we examined the placards showing trains running in all directions, and one of us noticed a familiar name. Auschwitz looked like an interesting destination, so everyone agreed.

We were on a student exchange of sorts, in the summer of 1973. Our group was made of 24 Romanian students. Our peer group was made of 24 Polish students, from an engineering faculty similar to ours. It worked like this: the Polish students came to Romania for a fortnight, on vacation. We arranged accommodation for them in student dorms which were unused in summer. The warm sands of the Black Sea did not disappoint.

Then, all 48 of us travelled together to Poland. But of course, we took a detour. I was the only Hungarian-speaker among them, but somehow managed to get accommodation in Budapest, for 48 students for 4 nights, overlooking the Danube. We've been less lucky in Prague, where we ended up sleeping in a railway carriage at the main station. There was relative freedom in our arrangements, as much as communism allowed for it. In Poland, we were traveling freely, needing only occasional help from our hosts. They arranged the accommodation and food, and it was up to us what to do.

Next day, as agreed, we took the westward train from Krakow and arrived at Auschwitz station. Without speaking the language, we found our way towards the museum. We passed a row of 20 different flags, arranged in an impressive arc. We all found the familiar flags: Romanian, Hungarian, Polish, German, etc. I was just standing there, looking, and looking. My close friend asked:

What are you looking at, Andrei ?

Oh, nothing, I am just looking for the Israeli flag.

I was 22 at the time, and I grew up with low expectations about acceptability and legitimacy. Other nations would hold their heads up high. I was to stay silent. But a second colleague picked up my thought, and asked the guide:

How come there is no Israeli flag ?

There were no Israeli citizens among the victims here.

The answer was logically correct. Aimed at our engineering heads, no one could object. We looked at each other, then we moved on. We passed through the rooms filled with shoes, or hair. There were lists of names. I could not find my grandmother, Sarah Weiss, but I did not expect the list to have the names of all 3 million people who perished at Auschwitz.

Out in the open again, the tourist trail led us to a shrine or something like that. I'm not sure what it actually was. There was a queue outside, perhaps 40 people, so we joined in waiting, without further questions. Soon, we noticed two men, in black robes, walking along both sides of the queue. They were taking the names of everyone in the queue, and putting together some kind of a list. We were watching what was going on ahead of us.

The priests, as they turned out to be, asked every visitor about his or hers religion. Communication wasn't perfect, because the foreigners didn't speak Polish. Everyone had approximate knowledge of other languages: German, French, English, Russian. No problem, tourists and their guides quickly become experts in using body language to talk. The priests put on a severe, motionless face, when they heard from a group of German tourists that they were of Lutheran faith.

Then, they got closer to us. First, they asked a lanky Romanian colleague about his religion. The question itself was a bit unusual for us. It was communism. We were studying computers and automation. At age 22, few of us cared about religion, but we had awareness of ancestry. So, my colleague answered he was Greco-Catholic. The priests indicated this is half right. Not the best, but passable - was the verdict on their face. Next in line were Orthodox Romanians. The priests looked irritated and they did not make any effort to hide it. Quite the opposite, their faces spoke of strong negativity. Soon their expression softened somewhat, when they found out we were not Russians.

The process was getting closer, and there was no escape. Everyone had to be on the list. A few more facial expressions followed, as my Transylvanian colleagues said they were either Unitarian or Calvinist. Finally, it was my turn. It was a difficult moment for me. Under the pressure of the moment, I said in German:

vielleicht ein Rabbiner (perhaps a rabbi)

The priests took a sudden step backwards, as if bitten by a snake. The one on the right, more senior, had red eyes and bulging veins on his forehead. They were both in genuine distress, gasping for air.

"No, no" - they said, in various languages. "No way"

Their arms were moving, their bodies were shaking, while they were repeating: "No, no, nein". They used all available languages to pass on the meaning to us, and we used all our comprehension to pick it up. The process took some time, and a circle of Romanians formed around the two revolted priests.

This was the moment when my Romanian colleagues exploded. I know how they felt, and we talked about it, both before, and after this incident. Romania is the Balkans. It's natural and beautiful, but undeveloped. My colleagues were going through a humiliating experience, as country after country seemed more developed, more clean, more civilised than their homeland. Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland - they all seemed superior, out of the home league. And then, unexpectedly, they found the chink in the armour of Europe. There was no rabbi at Auschwitz.

Suddenly, the oh-so-developed world looked less bright. The graceful bridges over the Danube may enchant at Budapest. The Old City of Prague may speak of Middle Age glory. At the Krakow Castle, gold may flow like river. But look, there is no rabbi at Auschwitz.

The language skills were insufficient to express fine nuances, but body language was unmistakable. Spit to the ground. The eyes of the priests turned more red, their anger was palpable. There was no physical contact. Quite the opposite, everyone took a step backward, to make space for big theatrical gestures expressing contempt and displeasure.

I started to feel uncomfortable, right there in the middle. So, I quietly moved away. This was not my fight, but in a way it felt good to have some solidarity on my side. After a few minutes, we left the scene, without ever finding out what the shrine was about.

I'm not reading too much into this story. It's just an episode. It's important to remember, that I wasn't part of any Jewish organisation at the time. There was no Jewish capital pressing the case. No bankers, no governments. Just a Jewish boy at Auschwitz.

By Andrew Schonberger

Response by D Goska

I "met" Andrew through Facebook. I love his posts. He is very smart and full of interesting stories, well told. I love his reflections on life in Mittleeuropa. My dad was Polish, my mother Slovak, with cultural ties to Hungary. She had also worked for Jews and was friends with many Jews. She dropped Yiddish phrases and cooked Jewish dishes. My grandmother's second husband was Lithuanian. I'm not one of those "All Poland all the time" Polonians. I appreciate the music, embroidery, food, and history of many Central Europeans.

Andrew reflects that big embrace.

I invited Andrew to contribute to this blog.

"What?" he asked.

"Anything" I responded. Andrew writes so well and he has so much to say.

When I read this contribution, I was troubled. The simple truth is I am doubtful about Andrew's depiction of the priests. I've met a fair number of Polish priests, and I've never had an encounter like the one described here. I have not met Polish priests who go through a werewolf-like transformation when they encounter Jews.

No, I'm not Jewish, but I am often assumed to be Jewish, including by Poles, and including by one Polish priest. He was nice to me. No werewolf transformation. No red eyes, no bulging veins, no gasping for air.

When I read Andrew's story, above, I remembered something that happened in Poland in 1998 when I was there for the "Ashkenaz, Theory and Nation" conference.

I was with about five Jewish scholars. We had gone out to dinner in Kazimierz. Mind: these were scholars. Tenured. At prestigious universities. Opinion makers.

A great deal of the conversation centered around Jewish victimization at the hands of non-Jews. No argument – there is plenty of fodder for such a conversation. Yes, there were pogroms in Poland after WW II. Yes, many Polish non-Jews did many bad things.

It's interesting, though, that we really didn't talk about much of anything else. Anyone "just arriving from Mars" and overhearing our conversation would certainly have enough data to conclude that Jews are nothing but victims, and Polish and other non-Jews are never anything but victimizers.

Later, we walked around Kazimierz, and back toward Krakow's stare miasto, or old town.

We were standing against a wall of one of the ancient buildings and some Poles passed. One of scholars said, "There. Did you hear that? Those young thugs just cursed us out and said horrible, anti-Semitic things about us."

I stared at her. "What?"

She insisted. The young men who had just passed us, who had looked like garden variety young men to me, to her, were thugs. Their words, which I had heard as nothing of any import, were certainly anti-Semitic threats.

I had heard no such thing. Nothing. Nothing that even sounded like the word "Jew" in Polish.

There were no cameras. There were no audio recording devices. Almost twenty years have passed. Those young men are middle-aged now. "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

I love Andrew's writing and am honored to include on this blog anything Andrew cares to contribute, now and in the future.

Yes, the Nazis' anti-Semitism was certainly disguised by the Soviets who dominated Poland after WW II. And as soon as Poles ousted the Soviets in 1989, they began correcting their history, including at Auschwitz. The Nazis' focus on the Jews was brought forward, as it should be.

But these priests? I doubt them. Andrew is certain of them.

"People are always shouting they want to create a better future. It's not true. The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone. The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past. They are fighting for access to the laboratories where photographs are retouched and biographies and histories rewritten."

Milan Kundera The Book of Laughter and Forgetting 1979


Here is Andrew's response to my response:

Searching through memory, further details come back. There was to be a series of religious services in that shrine, in memory of the relatives of visitors. The priests were organising the services, so they had to know what kind of prayers each visitor whished for. This gives a practical context to the events.

Also, there is no proof the people running the list were priests. If you are a non-religious person, living in non-religious times, and you see two men in long black robes with large crosses on their chest - well, you assume they would be priests. At any rate, they were probably not too not high in the hierarchy. Senior figures don't do open-air duty, organising the crowd by denomination.

Credit goes to Danusha Goska for providing the blog for publishing this and the air of cooperative debate to comment on this. My mother tongue is Hungarian, my entire schooling is Romanian, my army duty is Hebrew, my life's work is in English. I live in Australia and I don't write much outside my personal Facebook page. Yet, I'm finding myself responding with great pleasure to Danusha's invitation to contribute to the development of Polish Jewish relations. It's a compliment to the owner of this blog.

Adam Aston and Henry Vars: The Sound of the Anders Army. By Michal Karski

Adam Aston and Henry Vars
by Michal Karski

So many Jewish lives were cut short during the wartime occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany that to write about any Polish Jew living a long life is unusual; to write about individuals not only escaping the horrors of the time but going on to have successful careers is exceptional.

There is a frequent riposte made by Polish nationalists to the equally frequent charge made by detractors that all Polish Christians were (or are) incorrigible anti-Semites. Polish Jews, say the nationalists, tended to be sympathetic to the USSR and therefore their loyalty to the Polish state was suspect.

As with any charge made by any group against any other, the idea of generalising is futile. There may have been those who were ideologically sympathetic to Communism and eventually managed to accommodate themselves to the post-war Stalinist regime, while others refused to do so.

The two whose stylish studio portraits are featured above were in the latter category. They both joined the Anders Army, when the so-called ‘Amnesty’ – the agreement between the Polish government-in-exile and the Soviet authorities, following Hitler’s attack on his former ally, the USSR – permitted the formation of Polish forces on Russian soil. Instead of taking the opportunity to remain in what was later to become Israel, as some Jewish soldiers did, while the army was training in the Middle East, they stayed loyal to their army oath and went on to take part in the Italian campaign with the Polish Second Corps.
Adam Aston: one of many Polish Jews who fought at Monte Cassino

Adam Aston was one of the most popular artists in Poland between the wars. He was born Adolf Loewinsohn in 1902 in Warsaw. He volunteered to fight in the Polish-Soviet war in 1920. Although he began to study law University in 1923, he gave up his studies after two years to take up a job with a Dutch import firm, meanwhile concentrating on music.

Although he had ambitions to sing in opera, he became a singer, actor, and pianist in the light entertainment mode. He became popular after joining the ensemble called Chór Warsa founded by Henryk Wars. He performed songs in Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish and often worked with Wars at the Morskie Oko cabaret in Warsaw. He also recorded under the names J. Kierski, Adam Wiński and Ben-Lewi, the last of which he used when recording in Hebrew.

According to Wikipedia and the Biblioteka Polskiej Piosenki, he recorded for Syrena Records, Odeon, Parlophone, Columbia and Lonora, singing as many as 960 songs between 1930-1939. He appeared in the film Szyb L-23 of 1932 and also in two musical comedy films: Dwie Joasie and Manewry miłosne in 1935. He was also in Ordynat michorowski in 1937.

He was contracted to sing for Polish Radio and performed at every New Year’s concert. Here he is with the Henryk Wars Orchestra singing a tango with lyrics by Marian Hemar:

After the outbreak of World War II Aston was evacuated with the Polish Radio Orchestra to Lwów which was by that time under Soviet occupation. In late 1941 he joined the Polish II Corps being formed by General Anders and in 1944 fought at the famous and crucial battle of Monte Cassino in Italy. He later joined his friend Wars as part of the Polska Parada cabaret organized by Feliks Konarski (pseudonym Ref-Ren). Konarski, along with composer Alfred Schütz, had written the famous Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino at the site of the battle.

The song was first performed by Gwidon Borucki but it was Aston who first recorded it in Milan in 1946, singing the last verse in Italian. He went on to sing the song in the film Wielka Droga directed by Michał Waszyński and Vittorio Cottafavi in 1946. According to the Biblioteka Polskiej Piosenki, he also appeared in a film with Anna Magnani in 1945 but the film’s title is not specified.

After the war he emigrated to South Africa, where he occasionally performed in a Polish club in Johannesburg and in 1960 he moved to the United Kingdom. In London he took part in the Polish theatre and became a member of the Związek Artystow Scen Polskich, the association of Polish theatre artists. He was awarded several Polish and British medals, among them the Monte Cassino Cross. He died in London in 1993.

sources: Wikipedia and Biblioteka Polskiej Piosenki


Henry Vars: from Warsaw to Hollywood

The career of Henry Vars is truly a remarkable success story. He was born Henryk Warszawski in 1902 in Warsaw into a musical family. His older sister Józefina was a soloist with the Warsaw Opera and later at La Scala, Milan. Paulina, the younger one, was a pianist. Brought up in a patriotic atmosphere, just like Aston, he volunteered to fight in the Polish-Bolshevik war of 1920. He graduated from the Warsaw Conservatory in 1925, was music director for Syrena Records for several years, and gained fame, using the name Henryk Wars, as a composer of popular songs and film scores. He has been described as the ‘pioneer of swing music in Poland’. Wikipedia likens his importance to Polish music to that of Irving Berlin in America. Others compare him to Cole Porter or George Gershwin.

His first film score was composed for Na Sybir (1930). His songs were sung by, among others: Adam Aston, Mieczysław Fogg, Hanka Ordonówna, who had a hit with Miłość ci wszystko wybaczy (featuring lyrics by poet Julian Tuwim and used in the film Szpieg w masce of 1933) and the Lwów comedians Szczepko and Tońko (Henryk Vogelfänger and Kazimierz Wajda). He also collaborated with lyricists Marian Hemar and Emanuel Szlechter. His music is featured in the film Piętro wyżej of 1937. One of Wars’s songs from that time Umówiłem się z nią na dziewiątą was featured decades later in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist.

He was drafted into the army and fought in the September Campaign. Taken prisoner by the Germans, he managed to escape, either from a train, according to one source, r from a prison camp, according to another. He made his way to Soviet-occupied Lwów, where he was lucky to avoid the fate of his one-time musical collaborator Emanuel Szlechter, who died in the Janowska concentration camp. After the German attack on Russia in 1941, when Stalin found that he needed the Polish army as allies instead of enemies, Wars joined the Polish Army which was being formed by General Anders. He travelled through the Middle East and then on to the Italian Campaign with the Polish II Corps, boosting morale as part of the Polska Parada cabaret.

Wars in Tel-Aviv with his wife Elizabeth in 1944
source: Polish Music Newsletter

Wars emigrated to the USA after the war, where he changed his name to Vars and after seven years of unemployment and poverty, he managed to resume his musical career. He struggled to establish himself on the musical scene because he had no recordings of his music available to demonstrate his talents – everything had gone up in flames during the destruction of Warsaw. Nevertheless, he persisted and eventually gained commissions. Over the succeeding years he composed many film and television scores, including the family TV serials Flipper and Daktari. His songs were sung by many performers who included Margaret Whiting singing “Over and Over and Over” ( a version of which was recorded by Polish singer Anna German), Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Brenda Lee and Dinah Shore. According to the Nowy Dziennik, he lived in style in Hollywood where one of his neighbours was the film star Gregory Peck. Vars died in California in 1977.

sources: Film Polski Filmography of Wars http://www.filmpolski.pl/fp/index.php?osoba=117487
Nowy Dziennik: Henryk Wars- Ukochany kompozytor Warszawy
Polish Music Journal: The Film Scores of Henry Vars in the United States by Linda Schubert
Aston and Vars in the RFE archives:
The following clip of Vars and his orchestra with vocals by Adam Aston features photos of an elegant pre-war Warsaw:
The Anders Army is the subject of a new book by Norman Davies

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Poland's Jewish Kings

Piast. Michał Elwiro Andriolli Stara Basn
Poland has had two Jewish kings.

According to legend.

The first was Abraham Prochownik. Prochownik means "powder-maker."

In 842, according to one retelling, a Jewish man, Abraham Prochownik, was invited to become the next king of an embryonic Poland. If he turned this invitation down, it was implied, he would be put to death. Prochownik regarded this invitation with hesitance, and made a speech arguing for the coronation of Piast, peasant and wheelwright. Prochwnik's oratory was so persuasive that Piast, indeed, became king, establishing a dynasty

Here's Gershon David Hundert describing the Prochownik legend in his review of the 2001 Wayne State University book Jewish Poland: Legends of Origin. Ethnopoetics and Legendary Chronicles by Haya bar-Itzhak.

"Several versions of the story of Abraham Prochownik, the Jew who was offered the Polish crown, are compared in the third chapter. Polish nobles, despairing because of their own feuding over how and whom they would choose as king, finally resolved that the first person to enter the town the next morning would be acclaimed as monarch. This turned out to be the Jewish merchant/peddler, Abraham Prochownik. By a wise subterfuge, he leads the noble-electors to acclaim Piast, ancestor of the first Polish dynasty, as their king.

As Bar-Itzhak points out, this legend confers antiquity on Jewish residence in Poland, legitimizes their commercial activities, glorifies Polish Jews as responsible for the ascension of the famous Piast dynasty and asserts that, even in 'the good old days,' they did not seek power for themselves in the state. 

Like most of the other tales, the earliest known versions of this story date from the 19th century, and the story could be and was used in the struggle for the expansion of Jewish rights. According to the author, there is also in this legend a message directed to a Jewish audience. Judaism recognizes a legitimate Jewish kingship only in the Land of Israel; accepting dominion in an adopted country is tantamount to assimilation. The rejection of the crown transmits a message that living in Poland does not mean relinquishing Jewish identity – a message that was particularly relevant in the nineteenth century."

Poland's other Jewish king was Saul Wahl. Here are Isidore Singer and Julius Gottlieb retelling his legend in the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia

Saul Wahl was "a remarkable personage who, according to tradition, occupied for a short time the throne of Poland. The story connected with his reign is as follows: Prince Nicholas Radziwill, surnamed the Black, who lived in the sixteenth century, desiring to do penance for the many atrocities he had committed while a young man, undertook a pilgrimage to Rome in order to consult the pope as to the best means for expiating his sins. The pope advised him to dismiss all his servants and to lead for a few years the life of a wandering beggar. After the expiration of the period prescribed, Radziwill found himself destitute and penniless in the city of Padua, Italy.

His appeals for help were heeded by nobody, and his story of being a prince was received with scorn and ridicule. He finally decided to appeal to Samuel Judah Katzenellenbogen, the rabbi of Padua. The latter received him with marked respect, treated him very kindly, and furnished him with ample means for returning to his native country in a manner befitting his high rank.

When the time for departure came the prince asked the rabbi how he could repay him for his kindness. The rabbi then gave him a picture of his son Saul, who years before had left for Poland, and asked the prince to try and find the boy in one of the many yeshibot of that country. The prince did not forget the request. Upon his return to Poland he visited every yeshibah in the land, until finally he discovered Saul in that of Brest-Litovsk. He was so captivated by the brilliancy and depth of Saul's intellect that he took him to his own castle, provided for all his wants, and supplied him with all possible means for study and investigation. The noblemen who visited Radziwill's court marveled at the wisdom and learning of the young Jew, and thus the fame of Saul spread throughout Poland.

When King Bathori died (1586) the people of Poland were divided into two factions: the Zamaikis [sic] and the Zborowskis. There were quite a number of candidates for the throne, but the contending parties could agree upon no one. There existed at that time in Poland a law which stipulated that the throne might not remain unoccupied for any length of time, and that in case the electors could not agree upon a candidate an outsider should be appointed 'rex pro tempore' (temporary king).

This honor was then offered to Radziwill; but he refused, saying that there was a man who belonged to neither party, and who in wisdom and goodness was far superior to any one else he knew. That man possessed only one very slight shortcoming, and if the Diet would make his election unanimous, he (Radziwill) would acquaint it with his name. Accordingly, Saul's name was solemnly proposed; and amid great enthusiasm, and shouts of 'Long live King Saul!' Wahl was elected to this high office. The name 'Wahl' was given him from the German word 'wahl' (= 'election').

Traditions disagree as to the length of his reign. Some state that he ruled one night only; others make it a few days. All, however, are agreed that Saul succeeded in passing a number of very wise laws, and among them some that tended to ameliorate the condition of the Jews in Poland. Although this story cannot be supported by any historical data, it gained a firm place in the belief of the people."