Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Timothy Snyder on Poles, Jews, and the Home Army

There is an excellent article about Poles, Jews, and the Home Army by Timothy Snyder in the New York Review of Books.

There are at least two stereotypical understandings of the Home Army or Armia Krajowa, the organized Polish anti-Nazi resistance. Some have condemned it as nothing but anti-Semitic. Unfortunately that false image has been disseminated by university-press published books. Others cherish an image of the Home Army as without fault. Sadly, that is not true, either. Snyder insists that a real historian's job is "Getting the balance right."

Snyder opens with a disturbing episode:

"The hangings took place on the last day of August 1941, on the town square of Wierzbnik, in what had once been central Poland. Two years had passed since the joint German-Soviet invasion that had destroyed the Polish state; ten weeks before, the Germans had betrayed their ally and invaded the Soviet Union. Wierzbnik, home to Poles and Jews, lay within the General Government, a colony that the Germans had made from parts of their Polish conquests. As Poles left church that Sunday morning, they saw before them a gallows. The German police had selected sixteen or seventeen Poles – men, women, and at least one child. Then they ordered a Jewish execution crew, brought from the ghetto that morning, to carry out the hangings. The Poles were forced to stand on stools; then the Jews placed nooses around their necks and kicked the stools away. The bodies were left to dangle."

This is reminiscent of Anthony Hecht's poem "More Light! More Light!" which includes his description of an episode that begins:

"We move now to outside a German wood.
Three men are there commanded to dig a hole
In which the two Jews are ordered to lie down
And be buried alive by the third, who is a Pole."

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