Monday, July 27, 2020

As If By Magic, Jurek Leder Appears in My Inbox, with a Virtuti Militari

Andzrej Stankiewicz provides this caption:
Józio, son of Artur, Jurek, son of Stach, my aunt Irena, Janek, younger brother of Jurek, and Seweryn Jan, my father. 

"Józef Piłsudski decorates officers with the Virtuti Militari cross for disarming the Germans in 1918"

Five years ago, on November 18, 2015, Piotr Rybak, a troublemaking buffoon, burned a Jew in effigy in Wroclaw, Poland.

As reported by the JTA: "Rybak's defense attorney reminded the court that the effigy — which included a black hat, beard, side curls and black clothing — was burnt during a demonstration against the taking in of Muslim refugees and not against the Jewish community. Rybak had previously told the court that the effigy was meant to represent philanthropist George Soros, an American Jewish billionaire."

The prosecuting attorney, Katarzyna Zagwojska, saw things differently. "For everyone living in Poland after World War II it is a clear statement of the terms 'burning' and 'a Jew.' This gesture should be read as a threat of annihilation, eg. by burning."

Rybak was sentenced to ten, then three months in prison. The judge, Robert Zdych, said, "It was a shameful act because he showed Poland in the eyes of the world as a country of xenophobes."

Rybak remains active, and he continues to commit crimes. See here.

When I heard about Rybak burning a Jew in effigy, I was distraught. I have no way of responding to powerful haters who makes headlines around the world. I have no way of reaching the Jews who were offended, frightened, and disgusted by Rybak's crime.

I just did not know what to do, but I knew I had to do something.

I posted about Rybak's hate crime, here.

I decided to post ten posts dedicated to Polish Jews. That series of posts begins here. I posted salutes to Jankiel, Queen Esterka, the Slovak Jew who saved my mother's life, Hayom Salomon, Abraham Prochownik, and Saul Wahl. I am very grateful to Michal Karski for his guest blog posts saluting to Marian Hemar, Adam Aston, and Henry Vars.

I also saluted Jurek Leder.

When I was doing the research for Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype, I encountered many remarkable stories that I could never reference in my work or share with anyone. They were destined to remain in my memory. As I wrote in 2015:

I was doing a massive amount of reading that would inform the book Bieganski. I read Polish history, Jewish history, Polish-Jewish history. I read about stereotypes. I read about the Holocaust and I read about other atrocities including the Rwandan and Cambodian genocides. I read memoirs, scholarly and newspaper articles and internet postings by average Joes. Thousands of pages. Authors long dead and very much alive and still punching. I eventually received emails or phone calls from many of the players in Polish-Jewish relations. I was swimming in an ocean of words so vast that I could not see dry land.

In all that verbiage, I have forgotten plenty of things. Sometimes I stumble across a book, think, "I should read this book," and realize that I'd read it, reviewed it, and quoted it.

There are passages that, for whatever reason, moved me so much I have never shaken them. One concerned Jurek Leder, mentioned in Mary Berg's Warsaw Diary. Mary Berg wrote:

Jurek Leder, my close friend, who now works for the Jewish police, is also a passionate Polish patriot. 'If only I could get out and join the partisans!' He says. 'At least I could fight for Poland then. I love my country and even if a hundred anti-Semites try to convince me that I am not a Pole I'll prove it with my fists if not my words.' Leder's father is a captain in the Polish army and is presently interned in Russia. [One must assume that Leder's father was murdered, along with other Polish military officers, at places like Katyn.]

There are many such Jews who would gladly sacrifice their lives for Poland who, at present, are working in the underground. There are many Jews who grit their teeth and keep silent, and blush with shame and humiliation when, as sometimes happens, a Pole throws a stone from the other side of the walls into the ghetto. Recently, on Chlodna Street, Poles passing by in trucks hurled stones at showcases and windows of private apartments, emitting wild cries of triumph as they rode by.

Some Jews are ashamed to admit that Poland is their fatherland, although they love it, because they remember how often their Polish co-citizens have said to them, 'Go back to Palestine, Jew,' or how, at the University, the Jewish students were assigned to the ghetto benches and were often attacked by many Gentiles students for no other crime than their Jewish faith. It is a fact that many Gentiles in Warsaw have been infected by Hitler's propaganda. Naturally, there are people who see the error of such ways, but they are afraid to say anything because they would at once be accused of having a Jewish grandfather or grandmother or even of having been bribed by the Jews.

Only a few, and these are members of the working-class parties, speak up openly, and these, for the most part, are fighting in the partisan units. If all the Aryan Poles got together and tried to help the Jews in the ghetto, they could do a great deal for us. For instance, they could procure Aryan certificates for many Jews, give them shelter in their homes, facilitate their escape over the walls, and so on and so forth. But of course it's easier to throw stones into the ghetto."

My blog post saluting Jurek Leder contains further resources addressing Berg's charges about Poles not helping enough. You can see that here.

After I posted that blog post, Jurek Leder retreated back into my memory. He was a real person, not a fictional character, and he was not famous, so I never thought I'd ever encounter any mention of Jurek again. He would, of course, continue to live in my memory and my heart, as a Jew who faced Polish anti-Semitism and wanted to fight for Poland, a country he and I both love.

Imagine how surprised and moved I was late last year when I received an email, out of the blue, from Andrzej Stankiewicz, who is related to Jurek Leder. Andrzej was kind enough to send me photos, so I could put a face to the name, and a brief account of how Jurek passed. I asked Andrzej permission to share this material on the blog, and Andrzej kindly granted permission.

It's been seven months since we corresponded, and I'm only posting this material now. Why did it take me so long?

I knew I would get choked up. In fact I am holding back tears right now.

There has been so much suffering, and so much injustice, on planet Earth. I read about it for my dissertation. One of the most haunting sentences I read was about the Cambodian genocide. It appeared in the New York Times many years ago. Prisoners in the Tuol Sleng prison were tortured till they confessed to anything their captors wanted them to confess to. As at Auschwitz, the demons at Tuol Sleng kept detailed notes, and photographed their victims. The New York Times reported that there is so much documentation on the Cambodian genocide that no one will probably ever read all of it. In fact, my spell check underlines the words "Tuol Sleng" in red, as if I am misspelling them. That is how little attention has been paid to this prison, where over 18,000 people were tortured to death.

That sentence – about no one ever reading all the documentation on the Cambodian genocide – broke my heart. It's bad enough to be tortured and murdered by madmen. It's somehow worse, in my mind, never to have your story heard by any single other human being.

The least I could do is remember the name of one person, the story of one person, and I have tried to do that. Thus, I remember Jurek Leder. When Andrzej reached out to me with is actual photo and a bit more of his story, it moved me deeply.

Andrzej's photos and email text are below.

Here is the promised photograph of Jurek Leder and his cousins.

In the photograph, from left to right: Józio, son of Artur, Jurek, son of Stach, my aunt Irena, Janek, younger brother of Jurek, and Seweryn Jan, my father. The picture was taken shortly before the war. Of those five only my aunt and my father survived, because my grandmother decided to flee Łódź with her children in November 1939, on the very day when Jews were told to start wearing the yellow armbands. They went to the East and after an illegal night-crossing of the German-Soviet border they reunited with my grandfather who was already there. My great grandmother Ewa refused to go with them and perished in the Warsaw ghetto two or three years later.

In the other photograph you can see the grave of Jurek Leder at the Brodno cemetery in Warsaw. The headstone was funded by his father, Stach, who had survived the war and emigrated to Israel where he died in 1966.

Within the family, there are two versions of the circumstances of Jurek's death. One says that he was shot by the Germans during an action in the neighborhood of Plac Zbawiciela in Warsaw. The other says that he was captured by the Germans and committed suicide, in order not to disclose his comrades. He was posthumously distinguished with the Virtuti Militari cross.

About the Virtuti Militari cross awarded to Jurek Leder: "The War Order of Virtuti Militari (Latin: "For Military Virtue", Polish: Order Wojenny Virtuti Militari) is Poland's highest military decoration for heroism and courage in the face of the enemy at war. It was created in 1792 by Polish King Stanisław II August and is one of the oldest military decorations in the world still in use." (Wikipedia)

Marshal Józef Piłsudski decorates with the Silver Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari the banner of the 1st Krechowiecki Lancers Regiment, Tomaszów Lubelski, 20 March. Leonard Winterowski


  1. I do not burn anything and I do not like Piotr Rybak. But is burning effiges illegal in the USA? Georg Soros is unpopular in Poland, because he supports one side of the political conflict. Many countires do not allow such involvement.

  2. There existed in pre-war Poland many social and ethnic conflicts. Please do not reduce them to 'Polish-Jewish' conflict. Only small portion of children of Polish peasants studied at universities, so university conflicts had social roots. A number of US universities imposed quotas on Jewish students after the Holocaust. The governmentg of pOland was conservative, iut did not apply 'postive discrimination' creating universities for peasants.

  3. Danusha, this is a wonderful blog post about a remarkable man. Thanks for sharing it with your readers.

    1. Liron thank you very much for reading and commenting. I'm glad you "got" the post.

    2. Hello,

      Inscription on tombstone reads:

      Jerzy Leder-Lechowski
      Second lieutenant of Home Army
      Knight of the Order of Virtuti Militari
      Fell in battle against the occupier
      on day 15.6.1943 in 20th year of life
      To Dearest Son

    3. Lukasz, thank you so much! You have good eyes!

    4. You're welcome Dr Goska. So far I don't need glasses :)

      I was thinking about writing another article for Your blog.
      About a little-known war hero.

  4. Poland has a long list of prisons, eg. Two heroes Pilecki and Fieldorf have no graves till today. Many Polish fighters were imprisoned both by German Nazis and Polish Communists and sometimes the Poles were worse.

  5. Good article. Great to be able to put a face to the name. Also I'm impressed by Lukasz Klimek's eyesight.

    Thanks for the name check, Danusha. As it happens, a school friend has just ordered a copy of my book having seen it on your blog. The name of Marian Hemar, which you reference above, gets a mention in the book, since he was a contributor to Radio Free Europe and that is part of the background. Also, there is a slight parallel to the person of Jurek Leder in a short episode about a fictional character called Tadeusz Kellerman, who fought in the '44 Uprising.

    For anyone interested - it's a blend of fact and fiction, with lots of music playlists for any music lovers. Here's a plug:

    Best wishes to all

  6. Holocaust education or misinformation? David Cesariani in his 'Final Solution' criticizes Holocaust education in the UK, but I assume that the educators make similar errors in the USA. Neither Polish academy nor diplomats research the problem. More and more pupils will be 'educated'. Are the educators educated?


Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
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