Sunday, February 27, 2011

Polish Scum Responds

A photo of Poles and Polish Americans.
Do we look like scum to you?
If so, why? 

On July 28, 2007, the Boston Globe published "Silence Lifts on Poland's Jews," an essay by Rabbi Joseph Polak, Director of the Florence and Chafetz Hillel House at Boston University.

Rabbi Polak's essay is now on the homepage of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

That is unfortunate.

Quickly after its 2007 appearance in the Boston Globe, a fan cut and pasted Rabbi Polak's essay to another website, with a new title. The new title was "Polish Scum."

Rabbi Polak, in "Silence Lifts on Poland's Jews," exploits the brute Polak stereotype that "Bieganski" exposes and critiques.

Rabbi Polak's essay begins with his equation of Poland with the murder of Jews. Poland has no other identity in Rabbi Polak's essay.

Jews, Rabbi Polak reports, "were brought there to be murdered." Note Rabbi Polak's use of the passive voice. Had Rabbi Polak used the active voice, he would have had to identify who brought Jews to Poland to be murdered. Rewrite Rabbi Polak's opening sentence in the active voice: "German Nazis brought Jews to occupied Poland to murder them."

That is a very different sentence.

Provide a key detail: "German Nazis brought Jews to occupied Poland to murder them in concentration camps that included Polish prisoners and Polish victims."

With the inclusion of that key detail in the opening sentence, the entire essay becomes a different essay.

In Rabbi Polak's lengthy essay, Germans are mentioned, once, in passing, in the third paragraph. What did these Germans do? They offered "a little help" to Poles in murdering Jews.

In Rabbi Polak's worldview, now sanctioned by the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Germans didn't build Auschwitz to incarcerate, torture and murder Poles, eighteen months before its dedication to Jewish victims – although, in historical fact, they did. Germans didn't kill Poles for helping Jews – again, they actually did. Germans didn't commit what historian Michael Phayer called a genocide of Polish Catholics, before they got down to the genocide of the Jews. But they did. In Rabbi Polak's essay, none of that happened. Rabbi Polak's selective focus contributes to his depiction of Poles as scum.

Rabbi Polak allows that, in 2007, after his visit, "Poles are finally beginning to deal with these ghosts in their midst."

Rabbi Polak's word choices locate essentially anti-Semitic Poland, languishing in the past, and contrast that Poland with the future, and modern, evolved persons like himself and other non-Poles, who visit Poland and teach Poles about their debased state.

Thanks to visits like his, Rabbi Polak reports, Poles are learning to be "thoughtful." They are learning to be "truthful." Poland is "turning a corner," an American expression meaning to begin a new direction. Before the arrival of Rabbi Polak and others like him, not thought and truth, but stupidity and lies, had constituted the Polish character.

Poland, foolishly, saw itself as a "victim among victims" of Nazi aggression.

In fact, Rabbi Polak and other disseminators of the brute Polak stereotype are the ones who falsify history. Poland very much was a "victim among victims." To deny Nazism's, and communism's goals and crimes against Poland is tantamount to Holocaust denial.

Warsaw, 1945 source

Poland, Rabbi Polak reports, never referred to its Jews; Poland was silent. Again, this is false. Poles very much did address the Holocaust before the arrival of Rabbi Polak; this is recorded in English-language books that Rabbi Polak could and should have cited, including several volumes of "Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry" and "Bondage to the Dead."

It is true that public discourse about anything and everything was deeply distorted and truncated under the Communists. This distortion of public discourse was proverbial and all-pervasive. Public discourse was corrupted around everything from Soviet economics – "We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us" – to the chronic shortage of feminine hygiene products. A government that penalizes citizens for mentioning consumer-goods shortages is not going to allow vigorous discussion of the Holocaust.

Though not hampered by Soviet oppression, American and Israeli Jews also long-delayed their own response to the Holocaust. As Peter Novick, Jerzy Kosinski and Tom Segev have pointed out, there was measurably more attention paid to the Holocaust in America and Israel generations after WW II ended than during the war itself.

Even so, even under impossible conditions, Poles managed to publish essays, poetry, and broadsides, and to make films. Poles like Czeslaw Milosz, Jerzy Ficowski, Jan Blonski, Marcel Lozinski and Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, and institutions like the Jagiellonian University, took up the issue of the Holocaust and Polish culpability when it was risky to do so. Even simple Polish wood carvers chose to commemorate Poland's lost Jews in their carvings, and announced that they did so to rescue the memory of their lost Jewish neighbors.

Jerzy Kosinski visited Poland, his birthplace, long before Rabbi Polak got there. In 1988, he published an essay about his experience. He wrote that returning to Poland after many years away, he was eagerly received by young people. "With so much Jewish cultural legacy steaming from the spiritually fertile Polish soil, to these young men and women Polish-Jewish relations are a mystery – mystery, not stigmata. They are as prompted to know me better as I am eager to know them." This process was a mutually fruitful exchange, Kosinski reported. He reported that he was so "rejuvenated by what I found within myself during my twelve days in Poland [that] I started a new romance with my thousand-year-old, Polish-Jewish soul."

Rabbi Polak says that Poland's treatment of Jews was a "mixed bag," that Poland made an effort, "centuries long, of preserving the Jews' otherness." This statement is bizarre. Jews enjoyed a great deal of autonomy in Poland. Leaders of the Jewish community used that autonomy to preserve Jews' otherness. Every historian working on Polish-Jewish relations agrees on this point. The average Boston Globe reader would not know that. Thus, Rabbi Polak gets away with saying something that is utterly contrary to the historical record – something that serves a racist stereotype.

Because Poles are themselves so unevolved, outsiders, modern, superior, non-Poles, must, as Rabbi Polak puts it, "make Poland itself cry for its murdered Jews."

No Pole, before Rabbi Polak and other superior, modern people arrived, has ever felt any sadness over the Holocaust. As Rabbi Polak puts it, visitors will ask, "Does anybody here miss them?" It will take outsiders to bring to Poles' attention that they haven't the emotional depth to miss or to mourn Poland's murdered Jews. Again, these non-Polish visitors will force upon debased Poles a key question: "Why Poland did so little to save" its Jews.

Why did Poland do so little to save Jews? Rabbi Polak leaves the question a rhetorical one. He never attempts to answer it. Answers are complicated, of course. One quick and easy answer is the conditions of Nazi occupation in Poland. This catastrophic, genocidal occupation is a bagatelle to Rabbi Polak. Poland murdered its Jews, Rabbi Polak says, "with a little help from Germans," mentioning the Germans only once, in passing, in his lengthy essay. Poland and the Poles' debased essence are fully responsible for the Holocaust. As Rabbi Polak puts it, "death oozes everywhere from its [Poland's] pores."

After I read Rabbi Polak's piece in 2007, I was troubled. How to describe, in a short essay that the Boston Globe might consider publishing, in fewer than one thousand words, all that was misleading, racist, and harmful in Rabbi Polak's piece? How to present deeply complicated truths?

I wrote the piece, below, and sent it to the Boston Globe and the rabbi himself. Weeks went by. I received no reply from the Boston Globe. I resubmitted and received a form rejection.

Below, please find my response to "Silence Lifts on Poland's Jews" submitted to, and rejected by the Boston Globe:


In 1941, Oswald Rufeisen was walking along a street. A peasant passed on a horse cart. The stranger gestured for Rufeisen to join him. "The Nazis are murdering Jews. I will hide you." Rufeisen was incredulous; Germans were civilized. Who was this Pole? Was this a trap? The Pole persisted. Rufeisen gave in. The Pole saved Rufeisen's life.

In 1987, I was attending a Polish-Jewish conference. Our meetings roiled, like a summer thunderstorm. I had been debating all night with the son of a concentration camp survivor. We took a break around dawn, silently strolling Krakow's cobblestones. Viewing glistening dewdrops on a spider web, this young Canadian Jew, who had never before been to Poland, began to recite, in Polish, the poetry of national bard Adam Mickiewicz.

I study Polish-Jewish relations. In hell, one discovers diamonds unavailable in any other mine. One example: Stefania Podgorska, a Polish teenager who saved 13 Jews thanks to a disembodied voice that directed her to shelter.

I've read thousands of books, articles, and internet posts. I've met key historical figures. I've traveled to Poland and Israel. I've conducted hundreds of interviews. You think I'm about to say, "This qualifies me." Think again. The more I read, the more I am agog, the more I want to say, "I have no right to speak." Because, in the Polish-Jewish narrative, whipsawing plot twists never let up. One example: after the war, Podgorska was dismissed, by a Jew she saved, as an inferior and superfluous "goyka." So, I do speak, because mainstream media simplifies this narrative beyond recognition.

What I think I've learned is this: hate, all hate, is wrong; and human beings, including those we least suspect, shelter reservoirs of goodness and strength.

The years before World War Two were a perfect storm. A toxic cloud circled the globe. Scientific Racism, a perversion of Darwinism, pitted "races" in a struggle for survival of the fittest. American racists cited "evidence" that Poles and Jews, inter alia, were essentially unfit; their entry was barred in 1924. In England, Nazism's sympathizers included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. In Poland, some nationalists, the Endeks, struggling against three occupying empires, rejected Poland's traditional tolerance, and adopted a Poland-for-Poles stance. World War I, the Russian Revolution, the Versailles Treaty, and the Depression set the stage for racism's most diabolical manifestation: Nazism.

Massive, bulky narratives – a thousand years of Polish-Jewish relations and the black hole of World War Two – are simplified by sound bite culture: Poles become essential anti-Semites; everyone else, including the British Royal Family and followers of Oswald Mosley and Churchill and Roosevelt who heard Jan Karski's report and did not act, the Ivy League universities, the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, that all supported Scientific Racism – everyone – is exculpated. The essential, brute Polak takes on everyone's guilt. Important voices like Adam Michnik and Ewa Hoffman have refuted this charge; some of their fellow Jews have criticized them for mending fences with Poles.

Not Poland's good name – neither vanity nor even honor – is the treasure at stake here. Read the primary documents of Scientific Racism. Gathering only enough "evidence" to explain our fellow human beings as essentially different is exactly racism's error.

We may convince ourselves that this or that anecdote proves that Poles are essentially anti-Semitic … that African Americans are essentially lazy … that Jews are … fill-in-the-blank.

That method of thought, that is so easy, that is slickly seductive, that rewards our synapses with the conviction that we've got it all figured out, is what we must resist. Not for the sake of the Poles. Not for the sake of the African Americans, the Muslims or the Jews. We must resist that form of thought for ourselves. We must retain our intellectual and spiritual integrity, in a world that tempts us to believe that human beings and entire nations can be divided between the good and the bad, with us, and our nation, always firmly in the former category.

If you asked me where I am, in my twenty years of study of Polish-Jewish relations, I would tell you that every time I crack a new book, every time I interview a new source, I take that proverbial journey-inaugurating first step; I see a new horizon. I can't enumerate here the facts that counter the sound bite of Poles as essential anti-Semites. I can, though, say that when you find some evidence that convinces you that your neighbor is something essentially other than yourself, that is exactly when you must begin to question.


When his "Polish Scum" essay first appeared, I emailed Rabbi Polak and informed him of my concerns. Other concerned Polonians did, as well. Rabbi Polak was intransigent; he reported no movement in this thoughts about Poles.

I have sent Rabbi Polak an e-mail informing him of this blog post, and invited him to respond. If Rabbi Polak does respond, I will post his entire response, unedited.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Krysia Jopek's "Maps and Shadows": Poetic, Moving, Important

Krysia Jopek's "Maps and Shadows" is an intimate, spare, elegantly written and deeply moving memoir of the impact that the Soviet Union's slow-motion genocide against Poles had on one Polish farm family. "Maps and Shadows" is not just a tearjerker; it is not just a family saga; it is not just an incredible and inspirational true story of survival in the face of impossible odds. "Maps and Shadows" is also an important book. It offers key insight into a forgotten atrocity.

Adolf Hitler was not World War Two's only genocidal monster. Joseph Stalin, America's ally, the man FDR called "Uncle Joe," and "a Christian gentleman" was also a mass murderer. Poles were not alone in their victimization at the hands of Stalin; there were also Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and others. I ask, why is it okay for a student to wear a t-shirt with a Soviet red star or other Soviet paraphernalia to class, while a Hitler t-shirt or SS paraphernalia is taboo? One reason is that elites, predominantly leftist, have underplayed Stalin's crimes. "Maps and Shadows" will help to bring a buried story to light, and deepen understanding of World War Two. Jopek's delicate poetry and prose will do the work that professional historians have failed to do.

Hitler and Stalin both invaded Poland in September, 1939, thus igniting World War Two. Both vowed to destroy Poland and eliminate Poles. Stalin packed over a million Poles into cattle cars and deported them to Siberian labor camps, with the goal of working them to death. Forced to fell trees in freezing conditions, given inadequate calories, many died. In August, 1941, tens of thousands of Poles were released to fight in Anders Army, alongside the British. They fought with distinction, especially at Monte Cassino. Pawns in a vicious game, Poles survived on their own wits, in the cattle cars, in Siberia, in Iran, Italy, Africa, and England. Many died and were buried in unmarked graves, their fate known only by the carrion feeders who turned them to dust.

The opening chapter of "Maps and Shadows" is told in the words of Helen, or Helcia, the only girl in the family. The following chapter is told by Henry, or Henryk, Helen's younger brother. Other chapters are written in the voice of Andrzej, the father, and Zofia, the mother. Jopek's own poems are interspersed throughout the chapters. This style of storytelling works well. The family is split up, and mother and son, husband and wife, have no contact with each other, or even certain knowledge of each other's existence, for long stretches. Each family member gives voice to his or her own unique experience of exile. Henry focuses on the process of growing into manhood while in the Gulag and then as a young soldier, so starved he cannot hold up the uniform the Brits issue to him. Helen grows from a girl and an older sister to a teacher of other refugees.

Polish Sybiracy, or Exiles to Siberia, from the Nineteenth Century source

The discontinuous storytelling style works for another reason, as well. People crave narrative structure: a beginning, a complication, action, resolution, and a happy ending. Atrocity does not respect human expectations. Atrocity violates humanity in every way. One way is this: it violates our order. This humble family, probably like the reader's own family, is rousted out of bed in the middle of the night by Soviet soldiers with guns, terrorized, humiliated, and dispossessed. The fleeting glimpse they have of their beloved home as they are packed off to a white hell is the last glimpse of home they will ever have.

There is no triumphant battle – only endless days in a cattle car with no toilet and scores of other deportees. Meaning is shattered. Normal time is meaningless. Father Andrzej and mother Zofia age decades in this one deportation, as they see on each other's faces. Destinations mean nothing – Helen is so ill in India she has no memory of India. People struggle to create meaning, routine, in chaos and injustice: Gulag internees gather mushrooms they don't immediately consume, in spite of hunger, but save for winter. Polish refugees in Africa name their little encampment and go to school, never knowing when or if they will be able to apply what they learn. Siberian refugees, inured to temperatures of forty below, are suddenly plunked down in Iran's unbearable heat; they go for a swim; one drowns in an utterly unfamiliar menace: a sandstorm. Other refugees die from the blessing of food. They had been in Siberia so long they could not digest British rations. Humiliations never stop: after the Poles connect with their British commanders, they are stripped naked and their possessions are burned. Their body hair is shaved off. Martyrdom is not always an apt study for an oil painting; martyrdom sometimes means traveling on a boat up to your ankles in others' vomit, watching your fellow passengers' corpses dumped overboard. Yet humanity remains, "Out of respect we didn't stare at the bodies." Those who manage to survive often don't know why. Helen was unconscious for weeks, the skin of her back worn away, and her vertebrae exposed. Yet she lived, while the healthy man who swam before a sandstorm did not. You stop asking why.

Jopek's writing is always stoic. The book is quick and can be read in one sitting. Readers should not be afraid to read this book. There are no lingering, detailed accounts of cruelty or torture. Jopek's tone is businesslike. This is what happened. Now, on to the next impossibility.

Poles and Poland are often misrepresented in popular, journalistic, and scholarly discourse. There are complicated reasons for that covered in my own book, Bieganski. Books like "Maps and Shadows" will deepen and broaden the reader's understanding of one of the most cataclysmic events in world history, World War Two.

Krysia Jopek photo by Shana Sureck

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Saint Valentine's Day. Three Love Poems.

"Hagar's Last Night in Abraham's House"
By Itzik Manger 

The story of Abraham, Sarah, her servant Hagar, and Abraham and Hagar's son, Ishmael, told as if Hagar were a Polish servant girl in Abraham's house in Poland.

Hagar, the servant, sits in the kitchen,
a smoking oil lamp spills
the shapes of shadowy cats and dogs
to flicker on the walls.

She weeps because her master
fired her today.
"Beat it, you bitch," he told her;
"Can't you let me be?"

It was Sarah who egged him on –
that proper deaconess.
Saying, "Either get rid of the girl
or give me a divorce."

Hagar takes out her trunk
a summer hat of straw;
she takes her green silk apron
and her blood-red beads of coral.

These were the gifts he gave her
once upon a day
when they strolled the meadow
by the railroad right-of-way.

"How like the smoke of a chimney,
how like the smoke of a train
is the love of a man, dear mother,
the love of any man."

God knows where we shall run to,
myself and his bastard child,
unless in some alien kitchen
we are allowed to hide.

She takes the kitchen broom,
she sweeps the kitchen floor,
under her blouse something still says
she loves him – and sweeps some more.

Again, she does the dishes,
and scours the copper pan.
"How like the smoke from a chimney
Is the love of any man." 

From David Roskies' A Bridge of Longing: The Lost Art of Yiddish Storytelling. Harvard University Press

***   ***   ***

When Nothing Remains

By Stanislaw Grochowiak

From An Introduction to Polish Literature
Jerzy Stzetelski, ed. UJ Press

One day I shall seat you naked in splendor.
There will be dresses heavy as water.
There will be stockings with the scent of apples.
There will be head coverings, broad,
and there will be metal.

I want to see you naked in a dark landscape
dense with bronzes, chandeliers, bowls
from which let a vanilla punch steam
into the sniffing nostrils of great Danes.

Rembrandt felt this urge when he painted Saskia
departing further and further into her death
as if he wanted to hold her with the weight of grapes
to clamp her down with the light of precious chandeliers.

***   ***   ***

A great love poem by John Guzlowski. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Brute Polak Stereotype on Display at Pier 21: Canada's Immigration Museum

From the Pier 21 Homepage Source

Bieganski, the Brute Polak stereotype, is everywhere in Western culture. It is in pulp paperback bestsellers. It is in pious, self-righteous Holocaust books written by Presbyterian elders and published by university presses. It is in mainstream movies.

Thanks to Malgorzata, a reader of this blog, I now know that Bieganski, the brute Polak, is also featured in a film shown at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Pier 21 has been compared to Ellis Island, the United States' historic point of disembarkation for many immigrants. The film is shown to visitors to the museum. The film teaches the viewer about brute Poles, and reaffirms any prejudice they may already have.

The brute Polak stereotype exists for at least two vital reasons.

One is this. We need to come to terms with the Holocaust. It is incredibly challenging to admit that humans exactly like us could commit such atrocities. The Bieganski stereotype offers an easy out: it wasn't people just like us who committed the Holocaust. It was these very, very bad, very, very different people: Poles. As long as you hate and quarantine Poles, all is well.

Too, the Bieganski stereotype reassures its users in the same way that white supremacy reassured white supremacists. You are better than someone else, a group of people so debased and without merit, you can feel comfortable putting them down: The Poles.

I'm saying "Poles," here, but other Bohunks – Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Slovaks, Serbs, etc. – work just as well.

The Bieganski Stereotype on Display at Pier 21: Canada's Immigration Museum.

Malgorzata, after reading my blog, alerted me to a video presentation at Pier 21, Canada's Immigration Museum. Malgorzata sent me the DVD of the video.

"Oceans of Hope / Oceans D'Espoir" is a 26 minute long film. One may view it in English or French. It was made in 1999, with concept and direction by Michel Lemieux. It was funded by the Charles and Andrea Bronfman charities, the Province of Nova Scotia, and the Harrison McCain Foundation.

It offers to "take viewers on an emotional journey through Pier 21's past. Relive history form the late 1920s to the early 1970s when Pier 21 was Canada's front door to one million immigrants. Experience the desperate days when Pier 21 handled nearly 500,000 troops bound for Europe during World War II…featuring captivating vignettes depicting the long exhausting voyages, desire for distant homelands, and hope for a better future."

In short, this is a wholesome, educational film. In fact, "Oceans of Hope" is lovely film, with high production values, including an original score, scripted scenes performed by convincing actors, and authentic costumes. The film has genuine heart. I teared up several times. How could I not? It tells the classic story of immigration and the self-sacrifice of young soldiers who gave their lives in the fight against fascism.

And that's just the thing. The Bieganski stereotype is so all-pervasive, so universally sanctioned, it is entirely acceptable in a wholesome, educational film produced by a team which very clearly wanted to do the right thing.

"Oceans of Hope" consists of several brief vignettes dramatizing the arrival of immigrants to Canada. One depicts a young solider and amputee returning from fighting during World War II. A former pier 21 officer guides the viewer through the vignettes, while he reminisces about his forty-year service among immigrants. There are also montages of vintage photographs of immigrants and soldiers.

The first vignette features Ukrainian peasant immigrants. Jolly, accordion, oompah music plays on the soundtrack. The Ukranian peasant father sports a very large belly, thrusting out of his ill-fitting clothing. I've done a fair amount of reading on Ukrainian immigrants to Canada for a bibliography. The Ukrainians I read about, and saw in archival photos, indeed, my own peasant relatives in Eastern Europe, looked nothing like this fat clown. They were impoverished, hungry, and hard, from uninterrupted manual labor. Apparently these jolly and none-too-bright Ukrainians left Europe on a whim, for an adventure. "Oceans of Hope" never mentions any misfortunes that may have driven Ukrainian peasants out of their own homes. In fact, Ukrainians were driven out of their homes by the relentless hunger and oppression of serfdom. Galicia is a notorious site of poverty and famine. To put it simply – in a series of famines between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, millions of Ukrainians starved to death. "Oceans of Hope" never so much as alludes to any of this. Ukrainians must just like ocean voyages.

That vignette closes. Hitler is shown in profile. A soldier's vignette begins. It is very moving. Jean, a French Canadian, describes service in World War II. Next a group of War Brides, chatting while standing on line, provide comic, and romantic, relief.

The next vignette communicates very clearly that this immigrant is unique. She, unlike Ukrainians, unlike war brides, had a sad reason to leave home. There is a still photo of the barbed wire surrounding a concentration camp, and then one of people holding their hands over their heads. Very sad violin music plays. Anita, maybe 17, in red shirt and striped brown skirt, is seated at a desk, across from a middle-aged woman with a sweater tossed over her shoulders.

"The Jewish Immigrant Aid Society will make sure you will have whatever else you need," the woman declares. "A caring family will take you into their home." This is not a paraphrase – it's the actual dialogue.

Anita shakes her head. "Another home," she repeats, bitterly. "I've been to so many homes. In Poland – " there you have it. The antagonist is established: Poland. "My parents smuggled me out of the ghetto, into a Christian home … so that I could be safe?" she says with rising inflection. The implication is that the Christian home offered no safety.

"They sent me from place to place. I could not go to school, play with other children, anything like that." The girl pauses. The violin music grows louder and sadder. "Everyday I lived in fear. They told me, to be a Jew is to be dead…In Christian homes" a still shot of suffering children is shown "I learned how to be the perfect child. Because otherwise they would report me to the authorities. They said I was a danger to their families. I heard them talking about the way they were rounding up Jews." A still shot of a roundup is shown. No distinction is made between the "they" talking – Christian Poles who had taken in a Jewish child – and "they" – the group doing the rounding up. "like cattle. I never dared ask about my real parents. I was scared. Scared that they would tell me that they were dead. I wanted to be with them so much." More photos are shown of Jews suffering during the Holocaust. The music rises. "I'll never see my mother or my father again."

"I'm so sorry," the woman says. She rises. "But this isn't POLAND!" she announces, firmly, and triumphantly. She crosses the table to Anita. She stands behind Anita, in a supportive pose. "In Montreal, you will be with people who want to HELP you." The emphasis on the word "help" contrasts "people in Montreal" with the Christian Poles about whom Anita has been speaking. The woman rubs Anita's shoulders. "There are no police to take you away in the night. You'll be able to laugh and cry without fear."

Anita smiles for the first time. She turns her head upwards. "I want to believe in the kindness of people." The music loses its lachrymose quality.

I had to watch this vignette twice to reaffirm for myself what I noticed on first viewing, but couldn't really believe: this Pier 21 educational film never mentions the word "Nazi." It never mentions the word "Germany." It never mentions the word "occupation." It doesn't mention the word "war."

Poland. That's all it needs for a setting. Poland, that eternal, ahistorical, unmotivated, Iago of nations, Poland, destroyer of Jews. And "Christian." That word was enough, too.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Jews' Defense of Poland

Berek Joselewicz by Juliusz Kossak 

Many Jews, in Poland and in the US, have worked very hard for Poland, and to correct false impressions of Poland. Below are just a few examples.

Rabbi Dov Ber Meisels (1798-1870) was a Polish patriot. He was arrested by the occupying czarist authorities and sent, in chains, to Russia for his patriotic activity. Michal Landy, a rabbinical seminary student, was participating in a demonstration for Polish independence on April 12, 1861. His fellow protestor was shot, and dropped the cross he had been carrying. Landy retrieved the cross and marched with it before being shot to death by a Cossack. Landy's heroic gesture served as partial inspiration for Cyprian Kamil Norwid's (1821-1883) important poem "Zydowie Polscy," or "Polish Jews." More recently, Dr. Janusz Korczak, who had suffered professionally from the anti-Semitism in interwar Poland, donned his Polish army uniform when he participated in Warsaw's response to Nazi bombing in September, 1939. These famous heroes and others like them are often invoked as symbolic of active Jewish service to Poland and the cause of Polish-Jewish relations.
Rabbi Meisels

Adam Michnik is a worthy successor to figures like Meisels and Landy. He was a key leader of the Polish movements that overthrew the Soviet Empire; subsequently he served as editor-in-chief of the Warsaw daily Gazeta Wyborcza (Sadler). In April, 1991 he gave a speech addressing anti-Semitism in Poland. The following excerpts are from the transcript.

"I can assure you that in Poland there are many people who have such courage [to condemn anti-Semitism]. There are in fact large numbers of them. I'll say more; these are the people who create the authentic, cultural values of Polish democracy and make up its spiritual core. Relations between Poles and Jews are still burdened by two stereotypes -- one Polish, and the other Jewish ... which says that each Pole imbibes anti-Semitism with his mother's milk; that Poles share the responsibility for the Holocaust; that the only thing worth knowing about Poland is just that -- that Poles hate Jews...I have always perceived anti-Semitism as a form of anti-Polonism; and, listening to Jewish accusations of Polish anti-Semitism, I've always felt solidarity with the great part of Polish public opinion that in every historical period was capable of opposing clearly, bravely and unambiguously the successive campaigns of hatred. Among my friends, one thing was always clear: Anti-Semitism is the name of hatred. But it was also clear to us that the stubborn categorization of Poland as an anti-Semitic nation was used in Europe and America as an alibi for the betrayal of Poland at Yalta. The nation so categorized was seen as unworthy of sympathy, or of help, or of compassion" (Michnik, "Plague").

A similarly stunning deflation of the Bieganski stereotype was delivered in the August-September 1983 issue of
Midstream, a Monthly Jewish Review. Polish-born author Henryk Grynberg mounted a sustained deconstruction of the Bieganski stereotype in his article "Is Polish Anti-Semitism Special?" "The common phrase 'traditional Polish anti-Semitism' is a platitude with very little historical justification," Grynberg asserted.

American scholar Harold B. Segel wrote:

As they are asked [about supposed responsibility for the Holocaust] the Poles find themselves newly victimized. Despite the magnitude of their own losses in the war, the Poles have had to live the later nightmare of suspicion of collusion in the Holocaust ... this second victimization ... fails to confront the realities of the German occupation for the Poles themselves (Segel,
Strangers 1-2).

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel is just the most prominent of many Jews who have stated that Nazis placed concentration camps in Poland because the Poles would help them carry out the Holocaust. Peter Novick accurately deflated that canard: "Strip mines aren't located in West Virginia because of the local residents' failure to appreciate the beauty of unspoiled landscapes; that's where the coal is, as Poland was where most of the Jews were" (Novick 223).

Jerzy Kosinski was a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust with the aid of Polish non-Jews. His novel
The Painted Bird has had huge impact in disseminating an image of Poland as a primitive, hateful place. It dramatizes the trials of a young boy in a thoroughly debased World-War-II-era Poland. Later in his life, Kosinski publicly expressed awareness of his book's reception. He began to speak of Poland with fondness and admiration and to harshly criticize Jews, especially American Jews, for anti-Polonism (e.g. Kosinski, "Second").

Kosinski repeatedly reminded his readers of "'the unbroken chain of Polish-Jewish relations'" and worked to exonerate Poles from charges of historical anti-Semitism (Gladsky 174). In fact, in the facts he adduces, that Jews found an important historical refuge in Poland unparalleled elsewhere, that Jews enjoyed high status vis-à-vis most Poles, that Poles suffered in World War II, and that his duty is to give expression to the "'Polish soul,'" or, alternately, his "Polish Jewish soul," (Gladsky 174-5; Kosinski "Restoring"), the mature Kosinski sounded very much like many non-Jewish Poles engaged in Polish-Jewish relations, the kind of Poles who are routinely denounced by anti-Polonists as essentially nationalistic, chauvinistic, and beyond the reach of the rational.

Eva Hoffman openly declared that her book
Shtetl was written to deconstruct anti-Polonism. Hoffman reported that her family did have "to escape hostile local peasants" but that they ultimately survived the Holocaust thanks to help from Poles. Some family members died as a result of betrayal by Jews. "My aim is not to absolve any more than it is to condemn," she wrote, "but it is, at the very least, to complicate and historicize this picture" (Shtetl 5-6).

Stanislaw Krajewski, mathematics scholar, Jew, Polish citizen, lectures on Jewish topics to Polish audiences, and visa versa. He also photographs, with his non-Jewish wife, Jewish cemeteries. When asked about a Western "stereotype of Polish anti-Semitism, sustained in popular consciousness by various kinds of publications, in which Poles in great numbers not only betrayed Jews to the Germans, but also assisted in their murder," Krajewski responded, "This greatly disturbs me, and whenever there is an opportunity I try to oppose this stereotype." People in the West can't understand the Holocaust in Poland, he said, "because they don't in general know what terror is." Further, he said, some "Jews throughout the world ... still haven't noticed that the Germans also intended to destroy and enslave the Polish nation."

Krajewski replied that since he is a Jew, "For me it's easier [to oppose anti-Polonism] and I always do it. I feel a responsibility, and besides, I get mad as hell when I hear that, after all, the Germans didn't build concentration camps in Poland without a reason" (Niezabitowska 26). While stating that "anti-Semitism has not disappeared" in Poland, Krajewski said in another interview that "I do not feel threatened in Poland. I have never met with a concrete threat. To give you one example: my wife and I have been traveling all round Poland for years photographing Jewish cemeteries, and not once have I felt threatened. I often tell this to my contemporaries, Jews from the USA, who have been told by their parents that a trip to Polish countryside presents a mortal danger" (Polonsky
Brother's 101).

Given the interpenetration of Polish and Jewish identities, sometimes it is not easy to assign one identity or another to those who oppose anti-Polonism. In 1984 Carmelite nuns moved into an abandoned theater near the Auschwitz concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland. Jewish groups began to protest. A Catholic priest living in Israel, Father Daniel, spoke up. "You must understand that there was no anti-Semitic intention in the founding of the convent, no attempt to obliterate the meaning of the Holocaust," he said. Father Daniel went on to voice regret that Jews tend to forget that the Nazis killed three million Poles, including twenty-five percent of all Polish priests. Father Daniel sharply criticized Jewish American protestors at the convent. He called them "adventurers" and trespassers (Shapiro "Convent"). Father Daniel's comments are included here because he was born Oswald Rufeisen, a Jew, near the Polish town of Oswiecim (Auschwitz). He saved other Jews, survived the Holocaust, and eventually converted to Catholicism and became a priest.

Father Romuald Jakub Weksler Waszkinel is a Polish Catholic priest. He reported the discomfort he felt when observing Israeli schoolchildren on a Holocaust tour in Poland eyeing him angrily and defiantly. Father Romuald Jakub reported, "I would like to go up to them and say, 'I suffer in the same way that you are suffering' ... In Israel, wrong things are said about Poland." Given the pervasiveness of the Bieganski stereotype, one might be tempted to dismiss the priest's words as grandiose, even perverse. Father Romuald Jakub, though, lost his birth parents in the Holocaust. He was born a Jew, and was saved from the Holocaust by his Polish Catholic adoptive parents (the Waszkinels, who named him Romuald) at the request of his Jewish birth mother (Mrs. Weksler, who named him Jakub). With the end of Communism, many Poles discovered that they were of partial or total Jewish descent. Father Romuald Jakub understands himself "as the star of David with the cross inserted." Voicing an attitude that might be a motto for all of the Polish Jews who have combated Bieganski, Father Romuald Jakub said, "I am in the middle, and I know that what is needed is contact, understanding, and love" (Cohen, "Priest").

Persons who might be assigned multiple identities and who came to Poland's defense lived in former centuries as well. Jan Czynski (1801-1867) was a Polish Catholic whose ancestors included Polish Jews. His activities included fighting for Poland in the November Rising of 1830. After that uprising failed, Czynski lived out his life in exile in Western Europe. There he continued to work both to reform Poland, to make it a better place for all its inhabitants, and to improving Poland's reputation. Czynski founded journals, wrote novels, and formed organizations, always working toward the goals of increasing amity and cooperation among members of all of Poland's religions and social classes, increasing social justice and freedom in Poland, and countering the negative propaganda about Poland that the partitioning powers were disseminating in the West (Galkowski).

Of course, Jews who have never converted to Catholicism, or whose ancestors did not, have also come to Poland's defense. Elie Wiesel condemned the placement of crosses at Auschwitz. In response, Marek Edelman, at the time of this statement, the sole surviving leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, said, "Poles, too, died in Auschwitz, and it's understandable that they should want to have their monument there. After all, Auschwitz is one giant grave" (Spiewak).

Edelman has denounced anti-Polonism on other occasions. Andrzej Wajda, a Polish filmmaker and winner of an honorary Academy Award for his entire oeuvre, made a laudatory biographic film about Janusz Korczak.
Shoah's director, Claude Lanzmann, was among the prominent Westerners who criticized the film as a typical expression of Polish anti-Semitism. Criticism focused on the final scene, which did not graphically depict the murder of Korczak and his orphans at Treblinka, but, rather, focused on Jewish renaissance in the creation of the state of Israel. Many Jews in Poland approved of this final scene and took strong exception to the film's negative reception outside of Poland. The film was praised in Israel as well. In response to the film's negative reception among Western Jews like Lanzmann, a disgusted Edelman said, "anti-Polish victory of Hitlerism" (Engelberg). Edelman has encountered hostility and contempt from other Jews because of such humanist views. In Israel, he was called a "house Jew" (Klein Halevi). At a commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Israeli Prime Minister did not want to appear on the same platform with Edelman (Boyarin 306 ftnt 109).

In addition to the Holocaust, another bone of contention in Polish-Jewish relations is the role played by Jews in the Soviet secret police. Wladyslaw Krajewski, born 1919, was professor emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Warsaw. His father, nee Stein, was exiled to Siberia for his part in the 1905 revolution. While in exile he adopted the name "Krajewski" "out of nostalgia for Poland" (Krajewski "Facts" 94) He reported that,

When my wife and I were in the United States, we also had to argue with those who ascribe anti-Semitism to the Poles en bloc, to the Home Army, and so on ... [re: the role of Jews in the Soviet secret police] Jews are very unwilling to speak about all of this. In general, there is a prevalent stereotype among them, according to which they are always victims (as indeed they usually are). Many people in Israel, and more so in the United States, think that the terror was directed exclusively against the Jews during the German occupation (as indeed it was primarily directed against them). They are unwilling to believe it when they are told that large number of Poles also feel victim to German terror ... Such judgments result in large part from ignorance ... Such things are not said by the few Jews living in Poland, who are better informed about the German occupation of our country ... Auschwitz was originally set up for the imprisonment of Poles; only later were Jews sent there and the crematoria built (Krajewski "Facts" 103-5).

An American of Polish-Jewish descent rose to Poland's defense after a Polish-American scholar's award was withdrawn by the ADL. Dr. Joseph S. Kutrzeba wrote a protest letter to the ADL's national chairman. Dr. Kutrzeba identified himself as

"One who had lived through that infamous period [the Holocaust]; one who has steeped himself in the tragic literature of the era, and who has made two documentary films on the subject, performing a staggering amount of research in the process ... Joseph Kermisch, the eminent historian at Yad Vashem, and a friend of my murdered father, believes that the documented number of Righteous Christians in Poland could approximate 100,000 ... In my own case, it had taken the cooperation of nine persons to save my life, not including some twenty who'd aided me along the way. Only one has been recognized at Yad Vashem. Thus statistics.

"Time and again in my own research, I have encountered or heard about incidents of Christian Poles, not officially documented, who'd risked their live to save Jews. Only last week I came across a case of a former A.K. commander in the Kielce region who'd helped prepare fake I.D.'s for ca. 140 Jews. When asked by his grown son why he had never heard a bout this before form his own father, the latter replied, 'I didn't do this to gain recognition. I did this for my own conscience' ... A number of persons of some stature in the community – including yours truly – have labored for years, without any remuneration, to ameliorate Polish-Jewish relations and to effect a rapprochement between these two historically wedded people. We have worked, at times combating and bemoaning the generalizations uttered in some publications against Poles in general, condemning references such as 'Polish death camps' including some contained even in publications put out by the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C." (Kutrzeba).

Another Polish Jew who has labored, on his own initiative, is Roman Solecki. Solecki posts, on the internet, texts of letters he has written protesting anti-Polonism. Below is an excerpt of Solecki's letter to the Simon Wiesenthal Center:

"I looked on your entry about Poland and was upset by: 1. a standing out note that 'anti-Semitism still exists in Poland.' It's true but it's also true regarding other countries including the USA. Why on a page which should show gratitude to those who risked their lives make such a negative comment? 2. On another page you write: 'The Righteous Among the Nations in Poland make up the largest number of such persons recognized by Yad Vashem per country of origin. However, while their absolute numbers might be the largest, by percentage the amount of rescuers from Poland is small indeed.' Why don't you give this number, like you do when referring to other countries? Why don't you explain that Poland was the only country where there was death penalty for helping Jews?

"You possibly compare the fate of Jews in Denmark and Norway (they were helped to escape to neutral Sweden) without realizing that a. the number of Jews in those countries was about 0.1% of total population; b. the distance from Denmark to neutral Sweden at Helsingor (Elsinore) is about 3 miles and that Norway shares with Sweden an over 1000 mile border so that the escape was relatively easy. Poland did not have neighbors willing to accept 3.5 million Jews. The only country that comes to mind, Sweden, was separated from Poland by about 120 miles of Baltic Sea. Even if such a transportation would be logistically possible, and it would be absurd to think so (Poland had a very short sea shore, small number of boats, and a developing economy where majority of people, including Jews were poor or very poor [Dr. Solecki later wrote: "I made a mistake saying: 'Poland had a very short sea shore.' That's true but the access to this seashore was eliminated at the first days of war so every sea transportation from Poland was impossible."], you can't seriously think that Sweden would be willing to increase its population by 50% of poor foreigners ... I urge you to make corrections in your site" (Solecki "Wisenthal").

In 1995, the
New York Times saluted countries that had come to terms with World War II and the Holocaust. On May 4, the Times ran a letter by Monica Strauss that took them to task for their omitting Poland from this coverage. Strauss wrote: "Poland, which only in the post-Communist era has been given the opportunity to re-examine its history, has made a courageous effort, particularly at the grass-roots level, to look at its role in the war and attempt a dialogue with the Jewish community. I myself experienced such an initiative last summer in the small town of Skoczow" Ms. Strauss recorded efforts by a Pole, Jacek Proszyk, to rescue and record Skoczow's Jewish history. She concluded: "For me, the chance to address the people of the town in the name of my father, who had fled more than 50 years before, was an act of healing neither he nor I expected to happen in our lifetimes" (Strauss).

In May, 2001, Israelis from Yad Vashem removed, secretively and without permission, Bruno Schulz murals from a town in Ukraine that had, before World War II, been in Poland. Some letter-writers to the
New York Times defended the removal. One argued that since Poles had not saved Jews during the war, they deserved to be robbed. A Times article argued that Poles were only interested in Jewish culture in order to get money from Jewish tourists (Bohlen). Maya Peretz wrote in to contest this position. Her eloquent letter, quoted in full, below:

"As a child Holocaust survivor from Poland, and a child of a Holocaust survivor, I believe that my mother and I should never forget that we were among thousands of Jews saved by Polish Catholics. Many in our situation seem to have forgotten and repeat the nasty slogans about anti-Semitic Poles.

"Poland today is not a country without Jews, and the revival of Jewish culture there should not be ascribed to desire for profit. We Jews also have an obligation to acknowledge what was done for us, not only to us, and be happy that many Jews who had horrible experiences in Poland may perhaps now not be afraid to admit that they are Jewish.

"Let's not use Bruno Schultz's name to slander the whole Polish nation, from which more rescuers were counted by both Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Museum in Washington than from any other country."
Janusz Korczak

Love as a Factor in Polish-Jewish Relations

A previous post introduces this series of quotes. Two previous posts attest to the Importance of Poland to Jews, and The Importance of Jews to Poland. A subsequent post attest to Jews' Defense of Poland.

Adam Michnik wrote: "If we make a thorough study of Jews living in Poland – letters, memoirs, documents, we can see in them love for Polish ethics, Polish culture, Polish system of values.” To explain the intensity, intimacy, and complex nature of Polish-Jewish relations, Michnik used a metaphor of troubled marital love (Michnik "O Czym" 101).

The great pianist, Artur Rubinstein, was once asked to play at the opening session of the United Nations in San Francisco. Poland was not represented. Rubinstein "brought a highly embarrassed diplomatic audience to its feet by choosing for his concert the Polish national anthem" (Kuniczak 173).

Many Jews conspicuously supported the 1863 uprising in Poland. According to Polish patriot Rabbi Dov Beer Meisels, the Talmudic authority and sixteenth century Rabbi of Krakow Moses Isserles "indicated to us that we should love the Polish nation above all other nations, for the Poles have been our brothers for centuries" (Krajewski, "Problem" 75). For himself, Rabbi Meisels stated: "And we too feel that we are Poles, and we love the Polish land as you do" (Kieniewicz 117 see also Porter 40).

This identification with Poland in her hour of need and revolution was not limited to Jews in Poland. Julian Allen, an American of Polish-Jewish birth, came to partitioned Poland's defense by publishing in the United States his 1854 book Autocracy in Poland and Russia: or a Description of Russian Misrule in Poland. In this book, Allen wrote: "My bosom throbs with joyful expectation that ultimately the power of the oppressor will be successfully defied, and the blessings of freedom will yet be the lot of those over whom I had so long almost hopelessly mourned" (Lerski "Amity" 43).

Many such patriots paid the ultimate price. "'Of seven hundred patriots hanged by the Russians, less than half were Catholic; many were Jews, Protestants, and even Russo-Greeks ... '" There were Muslim insurgents, as well (Lerski, 50).

Adam Mickiewicz's artistic output and political action were influenced by Judaism. Judeophile visionary Andrzej Towianski had a thematic influence on the poet's work; Judeophile Count Xavier Branicki helped to support his work monetarily. Mickiewicz died while organizing the Hussars of Israel, "an early Zionist venture before the word was invented" (Maurer 185). Mickiewicz, of course, created Jankiel, and was a prime source of the image of Poland as the Messiah of nations. This image was meant to be complimentary to, not a supersession of, Jewish suffering and identity.

After the Romantic era, best personified by Mickiewicz, ended, Positivism took precedence. Rather than violent insurrection to serve the partitioned Polish state, Positivism recommended work. Like Romanticism, this version of Polish nationalism argued for cooperation between peasants and lords, men and women, Poles and Jews. Two of its major proponents were Eliza Orzeszkowa (1841-1910) and Boleslaw Prus (1847-1912).

Jews familiar with Polish literature, like Segel and Hertz, have remarked on what they call a unique feature of it. Like the rest of European literature, lowbrow Polish literature contains its share of comical or hostile portraits of Jews. Polish art literature, though, is distinguished by a unique philo-Semitic oeuvre. In addition to works depicting affectionate portraits of Jews, Polish literature contains works that consciously salute loving and intertwined relations between Poles and Jews.

Though these works did have a conscious political end – the improvement of ties between Poles and Jews under the pressures of foreign occupation – their value to their readers cannot be dismissed. Of works depicting affection and interdependence between Poles and Jews by Prus and Orzeszkowa, Magdalena Opalska wrote, "No justice can be done to these works without mentioning the genuine human warmth permeating many of these images, and their well-documented ability to move both the Polish and Polish-Jewish readers for whom they were intended" (Opalski "Trends" 78).

Lech Walesa and Adam Michnik
source - many excellent photos by Erazm Ciolek

Sociologist Anna Maria Orla Bukowska has focused on evidence of coexistence and mutual respect and affection between Poles and Jews in pre-World War II shtetls. A Polish peasant reported, "Jankiel, that was my best friend." "My best friends were Poles," recorded author Bruno Schulz (Orla-Bukowska 100).

Literature scholar Jan Blonski described the pre-World War II Jewish authors who worked in Polish rather than Yiddish. That choice was evidently a risky investment. "Writing about his love for 'the wide gray land of Mazowsze', [poet] Slobodnik says that his 'brothers' [fellow Jews] will regard it as treason while 'the children of this land' will regard it as an expression 'of foreign blood, old and unhealthy.' Thus he will always walk 'between two ... brands of hatred'" (Blonski "Jewish" 197). Blonski wrote of another Polish-Jewish poet apologizing to the Hebrew language for his choice to write of Polish matters in the Polish language. Sholem Asch, Polish Jewish author, managed to bridge two clashing groups when he declared that, "Do mnie, Wisla mowi po zydowsku!" translated as, "The Wisla speaks to me in Yiddish!"

The turn of the last century was a time of epic out migration from Poland. The theme of Poles and Jews missing each other, needing each other, and encountering each other in foreign climes appears in several works. Antoni Slonimski (1895-1976) was a Polish poet whose father had converted from Judaism to Catholicism, and brought Antoni up as a Catholic. In 1922 Slonimski published poems about his trips to Palestine, where he encountered Jews who missed Poles and Poland. "When I'm better, I'd like to live in Warsaw," reports one.

Similarities between the bifurcated nations and peoples were noted. After cataloguing the wondrous sights of Jerusalem, Slonimski closed with, "Like in a village in Poland, flies buzz in Jerusalem" (Segel, Stranger 293-4).

Adam Szymanski's 1885 sketch, "Srul of Lubartow" depicted an encounter between a Pole and a Jew in the previous century, in Siberian exile (Segel 190-197). In each encounter, Slonimski's and Szymanski's, a Jew peppered a Pole with questions about home. "Will you tell me if the small gray birds are still there in winter ... " demanded Srul. "Is there a fountain? At the entrance from Czysta Street. In the old days confectioners had a shop there with water ... " asked the Jew Slonimski met in Jerusalem.

In 1994, an organization devoted to Polish-Jewish relations sent out an appeal for pre-Holocaust photos depicting Jews or Jewish life. Photographs and the notes accompanying them told of Jewish children in the interwar period who grew up playing at tableaux in which they dramatized the liberation of "Mother Poland" by a classic Polish figure, a knight. Other Jewish children, at a Jewish camp, reenacted Grunwald, a key battle in which Poles defeated the Teutonic knights.

There was a Polish schoolchild who obeyed her father, and was sure to sit next to Jewish schoolchildren because "The Jews are a wise people. One should heed their advice." There was a Polish housewife who hid a Jewish couple in her cellar, rescuing them from the Holocaust, feeding them, eliminating their waste, and never telling so much as her husband that they were even there. There was a Polish princess who sent "twelve thousand saplings and one hundred mature trees from her own park to be planted along the avenue leading to the yeshiva [in Lublin]" There was an elderly Polish aunt who, in her living room, in a gilded frame, kept a photo of her beloved Jewish friend Chana, who was murdered by Nazis. One of the aunt's last acts was to ensure that the photo, of a woman none of her young nieces or nephews had ever met, not be thrown away after her own death.

There was a Polish woman who dismissed her own suffering, including deportation to Germany (perhaps for slave labor, a typical reason for deportation) and "various other incidents and disasters – which I need not go into, because, after all, who in Poland hasn't experienced these things," and who, through everything, kept with her the photos of her two Jewish school chums. "I am lucky that these photographs have fallen into good hands ... I'm over seventy years old ... at some point the eyes of some goodhearted person will see my old friend" (Fundacja 94, 137, 138, 139, 145, 183, 219).

The kinds of quotidian Polish-Jewish contacts and affections, the kind of appreciation for, and comfort with, Jews and Judaism attested to by Orla-Bukowska and Fundacja Shalom, have had world impact in the career of Karol Wojtyla. "When John Paul II was named Pope, my mother, who is Polish, said he could be the best or the worst," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "I feel he's been the best" (Goodstein, "Boyhood"). "The actions of this pope have been magnificent," Foxman said, at a later date.

When observers are assessing John Paul as the pope who "has done more to repair Jewish-Christian relations than any previous pope" (Wilkinson, "Playmates") they point out actions like the following. Pope John Paul II was the first pope to visit the synagogue of Rome, and the first to visit Auschwitz. He hosted a Holocaust memorial concert at the Vatican, he presided over the extension of full diplomatic recognition to Israel, he marked Israel's fiftieth anniversary with a Vatican menorah, and he opened Vatican archives on the Inquisition (Elie).

At least one observer, an intimate of Karol Wojtyla's – intimate enough that he copied young Karol's assignments in school – attributes John Paul II's positive impact on Jewish-Christian relations to his typically Polish boyhood. Yosef Bienenstock, a childhood friend of Karol Wojtyla and a Holocaust survivor, reported that Karol "enjoyed slipping into the local synagogue to hear the cantor. Lolek, as the pope was known as a child, would place a kippa on his head and blend in with the congregation" (Wilkinson, "Playmates"). Bienenstock reported that when he returned in 1992 to bring his brother's remains to Israel, he found a fine marble tombstone on his brother's grave. It had been placed there by the pope.

Jerzy Kluger, the pope's childhood friend and his aid in papal diplomacy, offers an assessment similar to Bienenstock's. "This Pope is a friend of the Jewish people because he knows Jewish people. He grew up in Wadowice," a Polish town with a large Jewish population (Goodstein, "Boyhood"). "He grew up with us and he never forgot us. That's why he demanded from the Christian world to understand that the Jews of today cannot be held responsible for the crucifixion. That's why he called the Holocaust an enormity. That's why he goes to Jewish synagogues and to Jewish cemeteries. I don't understand what more people want from him" (Sontag).

Among Jewish Polish patriots have been Jews who have, tested to the limits of human strength, in spite of every pressure, steadfastly insisted on being both Polish and Jewish. One such person was Janusz Korczak. Korczak was a doctor and author who ran orphanages for both Polish and Jewish children. In the interwar period, anti-Semitism was strong in Poland. Korczak was dismissed from professional positions, inter alia, as "The Old Doctor" on Polish radio. Jews, too, criticized him. Though his orphanage for Jews kept a kosher kitchen, observed all holidays, and offered lessons in Yiddish and Hebrew, it was denounced by Jews as an "assimilationist factory" (Lifton 262).

Korczak was repeatedly asked to take a stand one way or the other. Once he stated, "Anyone who speaks Polish, and loves Polish culture, and wishes the Polish people well, he is a Pole" (Lifton 263). Forty years after Korczak's martyrdom, an Israeli opined, "In Israel, Korczak should be called a Pole, and in Poland, he should be called a Jew" (274). Korczak himself proposed a "Third Tide" thus: "We are the sons of the same clay. Ages of mutual suffering and success link us in a chain of the same mould. The same sun shines on us, the same hail destroys our fields, the same earth hides the bones of our ancestors" (Lifton 265).

Korczak had ample opportunity to escape before the Nazi invasion. He had already been to Palestine. In the end, he stayed in Poland, and in the ghetto. "Warsaw is mine, and I am Warsaw's. I'll say no more. I am hers. Together with her I have rejoiced and I have grieved. Her weather was my weather, her rain, her soil, mine as well" (Lifton 270-1).

When the Nazis invaded, Korczak donned the Polish uniform he had worn in the 1920 Polish-Soviet war, and he broadcast encouragement to Warsaw's citizenry. During the occupation, Korczak refused to wear the Nazi-mandated yellow star. "He would not let them erase Janusz Korczak the Pole, or demean Henryk Goldszmit, the Jew" (Lifton 271). Korczak had ample opportunity to escape even after he had been walled into the ghetto. Polish friends offered him hiding places, false papers. He refused. When the Nazis sent his orphans to their deaths at Treblinka, Janusz Korczak was with them.

Korczak was not alone. Obscure as well as famous Jews expressed love for Poland while living under some of the most nightmarish conditions humans have ever endured. From a young girl's Warsaw Ghetto diary, Bartoszewski quoted:

"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" (Bartoszewski "Five" 323).

Some Poles responded to the unique horror of the Nazi occupation of Poland with unique heroism. Poles' heroism under hellish conditions must never be forgotten, as it could serve to inspire any good person. Indeed, as Wladyslaw Bartoszewski stated in the title of a book, "The Blood Shed Unites Us: Pages from the History of Help to the Jews in Occupied Poland."

Not all Poles responded to Nazi Occupation with heroism. Some responded with deadly anti-Semitism.

During the darkest days of WW II, the great poet Julian Tuwim, living in exile in London, published "We Polish Jews" in April, 1944. Tuwim knew what was going on in Poland:

"We, who were suffocated in the gas chambers …We, whose brains oozed on the walls, on the walls of our destitute homes and on the walls against which we were shot en masse - for one reason only, that we are Jews."

In the face of that mass death, with incomparable power and poetry, Tuwim refused to smear all Poles, and insisted on his own Polishness:

"For my Mother in Poland or her most beloved shadow

"I can hear the question immediately: 'Why US?' A question that is not baseless. Jews ask me, the ones whom I always told that I was a Pole, and now the question will be asked of me by the Poles, for the greatest part of whom I have been and will be a Jew. This is my answer for one and the other.

"I am a Pole, because it pleases me. It is my personal and private matter, and I do not intend to submit a report nor an explication, an explanation to justify the basis of it. I do not divide Poles into 'native- born' and 'not-native-born'; I leave that for the native-born and non-native-born racists, the local and non-local Hitlerites. I divide Poles and Jews as well all other nations, into intelligent and stupid, honest and thieves, intelligent and dullards, interesting and boring, those who have been harmed and those who harm, gentlemen and not, etc. I also divide Poles into fascists and anti-fascists. These two camps, are not, of course homogenous, each of them disperses shades of color of differing intensities. But, the line of demarcation most certainly exists and shortly will be clearly seen. Shades will remain shades but the color of that very line will be intense and deeper in a marked way.

"I could say that in a political sense I divide Poles into anti-Semites and anti-Fascists. Because Fascism is always anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is the international language of Fascists.

"However, if I did ever have to justify my nationality, or rather my national feelings, then I would say I am a Pole for the simplest, almost the most primitive of reasons, generally rational, frequently irrational, but without a 'mystical' addition. To be a Pole, it is neither an honor, nor glory, nor a privilege.

"It is the same as breathing. I have not yet met a person that is proud of the fact that he breathes. A Pole - because I was born in Poland, grew up, was educated, taught, because it was in Poland that I was happy and unhappy, because from my exile I necessarily want to return to Poland, though they may promise me Paradisiacal delights elsewhere.

"A Pole - because through a loving superstition which no reasoning or logic can explain, I desire that after my death, it shall be Polish soil that will absorb and consume me and none other. A Pole - because that is what I was told in Polish in my family home; because I was suckled on the Polish language as a newborn, because my mother taught me Polish poems and songs, and when my first great poetic tremor came, it was in Polish words, because all that, which became most important in life - poetic creativity - is unimaginable in any other language, no matter how fluently I may speak it.

"A Pole - because it was in Polish that I confessed my first love and its fears, and it was Polish in which I sobbed of its joys and storms.

"A Pole also because the birch and the willow are closer to me than a cypress or a palm, and Mickiewicz and Chopin dearer than Shakespeare and Beethoven. Dearer for reasons that no reasoning can justify.

"A Pole - because I have absorbed a certain number of their national faults. A Pole - because my hatred of Polish Fascists is greater than of Fascists of other nationalities. Moreover, I believe this to be a major trait of my Polishness. But above all - a Pole because it pleases me."
Julian Tuwim. By Witkacy

Poles also had to occasionally love through potentially lethal contempt and hostility. Young Stefania Podgorska's mother and sister were taken to Germany for slave labor. Stefania risked her own life by rescuing Jews. One of those Jews put her life at risk by sending an untrustworthy stranger to deliver a message he might have delivered himself.

Another Jew, a woman, threatened to denounce Stefania, knowing that such a denunciation meant death for the Pole. Stefania had to convince one of her charges to join her; he wanted to stay in the ghetto. Eventually, with thirteen Jews in her house, beautiful, young Stefania had to conspire to reject any suitors, in order to hide her secrets. Finally, after the war, Stefania was mocked as a now superfluous "goyka" by one of the Jews she had saved.

In 1992, Stefania Podgorska Burzminski, now married to one of the Jews she saved, reported bitterness at not having a tree at Yad Vashem "because I have no money to go to Israel" and because, after seven years of hard work, no one wants to publish her memoirs – while, of course, books about "killing" are published and celebrated (Block and Drucker 180-5).

Not only Jews loved Poland and considered themselves Polish at moments when to do so was a high-risk investment. There were also Poles who loved Judaism and either converted to Judaism or declared themselves equally Jewish and Polish. There was a Polish nanny, Mania, who took care of Jewish children. "My mother was even jealous of her, and when we were crying we never cried 'Mummy,' we cried 'Maniu.' She was like our second mother" (Karpf 24-5). Mania converted to Judaism and, even under the pressures of the Holocaust, chose to stay with her Jewish employers, whose lives she helped to maintain, through her own hard work, while she herself died during the war (Karpf 73). After the war, one of her former charges sold her late husband's motorcycle in order to get the funds to pay for Mania's body to be reburied in the Jewish cemetery, as was her wish (Karpf 151).

And there was Jan Karski, who called himself a "Catholic Jew," and was quite proud to be an honorary citizen of the state of Israel (Economist, "Karski"). In 1942, Karski donned ragged clothes and an armband imprinted with a Star of David in order to enter the Warsaw ghetto. With such service, he could and did bring the first eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust to Western leaders. Karski worked for Polish-Jewish relations after the war, as well. "Mr. Karski established a $5,000 annual prize to be awarded by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research to authors documenting or interpreting Jewish contributions to Polish culture and science" (Kaufman, "Karski").

"Invited to Israel by the Government in 1982 to plant a tree in the Avenue of the Righteous, he was made an honorary citizen of the country in 1994. 'Now I, Jan Karski, a Pole, an American, a Catholic, have also become an Israelite!' he said at the ceremony. 'Gloria in excelsis Deo!'" (The Times). At his funeral mass, attended by Polish and Israeli state officials, a rabbi said Kaddish (Siemaszko). Karski's appreciation of Jews and Judaism was reciprocated. At his death, several Jewish organizations published salutes in various papers. Elie Wiesel called the life of Jan Karski "a masterpiece of courage, integrity and humanism" (The Times).

In 1948, Irena Nowakowska surveyed Polish-Jewish attitudes toward Poland. She published her results in 1983. Respondents were asked, "Which country do you regard as your homeland?" Her data showed a cross-section of how Jewish survivors came to terms with their love for a country in which so many of their loved ones died, and in which too many Poles responded horribly to the genocide. One respondent replied:

"Born on lands that have been geographically Polish for ages, a Polish infancy, Polish elementary and secondary schools, neighbor and playmates speaking Polish, Polish literature and newspapers, Polish theater, Polish songs, Polish examinations, Polish military service and medals, earning a living in Polish – would it make sense to regard any other country as the homeland? Would this be possible even for someone who knew the Hebrew alphabet and language as well as the Latin alphabet?" (Nowakowska 259).

John Paul II and Jerzy Kluger. More here

Another: "Poland is my homeland." Respondents from lands that had been Polish before the war, but that were absorbed by the Soviet Union, and where Polish presence was brutally erased, struggled. They could not name their hometowns, now Sovietized and Russianized, as their homeland. In lieu of their hometown names, they said, "Poland." This reference to a place that had been expunged from the map could only mean, as it has often meant to Poles, a mental, spiritual, or cultural construct of a lost territory. This territory has been kept alive by the will, by the conscious choice, of Polish patriots, as the first line of the Polish national anthem states. Here, the Poles keeping that territory mentally, spiritually, and or culturally alive were Polish Jews.

A Jewish veteran of the Polish army reported, "I fought my way back to Poland ... I would never have rested easily as long as I live if I had not seen the ruins of Warsaw with my own eyes." A woman emigrating to Palestine reported, "I know that I will never stop missing Poland, and that I will always identify most closely with the land and its flora and fauna, the cultural heritage, and so on." Another prospective emigrant to Palestine: "Poland. I love its countryside, language, customs, and people." And another: "I am linked to the Polish land because ... all my most joyful moments and nightmarish years are connected with Poland." A Lodz physician replied, "It is hard for a person who has lived for generations together with a given people to forsake all sentiments for a given country, even after ... the loss of one's family during the war. A solitary person hangs in the air, having lost one homeland and not possessing another."

Author Rafael Scharf reported that there are Jews "who have never recovered from their love of Poland, those who on the banks of the River Thames dream of their Wisla, and those, who like myself – and forgive me if it sounds precious – after fifty years away from Poland put themselves to sleep with lines from the 'Crimean Sonnets' or the 'Grave of Agamemnon'" (Polonsky, Brother's 194).

Indeed, perhaps it is the conflicted love, like the prodigal son, the one lost lamb, or the girl that got away, that commands the most attention. Addressing organized international Jewish resistance to the funding of a Jewish museum in Warsaw, Grazyna Pawlak, managing director of the Jewish Historical Institute in Poland, and herself a Polish Jew, said, "Polish Jews abroad hate Poland ... they see Poland very, very painfully as a cemetery. But at the bottom of their heart is something different. This is their homeland" (Perlez, "Drive").

A poetic depiction of the pressures facing Poles and Jews as they confront each other in the post-Holocaust era was limned by Antoni Slonimski.

These towns are no longer, they've passed like shadows,

And these shadows will fall between our words,

Before two nations, nourished by the suffering of centuries,

Will approach each other fraternally and again unite (Segel 363).

Irena Sendler