Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thank You to the Jew Who Saved My Mother's Life

My mother, Pavlina, Pauline, told a lot of stories, and she told them well.

I never had kids. I have no one to pass the stories on to.

Now that my sister Antoinette is gone, I don't even have anyone to share the stories with. Not even so much as three-word allusion, which used to be a mainstay of my everyday speech -- "Remember that time ..." -- would be understood any more by anyone. My language is an amputated stump. 

It's a desolate feeling: being a repository of stories that will never again be told.

Here's one story.

My mother grew up in Kovarce, Slovakia. One day she was near the River Nitra. She saw some children swimming. Swimming looked like a pleasant and fun activity and so she decided to join them. It did not occur to her that she didn't actually know how to swim. She began to drown.

Here's the ironic footnote to this story of my mother drowning in the River Nitra. My mother was born in the River Nitra. It was summer and my grandmother was working in the fields – rye, beets, or wheat, I would guess, from what I saw when I was there. It was hot and my grandmother needed to cool off and she stepped into the River Nitra and out popped my mother.

Life and death. Side by side.

But my mother didn't drown in the Nitra. One of the children, her neighbor, saved her life.

My mother and I returned to her village, the paradise she was forced to leave when she was eight years old, in the 1970s. 

In the intervening decades, in spite of herself, she had become American. Some things about her village disappointed her. She didn't like the green bottle flies clinging to the lace curtains of the village cottages. She didn't like outhouses. She really didn't, as it turned out, like Soviet communism any more than she liked American capitalism. 

The River Nitra, fifty years older than when she left, was a disappointment. She remembered a clear, wild river. What we saw was an agricultural canal skulking desultorily through a tamed channel. 

My mother told me that the village boy who had saved her life was killed by the Nazis.He was a Jew. 

I remember him, though I never met him. For one of my online accounts, I use a password that it is a coded version of all the information I know about him, all the information passed on to me by my mother.

I have to repeat this password several times a week. Every time I do so, I summon up all the facts I remember about him. When I need to change the password, I summon up and re-juggle, again, everything I know about him. 

It is how I honor him. This is a small thing. I keep his memory alive by encoding him into a frequently used password.

Recently some thugs burned a Jew in effigy in Wroclaw. In this blog post here I describe how I decided to dedicate my next ten blog posts to Polish Jews. I am cheating today. I'm talking about a Slovak Jew. The Jew who saved my mother's life when she was young.

I don't know his name.

As I was thinking about this blog post, I zoomed forward in time from whispered, oral stories told half in English and half in Slovak decades ago, stories taking place in an agrarian village without electricity or running water and haunted by hasterman – water sprites – to the 21st century.

I suddenly realized that my awareness of this young man need not be limited to my slim and fading memory of my mother's words. I can go to the internet. I did. I found the Yad Vashem page dedicated to Jews from Kovarce killed by the Nazis. It's here. I decided to read down the list of names and dates of birth to find a male who was around my mother's age. A few are possible candidates – Jozef, Aladar, Alexander.

Whichever one of you saved my mother, thank you.

I'm sorry we could not save you.

Yad Vashem summarizes WW II and Holocaust history in Slovakia here

The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library has an exhibit on the Tragedy of Slovak Jews here
Record of the death of one of the men who may have
saved my mother. Source: Yad Vashem
Jews being deported from Slovakia by Nazis 
Jewish children in Bratislava today

Here's a fabulous piece of music about a river in Czechoslovakia 

Tibor Rendek. Saint Anne's Church, Kovarce. Source

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Poland's Jewish Queen: Esterka. Ten Posts Saluting Polish Jews

In this photo, it looks as if Esterka wants to watch TV, and the
kids and the husband are bugging her. From the Opoczno
webpage, linked below. 

King Kazimierz the Great (1310-1370) found a Poland of wood and left a Poland of stone. He founded the Jagiellonian University, attended by Copernicus, Bronislaw Malinowski, Karol Wojtyla, and me. He invited Jews into Poland. He married four times. According to legend, he also had a Jewish mistress, Esterka.

Kazimierz and Esterka had four children, two boys and two girls. The boys were raised as Catholics; the girls, as Jews. When Rabbi Byron L. Sherwin retells the Esterka story, he emphasizes that Esterka never converts. She remains Jewish; Kazimierz remains Catholic. And they remain united. Not even death separated Kazimierz and Esterka. Playwright Aaron Zeitlin (1899-1974) has Kazimierz say to Esterka, "We shall die. But so long as your race and mine inhabit this earth, it is not ended, Esterke of Opoczno"

One might argue that Esterka was not really a queen, because she was not married to the king. This is debated in Ewa Kurek's book Polish Jewish Relations 1939-1945. A Pole meets a Jew in the Lublin Jewish cemetery. The Jew says, "Over there is one stone inscribed with one name. She was a Jew, of humble beginnings, the daughter of a tailor. But later on she became the Jewish queen."

The Pole argues. She wasn't really queen. The Jew goes on.

"Who has permission to be seated next to the king? This is a comical question! The seamstress is seated next to the tailor, and next to the king, the queen. Even a child understands that!"

There are many such playful, erotic, or didactic variations of the Esterka / Kazimierz story. If you are interested, do a Google search – or compose your own!

Esterka is associated with many towns, including Opoczno, which features her story on the town's webpage here.

Radom claims to have her house. A photo of it by Woytek S is here

No one knows for sure if Esterka is a real person or not. Those who say she is not point out that the Biblical Esther was a Jewish queen married to a non-Jewish king. Others say that the stories about Esther are meant to explain why Kazimierz was so favorable to Jews.

I am not a Polish historian and I have no way of assessing the historicity of Esterka. One thing is clear; she exists, to the extent that she does, because she represents the long-lasting bond, and intertwined nature, of Polish-Jewish relations.

This post is part of a series described here

Radom, a city in Poland, claims to have Ester's house
where she met with Kazimierz. They were very happy here --
thus the name of the city, "rad dom," house of joy." 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ten Posts Dedicated to Polish Jews: A Response to the Anti-Semitic Buffoon in Wroclaw

Jankiel by Maurycy Trebacz Source: Wikipedia 
Recently an anti-Semitic hatemonger, idiot, and buffoon burned an effigy of a Jew in Wroclaw, Poland. Such acts are always abhorrent, but it's especially abhorrent that this happened in Poland. Not by our wishes and not by our hands, millions of Jews were, indeed, burned in Nazi-occupied Poland.

We've been discussing this; see here.

I believe in free speech. I believe the antidote to hateful speech is not less speech but more speech. 

This blog will never make international news as the buffoon in Wroclaw did, but I will do my part. 

The next ten posts in this blog will salute Polish Jews. 

We begin, of course, with Jankiel, a significant character in the Polish national epic poem Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz. Jankiel is an admirable character. It is he who brings the Polish national anthem to the hinterlands. 

Here he is in Leonard Kress' translation of Pan Tadeusz into English: 

Jankiel himself was a famous musician.
He played the cymbalom, the instrument
of his nation in court and royal mansion,
where he sang with sweet and polished intent.
A Jew whose Polish was both clear and pure,
he also had a love of Polish music,
learned on journeys to places near and far
beyond the Nieman: from Carpathian Halicz
he brought kolomajkas, and from Mazovia
he knew mazurkas. But his true fame
(at least some claim here in Lithuania)
stems from that glorious day when he first came
bearing the song he learned in Italy—
played by trumpeters of the Polish legion—
the well-known March of Dombrowski,
―Poland has not yet perished… In this region
of Lithuania, a singing talent
is well loved and well-rewarded; it can bring
riches and fame. And thus, Jankiel, content
with his fortune, tired of wandering,
hung his sweet-stringed cymbalom on a peg,
and settled down to family, inn, and wife.

But there is more: often neighbors would beg
advice on matters of domestic life.
He served as Rabbi in a nearby town;
he knew the river-barge business and grain,
once so important to sustain the crown:
that he was a good Pole, all would maintain.
Jankiel was quick to reconcile all quarrels,
often bloody, between establishments,
since he leased both of them. And those in brawls
both sides respected him--the adherents
of Horeszko as well as Soplica‘s men.
Jankiel alone could gain the upper hand
over Horeszko‘s terrible Warden
and the spiteful Steward. When he‘d stand
in front of them, old grudges were dismissed

Protazy‘s tongue stifled, Gervazy‘s fist.

You can read all of Leonard Kress' translation here

Monday, November 23, 2015

Wroclaw: Jewish Effigy Burned

Reuters photo 
On November 18, 2015, demonstrators in Poland burned an effigy of a Jew.

Some will rush forward and say, "Of course I understand this. All Poles are anti-Semites and this is what Poles and anti-Semites do."

Others will rush forward and say, "Of course I understand this. These Poles were protesting mass, unvetted migration, and anyone who doesn't want open borders is a bigot."

I don't believe either "explanation," offered above, so neither explanation is available to me.

I look at the man in the photo, and I wonder what is going on in his head. He needs to be understood. Just writing him off as a Pole behaving the way all Poles behave explains nothing.

How is it that this degree of anti-Semitism flourishes, to the extent that it does, in Poland today?

According to the article, Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich said "This is just one more example showing how the hatred for migrants comes from the same place as the classic hatred for Jews."

I find the rabbi's statement unhelpful. Rabbi Schudrich is conflating two distinct phenomena that are not related: the mass, unvetted migration into Europe now, which many voices agree is a catastrophe, and anti-Semitism. Yes, bigots will embrace both. No, not all who resist mass, unvetted migration are anti-Semites. In fact many Jews reject the mass, unvetted migration because it is certain to make them less secure. See France.

I am glad this action has been condemned. I am sad that it fuels the Bieganski stereotype. I hope and pray that good Poles will step forward and communicate that anti-Semitism is unacceptable.

If you read the comments under the articles about this event, you will see many commenters saying, paraphrase, "Poles are idiots. Always have been; always will be. Poles are bigots and anti-Semites; always have been; always will be. This is proof. Case closed."

Here's a typical comment from someone calling himself "Bruce Vodka" at the Washington Post article, linked below: "They're at it again, however this time they're after the wrong semites, but then again, they are polish :-) "

At the Jerusalem Post article, linked below, a commenter wrote "Poland's diminished miniscule Jewish population and still the dumb Polacks still demonstrated against Jews, antisemitism is a disease that afflicts the mentally challenged."

Jacob Rumsfeld posting in Algemeiner wrote "75 years ago they built death camps and now they turn against the Jewish people again. I thought Poles had become more civilized in the 21st century, but I guess i was wrong."

There are many more such comments at the Jerusalem Post.

Poles call for crackdown on hate speech see article here

Prosecutors launch a probe see article here

Washington Post coverage here 

Many anti-Polish posts at Algemeiner here

Jerusalem Post with many anti-Polish posts from readers here

Update: Wroclaw Catholic Church condemns burning of Jewish effigy here

November 24, 2015 update: Poland's Catholic Church condemns burning of Jewish effigy here

Sunday, November 8, 2015

"Today We Show the Polish": Muslim Majority Hamtramck Targets Poles

Hamtramck, once a Polish enclave, now has a Muslim majority city council. One member targeted Poles. See the full story here

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Wroclaw Soccer (Football) Fans Raise an Anti-Muslim Migrant Banner; It's a Bad Sign

Source: Pawel Kot Photography 

Source: Pawel Kot Photography 

On Sunday, November 1, 2015, in Wroclaw, Poland, Polish soccer fans displayed a fifty-foot by 75-foot banner opposing mass, unvetted Muslim migration to Europe.

The banner depicted a crusader knight with sword and shield defending Europe from invading Muslims, many of whom made a one-fingered ISIS gesture.

Another banner read, "Let us stand in defense of Christianity."

This is a bad sign.

My thoughts on the current migration can be found in my FrontPage magazine article "Western European vs. Eastern European Responses to Mass, Unvetted, Muslim Immigration Compassion vs. Intolerance? Don't Believe the Propaganda" here.

In short, I think this migration is a very bad idea. I think it is a huge provocation and I think it will inevitably lead to violent confrontation. I think those selling Europe's embrace of the migrants as compassionate are liars, and/or incredibly stupid. They are certainly destructive, irresponsible, and inhumane. There is nothing compassionate about luring desperate people to pay human traffickers to risk their lives to travel to very alien lands in hopes of welfare, only to be used as cheap labor to prop up Europe's failing socialist programs. This migration will cause great rage, frustration and disappointment on all sides. The desperate people should be helped to remake their own societies.

Why, then, is the Wroclaw soccer banner a bad sign?

This migration should be handled by responsible adults in an adult way. Raising banners that invoke the Crusades is itself provocative and a sign that leaders are not listening to the people and are steering Europe horribly off course. When soccer fans have to take on the job of correcting a world leader like Angela Merkel, we have entered a frightening time.

BTW, I have seen this story covered only in Breitbart here. I sought, but did not find, coverage in other media. I thank Virginia Ross for alerting me to this story.

Photos are from Pawel Kot, photographer's Facebook page, here.

The comments below the article are friendly to Poles and Poland and reject the Bieganski stereotype. Here is one such comment "And everyone makes jokes about "Polacks"? Only folk that see what is really going on and doing something about it. Go Poland!"
 A few commenters invoke Bieganski stereotypes and even tell a few distasteful Polish jokes but are confronted by other commenters. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Bieganski Lives in the Muslim Migrant Crisis; Konstanty Gebert Adds Fuel to Bieganski Fire

From Konstanty Gebert's NYT op-ed; link below
Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype exposes a centuries-old stereotype of Poles and other Eastern European, Christian, peasant-descent populations as racist thugs. That stereotype is being exploited today by world leaders like Angela Merkel in the Muslim migrant crisis. It was also recently exploited by Konstanty Gebert in the op-ed pages of the New York Times.

Gebert published "Poland Shouldn't Shut Out Refugees," on September 9, 2015. Gebert's harangue was accompanied by the above shaming illustration, whose message is clear: You racist bastard Poles, you are such unthinking bigots that you have chosen not to take in this suffering mother and child just because they are not Christian. Yeah! Just like when you murdered all those Jews during World War II!

Here's how Gebert hammers home what murderous bigots Poles are, "The Internet has erupted with hatred: The prosecutor general has ordered an investigation of anonymous posts recommending that Poland reopen Auschwitz and send refugees there."

"Poland reopen Auschwitz." Consider those three words.

Did Poland ever "open" Auschwitz? No, it did not. Auschwitz was a project of Nazi Germany. Poles were its first prisoners and victims.

How many Poles want to send Muslims to Auschwitz? In fact, does one single Pole sincerely want to send Muslims to Auschwitz? The internet is full of hyperbole. I've gotten emails from people who say they want to send me to Auschwitz. And yet I walk around free. Is this just bluster from some teenage troll? Gebert doesn't have to pause to consider to that question. He has already sewn such explosive seeds of hate that conscious thought is violently and sickeningly pre-empted.

Gebert never addresses that the UN reports that 75% of the migrants are not women or children at all, but able-bodied, military aged men. See here.

Gebert never mentions that Christians have been gauged out of Iraqi and Syrian villages where they had previously maintained a cultural presence for two thousand years. Gebert never addresses that ISIS has promised to use this mass migration to spread jihad terror. Gebert never addresses that Christians are being methodically slaughtered, crucified, raped, and turned into sex slaves in the very regions producing the migration. Gebert never mentions the many reports of the Muslim migrants he wants admitted to Poland committing atrocities against Christians while they are en route to Europe, or once they arrive in Europe.

"Muslim Migrants Throw Christians Overboard" is a rather sobering CNN headline here.

"Abuse, Exclusion, and Physical Attacks for Christian Syrian Refugee in Germany" read it here.

Gebert doesn't evince any concern that Western Europe has become so threatening to Jews that many Jews are leaving countries like France and England because they can't walk down the street without being harassed and even subjected to violence. "Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?" Atlantic magazine asked in April, 2015, reporting that "new threats from radicalized Islamists have created a crisis, confronting Jews with an agonizing choice." Here.

Poland is now, as it had been for centuries before the 1939 invasion by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the safest country for Jews in Europe. "Poland is the Safest Place in Europe for Jews Today," reported the Jewish Journal on September 23, 2014, here. If Poland's demography changes as Gebert demands that it must, Jews' safety will also change. Why would anyone risk eliminating Europe's one safe place for Jews?

How far Gebert strays from any facts is epitomized in this outlandish phrase, "Poland, thriving on European funds and sheltered by Europe’s geography…"

Really? Really? Poland is "thriving on European funds"? Not on Poles' hard work as the West's notorious, and often vilified, blue collar laborers, including plumbers? See the Wikipedia article dedicated to Polish plumbers, the labors they performed and the "threat" their hard work posed to Western Europe's cossetted workforce here.

Poland is "sheltered by Europe's geography"??? Poland is, largely, a geographic plain surrounded by hostile neighbors. Germany, Russia, Sweden and Turkey have exploited Poland's geography for invasions for centuries.

I guess when your name is Konstanty Gebert and you are writing an anti-Polish, anti-Christian op-ed for the New York Times, an op-ed that shows zero consideration for the physical safety of your fellow Jews in Europe, you can spout any counterfactual nonsense you want.

You can read Gebert's op-ed here.

Blog reader Liron Rubin wrote in to alert us to a recent article in Spiked magazine. Spiked takes the press, and the West, to task for "Using Migrants to Bash Eastern Europe."

Spiked's article begins:

The migrant crisis has seemingly divided Europe along moral lines. On the right side, the side of compassion, of progressiveness, you have the states of Western Europe. They’re the good guys, the guys standing at the head of the European Union, drawing up migrant quotas for EU member states, allocating people here, distributing people there, protecting people, saving people. They really care – really care about the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the sites of various Western interventions, from Iraq to Libya to Syria. So much so, in fact, that the EU’s leading power, Germany, with chancellor Angela Merkel to the fore, and the European Commission are talking about a further centralisation of EU member states’ border-control powers and the creation of a ‘permanent mechanism’ to ensure the speedy and compulsory distribution of migrants throughout Europe…

But on the dark side, the side of regress, the side of iron crosses and vestigial fascism, you have Eastern Europe. Hungary, Poland, Slovakia… These are the bad guys, the nations with demogogues in power and populations ill at ease with massive influxes of non-European peopletheir people have staged anti-migrant protests…While Merkel was busy welcoming migrants into Germany, the old Eastern Bloc-kers have fortified their borders, erecting razor-wire fences, and stationing riot police at key crossing points.

…You only have to listen to Merkel to hear the moral self-aggrandisement at work. It is as if the migrant crisis is a chance to demonstrate the virtue of the EU, a golden PR opportunity to conjure up the EU elite’s moral authority. ‘Europe must show it is a continent of values, a continent of solidarity’, she said recently. European Council chief Donald Tusk echoed Merkel when he warned against ‘populism and xenophobia’ in Europe’s midst, and then declared: ‘Our political aim should be to strengthen Europe against right-wing extremists

More sinister still has been the suggestion that Eastern Europe’s migrant problem, its refusal to let them all in, has its roots in its unconfronted past – the past of pogroms, of persecution, and, more pointedly, a barely suppressed fascism. Never reckoned with, this past is now erupting all too easily into the present. Merkel herself riffed on Eastern atavism when she accused the region of failing to learn from history. Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann, speaking to Der Spiegel, was more explicitly allusive: ‘Piling refugees on trains in the hope that they go far, far away brings back memories of the darkest period of our continent.’ The Polish-born Princeton historian, Jan Gross, went even further in an article for Die Welt, when he asserted that eastern EU states had ‘proven to be intolerant, narrow-minded, and xenophobic’: ‘German society, which has become conscious of its historical crimes, has learned through them how to approach moral and political challenges like the current influx of refugees. Eastern Europe, on the other hand, has yet to come to terms with its murderous past.’

It’s a striking vision of a Europe divided between the drivers of progress in the West, and the prisoners of the past in the East. In this story of the migrant crisis, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and assorted Balkan states appear to be in desperate need of the West’s 21st-century moral instruction…"

You can read Spiked's article in full here
 And if you haven't already, please have a look at my FrontPage magazine article, "Western European vs. Eastern European Responses to Mass, Unvetted, Muslim Immigration Compassion vs. Intolerance? Don't Believe the Propaganda" here
Konstanty Gebert, evidently not thinking deep thoughts. Source
Hey, Konstanty Gebert, perhaps you have heard that Europe is less safe for Jews? 
Hey, Konstanty Gebert, perhaps you have not seen this photo of ISIS persecution? CNN published it.