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Holocaust did not end the 1000-year history of Jewish-Polish coexistence, but it left the deepest imaginable wounds in the relationship between the two peoples . Now many Jews and Poles are trying, often with great difficulty, to move...
HEALING. FROM HATRED TO
By E. Thomas Wood
Left :ivors in this apartment Themurdof42Hlcasturv building in Kielce, Poland, was memorializ ed on July 4, 1996, the 50th anniversary of the Kielce pogrom . (Photo by E. Thomas
Katyn Forest massacre, Poles erected a memorial in Krakow to kinsmen murdered by the Russians . (Photo by Frank Fox .)
In Warsaw, a teenage skinhead kicks over gravestones in a Jewish cemetery. In Krakow, Polish Christians and Jews dance the hora together in the streets of the former Jewish quarter. Right-wing Polish authors deny Poland's responsibility for the 1946 Kielce pogrom . At the same time, Kielce residents write public letters of contrition about the massacre . A peasant farmer learns, in his mid-50s, that he is a Jew and begins exploring his heritage—after being disinherited by the Pole he always called his father. Such are the painful complexities of Jewish-Polish relations a half-century after the Holocaust that decimated the once-vibrant Jewish community of Poland . Many people have believed, and some have hoped, that those relations would simply cease to exist. Hitler tried to remove the Jews from Poland and succeeded in murdering 3 million of them . Polish anti-Semites tried to harass Jews into leaving Poland, and those who lived through the war left in droves afterward . Some Jews, both in Poland and around the world, feel that Poland can never again be anything but a graveyard for the Jewish people. In fact, Jewish life is flourishing in today's Poland, as thousands of people rediscover Jewish identities that they buried years ago or that were hidden from them after they survived the Holocaust as children :In190,othe5anivrsyofthe OpositePag .) in the care Wod of Christians . More to the point, Jewish-Polish relations would remain a live issue even if no Jews were left in Poland.
FALL 1996 INSIDE 89
former President Lech Walesa's failure to condemn an anti-Semitic sermon by his parish priest led to criticism from many Jewish quarters . . The pogrom arose out of a blood libel—the accusation. will f confronted bristle i with attitudes that seem to minimize the Shoah. Concrete issues. blossoms in hand . the postwar Communist era. On July 4. but abstract issues of guilt. debate and recrimination. Recent events have injected numerous irritants into Jewish-Polish relations. At 6 :45 on an ordinary summer morning. No single historical event is more significant to current Jewish-Polish relations than the Kielce pogrom . Ultimately. righteousness and national honor are more often the touchstones of dialogue. over 50 were wounded. World War II and the Shoah . a July survey found that three-quarters of all Poles had never heard of the Kielce pogrom . Polish Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz and World Jewish Congress Vice President Kalman Sultanik were among the dignitaries taking part in the 50th anniversary commemoration. finding that the building had no cellar. became clearer to me as I met various Polish intellectuals during my visit to Poland . in the provincial city of Kielce stands in many minds as a symbol of all the hatred unleashed on Jews by Poles at various moments over the centuries . Time heals no wounds in Poland. such as the maintenance of memorial sites and the restitution of prewar Jewish property. and. 1946. The alcove is surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. the researcher in Lodz knew the professor in Lublin . Behind is a cross. possibly provoked or abetted by Communist authorities for political reasons . But Edward Moskal. The Katyn victims were killed not for doing anything in particular but for being who they were . engraved with the words Katyn 1940. Authorities at the time blamed the opposition to Poland's Soviet-imposed government for instigating the violence. in the absence of personal contact. Arguments have raged over whether repeated attacks on Jewish cemeteries in Warsaw and elsewhere. Documents suggesting secret police involvement have reportedly emerged from archives recently. The devastating impact of Stalin's execution of more than 15. the hearts and minds of individual respondents seemed to be drawn in contradictory directions . and even philo-Semitism. It cannot have been much different among the ruling class a half-century ago . It is a fairly new memorial . also compel them to deal with each other. twisted to resemble oversized strands of barbed wire. A proposal to build a shopping mall near the site of the Auschwitz death camp in southern Poland aroused angry protests from many Jews and angry defensiveness from many Poles. Everyone who was anyone knew someone at Katyn. By some estimates. these controversies are not about the present but about the past— the prewar era of strident Polish nationalism and rapid social evolution in Jewish communities. acknowledging it as an act of Polish antiSemitism . Local authorities investigated. Some Poles have since claimed that Zionist Jews staged the pogrom to hasten the Jewish exodus already under way to British-held Palestine . In addition to the dead. not often heard since the Middle Ages. 19%. In other words. that Jews make matzot with the blood of Christian children . reconstructed a few years ago by an American Holocaust survivor from Kielce. Jewish leaders from around the world laid wreaths on the mass grave of the pogrom victims at Kielce's Jewish Cemetery—a vast expanse with only a few monuments. I saw a pile of fresh flowers around a monument in a rear alcove.FROM from page 89 RED HAT Continued For one thing. Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel. took the regime to task for its "submissiveness" to Jewish demands. One old woman was leaving the site. In February.000 Polish officers and elite civilians (several hundred of them Jewish). The musician in Krakow knew the journalist in Warsaw . while another made her way toward it. Several influential Polish-Americans later condemned Moskal's views. There is little evidence to support either theory. as about 75 parishioners prayed at Warsaw's Church of the Holy Cross. For decades. but over two thirds supported the government's apology. Undeterred. The murder of 42 Holocaust survivors by a Polish mob on July 4. president of the Chicago-based Polish American Congress. Rivals in suffering World War II remains an inescapable presence in Poland . The landscape is crowded with ghosts—not just those of the 3 million Polish Jews murdered by the Germans. as muffled drums beat in the distance. the Polish government issued a formal apology for the pogrom. reflect the Polish character as a whole or merely the brutish aggression of a few hooligans. Moskal claimed that the pogrom was still an unsolved crime that might well have been the work of the Communist secret police in postwar Poland . Among those familiar with it. Last year. The PBS documentary "Shtetl" exposed raw feelings among Polish-Americans and Jewish-Americans with its portrayal of anti-Semitism in a small Polish town and of the hostility of Israeli students toward a seemingly decent Pole. A slight majority said the Communists were responsible for the pogrom. as well as widespread anti-Semitic graffiti. There is no corresponding symbol for all the mutually beneficial cooperation. Most serious scholars consider the pogrom a spontaneous eruption of antiJewish hatred. in what became known as the Katyn Forest massacre. one segment of the Polish nation suffered an Just about any American Jew . Despite all the media attention. blaming them on the Nazis . and a Polish commission is investigating. the mob that had gathered broke into the building and began heating and shooting Jews . whether descended from Holocaust survivors or not. William Mandell . most of all. that has characterized Jewish-Polish coexistence at other moments over the centuries. the mob amounted to 5 percent of Kielce's population . but also those of the more than 2 million Polish Christians killed by both the Nazis and the Soviets and of the millions of others who spent the prime years of their lives as slave laborers in both Germany and Russia. Communist authorities denied Soviet responsibility for the murders. A rumor spread that Polish children were being killed in the cellar of the building where most of Kielce's Holocaust survivors and Jewish refugees lived . the two sides often meet on the Internet .
a Holocaust survivor in Eugene. Calif .' Or: 'The reason the death camps were in Poland was because the Poles were antiSemitic. But if Poland has always been so inhospitable to Jews—if. He criticized the U . "Jews don't need a cemetery. Even the prayers we say have to do not with showing mercy to our enemies. Poles learned Jewish dances.S.accompanied by critical remarks . though. he writes for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal .' I try to tell them that what they are saying is prejudiced and is not the entire truth .5 million Jews here was not that this was the worst place on the face of the earth for Jews to live. . a friendly interest in things Jewish has taken hold in certain younger Polish circles . Meanwhile. But others. "hid den Jews" from the war era. the "new Jews of Poland" are tomorrow's . probably in increasing numbers . And in thousands of more prosaic cases. will bristle if confronted with attitudes that seem to minimize the Shoah . Behrendt reported. Whispers of dissent One major difference between the general attitudes of the Poles and those of the Jews. many Poles consider comments that reflect badly on Polish behavior during the war to be affronts to their personal honor. The Lauder Foundation also runs a summer camp and provides numerous other services to Poland's Jewish community. including Reisner and his wife. We moved around plenty in our time. But there were also people who saved Jews. some of them rabid . is Judaism based on forgiveness. in the face of perceived insults to the memory of victims . watched films about Jewish-Polish life and more. every kind of Jewish political party. "The anti-Semitism subject is beaten to a pulp here. it may be as high as 40. Ore . come into the open . "We are taught not to turn the other cheek. but deep down the anti-Semitism by the average Pole has not changed . Reisner found a name. "Get out of the cab and out of our country. whether descended from Holocaust survivors or not. A priest discovers he was born a Jew. Jon Petrie. The resurgence of Jewish life means plenty of work for Lauder Foundation officials in Poland. "If anyone tells me there's no anti-Semitism in Poland. director of the Ronald S. the Jewish population of Poland was believed to number about 5." Behrendt cited the experience of a cousin who recently visited the family's hometown. has written three articles this year in the City University of New York's Genocide Forum accusing Jewish interests of belittling Poland's wartime suffering . then reached for the telephone book—the 1938-39 Warsaw telephone book—to locate the victim's place in prewar Poland. Likewise. Jewish history in Poland is not limited to the war and the years immediately before and after the war." Excerpts from the interview were soon posted in a Polish Internet newsgroup -." Behrendt wrote . Polish-speaking couple had come in with a question about a relative . Petrie's comments touched off a heated debate last July on an Internet discussion forum for Holocaust scholars." If anti-Semitism is yesterday's issue.Karski commented. Reisner. "There has been some but not a great deal of change in Poland. who were friendly with Jews. But the tendentiousness of such arguments doesn't take away from the fact that Yad Vashem has listed many more Poles than persons of any other nationality on the rolls of the Righteous Among the Nations—those gentiles who helped Jews survive the Holocaust. told me that she has heard too many stories of Polish terror to place much credence in "the human side of Poles . these experiences are analogous to Jewish suffering during the war and to the assaults on the memory of the Holocaust that deniers still perpetrate today.000. Former Philadelphian Yale Reisner. The recognition of 4. leapt to the defense of Petrie's opponent. "It's overstated . The individual identifies strongly with his or her parents' or grandparents' society because the suffering of prior generations is an integral part of his or her self-image. Reisner sifts through a collection of death records from the Warsaw Ghetto—one of many uncataloged collections at the cashstrapped institute and one that has suffered from a half-century in a dank cellar. queued up for concerts by jazz and klezmer bands from New York and Israel. next to the Sony skyscraper built on the site of Warsaw's Great Synagogue. the man spat in her face. and their children and grandchildren. hopes for reconciliation between Jews and Poles may be premature . sampled Jewish food. left with Christian neighbors as a baby ." my friend explained ." one Pole retorted. several members denounced his posting . and they always will be . a Jewish writer in Berkeley. Holocaust Memorial Museum for minimizing the suffering of ethnic Poles in its exhibits and publications . "The reason there were 3 . Lauder Foundation Genealogy Project at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. takes a hyphenated name while maintaining his vows. The names of Polish Christian heroes of the Holocaust like Karski—who entered the Warsaw Ghetto and a concentration camp in 1942 so he could bear witness to the Western Allies about the extermination of the Jews—are invoked frequently by Polish chauvinists to defend Poland's honor . "Yes. Reisner notes that he could not safely wear his yarmulka every day on the streets of Warsaw if Polish hatred of Jews were as pervasive and virulent as some Jews claim .000 . she said. When one participant responded by suggesting that the death camps had been caust. author of the bestselling Hitler 's Willing Executioners : Ordinary Germans and the Holo- of "privileging Jewish life over Slavic life" in his interpretation of Nazi atrocities. just a big ditch. no doubt there were and still are Poles who helped save Jews.000 Polish Righteous Gentiles doesn't acquit the broader society of anti-Semitism ." Nor. as the Polish-born former Israeli Prime Minister Itzhak Shamir once said. but when you talk about them it is like talking about a few grains of sand in the desert. Today. but with destroying them . it's a lie . Thomas Wood is the author of Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust (John Wiley & Sons) . "If any one says there's no anti-Polonism in Israel. Just about any American Jew. Hillary Rodham Clinton visited the school recently to witness the blossoming of Jewish culture in Poland. Much of the change has been PR. but to be strong so that our enemies will not defeat us . An Orthodox Jewish friend in the United States. the sixth annual festival of Jewish culture drew ample crowds to the former Jewish quarter of Kazimierz at the end of June . When she asked a taxi driver to take her to the site of the former Jewish cemetery. A woman in Poland locates her aunt and learns her own true name after a 30-year-search . He later accused Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. There were some people who were very philoSemitic." he concludes. In Krakow. A Nashville freelance journalist. Gdansk. such as Edward Behrendt. and we wouldn't have stayed if it was the worst place . traveled to Poland in July and granted an inter view to Gazeta Wyborcza. every kind of Jewish religious movement. placed in Poland because of Polish antiSemitism. says without hesitation that there is such a thing as Jewish anti-Polonism—a term often wielded in Polish polemics responding to accusations of anti-Semitism. who has helped many people unearth their identities.attempt at categorical liquidation." Like Reisner." E ." he said to her. Since Poles and Jews nurse similar psychic wounds. "all Poles drink in their anti-Semitism with their mothers' milk"—why did so many Jews live in Poland in 1939? Yale Reisner confronts Jews with the question many times . it's not surprising that individuals within each group rise to the defense of the group as a whole. who intermarried with Jews . " Moving on At the Jewish Historical Institute. An elderly. "Every kind of Jewish institution. basically. the Polish-born Righteous Gentile. Helise Lieberman. "There were always anti-Semites in Poland. it's also a lie. "We are a stiff-necked people. hoping to find the graves of her great-grandparents . For years. every kind of Jewish social organization." The social consequences incurred when a Pole speaks out against Polish bigotry became clear after Jan Karski. is the degree of freedom members of each group feel to criticize their own kind . both of whose grandmothers grew up in Poland." Reisner says ... followed by the denial and denigration of its suffering . they all thrived in Poland . I prefer to look at things in a broader perspective. Still. There are still some . He says he has often defended the Poles : "I find myself very frequently talking to Jewish tourists who come here from various parts of the world and say to me. Although the Holocaust was unique in its genocidal scope. 'All the Poles are evil. and there still are. who directs the Lauder Morasha School in Warsaw. rattles off one fascinating tale of discovery after another: An 81-year-old father in Toronto finds his 51-year-old son. and goes to Israel to meet his uncle—a Lubavitcher Hasid . meant to impress the world.
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