Friday, May 12, 2017

On Polish antisemitism

Over the past couple of days, my blog attracted a few commentators who feel that Poland is misrepresented on this blog.

Specifically for this article: "Poland: President Duda says Jews are safer in Poland than in Western Europe, denies responsibility for Holocaust crimes"

Apparently my post got to a "Polish media issues" group on Facebook and they got organized to protect Poland's honor.

Let me first quote from the article by Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, which is prominently linked on the original post:
While Poland had terrible and extensive examples of antisemitism [read Jan Gross' Neighbors or his more recent work Fear for compelling examples of this], nonetheless let's not confuse that with the German plan to wipe out European Jewry. [I reviewed Gross' Fear and may have myself gone a bit overboard in condemning an entire nation. ]

Auschwitz, Maidanek, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno, and Belzec were not "Polish" death camps. They were German camps that were placed in Poland by the Germans because that was where most of the victims were.

This is not a brief on behalf of the Poles of the 1940s. It's a reminder to keep one's historical eyes where they belong, i.e. on Germany.

I strongly recommend Rethinking Poles and Jews: Trouble Past, Brighter Future edited by Robert Cherry and Annamaria Orla-Bukowska for a series of essays that pierce the stereotypes which have obscured historical reality.

I completely agree.  Auschwitz was not a "Polish" death camp.  It was a Nazi death camp.  Poland was under Nazi occupation and suffered greatly for it.

So what's the problem?

1. Context - President Duda's statements in the original post come as part of an organized attempt to cast off blame for any crimes committed by Poles during and after the Holocaust.

See here:
President Andrzej Duda said the nation's new "historical policy offensive" aims to create a new generation of patriots and "to build up the country's position in the international space."

Critics see historical revisionism that will produce little beyond national self-righteousness and will prevent an honest reckoning with the country's wartime history - an extremely complex story that includes suffering and heroism of the highest order but also cases of murder and betrayal by Poles of defenseless Jews.
"They want to narrow our view of the past," said Pawel Spiewak, director of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. "They want to use the state apparatus to force their new view of political history, and this is very dangerous."

2.  Denial of antisemitism -  Explaining why Poland was not responsible for Auschwitz is not good enough for some people.  They claim that there was no antisemitism at all against Jews, or that any violence against Jews was done by a few 'criminal individuals', or even worse - that it was justified, because Jews were the enemy (ie, part of the Soviet regime).

Some commentators have thoroughly studied anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sources (including Jewish and Israeli ones), in order to show that Jews are not better than Poles. 

They wave away the stories of blood libels and pogroms.  Deny that Jews were murdered by fellow Poles during the Holocaust, even by fellow fighters against Nazis.  Deny that Jewish Holocaust survivors faced violence in Poland.  Deny current-day antisemitism.

commentator trying to explain why Polish people should not feel responsible for cases where Poles killed their neighbors

According to a recent poll, antisemitism is endemic in today's Poland.

60% of Poles believe that Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust.

50% of Poles believe that Polish Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Poland.

50% of Poles believe Jews have too much power in the business world and in the financial markets. 40% believe Jews have too much control over global affairs. 30% believe Jews have too much control over the global media.

Those are extremely high numbers.

As Prof. Lipstadt points out, many Jews think the Poles played a part in the Holocaust.  Many of those claims are incorrect. 

So where do they come from?

I believe those claims are rooted in history. 

Over the last century and a half, many Polish Jews fled their country, carrying with them stories of Polish cruelty against Jews prior to the Holocaust.

The sheer destruction of Polish Jewry in the Holocaust is staggering.  90% of Polish Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.  Many of those Jews had family that had fled previously.  Receiving news of your loved one's death in a country that you had fled from, does not encourage one to see that country positively, regardless of the circumstances.

And it didn't stop there.  After the Holocaust, there's accounts of violence and pogroms against Holocaust survivors.  In the 1960s, Jews again faced antisemitism, when the Soviet-controlled government sponsored an antisemitic campaign.

The Polish people are not responsible for crimes they did not commit.  But the Polish people were and are extremely antisemitic.  Claiming otherwise is rewriting history and denying reality.

This blog is an activist blog in the fight against antisemitism.  It is not meant as a 'free speech' forum for incitement against Jews.   

My suggestion to anybody who wants to fight the perception that the Polish people are responsible for the Holocaust:
1. Do not wave away or deny Jewish accounts of antisemitism and violence against Jews
2. Do not attack Jews or Israel as a way to prove to Jews that you're not antisemitic

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