The Neighbors Respond

One common but nonsensical theme in this anthology is the one about Poles being too conceited or too imbued with their heroism and victimization to face unpleasant facts about their history. In fact, Polish history freely acknowledges its dark chapters (e. g. Targowica). Polish WWII accounts often mention ignoble Polish conduct. Polish historical icons are subject to re-evaluation (e. g. the wisdom (?) of the Warsaw Uprising). Poles do recognize their character flaws (e. g. disunity). However, acceptance of unpleasant truths and the acceptance of unpleasant falsehoods are two different things. The real reasons for Poles “defending their national honor” and resisting Gross’ sensationalism include: 1) The long history of defamatory claims against Poland, 2) The exultation of Jewish suffering and virtual ignoring of Polish suffering, 3) The increasing conflation of Nazi German action with that of Christians and Poles, 4) The selective attention to anti-Semitism if it is Polish, 5) The lightning-fast embrace of Gross by the western media, and 6) The possible agenda-driven nature of tendencies #1-#5. As an example of #1, recall the widely heralded 1918 Polish pogroms, most of which turned out to be unfounded upon independent analysis. In recent decades, one inaccurate Polonophobic Holocaust material has followed another. Apropos to #2, complaints about Polish schools teaching a Polonocentric view of WWII ignore the fact that the rest of the world gets the Judeocentric view. Practically everyone worldwide, certain Muslim regions excepted, knows of the 6 million Jews, while the 3 million Poles are all but forgotten. As for #3. Christian anti-Semitism (e. g. the blood libel, “Christ killers”, etc.) has existed for 2,000 years without ever once morphing into the eliminationist anti-Semitism characteristic of the secularist ideology of Nazism. Yet the Church continues to be held responsible for the Holocaust. Any attempt at comparing the systematic murder of 5-6 million Jews with some other murderous event is called an act of relativizing the Holocaust. But we are told that the (supposedly) willing killing of even 1,600 Jews, a drop in the ocean compared with 5-6 million by the Germans, now makes Poland a participant in the Holocaust. Talk about relativizing the Holocaust! Judging by the volume of Jewish attention and anger, one could almost conclude that the Holocaust had been a Polish crime. Goldhagen’s HITLER’S WILLING EXECUTIONERS is the exception that proves the rule. Placing blame for the Holocaust squarely where it beloangs-on the Germans–it drew much Jewish criticism for implying collective German guilt. Far less Jewish effort is made to individualize Polish behavior. In Holocaust films, “good Germans” are incomparably more common than “good Poles”. There are few if any Holocaust films about the Vichy French or the Danish SS of “those heroic Danes”. Poles must always be the bad guys. As for #4, the search for Polish anti-Semitism under every stone contrasts with the relatively mild Jewish reaction to certain US black leaders who make vile anti-Semitic remarks worthy of Streicher and Goebbels. #5 needs no comment, and #6 requires elaboration beyond the book’s cursory mention of infantile beliefs in “world Jewish conspiracies” and of Norman Finkelstein’s work. There are in fact Jewish groups attempting to force Poland to pay for everything that once belonged to Polish Jews, even though German Holocaust reparations payments are supposed to cover Jewish property losses as well as the incalculable loss of Jewish lives. Harsh prewar Polish statements on the overlordship of Jews (Bikont) ignore the fact that Poland’s Jews, at 10% of the population, owned some 40% of Polish wealth. To polarize matters further, nascent Polish entrepreneurs faced considerable difficulty in competing against their long-established Jewish counterparts. In identifying the main source of Polish animosities against Jews, Strzembosz gives an eye-opening account of the earlier Jewish-Soviet collaboration. However, Strzembosz doesn’t mention the long-term disproportionate Jewish involvement in Communism. Moreover, a large fraction of Polish Jews had always cast its lot with Poland’s enemies (well back into the 19th century). Michnik’s attempt to make something of the fact that modern Poles live in formerly Jewish houses overlooks the fact that Poles also live in Polish victims’ former homes. Also, owing to forced territorial changes, Ukrainians live in formerly Polish homes while Poles live in formerly German homes. Gross’ attempt to discount recently filed testimonies (pp. 251-252; ones that tend to implicate the Germans) is especially ironic. In the US, eyewitness recollections given decades after the events have stood up in court as a major ground for the conviction of long-incognito Nazi war criminals (e. g., Frank Walus of Chicago). We are told that Polish culpability at Jedwabne is established regardless of the degree of German leadership. I beg pardon. The law has always recognized the differing degrees of culpability of the chief perpetrator and the accomplice in a crime. Moreover, a coerced accomplice may be totally absolved of culpability. It is silly to suggest that Poles were free of coercion since there was no cordon of Germans surrounding Jedwabne (p. 182) and/or because Hermann Schaper’s Gestapo unit supposedly wasn’t there at the time. Surely the cruelties of the Germans were well known, along with certain knowledge of the fact that any large German unit could arrive in short order to wreak terror on Jedwabne’s Poles for any act of disobedience. And even if Gross is right that there were “only” 10-12 armed Germans at Jedwabne on the fateful day (pp. 251-252), and they “only” stood in the background without pointing their guns at the Poles, it would have been enough to cow the Poles into the obedient roundup and possible killing of Jews. Surely it does not take a large armed force to control a group of unarmed civilians of a defeated nation! In any case, it is obvious that no one (including the Polish Commission) has proven consensual Polish involvement at beyond a reasonable doubt, and it is high time that various publications stop pretending that Polish culpability at Jedwabne is established fact.

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