Jewish Author Confronts Her Polonophobia. Overt Pole-Blaming German Guilt Diffusion is Entrenched in the Minds of Many Jews

  • The Crooked Mirror: A Memoir of Polish-Jewish Reconciliation by Louise Steinman – Published November 5th 2013 by Beacon Press (first published January 1st 2013)


This book is not about Polish-Jewish reconciliation per se. It is about the author’s discovery of her Jewish roots in Poland, and her overcoming of common anti-Polish notions as she discovers Poland’s Jewish past, and interacts with Poles who are also studying Poland’s rich Jewish history.


Finally, Steinman repeats the standard left-wing demonization of RADIO MARYJA (p. 189), and berates RADIO MARYJA, and an elderly woman listener, as „paranoid”, for suggesting that the Jews have gotten too cozy with the Germans. Interestingly and ironically, she had earlier said much the same thing in other words, (quote) An estimated 80 percent of American Jews are of Polish Jewish descent. There was scant generosity in their feelings about Poland; always dependable heat. Most harbored more bitterness toward Poland than they did toward Germany, a fact that I never questioned as odd, misplaced. (unquote). (p. xi).


Compared with most other Jewish authors, especially American Jews, Louise Steinman exhibits an unusually detailed understanding, and appreciation, of Polish suffering under both the Nazis and Communists. In addition, Steinman has an atypically lucid understanding of the implications of the German-imposed death penalty. She comments, (quote) Under German occupation, any Pole who sought to save the life of a Jew risked not only his or her own life but the lives of everyone in his or her family as well. Of all the countries in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, Poland was subjected to the most severe and sadistic repression. (unquote) (p. 9). [This is in sharp contrast with the likes of Jan T. Gross, who downplayed the significance of the German-imposed death penalty.]


The author interviews some Holocaust survivors. She also describes the Nazi German murder of Radomsko’s Jews. The Germans marched the Jews off to a secret location, shot them, and then tried long and hard to apprehend some Polish boys that had surreptitiously seen the murders. (pp. 107-108). [This adds to other testimonies about German secrecy in killing Jews, and implicitly contradicts the Polonophobic tales about Poles standing around and cheering as the Germans killed the Jews. Obviously, even if some Poles were so inclined, the Germans would not permit Poles to stand around and watch!]


Steinman is even-handed about certain problematic issues, such as property restitution. She realizes that the Communists nationalized the properties of former Jews, that there is no simple solution to this problem, and that current owners, many of whom had already suffered a great deal because of the war, understandably fear losing their homes. (pp. 63-64, 149).


The author writes, (quote) Sylwia recalled how the Israeli teens who came to her high school when she was a student brought their own (kosher) good and wouldn’t touch any refreshments offered by the Polish students. The Poles experienced this as an insult. The Israelis saw the Polish students as the inheritors of a legacy of anti-Semitism. The Poles saw the Jews as arrogant and standoffish…(unquote). (p. 99).

The reader may be astonished to learn that, until four years ago, Poles were not allowed to participate in the March of the Living, and Poles who applied for participation were rejected. Polish survivors of the Nazi camps were also denied participation. (pp. 115-116).


Steinman writes, (quote) Tomek and his friends were aggrieved that neither American nor Israeli Jews were able to fathom the risks and stresses of Poles under German occupation…A number of my American Jewish friends who’d see Roman Polanski’s film THE PIANIST asked me why Polanski (himself a Polish Jewish survivor) had shown the Poles in such a good light. As if that was inconceivable…What most troubled the Polish students was how the Israeli teens clung to their preconceived idea that the Holocaust took place in Poland because the Nazis counted on the Poles’ help in exterminating the Jews. Before my first trip to Poland, I also shared these erroneous ideas about Poland… (unquote). (p. 99).

Unfortunately, many Jews seem to be not merely ignorant, but openly in denial, about the implications of Polish sufferings. Steinman quips, (quote) „We tried to tell the Israeli students that during the war, Poland was considered German territory,” said Sylwia. „They didn’t want to hear ANYTHING we said.” (unquote)(emphasis in original)(p. 100). Sounds typical.


Although the author shows depth in much of her thinking, and appears to be sincere in her desire for Polish-Jewish reconciliation, her work also has significant shortcomings. I mention a few of them.

Steinman mischaracterizes pre-WWII Polish policies as ones that excluded Jews from universities. (p. 31). They did not. The numerus clausus limited Jews to 10% of the student body of universities–the same level as their share of the general population.

The author has a disappointingly superficial understanding of the events at Jedwabne, and she repeats Jan T. Gross in a completely uncritical manner. (p. 43, 140, 153-154, 158-on). Contrary to widespread media spin, the investigative Polish IPN Commission did not „prove Jan T. Gross right” on Jedwabne. Please click on the following scholarly volume, The Massacre in Jedwabne, July 10, 1941: Before, During, After, and read the detailed Peczkis review.

In addition, the Steinman glosses over the strong Jewish over-representation in Communism (p. 80, 159), and how this Zydokomuna disproportionately contributed to the oppression of the Ukrainians and Poles. If genuine Polish-Jewish reconciliation is to take place, the Jewish side must come to terms with the past and its wrongs towards Poles no less than the Polish side must come to terms with the past and its wrongs towards Jews. Unfortunately, Steinman seems to show no inclination in the recognition of any Jewish wrongdoing.

Despite these shortcomings, and still others that could be mentioned, Steinman has written a lucid and uplifting account of Polish-Jewish relations. It is hoped that she will correct the misconceptions in a future edition of her work.


Jan Peczkis

Published with the author’s permission.


– More reviews by Jan Peczkis on PCO  ….. .

  • Title image: „The Crooked Mirror: A Memoir of Polish-Jewish Reconciliation”
    by Louise Steinman – part of cover / selected by wg.pco

Polish-Club-Online-PCO-logo-2, 2018.09.27.