The Jews in Poland by Chimen Abramsky (Editor), Antony Polonsky, Maciej Jachimczyk – Published January 8th 1991 by Wiley-Blackwell (first published 1986). Edition Language: English.
Awfulization of the Jewish Experience, in 1930s Poland, Rejected. Jewish Economic Hegemony Harmed Non-Jews. Seldom-Appreciated Facts on Betrayers and Rescuers of Jews
Of the numerous authors in this anthology, this review focuses on those that bring up perennially-relevant issues.
JEWISH ECONOMIC HEGEMONY AND ITS HARM TO NON-JEWS
A long-term source of Polish-Jewish antagonisms has been Jewish economic dominance. In a study of 19th century formerly-Polish Ukraine, Daniel Beavois (p. 79) estimates that 87% of the merchants were Jews. As for 19th-century foreign-ruled central Poland, Stefan Kieniewicz comments: “Those same Jewish tycoons, on the other hand, were regarded as exploiters by the labouring classes, both Christian and Jewish, and hated accordingly…Among the lower middle classes mistrust and ill-feeling was ever-increasing, particularly between Jewish and Christian shopkeepers, pedlars [peddlers] or middlemen. Non-Jewish peasant newcomers, flocking into the cities in the search of a career in trade, were faced with the long-established monopolies of Jewish businessmen. The resulting economic rivalry fuelled anti-semitic resentment…Eastern Jews, flocking from the Pale after the wave of [Russian-sponsored] pogroms of the 1880’s, presented another problem. The Litvaks, as they were called, were Russian-speaking people, and were resented not only as business competitors, but also as a threat to the Polish character of such towns as Warsaw, Lodz, or Wilno [Vilnius] ” (pp. 75-6).
LACHRYMOSE JEWISH HISTORY OPENLY REJECTED
Ezra Mendelsohn takes issue with the doom-and-gloom portrayal of interwar Polish Jews exhibited in the book ON THE EDGE OF DESTRUCTION, by Celia Heller. He writes: “The basic attitudes expressed by Heller and other members of the Jewish camp have recently been challenged by a number of scholars.” (p. 131). He then elaborates on them.
WIDESPREAD AGREEMENT: MOST JEWS SHOULD LEAVE POLAND
Mendelsohn (p. 134) also discusses the apparent paradox of the Endeks (Polish nationalists) being in agreement with Zionists such as Vladimir Jabotinsky on the need for most of Poland’s Jews to emigrate to Palestine. While the motives were, of course, different, the results would’ve been the same. Poland would be free of Jewish economic dominance and Jewish demands for a nation-within-nation status, while the huge Polish-Jewish population would no longer be cramped into a destitute Polish nation unable to absorb them.
SYSTEMATIC GERMAN SEARCHES, AND TERROR, INHIBITED POLISH RESCUE EFFORTS REGARDING FUGITIVE JEWS
Holocaust education in the USA is typically so Judeocentric that not only are Polish victims ignored or belittled in their own right, but aren’t even considered when they could’ve illuminated the fate of Jews. For instance, recurrent charges of „so few Poles saving Jews” are divorced from the reality of German-conquered Poland, notably the very limited freedom of Poles to act at all. As Wladyslaw Bartoszewski writes: “In no other occupied European country, nor in Germany itself, were there such large-scale round-ups, searches and blockades of whole districts in all the larger cities, in an effort to find Jewish fugitives.”(p. 158).
UNDERSTANDING–INSTEAD OF DEMONIZING–POLISH DENOUNCERS OF JEWS
Perennial accusations of Poles betraying Jews, automatically blamed on (what else?) Polish anti-Semitism, are divorced from the reality of German surveillance. Bartoszewski continues: “Historians…underestimating the efficiency and perfidity of the methods used by the huge, highly-specialized intelligence and police machinery of the Nazis. With the help of a network which included informers of various nationalities, individual and mass arrests could be systematically prepared and carried out many times throughout each year of occupation. People as well-protected as the Home Army’s high command and leading activists fell victim to the informers, as did the leaders of various political parties…”(p. 158).
LIQUIDATING BETRAYERS WAS NO PARLOR GAME: IT WAS VERY DIFFICULT
Complaints about the Polish Underground “doing so little” to eliminate Polish denouncers of Jews are also out of touch with reality. Teresa Prekerowa states: “But to prove an informer’s guilt was extremely difficult, since the underground administration of justice in Poland had very limited opportunities to conduct inquiries. The victims of blackmail could offer very little information…Since the only punishment at the disposal of underground organizations was the death penalty, its application was avoided in all dubious cases…Notwithstanding the problems which faced the underground administration of justice, 150 Gestapo informers of Polish nationality had been put to death by the end of April 1943.” (p. 174).
POLISH INFLUENCE AND JEWISH INFLUENCE: A VAST ASSYMMETRY
Yisrael Gutman, then a leading Holocaust historian, had written a thought-provoking article. He comments on the divide that has developed between Jewish and Polish views of the shared Jewish-Polish experience before, during, and after WWII (p. 177-onwards). Unfortunately, however, Yisrael Gutman does not go nearly far enough. What matters most is not the difference in perspective, but the vast asymmetry of the two sides in their access to public opinion. As a recent example, note the media feeding frenzies over the publication of NEIGHBORS, FEAR, and GOLDEN HARVEST, by Jan T. Gross. Not only does the media give profuse, one-sided coverage to Gross, but displays a shocking lack of integrity in its fawning claim that Gross has been proved correct. The truth is exactly the opposite: Subsequent investigation has almost certainly demonstrated that the Germans were the main killers of the Jews of Jedwabne, and the relatively small group of Poles (nowhere near half the town), whether acting consensually or not, played only a subordinate role.
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Title image: „The Jews in Poland” by Chimen Abramsky (Editor), Antony Polonsky, Maciej Jachimczyk, part of the cover / selected by wg.pco
, 2019.01.21. /u.d. 2020.01.13.