Thursday, 29 March 2018

The Guilt of Some

I just got back from a seminar on Yiddish literature in Lithuania and Poland.

Needless to say, it was a very difficult trip. The monuments, the memorial sites, the death camps, every place was soaked with painful memories from our Jewish people’s recent sanguine history.

The visit to Poland, naturally, was overshadowed by the recent Polish law which calls for criminalizing some Holocaust speech accusing the Polish state or people of involvement or responsibility for the Nazi occupation during World War II. Punishment for breaking it can range from a fine or up to three years in prison. It went into effect on March 1, 2018.

Those who know me, know that as a daughter of two Shoah survivors, the subject is close to my heart. Some simply did not understand why I even bothered to visit Poland after this law had been enacted. For them such a law is a slap in the face of the victims and chose to ban Poland.

This was not my first visit to Poland. It may not be the last either. Let me make one point clear. I do not go there for cheap shopping or a vacation. I go there to tell the victims that they are not, nor will they ever be forgotten.

The last visit, however, brought about some insights which shed a light on a new reality. That reality, I believe, is not a pleasing one to the eyes, minds and collective subconsciousness of the Polish people.

Based on testimonies of friends and relatives who had visited Poland in the past, mainly before the fall of the Iron Curtain, Poland did not have nearly as many monuments commemorating the Shoah and its Jewish victims as it does now. Most tributes were dedicated to the Polish victims of the Nazi and Soviet occupation. And there is no denial that they were many.

Nowadays, more than ever, though, there are additional and new markers. They were erected to honour the Jewish ones. These are yet another permanent reminder of the extent of the Jewish graveyard that Poland was turned into by the Nazis and their Polish collaborators.

A note of caution is called for. In times of anger and grief, our human nature tends to generalize. One cannot and should never make sweeping statements. There were some Poles who helped Jews. My father was saved by one. I, for one, will never forget that.

Let us also not forget that many Poles were themselves victims of the Nazis. However, anyone who denies the collaboration between Poles and the Nazis verges on Shoah denial. That includes some of my Jewish friends who have suddenly become bleeding hearts for Poles.

Many Poles did assist the Nazi killing machine as it ploughed through their country in an effort to make Europe “Judenrein.” My parents lived through that. They, other members of my family and their close friends were my most reliable and trusted witnesses for what happened during those times.

No one, be it an individual or a nation, likes to be constantly reminded of or hammered about their past transgressions.

That is precisely what the many monuments with Hebrew and Yiddish epitaphs inscribed on them, which have sprung since the end of the Cold War and which are strewn all over Poland, do. They put a permanent mirror to the face of a nation that was turned into a killing field pushing many of its members to becoming willing and in some cases unwilling collaborators.

And that, in my view, that constant reminder of past transgressions prompted the Polish Law which I mentioned above. It is, I believe, part of the Polish nation’s way to help its members overcome a hard, and unfortunately for them, a dark and uncomfortable chapter in their nation’s history. It is their defense mechanism, one means to cleanse and wash off their guilt especially when it is sprinkled with small doses of projection as reflected in the words of its Prime Minister who claimed that the Shoah had not only Polish, German or Ukrainian perpetrators, but Jewish ones as well.

It may help the Poles. As far as I am concerned, though, “Never Again” is as vibrant in me as ever before. Am Yisrael Chai!

May we all have a meaningful Pesach.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting thanks Bat Zion. You have done a very good job of being objective when discussing a subject that usually breeds a polarity of differences.

    For me, the question is, would the Poles have created death camps without the Nazis? Polish anti-Semitism is a given, but it is not what the discussion is about.