Poland… Again?

Following publication of my recent article, “A Case for Poland”, I received several responses from readers, Jews and non-Jews, who shared thoughts and opinions regarding what I had written.

Many responses were positive. A few were blatantly anti-Semitic and, of course, were written by Polish people. I am surprised to learn that non-Jewish Poles read TOI. What is their interest in Israel?

My article was not a general condemnation of the Polish nation under occupation. I was clear to point out the aid given to suffering Jews by decent Christians, by Zegota, by some members (not too many of them) in the Polish underground, and to highlight the bravery and courage of Irene Sendler in particular.

I further disagreed with Yad Vashem and others who claim that the Polish government in exile in London did nothing to help Jews in Poland. I underscored the creation of Zegota, an organization specifically to provide aid to Polish Jews. Many took Jewish children into their homes to save them from the Nazis.

I pointed out the Polish exilic government’s ambassador, Jan Karski, who was sent by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in exile to meet with the American president in Washington to inform him of the tragic condition of Jews in Poland.

I also mentioned a government booklet published in December 1942 and distributed across un-occupied Europe to bring to light the massacres of the Jews. “The Mass Extermination of the Jews in Poland Under the Nazi Regime” was an official publication of the Polish government in exile.

When I wrote about numbers, two Polish women, non-Jews, replied to ask me if I knew how many numbers of Polish women had been raped. Of course I do not know. It was never recorded and only passed along by word of mouth. What connection could it have to persecution and murder of Jews?

Do I know of the 40 Jews murdered in Kielce in 1946 upon their return from Oswiecim (Auschwitz) to claim their property ?  Yes. Of course I know. It was reported to the Polish police who, like the Polish Catholic church, saw, kept silent and did nothing. Perhaps a reprimand was given to the murderers.

Do I know of the pogrom in Jedwabne where more than 300 Jews were rounded up by Polish neighbors in a barn set on fire and burnt alive?  Yes, I know. It had been reported by some good-natured Poles who witnessed the slaughter. It was recorded in government records and I believe that some of the leaders responsible were brought to trial.

Jan Gross’s book is living and breathing testimony of Jewish life and death in Poland from 1939-1946.

One woman asked me if I knew about the 9% out of 10% of Jewish survivors in Poland who were forced to flee the country between 1968-1969, a majority who fled to Denmark.

Yes !  I do know. I was in Poland at the time. On a train from Warszawa to Krakow, I carried a copy of a Yiddish newspaper published in Warszawa and read it publicly, hoping a Jew might recognize it and speak with me.

Lo and behold ! My hope was realized. A conductor passed through the compartments to check passenger tickets. He looked at me and saw the copy of the Yiddish newspaper. When he took my ticket, he pressed my hand and with a slight nod indicated that he wanted to speak to me outside of the compartment.

“I see that you are reading GLOS LUDU (FOLKSZTIMME). I too am a Jew”. And he went on to explain that he had been a lieutenant in the Polish army until he was thrown out with other Jewish officers during the anti-Semitic incitements of the Moczar  government.

On a piece of paper he wrote down a name…  Zbigniew.  He told me to take the newspaper with me tomorrow and sit in the beautiful gardens of the Planty.   Zbigniew would find me there the next morning.

About 11 o’clock in the morning a young man seeming to be in early forties, approached and sat on the bench next to me. He said, “S.holem Aleichem,. Ich bin a Yid, ich bin Zbigniew “. And after the brief introduction we walked to a café on the Rynek,  Cracow’s main square, and enjoyed coffee and conversation.

He spoke at length about the increase of anti-Semitic laws over the past two years and mentioned that he had filed an application for a permit to leave Poland, hoping to go to Denmark and from there to Canada where he had family. He said it took several months to receive a permit and it was first required to renounce Polish citizenship.

He told me that in July 1969 the Dutch Embassy in Warsaw had processed 327 applications from Jews seeking to emigrate from Poland.  Only 9 applications were for emigration to Israel.

From 1953 until 1968 he had worked as a bookkeeper in a publishing house in Krakow until he was thrown out under orders of the Moczar regime.  “Jews are not wanted in Poland”, he told me.

Most of his friends were Christian Poles and they enjoyed cordial relationships. But he had no future in Poland and was desperate to leave.

So I wrote an article in Zycie Warszawa, a leading Warsaw daily, that I saw no pogroms, no beatings of Jews on Polish streets as in past years, but the official anti-Semitism could not be denied.

There are North Poles and South Poles, good Poles and not-so-good Poles.

Sadly, for Jews, there are too many of the not-so-good ones. History changes very slowly, if it changes at all.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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