It has become a rite of passage for Jews. The trip to Poland. The visit to the camps and the remains of the shtetls. The Warsaw Ghetto. More recently the Polin Museum. The plasticized city of Krakow with its tawdry commercialization of all things Jewish, and the desecrated cemeteries where our loved ones,those lucky enough to have been buried, rest in unholy ground.
Our tourism has become a vast money making machine for Poland. And now, it’s our most effective way of fighting back against the new law, a law which is emphatically revisionist history, a law which denies the involvement of Poles in the destruction of the world’s largest Jewish population. To admit that Poland and Poles were complicit is now a crime. The truth has become fiction and fiction has become the truth. In fact, truth is stranger than fiction. This is the outrageous Holocaust Denial.
When our eldest daughter went to Poland for the first time at age 16 in 1980, my husband’s mother, her grandmother, begged her not to go. Amy, we fled from there. Why would you go to such a place? My daughter, however, was moved to visit the sites of great Jewish history and the greatest Jewish destruction. She went. She was a witness to the remnants of a long and often productive story of our people, who often thought that Poland was their eternal home. And then they were decimated. She has been back many times since.
There is a certain macabre allure in walking and sensing and smelling and seeing the scene of a great tragedy. It is more real to visit Auschwitz than to read about it. It is more real to touch the shattered gravestones of our ancestors than to see photos. And to see the shul of your great-grandparents which is now a movie theater is a surreal experience.
Amy was not the only family member to go to Poland. I am tempted to write back to Poland because for my husband and me, all four sets of our grandparents, by coincidence, came from the shtetls near Bialystock. Our roots. The roots from which our grandparents untangled themselves so that we could grow up in disparate places like Newark, New Jersey and Brooklyn, New York. Thank God. Thank Him indeed!
All four of our children went to Poland with their youth groups. Many of our grandchildren have visited as well. For each it has been a wrenching experience, years after the world was torn asunder and our people destroyed, there are heaves of tears and shudders on what happened to so many, and what would have happened to us. There but for the grace of God go I………
My husband and I first made the journey in 2001. On the day that the Twin Towers were brought down in an immense tragedy in New York, we found ourselves in the Warsaw Airport, ready to leave our visit behind and fly, with palpable relief, back to America. Little did we know that our trip was to be extended on this day of 9/11. Planes were not going or coming into America. Neither were we.
Unexpectedly, our lengthened stay showed us Polish kindness. We were identified as Americans. The world’s sympathy was ours, including in Poland. People were very generous. My husband needed to refill an important medication. We had no prescription. The pharmacist ignored the bureaucracy and sold him the drug.
Elsewhere, an elegant woman, volunteered to do our laundry.
We were a people in mourning in a world in mourning. It was so easy to be comforted in the generosity of spirit and to feel that these people were just like all people. That they were caring. They were not killers.
Of course this was true. The people we met were too young to have been complicit during World War Two. We could not blame them and we did not.
But their grandparents or, perhaps, parents. Where were they? What did they do in those black and horrible days?
Some of them, as witnessed at Yad Vashem, were Righteous Gentiles. I know people, and we’ve all heard such stories, of those who were saved by Poles, Poles who did so under threat of losing the lives of their own families. My neighbor spent several years of her early childhood in a haystack, with her family, hidden and fed by Polish farmers. We can never never forget the kindness and courage of such people.
But, many many others were not innocent. They were more than happy to rid their nation of the scourge of the Jews. Even killing Jews when the war was officially ended. We can and must never forget their evil.
Are we now impotent Jews? No, not at all. We can now fight back. The Polish government has passed a law making it a crime to accuse Poles of being complicit in the Shoah. Here’s what we must do:
We must immediately cancel all of our trips to Poland, be it for touring or business. Poland must suffer a severe economic blow caused by the elimination of our currency. The country that had enough of us and tried to eradicate us, Hitler’s able assistants, must notice that the money machine has closed down. There are no more Jews booking hotels, cars, or tours. There are no Jews dining at the best restaurants. Poland must become free of Jewish tourists. Free at last!
I’m making a pledge right here, right now: I will never again set foot in Poland until this law has been rescinded. I shall never return to the amazing Polin Museum where I spent many hours last year, nor to the villages where my ancestors roamed, nor to the cemeteries where their stones have vanished but their souls remain. I shall not ever see again my grandmother’s town of Augustow, a lovely village of canals, I will not return. My money and my honor have no place in Poland.
do widzenia Poland.