Writers and Readers… Natural Leaders

It’s not that I’m being poetical. Just pragmatic. Who leads the world today? I think they are the ones who write news and those who not only read but respond to the news.  It is called Vox Populi… the voice of the people.

A writer has a two-fold obligation… to inform readers and to express opinions. A reader, on the other hand, has only one obligation…. to respond or to ignore.

The brilliance of this newspaper, TIMES OF ISRAEL, is that both voices are being heard. I always enjoy reading comments of readers, not only on my attempts at creative writing, but on comments on fine articles written by many well-informed and interested readers.

Currently it seems that two of the popular articles being published here and elsewhere around the globe concern themselves with the Polish-Jewish situation and with Israeli political mis-adventures.

Regarding the Polish-Jewish problem it is fair to say that friendly relations between them did, in fact, exist for almost 800 years. Jews were originally welcomed into Poland by the kings who ruled in Krakow.

Poland had long been an agricultural nation with a very large peasant population. The Polish crown wanted to develop the country into a mercantile one, and having heard of the success of Jews in the German-speaking lands, Poland opened its doors wide to Jews seeking new opportunities.

In the 18th century, Poland lost its independence and was partitioned into three separate ruling governments… Austria, Prussia and Russia.  Under Austrian rule, mainly in Galicia,  Jewish communities thrived and flourished. Some of the greatest rabbinical scholars lived and wrote in Galicia.

Prussia, under the rule of the German Kaisers, was also tolerant of its Jewish population, whereas Russia, on the other hand, ruled in the east of Poland-Lithuania, and Jews suffered frequently and tragically by Russian and Ukrainian (Cossack) pogroms. The most infamous of them was the Bogdan Chmielnicki pogrom which cost the lives of thousands of Jews.

When Poland regained its independence from the tri-patriate nations at the end of the First World War in 1918, it was faced with a large minority problem… too many Jews, Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Russians.

The Versailles Treaty required Poland to treat its minority populations fairly and equally. The largest of the minorities were the 12 percent of the Jewish population.

Poland’s first president was the world-renowned pianist, Ignace Paderewski, whose two passions were love of music and hatred of Jews.

But in the earliest years of the Polish republic there were many sincere Poles who respected their Jewish minority. Best-loved among them was the war hero, Marshall Josef Pilsudski.

From independence in 1918 to roughly 1930, Jews fared quite well in Poland. But in the 30’s, it embraced fascism and extreme anti-Semitism.  Jews were beaten on the streets of most Polish cities, encouraged by the Polish Catholic Church,

It was the Polish Cardinal Augustus Hlond who wrote letters distributed to all the thousands of Catholic churches to be read at a Sunday mass. The letters urged Poles to boycott everything Jewish… all Jewish shops, Jewish lawyers, Jewish doctors, Jewish merchants.

But his letters contained only one bit of humaneness.  While urging the boycott of Jews, the Cardinal wrote that it was forbidden to physically harm them.

It was a change from earlier times when the church closed its eyes to the brutalities suffered by Jews.

Instead, he encouraged their emigration from Poland.  His well-known and oft repeated slogan was “Zydzie do Palestyna”….Jews, Go to Palestine.

. Tragically, most of 35,000 Polish Jews did not heed the advice.

On September 1, 1939, the free Polish nation ceased to exist. The rest is well-known history.

In 1945-46 a few survivors returned from the death camps to search for family members and their homes and property in Poland.  They were not well-received by their former Polish neighbors who were now living in Jewish-owned homes.

The city of Kielce was a tragic place for returning Jews. Almost 50 of them were attacked and killed by Poles.

The village of Jedwabne, in the closing years of Nazi occupation, saw a horrible event.  Local Poles gathered up some 300-350 Jewish survivors, locked them in a large barn, poured gasoline on the building and set it on fire.  Every Jew who had survived the death camps was burned alive in Jedwabne.

Of these bitter and hateful occurances,  there can be no comparison with the other news items regarding our Netanyahu and Company problems.

In 1948 we gained our independence and have been prospering and squabbling ever since.   I guess that is what Jews are expected to do.

No further comment on bribery, corruption, fraud, and breach of trust is necessary.  As the Hebrew expression implies…”ha maivin yavin”… the one who understands it,  understands.

Thank God we have one hopeful word in our Hebrew lexicon.  And it is “Shalom”,   Peace.

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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