Theater of Cruelty

"Not many enough!"

A complex relationship over many centuries is now reflected in the recent Polish-Israeli conflict.


Many years ago, just after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, I was asked to write a book about the events. Rachel took the pictures, I wrote the text. The book, which was only published in Hebrew, received the title Lenin no longer lives here. When we visited Warsaw, we were amazed at the many places in the city with metal plates announcing "(Name) was executed by the Germans here". Until then, we had no idea that the Polish resistance movement had provided such strong resistance to the Nazis. After we got home, Rachel happened to be at a clothing store and heard that the proprietor spoke Polish with a customer. Still engrossed by the new discovery, Rachel asked the owner: "Did you know that the Nazis also killed one and a half million non-Jewish Poles?" The woman answered, "Not many enough!" Rachel was puzzled. So did I. Of course, we knew that many Polish Jews did not like the Polish people, but we did not realize that this hatred was so intense.

This hated appeared again earlier this year. The Polish National Assembly decided that anyone using the words "Polish extermination camp" commits a crime punishable by three years in prison. The right thing, according to the Poles, is "Nazi extermination camps in Poland". The fix is ​​absolutely correct. But in Israel, a storm broke out. What?! Do Poles deny the Holocaust? Do they deny that many Poles helped the Nazis seize and kill the Jews? That's what many Israelis believe. Incorrect, of course. Poland never made peace with the Nazis, unlike many other European countries. The Polish government fled to France and then to the United Kingdom. From there, they led the Polish resistance. In fact, there were two Polish underground organizations, one national and one communist. Both fought the Nazis and paid a high price for it. If I'm not mistaken, it was the Polish exile government that gave the Zionist leaders the first reliable information about the extermination camps.

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Are there Polish collaborators who helped the Nazis? Of course, it did, as in any occupied country. Without comparison, there are tons of Palestinian collaborators in today's occupied areas. The main non-German helpers in the extermination camps were Ukrainians. The hatred they felt towards Russia made them sympathize with the Nazis. That and their own rooted anti-Semitism, which dates back to the time when Ukraine belonged to Poland, and Jews administered the goods to the Polish owners. The Nazis did not really try to get Poles and Ukrainians to cooperate. Hitler's secret plan was to exterminate all Slavic people as well or make them slaves, right after the Jews, to create greater Lebensraum for the German nation.

Nevertheless, it took less than ten years since the Holocaust ceased, until Israel signed an agreement with Germany, while the hatred against Poland is maintained with unabated strength. Why? No one asks the most obvious question: Why did so many Jews, millions of them, come and settle in Poland in the first place? Centuries ago, when the Jews were expelled from Germany and other northern European countries, where did they go? Which European countries opened their doors to them? Well, at that time Poland was the most open country, yes, the most tolerant country in Europe. Jews on the run were welcomed and found a new home. The king had a Jewish mistress. An entire Jewish city grew up near Kraków, the center of Polish culture. An honest disclosure: While my father's ancestors had come to Germany from the west, my mother's relatives came from Kraków. My father, who had received a classical education, always insisted that our ancestors had come to Rhinland with Julius Caesar (no evidence available), while my mother had to admit that her grandfather came from Kraków, who was part of Austria before the First World War .

The Polish-Jewish spring was over. What remained was the existence of a large Jewish minority in Poland. A minority that is radically different from the majority will always be a problem. The Jews were different from the Poles when it came to religion and culture, they spoke another language (Yiddish). And there were plenty of them. Many millions. It was almost inevitable that there was a mutual distaste between the two groups, which developed into mutual hatred. There were pogroms. Nevertheless, it seems that in modern Poland the Jews lived relatively comfortably. They were politically organized and participated in coalitions with non-Jewish minorities. Many Polish Jews tried to emigrate to Germany. The German Jews, who despised them, put them on ships and sent them to the United States, where they succeeded well.

The classic German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine wrote a poem that is like this (my own, unauthorized translation): in the end, in escaping to Paris / because living, like dying / for the fatherland is dear. " our women give birth to children / so do our virgins. / They will give us heroes! "

After Hitler came to power when German Jews began arriving in Palestine, the Polish Jews there had arrived earlier, such as Dovid Grün (David Ben-Gurion) of Plonsk. The German Jews were received by the Polish with contempt and ridicule. Polish anti-Semites were regarded by the Zionists as natural allies in the effort to push the Jews to Palestine. One episode that only a few people know: In 1939, a group of leaders of the underground movement Irgun (who I myself belonged to at the time) had a brilliant idea: to launch an armed uprising against the British authorities and establish the Jewish state. In search of assistance, and especially weapons, they turned to the anti-Semitic officers of the Polish army. The offer from Irgun was simple: We will help you get rid of the Jews. You train them and give them weapons, we ship them to Palestine. The Polish General Staff liked the proposal, and training of young Irgun members in Poland actually started. The outbreak of World War II ended this adventure.

That's it complex relationship over many centuries now expressed in the last days of the Polish-Israeli conflict. Many Israelis are trained to believe that the Holocaust was a joint German-Polish measure, and that the crematorium furnaces in Auschwitz were serviced by Poles. Didn't lie Auschwitz in Poland, maybe? Was it a coincidence that practically all the extermination camps were on Polish soil? (In fact, it was an ideal location for the Nazis, especially after they invaded the Soviet Union. The Jews were there.)

I don't think this presentation of facts will help. The feelings are deeply rooted. But hell either.

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Commentator in Ny Tid. Avnery is a former member of the Knesset in Israel. Israeli journalist and peace activist (born 1923).

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