Silenced Jewish testimonies
Jerzy Robert Nowak
One can give numerous reliable Jewish testimonies testifying about helpful behaviours of Poles towards Jews during the war. These testimonies, originated mainly during the war or in the first decades after the war, constitute contrasts to the invented recent anti-Polish generalisations – confabulations of Jan Tomasz Gross. For example, let us compare Gross’s racist condemnations of all Polish peasants for their alleged greed and blood thirst with the picture of those peasants depicted in the memoirs of Abraham D. Feffer. He wrote, ‘Till today those who were saved from my shtetl remember well and show great love and respect for those courageous Christian peasants, living in the neighbouring villages, where we worked during those dark winter days. In Poland hiding Jews or feeding them was punished by death, most frequently by hanging. Let us remember how these men, women, despite the great danger they faced, opened the doors of their poor cottages to share hot soup, bread and potatoes with us’ (cf. ‘My Shtetl Drobin: A Saga of a Survivor,’ Toronto 1990, p. 22, quoted after I. C. Pogonowski, ‘Antypolski talk-show,’ [Anti-Polish talk-show] in the Polish paper ‘Glos Polski,’ Toronto, Canada, 20 November 2001).
We can also find an honest evaluation of the behaviours of Polish peasants in the book edited by Zev Tzurnamal, commemorating the Jews of Laska. We can read, ‘We must remember about all those people, non-Jews, who gave helpful hand to save many (Jews) from our town when they had escaped before the Nazi murderers […] The peasants who shared bread and threw turnips on the roads or onto cars transporting hungry people escorted by the SS units. The Peasants who gave their shoes to those with bare feet and who were weak’ (cf. Z. Tzurnamal, ‘Lask: sefer zikaron. Memorial Book of Lask,’ Tel Aviv: association of former residents of Lask in Israel, 1968, pp. 124-125, quoted after I. C. Pogonowski, op. cit.).
Poles ‘did not let themselves be controlled by anti-Jewish hatred’
Let us also mention another important testimony – the evaluation of Poles by Chaim A. Kaplan, former director of a Hebrew gymnasium, written in his diary during the war. At first being very negative towards Poles Kaplan gradually explicitly evolved in his attitude towards our nation to acknowledge on 1 February 1940 that Poles did not let themselves be controlled by the anti-Jewish propaganda of hatred spread by the Nazis. Kaplan wrote, ‘The Polish nation, tormented and humiliated, immersed in deep depression after their national tragedy, did not yield to this propaganda. This nation understands that the winner is their eternal enemy and this enemy is fighting not only with Jews but also with Poland. Common suffering have made hearts closer and the barbarian persecutions of Jews evoked sympathy for them. Silently, without any words, the former rivals began feeling that they are brothers in misfortunate, that they have common enemy that does not want anything else but their destruction. Such an attitude towards Jews threatens the whole political strategy of the winners…’ (the underline is mine) ‘Scroll of Agony. The Warsaw Diary of Chaim A. Kaplan,’ New York and London 1965.
Unequivocal friendly testimonies about Poles are included in the memoirs of Baruch Milch from the Polish eastern lands. Describing the cruel pacification of Jews in the town of Tluste (district Zaleszczyki), Milch noted, ‘The voices and attitude of the Aryan society during and after actions are worth of attention. It is true that some part of this society, i.e. mainly Poles, looked at all of that with disgust, did not eat and could not do their daily jobs; they helped as far as they could and hid the poor martyrs…’ (cf. B. Milch, ‘Moj testament’ [My last will], ‘Karta,’ February 1991, p. 22).
It is also worth quoting the commentary of the famous Polish writer of Jewish background Leopold Tyrmand, published in 1976, on the programme of the American NBC channel. Tyrmand wrote that in this programme ‘some dolt said that Poles helped Hitler murder Jews – a lie thrown with journalist’s impudence, nonsense and insult as well as harm of the good name of the nation’ (cf. L. Tyrmand, ‘Co i jak’ [What and how], London ‘Wiadomosci’ [News] on 20 June 1976). Well, as we know, today there are more such people than in 1976 when Tyrmand wrote the text – vide J. T. Gross et consortes.
Among the most precious testimonies of the truth about Poles during the war we can find the letter of the Jewish film director J.S. Kutrzeba to the president of the TV channel 13 Mr William Baker in New York, issued in 1997. Kutrzeba wrote that he decided to stop working for this channel after many ineffective protests against showing the anti-Polish film ‘Shoah’ directed by Marian Marzynski. In his open letter Kutrzeba stressed, ‘I simply felt sick watching such a harmful presentation of Poles’ roles during the brutal occupation of Poland by Germany […] This film fanned the anti-Polish propaganda […] I was shocked that you broadcasted such a tendentious film by Marian Marzynski […] Poles saved my life surely risking their own lives […] Portraying mainly anti-Semites in present day Poland in this film strikes the dignity of many noble and courageous Poles, excludes the remembrance of hundreds of thousand of Poles who fought together with the allies in such places as Tobruk, Monte Cassino and during the Battle of England, and the remembrance of the first armoured division liberating some European countries, and thousands of Poles from the Home Army and the Zegota Council for Aid to Jews in Occupied Poland, the underground organisation that saved thousands of Jews. Why have all these events not been shown in the media? Why is it not known that hundreds of Catholic priests and religious were killed or sent to concentrations camps because they had hidden Jews?’ (quoted from my English copy of the open letter of J. S. Kutrzeba to Mr W. Baker).
Would Jews have summoned up the courage to offer such great help?
The Jewish writer David Klin, who was a liaison officer between the Home Army and the Zegota during the war, described to the Polish columnists Andrzej Chciuk his speech delivered at one of his meetings in Israel. When he said that ‘the Polish nation as a whole acted heroically in their attitude towards the Jews’ he was immediately shouted down that it was not true. Klin answered, ‘I know it is true because I was there.’ Then he asked, ‘If we had had to deal with the reverse situation, how many of you would have hidden Poles and risked your lives?’ The answer was a sudden silence. ‘Well, you see yourselves,’ Klin commented on that (cf. A. Chciuk, ‘Saving Jews in War-Torn Poland 1939-194,’ with the foreword of S. Korbonski, Melbourne 1969, p. 18).
In the context of the above statements it is worth quoting the comments of Chone Shmeruk, professor of Yiddish literature and director of the centre for research on the history and culture of Polish Jews at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In his interview given in 1990 Shmeruk stated, ‘Many of my colleagues and acquaintances have grudges against Poles that the Holocaust happened in their country. And they bear grudges against them that in this or that individual case Poles could have helped and they did not […] It is supposed that if Poles had had a different attitude towards what happened in their land more Jews might have been saved. These are very serious accusations. But my response to them is: it is hard to judge anyone. If the reverse situation had happened are you sure you would have been better? It means that if Jews could survived and the Germans had killed Poles at the same proportion, would you have behaved differently? We know what the Jewish police were doing’ (cf. ‘Antysemityzm to nienawisc do kazdego obcego’ [Anti-Semitism is hatred towards any alien]. M. Zareba interviews C. Shmeruk, ‘Tygodnik Powszechny,’ 25 February 1990). It is also worth mentioning other valuable, though very few, statements of some people from the Jewish environment in their letters to the American press protesting against the battue concerning the cross in Oswiecim. For example, the Jewish woman Marianna Suan from New Rochelle wrote to New York Times: ‘To the editor-in-chief. Being a Jew who survived Auschwitz I am deeply anxious about the quarrels concerning the crosses that are there. The fact that the Nazis decided to burn more Jews than Roman-Catholic Poles does not mean that the Polish non-Jewish victims did not deserve commemorative crosses at honourable places, among their brotherly Jewish victims.
The Polish concentration camp prisoners experienced the fierce icy winds of deaths the same way as I did. I want and must testify to the fact that I was saved by Catholic co-prisoners who greatly risked their lives in Auschwitz and Mauthausen in Austria. I hope that the Polish government would not yield to the pressure and remove these symbols of respect.
Instead of building bridges leading to better understanding such odious outrage will not help but can only contribute to anti-Semitism’ (cf. ‘New York Times,’ 27 December 1998).
For long I have thought that the most adequate response to the calumnies of Gross and other slanderers would be to publish a selection of 10-150 honest testimonies of Jews who were saved by Poles in the main world languages as soon as possible. Their war testimonies would constitute the best contrast to the anti-Polish lies, recently invented by the impostor oversees. The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs should finance such a publication – it would be a very meaningful favour to improve the distorted picture of Poles in the world. However, will it be done by the Ministry ‘conducted’ by Radoslaw Sikorski who has shown such a big indifference towards the matters of our fellow countrymen living abroad (closing Polish institutes of culture or some necessary embassies, e.g., in Uruguay)? ‘I suppose I doubt it’ the much-regretted Kisiel would have commented on this. I am afraid we can only seek private sponsors.