Monday, February 8, 2021

True greatness comes from facing history


“One can’t walk in the streets and the newspapers are not allowed to print the truth, because they are afraid that the Polish currency would be shaky. A Jew is not allowed to go out in the street at night because his life is at risk.”
     You know the great thing about centuries of slavery in the United States? The big positive that gets overlooked, even during Black History Month, between Harriet Tubman and those wood cuts of tightly packed slave ships? I should probably draw this out, because a lot of readers are thinking, “What?” reaching for the cudgel of outrage. But there is one undeniably positive aspect to both slavery and the 150 years of oppression that followed.
     That we can talk about it now, honestly, openly, write and discuss, and contemplate our nation’s difficult and tortured past, unafraid. That is an undeniable greatness of America, one to be proud of. Because not every country can manage it.
     This week, in Poland, a verdict will be handed down in a libel case against two historians, Barbara Engelking, with Warsaw’s Polish Center for Holocaust Research, and Jan Grabowski.
     The pair co-edited a book, “Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland.” Lucky for them, they couldn’t be prosecuted over a 2018 Polish law that criminalized associating Poland or Poles with World War II atrocities — that effort was greeted with such international derision it was reversed.
     But the government still funds the Polish League Against Defamation, which sued the authors for recounting history that contradicts their sense of unmitigated national glory by suggesting that one individual credited with saving Jews also sent them to their deaths.
     “In America, one’s life is safe. Here a Jew’s life is worthless ... My friend and I were in the garden, sitting on a bench, engrossed in a book. All of a sudden, several hooligans appeared holding sticks in their hands ...”
     Like our own country for the past half decade, and nations around the world, Poland fell in the grip of resurgent nationalism. A shameful political philosophy that believes a country becomes great, not by actually doing great things, but through talk, threats and pressure. Their greatness is declarative — tell everybody “We are great!” Over and over and over.
     Poland has a long history of anti-Semitism....

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  1. Well, some of us can open and honestly talk about slavery. Others hysterically accuse anyone who brings it up of being divisive and hating America. Look at the reaction to the 1619 Project.

    As for the Poles, acknowledging their anti-Semitism would move the Poles slightly off their "poor us, we're such tragic victims" approach to World War II and to history in general. Good. If the Germans can take responsibility for perpetrating the Holocaust, the Poles can damn well take some for going along with it to the extent they did.

    1. Just think how many people claim Gone with the Wind as their favorite movie.


  2. A very moving & informative column.

  3. Only in Poland were there actual pogroms against Jews after the war.
    You'd think with millions of Poles dead from the war, they would've been preoccupied with rebuilding the country, but no.
    Killing Jews was more important.
    That was a lesson they learned from the Nazis, who were more concerned about & prioritized using the trains to send Jews to death camps, instead of sending supplies to their own troops fighting the Red Army that was grinding them into shit.
    Absolute madness & I guarantee you, the Polish Catholic Church was 100% behind it!

  4. Polish anti-Semitism evidently has a long history, perhaps less rooted in national identity than in the influence of the Church. David Kertzer's "The Pope and Mussolini" relates that Pius XI was schooled in hatred of Jews when he served as a young priest in Poland, and his changing attitudes during the late 1930's were frustrated by the Polish head of the Jesuit order, an anti-Semite who wielded great influence in the Vatican.

    "We are not always hurt by our hard past. We are strengthened." Pretty to think so, but perhaps not invariably true. One thinks of the current vaccine avoidance of Black people due to unethical past incidents like the Tuskegee studies.


    1. There have long been rumors that Pius XI was murdered by his successor, because he was going to denounce the Nazis for their persecution & murdering of Jews.
      Pius XII of course did nothing to denounce the Nazis & during his reign as pope, many Nazis were helped in escaping Germany to South America by Catholic priests!
      Rolf Hochuth wrote the play "The Deputy" denouncing Pius XII's indifference to Europe's Jews.

  5. A powerful column today, with the personal aspect making it even more so.

    I know that you've written before about these letters, Neil, since I recalled that your grandfather's family lived in Bialystok, which sounded familiar to me because of "The Producers."

    I'm just curious as to whether your grandfather translated them for his family in America, or was that done later by somebody else?

    1. Thanks. I hired a Yiddish poet to do it. My grandfather never spoke of them, and we didn't ask.

    2. This doc horrifyingly answers that.

    3. Sorry typing issues here. The doc is Einsatzgruppen available on Netflix. Lots about nazis and Eastern Europe mass murder.

  6. you know the great thing about the United States? we can talk of the horrible treatment received by so many here and around the world by our actions and those of our government without being afraid.

    we can continue to attack and oppress others with impunity because we are wealthy, white, men and others who having escaped their own oppression have opted into the capitalist, imperialist power structure that allows us to live at such a high standard of living at the expense of others

    there is nothing great about the centuries of slavery and oppression . nothing

    I am deeply sorry for the suffering of your people and the death of those in your family.
    im sure my polish relatives played a part in this atrocity and the Italians. catholics up to pope pious ignored and collaborated in their demise as did the American government.

    the persecution and murder of jews in the holocaust is another thing there is absolutely nothing great about, nothing


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