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A Blend of Reasoned Thinking and Crass Polonophobia: Mutual Polish-Jewish Prejudices,

jan peczkis|Saturday, May 21, 2011

Unlike many Jewish authors, Scharf does not awfulize the experience of interwar Polish Jews. He was subject to the NUMERUS CLAUSUS while at the University of Krakow. Echoing the statements of the Endeks, Scharf realizes that, without it, "Jewish medics might have greatly outnumbered their non-Jewish colleagues". Also, in his words, the NUMERUS CLAUSUS "does not appear so monstrous" when one remembers that sons and daughters of physicians could be admitted to the university outside the quota. (p. 27).

Now consider the much-discussed anti-Jewish boycotts. He quips: "The boycott was villainous but its effects were probably marginal; it made some Jewish traders a bit poorer and no Polish trader any richer." (p. 159). Jewish economic dominance reigned supreme: "...in the late 1930's, 40% of town property was in Jewish hands." (p. 59). As for the poverty of interwar Polish Jews, the author realizes that Poles were even poorer. (p. 59, 159).

Polish nationalists sometimes questioned the motives of Jews who converted to Christianity. Interestingly, many Jews also suggested that Jewish converts had been motivated by opportunism. (p. 15, 54-55).

Now consider WWII and the Holocaust. Scharf survived it by living in England at the time. Contrary to its title, this book has very much prejudice--against Poles. It is the same basic set of attacks found in other Polonophobic works, repeated over and over again. Those familiar with Jan T. Gross and his NEIGHBORS, FEAR, and GOLDEN HARVEST may be amazed to see how many of Gross' premises can be found in Scharf. Accusations about there being more Polish denouncers than rescuers are particularly odious, and easily refuted. Accusations about Poles being delighted in the disappearance of the Jews (e. g., p. 42) are presented without any supporting evidence. Also, were the tables turned, would there not be some Jews delighted at the disappearance of the Poles?

The author then softens his attacks on Poland by pointing out that Polish anti-Semitism was of a different category than Nazi anti-Semitism. (p. 45). He also tacitly acknowledges that Poland's Jews were not an easy lot to handle. He comments: "Minorities, particularly if they are substantial, distinctive, and competitive, do give rise to acute problems...The Jews were subject to their historic condition of Dispersion and foreignness, a condition which the Poles did not invent and did not know how to deal with." (p. 126).

Roman Dmowski has often been condemned for his belief that Polish Jews would, with some exceptions, never assimilate and become Poles. Interestingly, Scharf basically concurs: "Whether one sees it as a virtue or a fault, the fact is that the Jews of Poland, in their mass, WERE inassimilable--and in that sense remained 'foreign'." (p. 126).

As for the Auschwitz Cross controversy, Scharf remarks: "...to most Jews, it (the Cross) symbolizes oppression, persecution, the Church's triumphalism, the intention to convert `the stray brothers'." (p. 105). Obviously, this aversion is selective. Scharf does not explain how it is that Jewish merchants have no problem in beholding and handling Crosses, and other Christian objects, when they can make money off them by selling them.

The author touches upon some other contemporary issues. He realizes that publicity about the Holocaust has obscured Poland's own sufferings. (pp. 130-131).

Scharf finally acknowledges that Polish-Jewish prejudices had been mutual (p. 126) and makes this revealing comment, with its unmistakably racist characterization of gentiles in the end: "Drunkenness among Jews was unknown. It was unthinkable to find a Jew in one of the drinking dens, even those in Jewish quarters. He might be an innkeeper but would rarely touch vodka himself. Perhaps this was a reaction against the widespread and vulgar drunkenness around. A Jewish song ran something like this: SHIKER IS A GOY--SHIKER IS ER--TRINKEN MIZ ER--WEIL ER IS A GOY (A goy is a drunkard--but drink he must--because he is a goy)". (p. 12). For more on this, read the Peczkis review of The Life of Jews in Poland before the Holocaust: A Memoir.
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