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Gone To Pitchipoi: A Boy's Desperate Fight For Survival In Wartime (Jews of Poland)

jan peczkis|Saturday, April 5, 2014

By way of introduction, the title "Gone to Pitchipoi", is based on a Yiddish phrase that means, "Gone to utopia or hell". (p. 85). This work elaborates on the author's childhood life before and during WWII. The Katz family had lived in Ostrowiec, Poland.

3.0 out of 5 stars A Graphic, Adventure-Filled Account of Surviving the Holocaust, April 5, 2014 This review is from: Gone To Pitchipoi: A Boy's Desperate Fight For Survival In Wartime (Jews of Poland) (Paperback) By way of introduction, the title "Gone to Pitchipoi", is based on a Yiddish phrase that means, "Gone to utopia or hell". (p. 85). This work elaborates on the author's childhood life before and during WWII. The Katz family had lived in Ostrowiec, Poland.


The author touches on prewar Jewish life. This included the self-atheization of Poland's Jews [A fact that illuminates Polish Cardinal August Hlond's much-condemned 1936 "Jews are freethinkers" statement]. Katz comments, (quote) Generally, there was harmony in the shtetl. However, in the thirties, some of the younger generation became more restless and politically motivated, and began to drift away from religion, particularly toward the secular branch of Zionism and the left-wing Bund. To the utter dismay of their elders, some rebellious young men would buy a KIELBASA, a pork sausage ring, on the fast day of Yom Kippur and eat it openly in the street, in a display of defiance against the Hasidim. This led to some confusion among the wider community. Poles were aware that pork is prohibited to Jews, but as a result of this display, some were intrigued enough to ask, "Tell me, Jew: What is the name of the Holy Day when you are allowed to eat pork?" (unquote). (p. 16).


The Katz family owned a confectionary factory, and had considered themselves Poles--that is, Poles of the Mosaic faith. (p. 28). However, the attitudes revealed by the author, Rubin Katz, are revealing. As already mentioned by another reviewer, this work has a strongly anti-Polish tone. In addition, Katz goes beyond the usual Polonophobic fare. He repeats all the standard Pole-demeaning myths about the 1939 war (pp. 43-45), and notes that his father gave token gifts to the Germans after Poland's defeat. (p. 46). Katz admits that he felt a measure of SCHADENFREUDE in seeing Poles marched out by the Germans, as Jews customarily were, after the fall of the Soviet-betrayed 1944 Warsaw Uprising. (p. 200). After the Red Army drove the Germans out, and Katz moved to Lublin, he inadvertently made it obvious that the pro-Soviet orientation of Polish Jews went far beyond gratitude for the deliverance from the Nazis. Katz quips, (quote) We all had great affinity for the USSR, as epitomized by the father-figure of comrade Stalin, whom we idolized. (unquote). (p. 259). Katz then repeats the silly exculpation that they were ignorant of Stalinist tyranny.

Now consider the implications of all this. The Endeks questioned if assimilated Polish Jews necessarily become Poles, and supposed that assimilated Jews can be just as hostile to fundamental Polish-ness as their kaftan-wearing, Yiddish-speaking Jews-as-nationality brethren. The attitudes exhibited by Katz exemplify this fact.


While centering on Christian prejudices against Jews, Katz briefly mentions the anti-Christian prejudices that he, and other Jews, grew up with and practiced. He quips, (quote) Another place I dreaded was the forbidding Catholic Church of Archangel Michael, which occupied the highest point in town, with its tall spire dominating the skyline. It was a large church, the only one in Ostrowiec, and when the bells pealed, they could be heard all over town. As there was no way of avoiding the church to get to the other side of town without taking a long detour, I would race past it as quickly as I could, as did all the Jewish boys. It wasn't until after the war that I plucked up the courage to go inside the dark and forbidding church, just to satisfy my curiosity and overcome my youthful superstition. (unquote). (p. 38).


Katz describes the escalating Nazi horror directed against Jews. WARNING: The descriptions of the German cruelties are graphic, and may upset sensitive readers. The author elaborates on his flight from Ostrowiec and his life as a young fugitive Jew.

In common with countless Jewish authors, Katz points out that many Jews refused to accept the reality of the unfolding Shoah because it did not fit their concept of the Germans as a very cultured and civilized people. (p. 69). Some of the Jews of Ostrowiec were shot locally, while others were dispatched to Treblinka.

The author hardly ever mentions Polish suffering. However, he realizes that the Germans forbade Poles to be educated. (p. 222). This was a form of cultural genocide. While in post-Ghetto-Uprising Warsaw, as an incognito Jew, he became aware of Aleja Szucha, the notorious Gestapo interrogation center where both Jews and Poles were tortured and usually murdered. (pp. 177-on).


The suspicion of peasants to outsiders is well known. While in the Polish countryside with his sister, they came upon a farmer, and asked for a little milk. He flatly refused, making derogatory remarks about city folk. (p. 210). How much unwillingness of peasants to help fugitive Jews owed to a dislike of Jews as Jews, and how much owed to dislike of Jews as city dwellers? (Nearly all Jews lived in urban areas).

The Poles faced an acute food shortage, though not as severe as that of the ghettoized Jews. (p. 61). This enables the reader to see why Poles were commonly unwilling to feed fugitive Jews, especially when the Jews could not pay them, or no longer could pay them. Later, while traversing through the Polish countryside looking for aid, he candidly remarked, (quote) Food was in short supply, and nobody wanted an extra mouth to feed, even on a farm. (unquote). (p. 206).

Now consider the German-imposed death penalty. It hardly was it "all the same" in terms of risk. Katz engaged in black market activity, commenting, (quote) There was rationing for most commodities, and trafficking in black-market goods from the countryside into the cities was strictly prohibited. Pigs and farm animals were meant to feed the Wehrmacht. However, providing there wasn't much involved, a German policeman would usually turn a blind eye to a young boy, especially a mute. (unquote). (pp. 151-152). The equating of risk in black market activity and that of aiding Jews, as argued by some in order to disparage Polish fears of the German-imposed death penalty, is clearly misplaced.


Katz briefly deviates from his usual Poles-are-antisemites mindset when he discusses Polish betrayers of Jews. He appreciates the fear induced by the German-imposed death penalty, and comments, (quote) Jews in hiding were often blackmailed or even betrayed by their jittery neighbors, afraid of collective punishment. (unquote). (p. 167).
One recurring element of Polonophobic Holocaust lore is one about defenseless Jews beheaded by those primitive, anti-Semitic Poles. [For example, see NEIGHBORS, by Jan T. Gross]. Katz does not disappoint. He alleges that the heads of his two cousins, Moshe and Yonsel Berman, were found in a bag near the fence of a camp in which he was staying. (pp. 135). Katz claims that his cousins had earlier paid two nearby Polish peasants to hide them after their flight from the ghetto. Without a shred of supporting evidence, typical of the hearsay that characterizes anti-Polish innuendo, he accuses the peasants of having committed this (alleged) foul deed, and having done so when the fugitive Jews had run out of money and were of no further use to them. (pp. 135-136). Besides being a Polonophobe, Katz must be a mind reader!

The portrayal of Polish guerrillas is predictable. Katz repeats the standard attacks on the A. K. (ARMIA KRAJOWA) as hostile to Jews and out to kill them. Were they actually A. K.? Katz acknowledges that bandits, as in their acts against Jews, pretended to be A. K. (p. 171).

The author repeats the accusations of Poles having said things such as "Jews are getting burned like bugs" during the earlier Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. However, he acknowledges that Jews also had ironic and self-depreciatory jokes about their sufferings under the Nazis. (pp. 137-138). Katz also notes that Jews in the ghetto had forms of entertainment, such as nightspots, notwithstanding the horrors they were facing. (p. 91). This reminds us that a semblance of normal living went on despite the horrors of the war and occupation. Poles who allegedly were enjoying themselves on a carousel within sight of the burning Warsaw Ghetto were not thereby showing callousness or hostility to the Jews.


Neo-Stalinist Jan T. Gross, and others like him, have berated Poles for their "greed and anti-Semitism" in taking the property of the Jewish victims of the Nazis. However, appropriating the property of the dead was standard practice in wartime. Poles commonly justified taking post-Jewish property by contending that it was better that Poles got it instead of the Germans. It turns out that the Jews reasoned in exactly the same way! They just took it a step further. Katz comments, (quote) Poles were free to plunder Jewish homes, stripping them bare, but they didn't know where to dig for valuables. It was only fair that we should benefit from what the Poles called "Jewish booty" rather than them, or the Germans. (unquote). (p. 87).

Looting of the absent and the dead went both ways. After the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, Katz sneaked into the ruins of Warsaw with other Jews, and systematically looted the belongings of Poles. (pp. 238-242). Later, Poles began trickling in, and did the same (pp. 254-255), clearly proving that Polish looters did not hanker only after post-Jewish properties.

While engaged in the looting of the properties of Poles after the Warsaw Uprising, Katz clarified the desirability of valuables. It was not for assuaging one's greed, but for one's survival during the war. He commented, (quote) I was hoping to find valuables that I could barter for fresh food on the market, but never found anything of value that was small enough to be carried away. In wartime, people take their riches with them or bury them in the ground, making them impossible to find. (unquote). (p. 241). It is not difficult to see why some Poles, the SZMALCOWNIKI, would blackmail fugitive Jews to relieve the Jews of their valuables, and why some Poles would loot the Jewish dead in search for valuables.

In addition, grave robbery was also standard practice during and after the war, and certainly not limited to Poles looting the Jewish dead. Katz himself engaged in the desecration of the deceased. When he lacked candles for illumination, he stole candles from a local Catholic cemetery, and hid this behavior from his Polish colleagues. (pp. 231-232).
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