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Hidden Gold: A True Story of the Holocaust ;Atypical Insights on the Daunting Challenges that Faced the Polish Rescuers of Jews

jan peczkis|Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Many reviews already provide the reader with a synopsis of this book, and, instead of repeating them, I focus on generally-unmentioned issues. Author Ella Burakowski, born long after the war, is the daughter of Shoshana and her sister Esther, and the grandchild of Leib and Hanna Gold. The setting of this Holocaust-survival memoir is Pinczow, Kolkow, Dzialoszyce, and surrounding towns.



PRE-WWII POLAND: TOBACCO AND SUNDAY-CLOSING LAWS

A number of policies were enacted, in prewar Poland, to rein-in the Jewish economic privileges. This included the handicapping of Jews in business, such as by the imposed limits on the number of Jews involved in the trade of tobacco, and by the Sunday-closing laws, which theoretically forced Jews to be idle two days a week (their Sabbath, plus Sunday), while Poles were idle only one day a week (Sunday).

Here is how Burakowski’s grandparents circumvented these strictures, (quote) There were many government rules that came with running a tobacco concession, and Leib was lucky to have the opportunity to own one. Jews were usually not allowed to hold certificates to run such establishments. He’s purchased the concession from the wife of a deceased Polish World War I colonel. One of the rules was that the concession had to be open on Saturdays. So, in spite of being an observant Jew, Leib was obliged to open the store on the Sabbath. He hired a gentile worker to handle Saturdays. Leib and Hanna did not let religion get in the way of prosperity. (unquote). (pp. 12-13).

DEMYSTIFYING POLISH BETRAYERS AND RESCUERS OF JEWS

The Nazi Germans conquered Poland. They began their reign of terror.

In Holocaust-related discussions, the overall low rate of survivorship of Poland’s fugitive Jews has automatically been taken as proof of the indifference and hostility of Poles to the plight of fugitive Jews, and of the high frequency of Poles killing and betraying fugitive Jews. This is a non sequitur. The Nazis (Germans) were perfectly capable of finding fugitive Jews on their own. In fact, they regularly conducted very thorough sweeps, not only of cities, but also of remote villages, for fugitive Jews and their Polish rescuers (pp. 184-on), killing those they found. (p. 189).

Poles experienced constant fear of the German-imposed death penalty for the slightest aid to Jews. Furthermore, a Pole who rescued Jews, and then had to turn them out, had to fear that the Jews could tell the Germans (by force if necessary) who had aided them, causing certain death to these Polish benefactors. (pp. 208-209, 260). This also explains why some Poles turned actively against Jews. The author realizes that Hanosz, a Pole who reputedly accepted Jews, took their money, and then denounced or killed them, was animated by fear. (p. 137).

The informed reader probably is aware of the fact that accounts of Poles betraying Jews are largely based on hearsay. Moreover, Polish individuals who claimed responsibility for hunting Jews could be making this up. (p. 170).

Communist propaganda (and that of its modern neo-Stalinist successors) has long portrayed the Polish Underground NSZ as a killer of Jews, and this has been repeated in innumerable Jewish writings. This memoir also repeats this unsubstantiated charge. (p. 170). However, the author points out that Max, involved in the rescue of Jews, was a member of the NSZ. (p. 170).

Neo-Stalinist authors, notably Jan T. Gross, would have us believe that Poles that required payment from fugitive Jews, as a condition for housing them, were animated by (what else?), greed and anti-Semitism. This is nonsense. A Pole, endangering the life of himself and his family (and perhaps the entire village) felt it more than reasonable to require that the Jews he was hiding pay him for the risk he was taking. (pp. 169-170). Economic factors also came into play. Even in rural areas, Poles were in no position to feed Jews gratis, at least until the harvest. (p. 208).

Most Holocaust-survivor memoirs are very Judeocentric, effectively making Poles out to be “spectators” living more-or-less carefree lives, all the while Jews were daily struggling to survive. This one, in welcome contrast, points out that Germans killed Poles as well as Jews at will. (p. 65, 150). This memoir also mentions the Poles’ 1944 Warsaw Uprising, which admittedly cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Poles, thanks to the betrayal by the Soviet Union. (p. 290).

JEWS WHO COLLABORATED WITH THE NAZIS

Nowadays, the notion is commonly advanced that Jews living under the Nazis are absolved of their conduct because of the extremity of the circumstances, and the presumption that normal concepts of right and wrong had ceased to exist owing to the (presumed) uniqueness of the Holocaust.

The persons described in this book, who very much lived through the Holocaust, evidently did not see it this way. They offer harsh condemnations of the conduct of Jewish-Nazi collaborators. For instance, even though they fully cognizant of the compulsions faced by the Jews, they spoke of some members of the Jewish Police as “no better than the Germans they work for.” (p. 83). In addition, they remarked, (quote) These Jewish policemen didn’t care that they were torturing their own people. They had to prove their worthiness to the Germans, or they, too, would be dispensable. But did they have to enjoy the intense fear they could see on the faces of their victims? (unquote). (p. 84). Samolski, another Jewish policeman, was described as mean and sickening in his threats to kill his Jewish underlings--a big shot who acted like the Nazis and not like the Jews. (p. 93).

The eventual Holocaust-surviving Jews had choice words about Bialobrodah, a Jewish informant. He was described as porcine, “a disgusting, ruthless human being”, and as a Jew who laughed with the SS guard and acted like he was better than everyone else. (p. 88).

Not only could the Poles betray Jews for money. So did certain Jews, namely Jozef and Nessa Lanski. (p. 302).
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