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Sentenced To Remember: My Legacy of Life in Pre-1939 Poland and Sixty-Eight Months of Nazi Occupation

jan peczkis|Sunday, February 23, 2014

Insights into Anti-Assimilation, Nazi Death Penalty, Paid Polish Rescuers, et

4.0 out of 5 stars  The author discusses his experiences in Tarnow. He elaborates on the 1939 war, and the local VOLKSDEUTSCHEN serving as a fifth column. Days before the war, they dynamited a local train station, and later spread demoralizing rumors. (p. 66).

The Nazi German terror soon bore fruit. Already in the early stages of the German occupation of Poland (1940), the local Poles got half the food rations of the Germans, and the Jews got half the food rations of the Poles. (p. 72). The author then describes the German-made ghettos, Jews dispatched to Belzec, Jews hiding among Poles, and his own imprisonment in German concentration camps such as Plaszow, St. Valentin, and Mauthausen. He also describes his return to Tarnow after the war, and again decades later.


While focusing on the Jewish community in his native Tarnow, Kornbluth emphasizes the Polish anti-Semitism that existed before WWII. However, he inadvertently touches on some of the reasons for this anti-Semitism. Thus, Poles and Jews lived in separate parts of town, and almost never socialized. (p. 43). In addition, Polish-Jewish contact tended to revolve around business matters (p. 43), and the Jews owned 95% of the small businesses of Tarnow as well as most industry. (p. 45). The hostilities between Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians are clarified by Kornbluth, (quote) The constant friction among the three groups originated in a fight for their own portion of a small economic pie. The only thing they shared in common was poverty and helplessness. (unquote). (p. 55).


A common exculpation for the resistance of Polish Jews to assimilation is the uncongenial Catholic-majoritarian atmosphere ("Jews had nothing to assimilate to"), as well as perceived disrespect for Jewish rights in Poland. However, at least some Jews were opposed to assimilation for quite another reason: They wanted to maintain Jewish particularism, and even the pluralism and secularism of the USA did not satisfy them. Kornbluth comments, (quote) My uncles David and Max wanted to send us visas to come to America, but my father wouldn't hear of it. He felt it would be impossible to pursue religious values there and that his family might become assimilated. (unquote). (p. 50).


Neo-Stalinist Jan T. Gross has belittled the German-imposed death penalty facing Poles who helped Jews, trivializing it as something that really meant nothing because Poles incurred it all the time in various activities. In contrast Edith, Kornbluth's wife, appreciates the risk faced by Poles as she remarks, (quote) Orzech's agreement took courage. Any contact with a Jew was punishable by death to all concerned...He [father] felt guilty risking Orzech's family lives, and wanted an alternative solution. (unquote). (p. 31). Kornbluth recounts that, (quote) I declined the offer. I didn't want to jeopardize Janka and her little brother, for they would have risked certain death if they were discovered hiding a Jew. (unquote). (p. 74).


Neo-Stalinists also have attacked "greedy" Poles--those who required payment from Jews to house them. Kornbluth, who actually went through the Holocaust, exonerates those Poles who exchanged help for payment. He comments, (quote) In Tarnow, I met other young women, Roza Schmuckler, along with her parents and brother, survived the war hiding in a bunker. A Polish peasant risked his life to save them. He was well paid, to be sure, but his risk was out of proportion to the reward. (unquote). (p. 148).


The author describes an acquaintance who wrote the following book: Against All Odds: A Tale of Two Survivors [see the Peczkis review, especially about jumping to anti-Polish conclusions], and comments, "It was shocking to Edith and me to find a totally different version about her family's demise." (p. 215). Kornbluth automatically believes this anti-Polish version of events and rejects the account that Edith had heard from Polish peasants. (p. 216). However, he admits that, "Saleschitz [Salsitz] vouches for the accuracy of his `eyewitness' account. It is difficult to know what to believe." (p. 216).

The foregoing experience reinforces what came up regarding the Jedwabne massacre. To begin with, far too many accounts are based on hearsay. In addition, there are often different, contradictory versions of events (what's more, some Polonophobic and some not).

Finally, Poles were not the only ones who betrayed fugitive Jews. The Germans also got Jews to betray other Jews by offering to spare them, or their relatives, in exchange for disclosing bunkers in which twenty or more Jews were hiding. (p. 94).


Instead of seeing Jews who collaborated with the Nazis merely as desperate individuals trying to save their own lives, Kornbluth focuses on their malevolence. He specifies their gratuitous cruelties. The Jewish collaborators included members of the O. D. (ORDNUNGS DIENST) and Judenrat (pp. 67-68, 110, 144).

Julius Madritsch was an Austrian who was honored by Yad Vashem for arranging Jews to be spared. The author was familiar with him. Kornbluth (p. 103) accused Madritsch of sending Jews to their deaths at Auschwitz, and "sparing" Jews at his factory out of greed. [The latter accusation has also been directed, by others, at the more famous Oskar Schindler].
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