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Shtetl Jews Under Soviet Rule: Eastern Poland on the Eve of the Holocaust (Jewish Society and Culture) Partial Insights into Jewish-Soviet Collaboration in USSR-Conquered Eastern Poland

Jan Peczkis|Tuesday, June 29, 2010

This is one of the few books, written by a Jewish author, which acknowledges the fact that large numbers of Polish Jews collaborated with the Soviet authorities who had invaded eastern Poland in September-October 1939. Not mentioned, however, is the role which local Jews played in fifth-column attacks on Poles, and the disarming of Poles during the Soviet conquest of eastern Poland. (See Peczkis review of Przemilczane zbrodnie: Zydzi i Polacy na Kresach w latach 1939-1941 (Polish Edition)). Also not mentioned is the fact that large number of Poles were sent to horrible deaths in Siberia as a result of this collaboration. Despite these serious omissions, Pinchuk has provided us an important work.


Pinchuk asserts that, at first, Jews had it better under the Soviets than under the Poles. Perhaps so, but they apparently failed to consider that this advantage was only temporary and that they were willfully overlooking the murderous character of Communism. In any case, those who chose to collaborate with the Soviets also chose to become the enemies of the Poles. Pinchuk also claims that this collaboration was initially caused by Jewish fears of the Nazis. But then he shoots down his own argument when he acknowledges that most eastern-Polish Jews had possessed a high opinion of the Germans and could not even imagine that the Germans would do what they later did. (The reader should furthermore remember that the systematic mass-murder of Jews by Nazis was not to begin for almost another two years!)

There is an interesting irony to those who say that Jewish-Soviet collaboration was driven by prior Polish anti-Semitism. Under Polish rule, Jews faced discrimination intended to limit their economic dominance. They never faced destruction of Jewish communal or religious life. To the contrary--these flourished under Polish rule. Now enter Pinchuk. He actually states that there was no anti-Semitism at all under the Soviets, but then he describes how the Soviets destroyed Jewish communal and religious life. Evidently, Pinchuk has an interesting definition of anti-Semitism: If the destruction of Jewish communal and religious life had been done by Poles or other Christians, it would certainly be considered anti-Semitism. But when actually done by the Communists, he would not call it anti-Semitism. Go figure.

It is unfortunate that this work, as well as my review of it, has been distorted into some kind of justification for anti-Semitism--and even of pogroms! Nevertheless, Jewish enmity against Poles was a very real part of Polish-Jewish relations, and by no means occurring the first time in 1939. It must be squarely faced--not ignored or excused--if there is to be any genuine Polish-Jewish reconciliation.
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