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The Warsaw Ghetto and Holocaust from a Religious-Jewish Perspective

Jan Paczkis|Friday, September 4, 2009

This work is rich in Jewish terminology, traditional Jewish ideation, and cries to God and man for deliverance during the unfolding Holocaust. In contrast to most Holocaust-era diaries, it also offers an unusual amount of biographical detail on the leading Jewish secular and especially religious leaders of the time. Many interesting details are provided, such as the debate as to whether Polish Jews were the descendants of Khazars, or of erstwhile German Jews that had lived along the Rhine. (p. 110).

In the Foreword, the Seidman family praises their father for his defense of the Kol Nidre prayers against the charge that it absolves Jews from oaths and thereby allows Jews to lie in court. (p. 14). [This could be further developed. It is commonly demurred that the release provision only applies to a person’s oath before God, not to a person’s oath before other persons. However, Jews themselves had sometimes interpreted (or misinterpreted) the oath-releasing provisions of the Kol Nidre in a broad sense. For this reason, some Jewish authorities had suggested that it be scrapped.]  

          There were various influential prewar Hebrew and Yiddish newspapers that were antagonistic towards religion and the religious, and staff writers of other Jewish newspapers were usually irreligious. (p. 360). [This parallels Cardinal Hlond’s much-maligned Jews-as-freethinkers statement.]. Much has also been written about Endeck (Endek)-led boycotts of Jews. However, Jews also used boycotts against Poles when they felt they had been wronged by them. (p. 361).  

Throughout this work, the collaborationist Ukrainian and Baltic police are highlighted with regards to the herding of the Jews to the death trains. As for the Jewish ghetto police, its work came to the fore in maintaining ordnung after the Germans had withdrawn the Polish Blue Police (Policja Granatowa). (p. 153.). The Jewish ghetto police contained a mixture of benefactors and scoundrels, but consisted of assimilated Jews, many of whom had no real ties to Judaism and not a few of whom had open contempt for religious Jews. (pp. 154-156). Seidman asserts that no religious Jews served in either the Jewish ghetto police or in the later kapos (camp guards)(p. 156), nor engaged in self-preservation behavior at the expense of other Jews. (pp. 229-230).    
An escapee from a Treblinka-bound death train reported that the boxcar had only a small vent, which could be seen out of only by standing on another’s back. (pp. 101-102). [This contradicts the tale about doomed Jews forced to behold throngs of jeering Poles. Even had they existed, it would’ve been almost impossible to see them.].  
Bundist leader Mauricy Orzech (correctly) concluded, based on his contacts with the Polish Underground, that its organizational structure was weak at the time [through at least early 1943]. (p. 211). With that exception, Seidman displays an astonishing ignorance of the Polish situation and its relevance to Jews. One crass Polonophobic accusation would have the reader believe that the Polish Catholic Church was unwilling to help even Warsaw’s Christian Jews, having adopted Nazi-style racial beliefs! (pp. 148-150; see also 176-177). Reality Check: The Polish Catholic Church, powerless to stop the countless murders of Polish gentiles, already facing severe persecution and accused of fostering anti-German sentiment, was on the verge of experiencing even more draconian German reprisals. (See the Peczkis review of HANS FRANK’S DIARY… [link]).  

The Holocaust was far from universal [contrary to Holocaust-uniqueness advocates], and this puzzled translator Yosef Israel, who asked: “By what logic were the Jews of northern Africa, similarly under German domination, spared the extermination process when POWs from the desert campaign were shipped off to Auschwitz? Why did the Jews of Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, and deepest Russia merit to escape the worst?” (pp. 25-26).  

Review of A Warsaw Diary, 1935-1945, by Michael Zylberberg (1969). Vallentine Mitchell, London  

Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis  

An Aryan-Looking Fugitive Jew in German-Occupied Warsaw  

The author lived in the Warsaw Ghetto, described in detail his encounters with Janusz Korczak, and then escaped from the Ghetto and benefited from a series of Polish benefactors as well as his own non-Jewish physiognomy. One of his benefactors was an Endeck (Endek) woman (p. 133), adding refutation to the supposition that only left-wing Poles helped Jews. Many of his Polish benefactors had known ties to the Polish Underground (e. g., p. 106, 133-134).  

Unlike the description of Polish priests discouraging Polish aid to Jews, as described in Jan T. Gross’ FEAR, Zylberberg knew a priest who encouraged such aid. (p. 88). Zylberberg also personally observed both Polish sorrow and indifference to Jewish suffering, as during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. (p. 97, 114). One factor alienating Poles from Jews had been the widespread Jewish-Communist collaboration, as described to Zylberberg by an eyewitness Polish Blue policeman from Lwow (Lviv, Lvov). (p. 89).  

  Zylberberg believed that the hostility of Polish peasants to Jews owed less to anti-Semitism and hatred and more to the fact that a great gulf had long existed between Poles and Jews. They may as well have been inhabitants of different planets. (p. 201).  

Ironic to the current emphasis on Poles and Jews being unequal victims, neither group had any inherent right to life in the eyes of the Germans. Zylberberg comments: “Every Jew who escaped from the ghetto was moved by two emotions: joy at leaving certain death behind and fear of the future. On the Aryan side he suffered indescribable torment, as he was afraid of being caught both as a Jew and as a Pole—for so many of the latter were also wantonly shot.” (p. 121).   

Alcoholism was common among Poles during the German occupation. (p. 116).
The Germans spread incessant anti-Semitic propaganda among the Poles, trying to turn them against Jews. (p. 121). A prewar criminal background was known in the case of a certain Pole known to have betrayed Jews. (p. 198). On the other hand a certain porter, said to be a habitual denouncer of fugitive Jews, was actually hiding many of them. It turned out that his denouncer reputation had intentionally been a cover for his beneficial acts on behalf of Jews. (pp. 110-111). [How many other such reputed Polish denouncers had actually been benefactors?] Zylberberg also reports attempting to avoid those whom he suspected of being Jewish (p. 120), evidently out of fear that he could encounter a Jewish denouncer.  

Some fugitive Jews have reported encountering blackmailers who, after taking the money, actually gave them advice on how better to disguise their Jewishness in the future. Such was also Zylberberg’s experience. The blackmailing Polish Blue policemen told him that the wearing of a ridiculous Polish-type moustache, and dirty shoes, were a giveaway. (pp. 152-153).  

The events surrounding the assassination of Kutschera are well described (pp. 145-on). Zylberberg also commented on his observations of the Poles who rose up against the Germans during the Polish Warsaw Uprising (August-October 1944): “The heroism of the Polish fighters cannot be adequately described. Each house was defended the fought over.” (p. 163). The Polish insurgents freed the captive Jews from a nearby prison. (p. 164-on).  

After the fall of the Uprising [from Soviet betrayal], the Germans proceeded to systematically destroy the remainder of Warsaw. Zylberberg was an eyewitness to the Germans’ burning of Warsaw’s remaining buildings.
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