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From a Ruined Garden, Second Expanded Edition: The Memorial Books of Polish Jewry (Indiana-Holocaust Museum Reprint)

jan peczkis|Saturday, March 24, 2012

This work, in its expanded 2nd edition, is an anthology of Jewish publications originally written mainly in Yiddish. It takes the "pulse" of Poland's once-huge Jewish community. The book title comes from a Holocaust survivor who, alluding to the rarity of Jewish survival, compared himself to one branch from one plant of a ruined garden.

4.0 out of 5 stars Understanding Polish Jewry Before, During, and After the Holocaust

Some interesting historical background finds mention in this work. For instance, there is a description of how Kaiser Wilhelm's soldiers entered Czestochowa during WWI, plundering the rural wealth and imposing such things as starvation rations on the Poles. (pp. 152-153).

In the interwar period, Polish peasant cooperatives were formed to eliminate the Jewish middleman. Jews, in turn, banded together to preserve their monopolies, sometimes successfully (for example, see pp. 62-63). In the Polish textile industry, Jews were frequently the factory owners, while Poles and Jews competed for jobs as weavers. (pp. 76-78).

The Jewish communities were often insular. At Chmielnik, two rabbis had a dispute in 1920 as to who has authority over their community. The matter eventually reached Polish courts (p. 156), and both sides tried to bribe Polish officials for a favorable decision. (p. 157). For a time, each rabbi claimed to have sole authority to declare foods kosher, and said that food authorized by the other rabbi was TREYF (ritually unclean). The same reasoning went behind the recognition of valid marriages. (pp. 157-158). Finally, decades later, after the Nazi German invasion of Poland, the two rabbis reconciled.

Not only Polish peasants, but also the Jews had their own superstitions, including the evil eye. (pp. 122-123, 150). Although Jews looked down at goys for drunkenness, there were sometimes instances where Jews were quite inebriated. (pp. 130-131).

The accusation of Jews avoiding military service to Poland finds support in this work. A Jewish draftee, Shloyme, attempted to avoid military service by finding money to bribe someone, and, failing that, committed a self-inflicted injury that also failed to keep him out of the Polish armed forces. (p. 151).

The Zydokomuna (Bolshevized Judaism) was much broader than CP membership. Among Jewish sports clubs, the Skala club was Communist, and its influence was enhanced by the fact that it also accepted "politically undecided" Jews. (p. 89). Author Gina Medem has a long essay glorifying the Polish Jews who had recently fought on the Communist side in the Spanish Civil War. (pp. 166-167). The volunteers included members of TSUKUNFT, an ostensibly mainstream Bundist youth organization. (p. 167). In the Introduction, the editors cite a Jewish funeral during which, "The woman being buried, though a Communist, was still a Jew, and hence required burial according to Jewish law." (p. 23). So much for the silly argument that Jewish Communists are "not really" Jews!

This work mentions Polish "pogroms" in a number of articles. However, close examination reveals that all of them were the acts of small numbers of hoodlums, which strong Jewish men often successfully drove off and beat severely.

One Jewish author reported how he had been called a ZHIDEK ("little Jew"; which the reader needs to realize is only mildly derogatory). From this unfortunate experience, which he magnified to an "outrageous act", he generalized on Poland in general, and then jumped to how it "paved the way for Majdanek and Treblinka." (p. 88). [As if mild Polish insults of Jews turned out to be the trigger that possessed the invading Germans to conduct systematic genocide against the Jews!]

For all of the attention devoted to the blood libel by the likes of Jan T. Gross, only one article in this entire anthology insinuates Poles having such a belief, and even then only within the context of an older cousin using this as a scare tactic against a little-boy cousin. (pp. 112-113). Dare one suppose that this belief among Poles has been exaggerated?

During the Holocaust, the Nazis (National Socialists), true to their socialist character, observed May Day, even late in the war (1943). (p. 196). The Nazis were helped not only by certain locals, but also by Jewish informers (p. 222) and so-characterized murderous Jewish police. (p. 194). After Auschwitz was evacuated, the author heard from a Russian servant of the S.S. that all of the evacuees were to be shot, not only Jews, and regardless of nationality. (pp. 237-238). Evidently, the American forces came sooner than expected, as the S.S. guards ran away.

This work includes stereotyped attacks on Haller's Army and the ARMIA KRAJOWA (A.K.), without proof that members of those organizations were actually the ones harming Jews. One writer goes a step further--making the bizarre claim that: "Virtually all of the Christians who hid Jews were murdered by the A. K." (p. 202). [I have studied Jewish Polonophobia a long time, and had never heard THAT one before.]

A number of testimonies describe postwar experiences, including instances of returning Jews being killed. An element of objectivity exists in that one of these descriptions notes that Jews were not the only victims. In those early years of the [Soviet-imposed] Communist government, Poles often denounced each other, and Poles killed other Poles. (pp. 257-258).
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