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The Polish Tradition : an Interpretation of a Nation

jan peczkis|Monday, January 13, 2014

A Super Job. Considerable Insights into the Characteristics of Poles, 1930's Polish-Jewish Relations, the Kresy, and Much More

5.0 out of 5 stars This review is from: The Polish Tradition : an Interpretation of a Nation / by Paul Super (Hardcover) Pardon the pun. Author Paul Super, an American of Dutch-German descent (p. 107), who had lived a long time in Poland, showed an unusually deep understanding of Polish thinking, Polish ways, etc. [Having reviewed numerous books on this subject, I do not say this lightly.] Because this work is so rich in content, I can only comment on a few points. My review is based on the original 1939 edition.

This book has countless tidbits of interesting information. For instance, notwithstanding the treatment of the Polish peasant by the landlord, he was still better off than his French, Germany, and especially Russian counterpart. (p. 43). During greetings, Poles commonly click their heels when shaking hands. (p. 128). Obviously, this has no pro-Nazi connotations.


Paul Super summarizes this issue: (quote) This national characteristic more likely rests upon a real appreciation of the value of the individual, a high evaluation of individuality, and the worth and dignity of the person. Yours as well as his. For the Pole is slow to try to force his opinion on others; his tolerance is as real as his individualism...This characteristic and tradition has a very practical usefulness in the present world of politics; it makes the Pole loathe equally Communism and Fascism, any denying of the worth and dignity freedom of the individual...See the things he rejected, fearing State tyranny: A titled nobility; a hereditary monarch; a family reigning in perpetuity; a standing army; all centralization of government. Note how for centuries he has equally despised the subservient mind of the Muscovite gentry, the herd mind of the Germans, and the bureaucratic Austrian, and how he has resisted discipline and regimentation either by State or Church these six or seven hundred years. (unquote). (p. 81).


By way of introduction, Super introduces the author to the historical privileges of Poland's Jews, and adds, (quote) Their LIBERUM VETO preserved the heart of democracy, though not of good government, and protected minorities; indeed, it unduly empowered them. (unquote). (p. 133).

Instead of regarding the Poles as animated by anti-Semitic Catholic teachings, Paul Super realizes that comparatively recent Polish antagonism towards Jews derived from economic considerations, and even this was still balanced by positive Polish attitudes towards Jews. He comments, (quote)...the Jews in Poland served definite economic functions, that of middleman, merchant, and banker. Sadly, the general social ethics of the Jew did not emanate from his religion but from his vocation, and are regarded by Poles as lamentably low, with, of course, notable individual exceptions. The intellectual acumen and artistic ability of the Jew are, however, fully recognized by the Pole. Finally, the Jew is traditionally regarded by the Pole as not a creator of wealth, but as a collector of wealth created by the labor of others, and in the worst situations, as an economic parasite living on the Polish social body. (unquote). (p. 53).

Author Paul Super also realizes that the worsening Polish-Jewish relations, and growing Jewish poverty, stem not from Poles being innately anti-Semitic, or imitating the Nazis in nearby Germany, but from the direct conflict between emerging Polish entrepreneurial activity and its long-established Jewish counterpart. Super writes, (quote) In post-war and independent Poland all this is changing. The peasant is tired of exploitation at the hands of the Jew, is rising against it, and learning to handle his products directly or through co-operatives. The people of the towns and cities are themselves going into business and urging Christians to deal with Christians. In the upper classes more and more are engaging in commerce and entering the professions. The result is, that the Jews in Poland, far too numerous on any count, are losing their economic functions to the Poles to whom the land belongs, and are, notwithstanding the vast wealth of their own Jewish upper class, both numerous and rich, beginning to experience unprecedented economic hardships. (unquote). (p. 54).

How should this be remediated? Super comments (quote), Unless other lands having fewer Jews cooperate in receiving Jewish emigrants from Poland, their fate in Poland will be a sad one, not because of the cruelty of the Pole, nor his intolerance, for a long history shows him to be neither cruel nor intolerant, but because of the huge Jewish population in Poland, its loss of social function, and its proved utter unassimilability on a large scale into the Polish social structure. (unquote). (p. 54).


Poland's eastern borderlands (the Kresy) have bred a dynamic kind of Pole. Paul Super describes this, (quote) Every inch of this frontier is historic, with a mighty appeal to any American who knows his own west, which this east so much resembles, not indeed in geographical detail, but in historical significance and national idea...its component elements are pioneer courage and hardiness, virility, devoted patriotism, and a sense of social obligation, a readiness for and understanding of social service. The fact of the Poles through long centuries being the landowners, organizers, recognized leaders, and true civilizers of the simple Ruthenian [Ukrainian] peasants has tended to produce just these qualities. When I meet a Pole from the Kresy I take it for granted that he possesses these characteristic qualities, and I am not often disappointed. (unquote). (pp. 164-165).


Ukrainian nationalist and Communist propaganda has frequently painted Poland's possession of territories that are predominantly non-Polish as imperialistic. Super knows better. He quips, (quote) During the 15th and 16th centuries Poland increased her territory threefold, her population twofold, and without intimidation, terror, or bloodshed. Active among the forces contributing to this great achievement was her characteristic toleration, which made other racial groups, the Lithuanians and Ruthenians [Ukrainians], desire to join Poland; this spirit then assisted in their assimilation into the Polish nation, and so completely was this achieved that many of Poland's greatest heroes come from those stocks, notably Kosciuszko. Mickiewicz, and Pilsudski, and Prince Jeremy Wisniowiecki, whose son became one of Poland's elected kings, 1669. (unquote). (p. 59).

Author Paul Super continues, (quote) These more eastern lands were then called, as we see on 16th and 17th century maps, DZIKI POLA, "the wild fields", and Ukraine, "the border lands". They were uncultivated, largely empty, Tarter overridden frontier territories, Polish by law and right, settled and developed by Polish initiative, defended by Polish arms, peopled by a simple Ruthenian [Ukrainian] peasant population able to live and prosper because of Polish forts and Polish knights in armor. Its rich black soil is further enriched by the blood of tens of thousands of Polish soldiers who died holding these lands against Tartar hordes and Turkish armies. (unquote). (p. 146).
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