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A Story of Flight and Terror--with Standard Polonophobic Archetypes

Jan Peczkis|Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Halina Zawadzka described her pre-WWII life as one in which her parents were atheists, hostile to religion, including Judaism. (p.122). She never observed any of the Jewish holidays. (p. 108)


During the Nazi occupation, Zawadzka was confined with her fellow Jews to the Ghetto in the town of Konskie. She fled in time before the "resettlement", which she describes as follows: "At the beginning of November [1942], Germans and Latvians liquidated almost the whole Ghetto there. The Jewish population of about nine thousand people was transported by freight train from Konskie in an unknown direction. Although Poles were not allowed to approach the Ghetto or the railroad tracks at the time, it was well known that terrible things happened there." (p. 101). Even though Zawadzka makes no assertion of Poles gathering to cheer the Jews being shipped to their deaths, as some other memoirs have claimed, it is obvious from her testimony that this would've been physically impossible. The Germans wouldn't have permitted any such gathering and gawking!

Interestingly, the author, for a time, believed that Polish warnings about Jews being gassed and cremated by the Nazis were simply another manifestation of Polish anti-Semitism, on par with the blood-added-to-matzo tales. She wrote: "Though the story was different, I saw an analogy between the accusation of Jews of ritual murder and the theory of gassing people in a death camp. To me, the name of the similarity was anti-Semitism." (pp. 125-126). Could it be that many of the manifestations of Polish anti-Semitism alleged by this author are actually projections of her own hostility towards Poles?

A number of accounts in this book come up so often in Holocaust memoirs, and are so stereotypically similar to each other from memoir to memoir, that one wonders if they have not assumed the status of Polonophobic archetypes. There is the one about the fugitive Jew overhearing a conversation between seemingly-benevolent Poles discussing plans to kill the Jew. (p. 15). There is also the one, really overdone in this memoir, of the incognito Jewish fugitive repeatedly encountering Poles who verbalize a wish for a monument to be built to Hitler in tribute for his destroying of Poland's Jews. (p. 21, 149-150, 196). [Poles suffered very greatly under Hitler, and, regardless of their attitudes towards Jews, it is not even imaginable that any of them would want a monument constructed to honor Hitler.]

After fleeing the Konskie Ghetto, the author hid among gentiles, and eventually settled with Karolina Slowik and her daughters Olga (Dzuinia) and Maria (Kamer). These benefactors were honored posthumously by Yad Vashem.

The Slowik household became a staging point for the AK (A.K., or Armia Krajowa)(pp. 137-on). For a time, Zawadzka worked for the AK. At one point, she claims that an AK commander spoke of ordering a fugitive Jew in the forest shot for "safety" reasons. (p. 156). Later, after her Jewishness became known to the AK members who frequented the Slowik household, she was threatened with death if she betrayed them or the organization. (p. 198).

The foregoing incidents are not clarified to the reader. They were life-and-death decisions. The AK feared penetration by enemy agents, both Communist and Nazi, for exposure meant certain torture and death. Jews were, using modern parlance, profiled as potential enemy agents. Although anyone could be an agent of the enemy, a Jew was much more likely to be a Communist than a Polish gentile. Also, the Nazis frequently spared individual Jews and sent them out to spy on Polish guerrillas. Finally, innocuous fugitive Jews who had obtained familiarity with Polish-Underground whereabouts were a security risk because, if they fell in German hands, they would immediately tell the Germans everything they knew in a futile attempt to save their lives.
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