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The Last Jew from Wegrow: The Memoirs of a Survivor of the Step-by-Step Genocide in Poland

john peczkis|Sunday, July 10, 2011

Shraga Bielawski grew up in Wegrow, which is located well north of Warsaw. At Wegrow, 75% of the businesses were owned by Jews before WWII. (p. 3). Interestingly, for all the bad rap Jews got for usury, Bielawski's father did not charge interest on his loans, and was well liked by Poles. (p. 5). The family was very wealthy. During the Great Depression, Bielawski converted most of his assets into gold, worth a then-considerable $4,000. (p. 14).

This memoir mentions some Jewish beliefs and practices. For instance, the Jews believed that the world was created out of nothing. (p. 55). Also, the rabbi had taught that: "...every Jew must perform good deeds, MITSVOS, and that if he did he would go to the Garden of Eden after he died. If he did evil, he would go to GEHINOM (hell). He explained that hell was a great, hot oven." (p. 118).

After the Germans conquered Poland, they began oppressing the Jews immediately. As was the case in countless other towns and villages, they appointed a Volksdeutsch mayor for Wegrow. (p. 17). During the Holocaust, a series of Poles helped and hid Bielawski. He stayed a long time with the farmer Bujalski, hiding in an ingenious hideout in a barn, and stole some of Bujalski's food to supplement that which he had been given. (p. 142). [How many cases of Jews rejected by their Polish benefactors were caused by being caught engaging in such conduct?]

This work was written fifty years after the events (p. 165), and, as is the case in other such situations, one wonders what the author actually experienced and what he grafted into his memory based on what he heard from others. Throughout the book, it is often difficult to tell what occurred and what is hearsay.

Some statements in this work undermine the author's overall credibility and, at best, point to looseness with facts. He states that the Germans used "deadly gas" against the Jews in the sewers during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (p. 96), and that there were crematoria at Treblinka. (p. 59) Neither is true. At Treblinka, the Germans burned the bodies on huge open-air pyres, not in crematory ovens.

The author writes many negative things about Poles and it is difficult to ascertain if they were true or if they were Jerzy Kosinski-type Polonophobic tall tales. At one time, however, he was told that Russian POWs in the area had escaped from the Germans, and were robbing and killing Jews in the forest. (p. 73). Otherwise, Bielawski was prone to jump to anti-Polish conclusions. For instance, he got help from Mrs. Rowicki, who told him to return the next day. Upon doing so, he heard Germans in the house, and concluded that Rowicki had set a trap by inviting the Germans to wait for him. It turned out that the Germans had invited themselves coincidentally, and had stayed long into the night. (pp. 70-71).

The author goes beyond the customary neglect of Polish suffering at the hands of the Nazis and makes some what-planet-are-you-walking-on statements. He actually would have the reader believe that Poles did not particularly mind being ruled by the Germans (p. 38), that western Europeans habitually risked their lives [western Europeans did not endanger their lives by helping Jews], but Poles would not (p. 44), and that Poles did not suffer much under the Nazis. (p. 144).

In the end, Bielawski was extremely bitter against Poles. He wrote: "I prayed that the land would split and swallow up the Poles as Korach's followers were swallowed by the earth in the days of Moses." (p. 159). Evidently, Bielawski had already forgotten that it was the Germans, and not the Poles, who had murdered the 5-6 million Jews. Bielawski had also forgotten about Bujalski and the other Polish benefactors to whom he owes his very life
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