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POlin:f Variable Quality, With Insufficient Depth and Disappointing Editorial Standards

jan peczkis|Thursday, March 30, 2017

This volume raises many issues. As is the case with other volumes of the POLIN series, this one presents much information, but often does so in a mile-wide and inch-deep manner. It tends to present Jews as objects of perceptions, and not as agents that affect how they are perceived and how they are treated.

There are far too many shortcomings for me to bring up in one however-oversized review, alongside a few good points. My review focuses on a few issues, and does so in a thematic (not chronological) format.


There is a section of this volume called "New Views". This is deliciously ironic, because it includes two articles that are the same-old, same-old paean to neo-Stalinist authors such as Jan T. Gross and Jan Grabowski, and their Polonophobia.

Authors Antoni Sulek and Kathleen Cioffi repeat the claims of the likes of Jan T. Gross with not so much as a glimmer of questioning. In fact, Cioffi (pp. 424-425) states that the investigative IPN Commission (INSTYTUT PAMIECI NARODOWEJ) has proved Jan T. Gross essentially correct on Jedwabne. This is egregiously incorrect. [See first Comment under this review. Jan T. Gross had asserted, in his NEIGHBORS, that Poles were the ones who burned the Jews in the barn while the Germans just watched and took pictures. In contrast, the IPN has left the German and/or Polish responsibility, for the burning of Jews in the barn, an open matter. Clearly, the evidence is inconclusive, and it can NOT be said that Gross has been proved right.]

Authors Antoni Sulek and Kathleen Cioffi are so far removed from objectivity that they partake of propaganda rather than scholarship, and the informed reader will likely question the editorial standards in this volume. Their omissions are glaring, and revealing. Consider the--unmentioned--other side to the story of Jan T. Gross and his ZLOTE ZNIWA (GOLDEN HARVEST). Please see Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold? Studies on the Wartime Fate of Poles and Jews, and read the detailed Peczkis review. Jan Grabowski, in his JUDENJAGD (HUNT FOR THE JEWS) has completely distorted the events at Dabrowa Tarnowska county. For corrective, please see the--unmentioned-- Krwawe Upiory (Polish Edition), and read my detailed English-language review.

Sulek skirts around the issue of Jewish-Soviet collaboration, as a provocation for Polish complicity in the Jedwabne massacre, and Cioffi dismisses the unwelcome fact of Jewish-Soviet collaboration in a cavalier matter. Jewish-Soviet collaboration against Poles, in 1939-1941, was undeniable and significant in scale. To learn more, please read the free, detailed online book, NEIGHBORS ON THE EVE OF THE HOLOCAUST POLISH-JEWISH RELATIONS...by Mark Paul. (See the 2013, or any more recent, edition).

Finally, there is nothing remarkable about the fact that some Poles collaborated with the Nazis in betraying fugitive Jews. Betrayals and denunciations were a frequent wartime event that respected no nationality. As a matter of fact, large numbers of Jews were betrayed, to the Nazis, by other Jews, even when the betrayer Jew's life was not in danger. To learn more, please read the free, detailed online book, PATTERNS OF COLLABORATION AND BETRAYAL... by Mark Paul.


Why do various authors keep beating Poles up over Jedwabne in the first place? It is not difficult for the reader to deduce the answer to this question. Both Sulek (p. 408) and Cioffi (p. 413) repeat the standard line that Poles are imbued with the "heroic narrative", of fighting the Nazis and being victims of the Nazis, and, for this reason, are slow to accept the "gospel truth" of Jan T. Gross. The incessant attacks on the so-called "heroic narrative" have unambiguous implications. The millions of ethnic Poles murdered by the Nazis, and the disproportionate and sacrificial contributions of the Poles in defeating Nazi Germany, are all supposed to be nullified just because a small number of Poles collaborated with the Nazis. Can this be taken seriously? If so, it would also mean that Jewish losses and Jewish achievements would have to be nullified by the Jews who collaborated with the Nazis and especially the Communists. Either that, or there exists, Talmud style, one moral standard for Jews and another moral standard for Poles.

Pointedly, this attack on the Polish so-called "heroic narrative" has become so monotonically predictable, in works of this type, that the well-read reader may be forgiven for suspecting an agenda. Is it, at very least, part of Judeocentric thinking--a planned disappearance of the memories of the genocide of Poles, down an Orwellian memory hole, so that the Holocaust becomes really the only important event that took place in WWII? Is it part of the "Politics of Shame" (based on the PEDAGOGIKA WSTYDU), wherein Poles are to be intimidated into paying off the extortionists of the Holocaust Industry? Is it part of a long-term goal of making Polish history odious to Poles, notably as proposed by Bismarck, so that Poles lose their self-identity and self-respect, and thus become easier to control by the powers that be?


Let us now go back in time to before WWI.

The Big-Power orientation of Poland’s Jews tended to make them identify with the Partitioning Powers (Prussia, Russia, and Austria) rather than subjugated Poland. Author Benjamin Matis has an eye-opening account of the German influences on even the religious conduct, furthermore of Polonized Jews. He writes, (quote) Polish Jews of the “reform” persuasion who attended these synagogues considered themselves “Poles of the Jewish faith”. At the same time, particularly in Warsaw, they were highly influenced by German Jewry. This seeming contradiction can be explained first by the fact that the integrationist desire to be accepted into Polish society was essentially based on the German Jewish model for the modernization of Jewish life that was part and parcel of the Haskalah, and secondly by the large influence of various reforms made to the synagogue liturgy in the German lands. In addition, the congregation that ultimately became the Great Synagogue of Warsaw was founded by a Prussian Jewish immigrant to Warsaw in 1802, and the language of the congregation until the appointment of Rabbi Marcus Jastrow in 1858 was German, well into its second generation. Moreover, all the preachers of the Danilowska Street synagogue and its successor, the Great Synagogue on Tlomackie Street, were educated, at least in part, in either Germany or Austria. These preachers—Abraham Meir Goldschmidt, Marcus Jastrow, Izaak Cylkow, Samuel Poznanski, and Mojzesz [Moses] Schorr… (unquote). (pp. 258-259).

What about the Jews' political orientation? Even when Poland's Jews were not pro-German per se, this hardly meant that they were loyal to Poland. For instance, in his article on the Jews of the Kingdom of Poland under German rule during WWI, author Marcos Silber suggests that, most of the time, Jews used their Yiddish-based identity to argue that they are neither Germans nor Poles.


This work generally adheres to the “Jews are victims” and “Poles are anti-Semitic” standard narrative. However, here is an exception. It tacitly entertains the notion that Jews may be partly responsible for the hostility (notably from the Endeks) against them. Author Joshua D. Zimmerman, in his article on Feliks Perl (1871-1927), includes Perl’s Jewish parallel to Polish concerns about Judeopolonia—of Jews having politically separatist ambitions (in addition to all the pre-existing religious and cultural separatist tendencies) that go squarely against Polish national interests. Zimmerman comments, (quote) Perl’s main critique, however, was that the Bund excluded Polish independence from its party platform…More importantly, the Bund’s vision of a democratic federal republic was undemocratic in character, Perl argued, for under the Bund’s plan, the nationalities of the western provinces and the Kingdom of Poland would be coerced into a federation ruled from Moscow…In an effort to formulate a theoretical justification for its refusal to support Polish independence, Perl continued, the Bund had resorted to intellectual “acrobatics” and “prevarications”. How did the Bund arrive at such a position? Perl’s answer is revealing: “It derives from the Bund’s original sin—it’s ALL-RUSSIAN position. In the country in which it is active—in Lithuania and Poland—the Bund has separated itself from the local population, neither shares its aspirations nor understands its interests, and does not sympathize with the exceptional predicament in which these subjugated people find themselves.” By linking the Jewish labour movement in Poland-Lithuania to Russia, “the Bund plays a false and harmful political role”. (unquote). (Emphasis in original). (p. 328).


Artur Markowski has an article on 19th century pogroms in the Kingdom of Poland. He traces them to triggering events, such as a business dispute between an individual Pole and individual Jew. (p. 237). This led to a paroxysm of collective hostilities between Poles and Jews, which sometimes turned violent. Interestingly, Jews sometimes adopted fantastic beliefs about the malevolence of Poles—such as the totally unfounded notion that that Poles were out to exterminate the Jews of Warsaw, and would hand out poisoned candy to Jewish children. (p. 243). [This, in a sense, is a mirror-image of the accusations that Jews poison wells, engage in ritual murder, etc. Just as there were quite a few Poles who were ready to believe the most lurid tales about Jews, so also there were quite a Jews who were ready to believe the most lurid tales about Poles.]

Author Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov, in her article on the Yiddish press, includes a selection from HAYNT, a leading Jewish newspaper. The editor of HAYNT identified Ignacy Baranowski as “the greatest of philo-Semites”. Baranowski stated, in an article in HAYNT, that Jews exaggerate the wrongs they face from Poles, and that Jews are prone to attack Poles largely because Poles are a “safe” target. (p. 291). [In the more than century since Baranowski wrote this, how little has changed!]

Author Theodore R. Weeks addresses the fact that prejudices between Poles and Jews very much went both ways. He comments, (quote) On a popular level, Jews tended to see their Christian neighbours as crude, unpredictable, violent, and following a religion that was fundamentally pagan, worshipping idols (images of saints). Poles, on the other hand, despised Jews as moneylenders and Christ-killers, while also fearing Jews as crafty, sly, and possibly even demonic: The “ritual murder” legend was far from dead here. (unquote). (p. 306).


The reader of most works on this subject gets the impression that the Endek-led boycott of Jews was some sort of exceptional and horrible act. It was not.

Author Yedida Kanfer traces the boycott to its origins in 19th-century Ireland. English land agent Charles Boycott became the subject of “the boycott"--economic warfare by Irish tenant farmers in their struggle for fair rent prices. (p. 156).

There was nothing remarkable in the boycott even in foreign-ruled Poland at the time. Poles boycotted the Prussians’ heavy-handed agricultural policies, as in 1901. (p. 172). Soon thereafter, Jews in the Lodz area boycotted German goods. (pp. 173-174).
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