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Shattered Spaces: Encountering Jewish Ruins in Postwar Germany and Poland Hardcover – December 1, 2011

jan peczkis|Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Having read and reviewed hundreds of works on Poland's Jews, being unfamiliar with the author, and learning of the acclaim that this book has gotten, I had expected much more of it. It turned out to be a disappointing repetition of tired, Judeocentric ideas amidst a body of novel information on Germany. This book tacitly juxtaposes Germany and Poland, which itself is objectionable in that it relativizes the two in the reader's mind. In this review, I focus exclusively on Poland.




The serious reader need not waste any more time on Meng's book. The facts are clear: Poles are not responsible for German crimes. Nor are Poles responsible for the consequences of German crimes. Poles owe the Jews NOTHING in terms of property restitution. In fact, all claims have long been completely satisfied by past German payments to Jews. Please click on, and read my detailed English-language review, of Nie musimy placic Zydom!.

THE STANDARD ANTI-POLISH LINE

The historical background section of this book employs the predictable black-and-white dialectic: Poles were bad, and the Jews were victims that never did anything wrong.

In common with many authors, Meng is in deep denial about the fact and the scale of Jewish-Soviet collaboration, which he dismisses as "the myth of Zydokomuna". In reality, the Jewish crimes committed by the Zydokomuna, and the harm that they did to Poland, were very real. For example, please click on, and read my detailed review of, and first Comment under, The Jews of the Soviet Union: The History of a National Minority (Cambridge Russian, Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies).

The author misrepresents the massacre at Jedwabne as a Polish deed. (p. 21, 218). In actuality, and contrary to media spin, the evidence for responsibility is inconclusive. In fact, the investigative Polish commission (IPN, or INSTYTUT PAMIECI NARODOWEJ) was unable to assign an unambiguous role for either Poles or Germans in the barn-burning. [See the first Comment under this review.]

Author Meng provides the reader more details, about the Nazi German extermination of gentile Poles, than do most Holocaust-related authors. However, he does not internalize it. He just drifts back into the "Jewish suffering is special" mentality.

At times, the author lapses into standard Polonophobic formulations. He repeats (p. 72, 109) the customary Jewish attack on Poland as the "Jesus Christ of Nations". He shows his fundamental hostility to Poland in other ways. Instead of examining the grotesque distortions of history inherent in, for example, Claude Lanzmann's SHOAH, Michael L. Meng uncritically accepts it as a self-evident truth, and, what's more, attacks Poles for questioning various distortions of Polish history. (e. g, pp. 160-161, 171-172, 181). In other words, Poles are attacked, and then they are attacked again for trying to set the record straight.

POLES ARE "OBLIGATED" TO REMEMBER THE JEWS

Over and over again, Meng faults Poles for not remembering Poland's Jewish past, as if they were self-evidently supposed to. Why? Are Jews special?

In fact, complaints about not remembering a bygone past defy common sense. How many Ukrainians and Russians, living on former Polish territory (the KRESY) feel a need to memorialize the past Polish-ness of these territories? For that matter, how many American Jews, most of whom are descended from Poland's Jews, feel a need to remember Poland? (And when they do, it is almost always only in a selective, derogatory manner.)

All this time, Meng makes no attempt to objectively examine the possible causes for Poles forgetting about Jews until fairly recent times. He does not tell the reader that, for centuries, Jews had lived in self-imposed apartheid, effectively a separate nation on Polish soil, and had frequently sided with Poland's foreign rulers when they found it expedient to do so. Clearly, Jews were in the Polish nation but not of it. Why, then, for this reason alone, is it surprising that Poles did not make it a priority to memorialize Poland's Jewish past?

The informed reader probably realizes that American Jews, especially, had been reviling Poland for decades. Surely, these did not exactly motivate Poles to memorialize the Jewish past of Poland.

GUILT PEDDLING: THE POLITICS OF SHAME IN ACTION

Meng realizes that it was the Germans, and not the Poles, who had exterminated Poland's Jews, but he would have us believe that it does not matter. Poland is still guilty. This bizarre ideation is taken straight from neo-Stalinist Jan T. Gross. After all, there is money to be made by the Holocaust Industry. Thus, Michael Meng writes, (quote) The Nazis confiscated a large amount of Polish property, deported hundreds of thousands of Poles into forced labor, and killed nearly 2 million of them. Poles could easily dismiss or simply not even think about restituting crimes committed by someone else during a brutal occupation that they had opposed and experienced. But the Nazi occupation of Poland, while horrific, did involve collusion from Poles. Possibly hundreds of thousands became involved in the management, seizure, and use of Jewish property. Returning this now "formerly Jewish property" would involve a material loss and would require confronting Polish complicity in crimes more comfortably thought to have been carried out exclusively by someone else. (unquote). (p. 59).

To follow Gross even more, Meng revives Gross' imaginative "psychoanalysis" of Poles. He repeats Gross' argument that Poles erased visible traces of Poland's Jewish past because they did not want to be reminded of their guilt.

What is good for the goose is good for the gander. If Polish complicity in the Holocaust, no matter how tangential, means that Poland now owes Jews money, then it also means that Jews now owe Poland money for Jewish complicity, even if it was tangential, in the 1939 and 1944 Soviet subjugations of Poland. Either that, or there is a dual morality in existence--one for Jews and one for Poles.

Let us demystify property acquisition. It is standard practice for the living to acquire the property of the dead, and for much property to change hands as an outcome of a major war, moreover regardless of nationality. This was particularly true of WWII. There was and is nothing remarkable, much less guilt-producing, about this process.

In addition to all this, there existed a desperate housing shortage in Poland during and after WWII. What were Poles supposed to do--let the post-Jewish properties stand vacant out of reverence to the murdered Jews?

The accusations of Jan T. Gross, all recycled by Michael L. Meng, have the Holocaust Industry written all over them. They are part of the "politics of shame". The only way that Poles can assuage the guilt that they are supposedly repressing, and to "come to terms with the past", is to pay off those who keep trying to extort "reparations" (actually, tribute) money from Poland. No!

MENG'S LIBERAL AGENDA CLARIFIED

Towards the end of the book, the author focuses on the recent revival of interest in Jewish matters in Poland. He also treats a so-called cosmopolitan Polish identity as somehow better than the traditional "Polish-Catholic" identity. (pp. 250-251). Says who? And who determines what kind of nation Poland should be? Dare Poland be its OWN nation?
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