"It's difficult to admit the obvious"
political world

The Jews in Polish Culture / Aleksander Hertz ; Translated by Richard Lourie ; Editor, Lucjan Dobroszycki ; with a Foreword by Czeslaw Milosz (Hardcover)

jan peczkis|Tuesday, January 10, 2012

This is a "meaty" book. Its vintage (1961) may be advantageous in terms of a unique perspective that preceded political correctness.

Jewish "apartheid" did not reduce to a simple dialectic: "Anti-Semites have heaped the entire responsibility for the caste organization onto the Jews; the Jews and their non-Jewish defenders, onto the Christian environment." (p. 63). Early pro-assimilationist Polish Jews had the following opinion: "Czynski the Frankist and Hollaenderski and Lubliner, who kept their old religion, all shared the view that Polish Jews were `sunk in superstition' and were thereby alienated from Polish life, economically unproductive, and deficient in civic virtue. The source of the problem was ignorance, superstition, the Talmud, the rule of the rabbis." (p. 22). Early assimilated Polish Jews were ennobled. (p. 64).

An Thought-Provoking Book, by a Polish Jew, on the Jews in Poland. Reciprocity of Prejudices

Jews opposed to assimilation contended [as some Orthodox Jews do even today] that assimilation equals a repudiation of Judaism. (e. g., p. 27, 65, 119). For their part, Polish nationalists often saw assimilated Jews as alien infiltrators. (p. 119). Hertz implicitly identifies the reason: "There were various degrees and shadings of assimilation...This did not necessarily mean a total identification with Polishness and, especially in the later years, could go hand in hand with a growing national Jewish consciousness." (pp. 125-126). Jews who converted to Christianity did so for various non-religious motives. (p. 113).

Throughout his work, Hertz makes misleading comparisons between African-Americans and Poland's Jews. Blacks came by force, were slaves with no rights, could not emancipate themselves, did menial labor, were mostly poor, and were at the very bottom of society. Jews came to Poland voluntarily and could leave at any time, served as traders, were largely exempt from the menial labor of the Polish masses, and--as middlemen situated between the nobility-few and the peasant-majority, enjoyed more rights and privileges than most Poles. The Jews' long-term advantaged position no doubt facilitated their becoming a literate class (p. 101), and of many Jews becoming wealthy. (pp. 107-108). Finally, discriminatory laws and policies against blacks served primarily to keep them inferior--against Jews primarily to reduce their advantages.

Hertz recognizes the very variegated nature of anti-Semitism (p. 192-on), and analyzes the "Jews are crooks" notion as follows: "It would be no exaggeration to say that the Polish people ascribed to Jews characteristics no different from those that all the peoples of underdeveloped countries ascribe to all professional merchants, regardless of religion or origin. `Swindler", `slippery', `bloodsucker"--epithets of this sort are common in colonial countries and are applied to the local merchants, who are rarely Jewish. The Chinese merchants in Indonesia and Malaysia are the object of widespread aversion and innumerable accusations, often not without some basis." (p. 201).

Reciprocal prejudices (pp. 76-78) did not develop solely as a reaction against anti-Semitism. Nor were they simply anti-goyism, which did not really become prominent until the Jewish emancipationist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (p. 77).

Jewish thinking, equating as it did illiteracy with unintelligence, led to mostly-covert snobbery against the lowly Pole. Hertz writes: "Hence the Jew's contempt for the peasant, who in the Jew's eyes was twice a CHAM (boor), once as a peasant so defined by the world of the nobility, and again as a stupid, ignorant creature to whom knowledge was alien." (p. 77). Hertz adds: "Because it was incontrovertible that the goy stood above the Jew in the social hierarchy, that contempt could never be expressed. One had to submit. But could there be anything wrong with knowing how to take advantage of the goy's stupidity?" (p. 78). Clearly, Jewish thinking could include the Pole as a legitimate object for exploitation. [On the other hand, the Polish peasant could do little besides retaliating by violence--hence the pogroms.]

This "pecking order" clearly shows that, contrary to the ambiguity suggested by Hertz as to whether peasants or Jews were lower (p. 74), and notwithstanding the Polish nobles' disdain for Jews and commerce (p. 69), it was the Polish commoner, and not the Jew, who was the lowest caste in Polish society. This was obvious in the way that Polish society functioned: "The Jew was a tradesman, itinerant peddler, source of credit. Very often he was also an intermediary between the peasant and the lord or the lord's representatives in dealings with the peasant." (p. 82).

Now consider the late 19th/early 20th centuries. Although Hertz frowns on Polish nationalists for seeing Jewish nationalism as an intrigue of Russia and Germany, he turns around, on the very same page (p. 144), and admits that: "During World War I, the German occupation authorities took a favorable view of signs of Jewish nationalism in Poland." Also: In the kaiser's Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Jews were ideologists of unity of the state. The German Jews even became zealous Germanizers in areas ethnically non-German..." (pp. 178-179).

In like manner, while minimizing the Litvaks (Litwaks), he admits that: "The Russian Jews had a large share in the history of Jewish nationalism in Poland." (p. 144). Also: "The Jews of the eastern frontiers of Poland were very much under the sway of Russian culture and had little in common with Poland." (p. 173).

Consider the 20th century. While providing the usual superficial exculpations for the Zydokomuna (Bolshevized Judaism), Hertz states that: "Poles returning from Russia would relate their experiences with the Bolshevik commissars, who most frequently were Jews." (p. 172). "Jews played a prominent role in the Bolshevik Revolution, providing it with outstanding leaders. There were many Jews in the Polish Communist Party, especially on its leadership team." (p. 179).

Hertz falsely accuses Dmowski of being inclined towards racist philosophy towards the end of his life. (p. 204). Otherwise, the author sometimes makes loose generalizations. For instance, he mentions the influence of post-Hegelian thought and European nationalism, on the origins of Jewish nationalism (Zionism)(p. 149, 158). He adds that that the "Polish cultural model" played a dominant role in the emergence of Jewish nationalism. (p. 145). How so?
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