Can Israel make common cause with Poland?

Poland has a long history of anti-Semitism and unforgivable cooperation with the Nazis, but hundreds of years before that it was a haven for Jews. Can Jews and Poles work together today against shared dangers coming from the Islamic world?

Daniel Grynglas, | updated: 08:42

Daniel Grynglas
Daniel Grynglas
INN:DG

I believe it is time, despite the well-earned distrust of Poles by Jews, to move forward and forge cooperative ties against a mutual danger.

Jews have lived in Poland for about a thousand years, practically since the country was first established in the Tenth Century. In the 14th Century, Polish King Casimir III the Great encouraged the immigration of Jews into Poland, to help develop and modernize the country. After Poland lost its independence, when the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth collapsed as a result of the Third Partition of Poland in 1795, most of the country was violently occupied by the armies of the Russian empire.  In the tragic January Uprising of 1863, the local Jews played a very positive role by participating in the uprising and gaining gratitude from the Polish patriots. The Kahane Brothers, Rafal Hirsh, Henryk Eichman, Izydor Heilpern, Lejb Lipman and other Jews became known for their bravery in the fight against the Russians.

Unfortunately, things have changed since then.  Polish-Jewish relations between the two world wars (1918-1939) were marred by a bitter conflict. Why?  Most of this was the usual anti-Semtism but some has to do with the strange romance that some Polish Jews had with Soviet socialism.

During newly-independent (after more than a century of subjugation) Poland's successful defensive war of 1919-20 against Soviet Russia's invasion, a number of Jews, poor and not so poor, often took the side of the Soviet aggressors. There were even some cases of Polish Jews in the Polish army, turning their guns on their Polish comrades, in support of the Soviet revolutionary army invading Poland. As usual, all Jews were blamed.  

The upper classes of Poles held the Jews in contempt. Contempt, stemming from conviction that Jews were somehow inferior to the Poles. 

Additionally, a large percentage of real estate and businesses in the newly-independent Poland were owned by the Jews, which led to the usual anti-Semitic and envious trope that Jews posed an economic and cultural threat to the Poles.  The Polish anti-Jewish grudges and acrimony led to more violent anti-Semitic pogroms and discrimination.

In the 1920s, some 20 million Poles and three million Jews lived in Poland. Polish Jews constituted the largest Jewish community in Europe.  Polish Christian nationalists attacked Jewish passersby on city streets.  There were attacks on Jewish students at the universities, not to mention the restrictions on the admittance of Jews to institutions of higher education.  Boycotts of Jewish shops and businesses were commonplace occurrences. Jews were often barred from promotion within the Polish army.  Anti-Semitism was the order of the day in the Second Polish Republic, as the country was called before 1939.

The situation in Poland changed completely and tragically for the worse during and immediately after World War II.  The barbaric Holocaust perpetrated by the German Nazis ravished the Polish Jewish community; as much as 90 per cent of the Jewish population ended up dead at the hands of the Germans.  Death camps like Auschwitz, Majdanek, Belzec and Treblinka became actual, functioning death factories. Nazi German were obsessed with murdering Jews.

Considerable segments of Polish society did not feel sorry for their Jewish countrymen.  Many Poles even helped the Nazis murder their Jewish neighbors – and then occupied the Jews' former homes. Many books and research papers have been written, for example, about the Polish szmalcownik. They were the criminal Poles who identified Jews for the German Nazi murderers.  According to most estimates, between 20 and 50 thousand of the most heinous Polish szmalcownik were responsible for Jewish deaths, but by no means for all of those deaths where ordinary Poles played a part.  Other criminal acts of violence by Poles against the Jews involved massacres of the Jewish residents of smaller towns by their Polish neighbors. The most well-known are the horrific mass murders in the towns of Jedwabne and Radziejow, but these are just two examples of dozens of such massacres.

War came to an end in the Spring of 1945 with Nazi Germany's complete defeat and surrender.  Poland had suffered six million civilian dead during WWII at the hands of the Nazis – half of them Jews and half native Poles.  However, after the war, Poland did not regain its independence. Instead, it fell under the complete control of the Soviet Russians, who forcibly imposed a Marxist-socialist economic system on the country, using unspeakable violence.  After 1945, the Soviet occupation tightened its grip on Poland by means of both murder and expulsion to the Siberian labor camps, which trapped some two million Poles in its claws. The Soviets installed a socialist puppet regime, ruled by the renegade Polish political party known as PZPR. Its armed faction, the notorious UB (Security Office), sowed terror among the Poles.

Here we encounter one source of this period's Polish-Jewish conflict.  Those Polish Jews who subscribed to Marxist-socialist ideology, voluntarily joined the UB in large numbers, as their distrust of any rising Polish nationalism was based on the blatant Polish anti-Semitism endured in WWII. Most Poles saw the UB and PZPR as organs of Soviet oppression, and most boycotted them. As a result, UB membership had a massive overrepresentation of Jews.  At the time, Jews constituted less than one percent of Poland’s population. But according to some estimates, between 30 and 40 percent of all UB security staff were Jews; within the higher echelons of the organization, the level of Jewish participation exceeded 50 percent.  Polish Jews became dominant operatives of UB; among them were such individuals as Colonel Jozef Swiatlo, Helena Wolińska-Brus, Jozef Rozanski, Juliusz Hibner, Jakub Berman, Anatol Fejgin.. (for more info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ministry_of_Public_Security_(Poland).

In their suppression of Polish nationalists, UB operatives murdered thousands of Poles.  The hatred between the Poles and the Jews grew even deeper and more pervasive. After WWII, many non-socialist Jews hastily left Poland for fear of losing their lives to Polish anti-Semitic attacks which did not differentiate between them.  The largest and most infamous of these attacks was a bloody pogrom in Kielce in 1946, where 47 homeless Jews were brutally murdered by a crowd of Poles. This was only one of many acts of extreme violence committed against the Jewish population who were collectively blamed for the actions of some of their fellow Jews.  More than a few survivors of the Nazi death and slave labor camps who returned to Poland after liberation, to search for other members of their families, quickly fled Poland in fear for their lives.

In 1968, long after the mayhem of the post-WWII years, a struggle in the leadership of the PZPR socialist party developed between the Polish socialist servants of Soviet interests and the Jewish socialist servants of the same Soviet overseers.  In March 1968, the Polish socialists won out and expelled their Jewish competitors. In order to redirect the anger of the Polish masses against socialism, the PZPR regime tried to trigger new anti-Semitic excesses in Poland. Jews were to be a scapegoat for the socialists.  Some 13,000 Polish Jews were forced by the socialist government to emigrate from Poland after the internal PZPR struggle. However, the native Polish population spurned the PZPR party's encouragement of the new wave of anti-Semitism. Many Poles now perceived the PZPR, not the Jews, as their true enemy and oppressor.

Fast-forward fifty years to 2018.  

Traditional Christian anti-Semitism is largely gone.  There are very few Jews left in Poland, with some 10,000 still residing there and a few thousand frequent visitors forced to leave around 1968.  Poland is an independent country, fiercely holding on to its sovereignty. The Polish nationalist government has good relations with Israel and tries to have good relations with the Jews.  

Yet the situation is still difficult. Deep mistrust of Poles persists, against the background of eerily similar geopolitical situations in both Poland and Israel.

Israel is facing unending attacks against its fundamental right to exist by the whole European Union, the Muslim world and most of the left-wing progressive forces all over the world. Calls for the destruction of Israel are the clarion call of the world's “progressive” leftists. Support for Muslims has become the cornerstone tenet of these leftists.

Western European leaders are obsessed with promoting the false narrative of the Palestinian leadership, promoting the fictions of Arab victimhood and demonizing Israeli Jews. They amply fund anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli organizations like Hamas, UNWRA and the Palestinian Authority / Fatah.  UK Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, EU minister Federica Mogherini, Swedish minister Margot Wallstrom, UK's Ken Livingstone and many other western European leaders are trying to outbid each other with their anti-Semitic behavior. Millions of people in West believe the anti-Israeli lies spread by mass media, BDS, JVP, PPAN, PSC and others. Numerous Western celebrities, academia, cities and trade unions have announced boycott of Israel and are involved in demonization of Israeli Jews.

Strangely, Poland has also found itself as a target of the concerted pressure and criticism by the EU and other progressive left-wing forces promoting globalism.  The EU, clearly using double standards, keeps threatening and condemning Poland for its alleged lack of democracy. Poland's real "crime" is its refusal to surrender its sovereignty to Brussels (EU) and its refusal to admit immigration into Poland of thousands of Muslim migrants. The Polish government is branded in much of the Western press as fascist and anti-|Semitic. Incredibly, many progressives also brand Israeli Jews as Nazis and fascists. An unbelievable lie indeed.

One would assume that in the face of this unholy ostracism and demonization, both the Poles and the Jews might try to join forces against the progressive left-wing EU attackers.  This would make sense, yet it is not happening. Many Jews will not forgive the Poles and see them as violent anti-Semites born to hate the Jews.  Poles, however, see their country as a victim of German and Soviet crimes unjustly portrayed as a perpetrator and want to forget their cooperation and initiatives in crimes against the Jews.  The recent Polish law 55A-B, regarding the exposure of German crimes during the Holocaust, they feel, has been,misinterpreted as allegedly exonerating Poles for their share of Holocaust crimes.  (Please read Article 55 (A and B) and see for yourself what it says.  Reference link: https://www.timesofisrael.com/full-text-of-polands-controversial-holocaust-legislation/).

Some Polish Jews take the facts of the March 1968 PZPR internal struggles between the Polish and Jewish factions and portray them as stemming from Polish nationalistic anti-Semitism.  Bizarre, but some Polish Jews have became advocates of Muslim immigration to Poland, while most Poles strongly oppose it. Some Jews promote left-wing causes and ridicule Polish patriotism.  I fear that this might start to stoke anti-Jewish sentiments in Poland again.

In my opinion, there is relatively little anti-Semitism in Poland today, compared to what can be found in Western Europe.  As opposed to many European countries, Poland doesn’t organize boycotts of Israeli products. Jewish culture and music are very popular in Poland.  Two annual Jewish festivals (in Warsaw and Cracow) draw visitors from all over the country. Increased security during those events is not necessary because anti-Semitic incidents simply do not occur.  Poland welcomes Israeli artists instead of banning or boycotting them, which often takes place in Western Europe. In Poland the forces representing old anti-Semitism are still there, but relegated to the margins of society. Only a few thousand persons support radical, extremist portals like “Nacjonalista.pl” and “Szczerbiec” that spread around insane anti-Semitic message of the world Jewish conspiracy. These portals report drivel such as; President Trump is controlled by the Jews and the Nazi Martin Bormann was a noble hero.    

My personal experience with the Poles, including far-right ones, indicates a lack of any widespread anti-Semitic sentiments.  Only twice in many years have I met a Pole who spoke of Jewish conspiracy theories and stated bizarre falsehoods, like the canard that most Polish politicians were Jewish.  However, among the hundreds of my Polish acquaintances none hold such sentiments. All my Polish friends and acquaintances are aware of my Jewish heritage and none of them expressed even a hint of a negative attitude towards me over this fact.  I have even openly admitted to members of ONR (a right wing nationalistic movement) that I was a Jew, and have experienced only friendly reactions.

I suspect that if Jews continue to accuse today’s Poland of unwarranted anti-Semitism and to promote Muslim and leftist causes, we may encourage a negative attitude towards Jews in Poland.

My dream is for the two nations to finally work together. To look past all the terrible historic wrongs, not ignore or forget them.  It is simply in our mutual interest to join forces against our real detractors who question the right to sovereignty of both Israel and Poland.

This is not a research paper but just an opinion piece.  I have touched upon many historic periods and events. I have tried to be as fair and balanced as possible. To declare a lasting peace between the two peoples, both sides must face the past, learn the unvarnished truth and go on from there to what is helpful to both countries today. I urge you to read more on the subject of Polish-Jewish relations, to verify and explore the points and facts that I have presented.


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