European countries say "not me"

The late Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzchak Shamir, once said that anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe is placed into the population with its mother’s milk.

Rabbi Berel Wein

OpEds Definition of anti-Semitism
Definition of anti-Semitism

The current dispute between Poland and Israel, really between Poland and the Jewish people, highlights one of the great weaknesses of the human character. Even after committing and participating in the worst of atrocities against innocent fellow human beings, the perpetrators rarely have the courage and moral fortitude to acknowledge their actions and attempt to atone for their guilt.

The past century is replete with examples of this all too often human weakness. In World War I the Turks were responsible for the deaths of over one million Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire. To this very day Turkey insists that it is not somehow guilty of that genocide. It denies every accusation no matter how well proven and obvious the matter is. The world has accommodated Turkey on this matter for over a century.

Hitler, in justifying his planned genocide of the Jewish people, used Turkey as the prime example that there would really be no consequences brought to bear against Germany for destroying the Jews of Europe. It is ironic that of all of the perpetrators of ethnic genocide in the past century, only Germany has made any attempt to accept responsibility for its actions and policies and to make whatever restitution it can to the victims of its cruelty.

There is no question that many Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Ukrainians, Croatians and the French, all participated in the destruction of European Jewry in World War II. But all these countries piously put all the blame on Germany and said “not me” when it came to admitting the guilt of many of its citizens in that terrible crime against the Jewish people and humanity.

The historians and sociologists among us have advanced many theories as to why there was such widespread cooperation in these countries in the elimination of the Jewish population that had lived there, and in many cases for centuries before. The association between Jews and communism is the theory that is most often advanced. Like many theories there is a kernel of truth in this idea but basically it is a flawed theory.

The overwhelming majority of Jews in those countries did not identify or support communism, though it must be said that they preferred Russian domination over German extermination. Others claim that since quite a number of Jews have appealed to the Polish courts to have their properties that were confiscated from them during the war returned to their families, this has spawned great resentment among the Poles.

Still others maintain that the fact that many Israelis of Polish descent have applied to become citizens of Poland and obtain Polish passports, which would give them access to all the countries of the European Union, Polish officials objected to this allegedly misuse of Polish descent.

All of these arguments are completely spurious. Anti-Semitism has long been a Polish disease and pogroms against Jews existed in Poland before World War II, during World War II and tragically even after World War II ended. Almost all of the countries of Eastern Europe have yet to face up to their guilt and to take steps, both educationally and socially, to try to cure themselves of this malady.

The late Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzchak Shamir, once said that anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe is placed into the population with their mother’s milk. This seems to be true since, to a great extent, all of those countries have small, aging and apolitical Jewish communities. Thus the traditional complaints of anti-Semitism that Jews are too wealthy, too powerful, too influential in the affairs of their country certainly apply no longer.

But that doesn't seem to make any difference. It is a strange thing that there are communities who love Israel but hate Jews and there are communities that love Jews but hate Israel. These are only aberrations caused by a latent anti-Semitism. The rise of extreme right wing nationalist political parties in Europe and especially in Eastern Europe brings with it xenophobia and violent discrimination against minorities who live in those countries.

Since the main problem in Europe now concerns the integration of millions of Moslems into European society, these parties, though still espousing anti-Semitism, have bigger fish to fry currently. But make no mistake, Jews are on their radar screen as well and 75 years after the Holocaust the Jewish horizon, especially in Eastern Europe and throughout the rest of Europe as well, is rather bleak. Only time will tell as to what the future will bring.