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Polish Paysants killers or savers '"Such a Beautiful Sunny Day" Symposium on Jews Seeking Refuge in the Wartime Polish Countryside

Tuesday, April 4, 2017




15 March 2017 On Wednesday, 15 March 2017, the Center for Research on the Holocaust in Poland at Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research held a symposium marking the publication of the new Yad Vashem book, Such a Beautiful Sunny Day by Prof. Barbara Engelking, Director of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research in Warsaw. This groundbreaking study follows in the footsteps of Prof. Jan Tomasz Gross (whose 2016 David Bankier Annual Lecture is soon to be published by Yad Vashem) and Prof. Jan Grabowski (whose book Hunt for the Jews was recently published in Hebrew by Yad Vashem). Over the past two decades, these pioneering Polish researchers have revealed the documented complicity of large numbers of Polish citizens in the murder of their Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust. Prof. Engelking's book sheds further light on a hitherto undocumented aspect of the Holocaust in Poland: Jews seeking refuge in the Polish countryside during the years 1942-1945. Prof. Havi Dreifuss, Director of Yad Vashem's Center for Research on the Holocaust in Poland, opened the symposium by explaining that the book was first published in Polish six years ago and is now, with Yad Vashem's assistance, available to English-speaking audiences. Prof. Dreifuss called the book "breathtaking… although the content is many times unbearable." Until now, she explained, the Holocaust in Poland has been mainly associated with the ghettos and with the "anonymous mass murders" in death camps, especially Auschwitz-Birkenau. "Such a Beautiful Sunny Day reminds us that the Holocaust was not just about the destruction of Jewish communities but also a story of individual Jews seeking refuge, often in the countryside, and often among people they knew. Most importantly, through testimonies and diaries, Prof. Engelking is determined to give a voice both to the survivors and to those who were murdered."  Director of the Yad Vashem Libraries Dr. Robert Rozett expanded upon the topic of "intimate murder," wherein the victims know their persecutors, and vice versa. He provided an array of examples in history and across wartime Europe in which people not only turned against their former classmates, teachers, neighbors and colleagues, but did so with unprecedented cruelty and barbarism. "The section of Engelking's book entitled 'The Doomed' reads like a litany of betrayal," he said. "Eye-level murder is even harder to comprehend than anonymous killings." "We will never know exactly what led rural Poles to denounce and murder Jews seeking refuge in their area," noted Prof. Engelking. "In the book I surmise that it was a mixture of external factors, for example wartime demoralization and social pressure, as well as internal factors, such as greed, hatred, antisemitism and the fear of collective punishment by the Germans. Of course, one needs to look at each incident on a case-by-case basis, and none of them are clear cut, but all of these elements can be found in rural Poland. Thus, those Poles who did offer shelter to the persecuted Jews did so in an atmosphere laden with anti-Jewish sentiment and fear of reprisal." "One of the great achievements of this book is its multidisciplinary nature," said Yad Vashem Academic Advisor Prof. Yehuda Bauer – a world-renowned scholar of the Holocaust. "Engelking not only employs a sound historical narrative, but she also integrates elements of social psychology… The local populations didn't view the Jews as Poles, but something else, a danger to Polish society. This, together with other factors, such as the volatile economic and political situation in Europe in the 1920s and '30s, as well as deep-rooted Christian antisemitism, may be what led to their willing participation in the murder of the Jews in their vicinity." Dr. Laurence Weinbaum, Director General of the World Jewish Congress Israel called Prof. Engelking "one of the great pioneers of Shoah research in Poland." Using a vast array of testimony and court records, the book, he claimed, is "a monument to the nameless victims." He noted, too, that the book echoes Prof. Grabowski's supplementing - to the three previously defined groups of people during the Holocaust – victims, persecutors and bystanders – a fourth group: "enablers and facilitators," who viewed the Jews as no less than a commodity to be traded, and murdered, at will. Yad Vashem Chief Historian Prof. Dina Porat presented and analyzed the reasons for the  desire of some Jews to take revenge on the Germans after the war. Whether from the wish to fulfil the last requests of the victims, or from wanting to demonstrate to potential persecutors that the Jews "were a force to be reckoned with," Prof. Porat noted that for some survivors, "the war may have ended in 1945 but the Shoah did not." Also addressing the audience was Natalie Beige, a doctoral student at Tel Aviv University, who compared the Holocaust in the Lithuanian provinces to the experience of Jews in the Polish countryside. "This was a golden opportunity for rural Lithuanians to enrich themselves at the expense of the Jews," she said. "The Germans could not have carried out the destruction of the Jewish population in rural communities without the help and collaboration of the local population." The event ended with an incisive roundtable discussion moderated by Dr. David Silberklang, Senior Historian at the International Institute for Holocaust Research. Prof. Engelking, Prof. Dreifuss and Prof. Yehuda Bauer took part in the discussion, which focused on a number of related topics, including: the motives of local Poles to denounce and murder Jews who sought refuge in rural areas; the differences in experience of the Jews in the cities and the countryside, as well as in different regions of Poland; the attitude towards the Jews by varying populations; the role of public officials, such as the "Blue Police," in the betrayal of Jews; and the manner in which the Jewish refugees viewed the events and players at different stages of the war. The discussion concluded with a look at the "anti-liberalistic" trends in many – albeit democratic – regimes worldwide, including Poland {HOW ABOUT ISRAEL?}, and the hope that honest, sincere and comprehensive research such as that carried out by Prof. Engelking and her colleagues will continue to provide a clear and more balanced understanding of the events of the Holocaust in years to come.  http://www.yadvashem.org/events/15-march-2017   "Such a Beautiful Sunny Day" Symposium on Jews Seeking Refuge in the Wartime Polish Countryside 15 March 2017 On Wednesday, 15 March 2017, the Center for Research on the Holocaust in Poland at Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research held a symposium marking the publication of the new Yad Vashem book, Such a Beautiful Sunny Day by Prof. Barbara Engelking, Director of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research in Warsaw. This groundbreaking study follows in the footsteps of Prof. Jan Tomasz Gross (whose 2016 David Bankier Annual Lecture is soon to be published by Yad Vashem) and Prof. Jan Grabowski (whose book Hunt for the Jews was recently published in Hebrew by Yad Vashem). Over the past two decades, these pioneering Polish researchers have revealed the documented complicity of large numbers of Polish citizens in the murder of their Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust. Prof. Engelking's book sheds further light on a hitherto undocumented aspect of the Holocaust in Poland: Jews seeking refuge in the Polish countryside during the years 1942-1945. Prof. Havi Dreifuss, Director of Yad Vashem's Center for Research on the Holocaust in Poland, opened the symposium by explaining that the book was first published in Polish six years ago and is now, with Yad Vashem's assistance, available to English-speaking audiences. Prof. Dreifuss called the book "breathtaking… although the content is many times unbearable." Until now, she explained, the Holocaust in Poland has been mainly associated with the ghettos and with the "anonymous mass murders" in death camps, especially Auschwitz-Birkenau. "Such a Beautiful Sunny Day reminds us that the Holocaust was not just about the destruction of Jewish communities but also a story of individual Jews seeking refuge, often in the countryside, and often among people they knew. Most importantly, through testimonies and diaries, Prof. Engelking is determined to give a voice both to the survivors and to those who were murdered."  Director of the Yad Vashem Libraries Dr. Robert Rozett expanded upon the topic of "intimate murder," wherein the victims know their persecutors, and vice versa. He provided an array of examples in history and across wartime Europe in which people not only turned against their former classmates, teachers, neighbors and colleagues, but did so with unprecedented cruelty and barbarism. "The section of Engelking's book entitled 'The Doomed' reads like a litany of betrayal," he said. "Eye-level murder is even harder to comprehend than anonymous killings." "We will never know exactly what led rural Poles to denounce and murder Jews seeking refuge in their area," noted Prof. Engelking. "In the book I surmise that it was a mixture of external factors, for example wartime demoralization and social pressure, as well as internal factors, such as greed, hatred, antisemitism and the fear of collective punishment by the Germans. Of course, one needs to look at each incident on a case-by-case basis, and none of them are clear cut, but all of these elements can be found in rural Poland. Thus, those Poles who did offer shelter to the persecuted Jews did so in an atmosphere laden with anti-Jewish sentiment and fear of reprisal." "One of the great achievements of this book is its multidisciplinary nature," said Yad Vashem Academic Advisor Prof. Yehuda Bauer – a world-renowned scholar of the Holocaust. "Engelking not only employs a sound historical narrative, but she also integrates elements of social psychology… The local populations didn't view the Jews as Poles, but something else, a danger to Polish society. This, together with other factors, such as the volatile economic and political situation in Europe in the 1920s and '30s, as well as deep-rooted Christian antisemitism, may be what led to their willing participation in the murder of the Jews in their vicinity." Dr. Laurence Weinbaum, Director General of the World Jewish Congress Israel called Prof. Engelking "one of the great pioneers of Shoah research in Poland." Using a vast array of testimony and court records, the book, he claimed, is "a monument to the nameless victims." He noted, too, that the book echoes Prof. Grabowski's supplementing - to the three previously defined groups of people during the Holocaust – victims, persecutors and bystanders – a fourth group: "enablers and facilitators," who viewed the Jews as no less than a commodity to be traded, and murdered, at will. Yad Vashem Chief Historian Prof. Dina Porat presented and analyzed the reasons for the  desire of some Jews to take revenge on the Germans after the war. Whether from the wish to fulfil the last requests of the victims, or from wanting to demonstrate to potential persecutors that the Jews "were a force to be reckoned with," Prof. Porat noted that for some survivors, "the war may have ended in 1945 but the Shoah did not." Also addressing the audience was Natalie Beige, a doctoral student at Tel Aviv University, who compared the Holocaust in the Lithuanian provinces to the experience of Jews in the Polish countryside. "This was a golden opportunity for rural Lithuanians to enrich themselves at the expense of the Jews," she said. "The Germans could not have carried out the destruction of the Jewish population in rural communities without the help and collaboration of the local population." The event ended with an incisive roundtable discussion moderated by Dr. David Silberklang, Senior Historian at the International Institute for Holocaust Research. Prof. Engelking, Prof. Dreifuss and Prof. Yehuda Bauer took part in the discussion, which focused on a number of related topics, including: the motives of local Poles to denounce and murder Jews who sought refuge in rural areas; the differences in experience of the Jews in the cities and the countryside, as well as in different regions of Poland; the attitude towards the Jews by varying populations; the role of public officials, such as the "Blue Police," in the betrayal of Jews; and the manner in which the Jewish refugees viewed the events and players at different stages of the war. The discussion concluded with a look at the "anti-liberalistic" trends in many – albeit democratic – regimes worldwide, including Poland {HOW ABOUT ISRAEL?}, and the hope that honest, sincere and comprehensive research such as that carried out by Prof. Engelking and her colleagues will continue to provide a clear and more balanced understanding of the events of the Holocaust in years to come.    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/new-book-on-killing-of-jews-in-poland-exposes-raw-nerve/ CBS News March 15, 2017
  JERUSALEM -- A prominent Polish historian presented evidence Wednesday about Polish villagers’ widespread killing of Jews fleeing Nazis during World War II, touching a raw nerve in a country still grappling with its role during the Holocaust.  The research is likely to irk the nationalist Polish government, which has taken aim at those seeking to undermine its official stance that Poles were only heroes in the war, not collaborators who committed heinous crimes.  In launching the English-language version of her 2011 book, “Such a Beautiful Sunny Day,” Barbara Engelking details dozens of cases of everyday Poles raping Jewish women and bludgeoning Jews to death with axes, shovels and rocks. The book, which came out in Polish under the previous government, takes its title from the last words of a Jew pleading with peasants to spare his life before he was beaten and shot to death. It offers a searing indictment of Polish complicity that will now reach a far wider audience. “The responsibility for the extermination of Jews in Europe is borne by Nazi Germany,” she writes. “Polish peasants were volunteers in the sphere of murdering Jews.” For decades, Polish society avoided discussing such killings or denied that Polish anti-Semitism motivated them, blaming all atrocities on the Germans. A turning point was the publication of a book, “Neighbors,” in 2000 by Polish-American sociologist Jan Tomasz Gross, which explored the murder of Jedwabne’s Jews by their Polish neighbors and resulted in widespread soul-searching and official state apologies. But since the conservative and nationalistic Law and Justice party consolidated power in 2015, it has sought to stamp out discussion and research on the topic. It has demonized Gross and investigated him on whether he had slandered the country by asserting that Poles killed more Jews than Germans during the war - a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.  Despite the current climate, Engelking said she had no fear of recriminations and proudly took on the government’s historical revisionism.  “People think I should be afraid, but I am not. I have a sense now of inner freedom and they cannot harm me in any way,” she said during a break at a symposium recognizing the launch of her book at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. “Let them try ... you cannot obey this idea because this is really not true. I am obliged to tell the truth, that is all.”  Engelking, the founder and director of the Polish Center of Holocaust Research in Warsaw, said her decade-long research relied on diaries, documents and court files that gave voice not only to survivors but also victims. The government has long pointed to Poland having the largest number of citizens honored by Yad Vashem for saving Jews as evidence of their heroism. Engelking, however, said there were far less who aided Jews than those who betrayed them and that climate made the actions of the few all the more noble.  “There was severe punishment from Germans for helping Jews. They (the saviors) acted not only against German law, but against their neighbors, against the atmosphere, against the common sense of anti-Semitism,” she said.  Mateusz Szpytma, a historian with Poland’s state-run National Remembrance Institute, said he found the book to be written in a “prosecutor’s style” and often relied on a single source.  “The attention is almost solely focused on negative events that took place but were not the only ones,” he said. “Almost every element that is unfavorable to Poles is taken as true. Positive things are pushed to the margin.”  The noted Israeli Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer said the significance of Engelking’s findings was the enormity of the cruelty toward Jews that she details. “It is something that we assumed but she proves,” he said.  He said there were parallels to the way Jews were treated by the local population in other European countries like Lithuania, Bulgaria and Greece. But the sheer scope of the genocide in Poland -- half of the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust were Polish -- made Engelking’s findings most pertinent.  Havi Dreifuss, a Tel Aviv University scholar and director of Yad Vashem’s center for research on the Holocaust in Poland, said Engelking’s research has shed new light on the last phase of the Holocaust, after Jews were packed into ghettos and sent to extermination camps, and how even those who had managed to survive that still faced the wrath of their compatriots. She said estimates range between 160,000-250,000 Jews who escaped and sought help from fellow Poles. She said only about 10-20 percent of those survived, with the rest rejected, informed upon or killed by the rural Poles themselves.  “This research reveals not only the Jewish immense efforts to escape, as well as the Jewish despair and helplessness. It also exposes the terrible reality in which those Jews found themselves: a reality where very few acts of kindness were lost among the countless acts of cruelty, abuse and meanness,” she said.  Poles have been raised on wartime stories of Polish suffering and heroism and many react viscerally when confronted with the growing body of scholarship about Polish involvement in the killing of Jews.  A recent poll showed an overwhelming majority of Poles believe their ancestors helped save Jews and rarely turned them over.  Engelking said that was unlikely to change as long as this “propaganda” continued and the “truth about our behavior during the war” was not allowed to be shared widely in schools and with the public.  “I hope that after this counter revolution that we are experiencing now, next time we will have another counter revolution,” she said. © 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. 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