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the Story of one life;sThe Wide-Ranging Experiences of an Assimilated and Catholic Polish Jew and Intellectual

jan peczkis|Tuesday, November 22, 2016

(Hirschfeld), who came from an assimilated Jewish family, converted to Catholicism about 1920, out of a love for Poland. (p. 412). He describes his scientific work as a serologist, and mentions many scientific personages. He then focuses on the German terror bombing of Warsaw in 1939, the Nazi German savagery directed against both Jews and Poles, his incarceration in the Warsaw Ghetto, his escape from the ghetto, and the assistance he got from Poles. This enabled him to survive the Holocaust.

This work is full of interesting information. For instance, the Nazi privations imposed upon Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto had been so great (leading to a death rate of 50,000 persons annually, or 120 per 1,000), that the Warsaw Jews would have died out in eight years--without any shootings or gas chambers. (p. 223).A SHORT RECENT HISTORY OF POLISH JEWSHirszfeld's analysis is summarized as follows, "Towards the end of the nineteenth century, masses of Russian Jews banned by the Tsar, the so-called Litvaks [Litwaks], started coming to Poland. These Jews were imbued with Russian culture. They were indifferent toward the Poles' struggle for their own Polish culture. (unquote). (p. 326).He continues, (quote). The Peace Treaty of Versailles recognized the Jews as a national minority, gave them special rights to establish their own schools, and put this national minority in the care of the League of Nations. This was a mistake. The minority rights guarded by international institutions did not help the Jews at all. On the contrary, they deepened the chasm between the Jews and the Poles and, what was even more detrimental for the Europeanization of the lower Jewish strata, such rights encouraged others to associate the concept of a Jew with cultural backwardness. (unquote). (p. 327).PRE-WWII POLISH ANTI-SEMITISM: NO FINGER-POINTINGHirszfeld comments, (quote) The young Polish nationalist movement did not want to accept the Jewish masses which, for their part, deliberately struggled to preserve their distinctiveness...A QUI LA FAUTE? [Whose fault is it?] In matters of this type, it is best not to talk about guilt. Two historically dissimilar nations lived on one soil. As a result of competition and differing customs among the lower strata, joint ties and tasks were forgotten. The sound and fruitful work done by Jewish scientists, physicians, and industrialists was regarded as penetration by alien elements. (unquote). (pp. 327-328).
Of course, Hirszfeld unambiguously condemned the numerus nullus, ghetto benches, and violence against Jews, as uncivilized conduct stemming largely from youthful bellicose nationalism. (pp. 160-161, 328-329). However, he found an element of rationality in the economic boycotts and the numerus clausus. He wrote, (quote) Anti-Semitism vented in economic boycotts is unpleasant, but the fight for markets has generally assumed more cruel forms. (unquote). (p. 160). (Quote) Rural areas did not have enough physicians, but Jewish physicians did not like to go to the countryside. Medical schools began to introduce a numerus clausus to equalize the percentage of Poles and Jews coming from cities and thus ensure medical service in rural areas. (unquote). (p. 328).


While a fugitive in Aryan Warsaw, Hirszfeld experienced the danger of betrayal, and not only from certain Poles. He comments, (quote) Thousands of spies were roaming the city, Volksdeutsch, Poles, and Jews whose lives were temporarily spared in exchange for denouncing their countrymen in hiding. (unquote). (p. 276; see also p. 313).

Hirszfeld understands the odds of fugitive Jewish survivorship in Poland, and warns that survivor testimonies inevitably exaggerate the number and significance of denouncers. He quips, (quote) I saw that the Jews in hiding were looking at the stand of the people from a perspective that was understandable but incorrect. A goodhearted man could save at best one or a few Jews and not for long, especially when he had no means. One evil man, a blackmailer, or informer, could destroy thousands. Therefore, I believe that we must not generalize the fact and we must not rely on stories told by victims. Out of the 3.5 million Polish Jews, only several tens of thousands survived. Those survivors will, unfortunately, have a false picture of the whole when they think about the mob that persecuted them and robbed them of their last shirt. (unquote). (p. 317). Neo-Stalinists and other Polonophobes, take note.

Unlike those who allege Polish anti-Semitism as the main motivator of the denunciation of fugitive Jews, Hirszfeld does not. He comments, (quote) But we must not condemn all society. Many of these blackmailers were later killed by the government of underground Poland and even by local people. The guilt rests not with Polish anti-Semitism but with the German General Government, which placed a certain category of people outside the law. (unquote). (p. 318).


Neo-Stalinist Jan Grabowski, in his JUDENJAGD (HUNT FOR THE JEWS), makes it appear that Poles in the Baudienst were Nazi collaborators. They were not. Hirszfeld comments, (quote) A young boy of twenty...had been mobilized as a JUNAK to work in the Baudienst [Construction Battalions]. He could not avoid this, because they would have taken his parents. The Germans put these young men in barracks and drilled them for several days with lectures on how the Jews were the source of all evil in this world. They were shown pictures in which the Jew was presented as a louse or bedbug. Later, they were given a large amount of vodka. When they were half conscious, they were ordered to surround the town and catch the Jews...These young boys were actually still children who had been forced to play the role of hangman..."One fellow refused, and immediately he got a bullet in his head." (unquote). (p. 280).


The author makes it obvious that the Blue Police was under strict German orders to apprehend and/or kill Jews, or acted in extreme circumstances. He writes about a German-ordered execution, (quote) The shooting was ordered for seven o'clock in the morning. Stakes were set up in the prison's courtyard. The Jewish Monitor Service was granted the honor of binding the convicts to the stakes. Under penalty of death, the Polish police were forced to fire on command because the Germans wanted the disgrace of killing to fall on the Poles. (unquote). (p. 235). Clearly, the Germans were trying to shift the blame for their crimes unto the Poles (much as they do to this day).

In addition, Hirszfeld, based on personal experience, elaborates on the German-imposed duress faced by the Blue Police: (quote) Once, I remember Polish policemen came to the manor...Between the first and second glass of vodka, they told us how they were being forced to catch Jews and deliver them to the designated places...There are ways and means to encourage or force people to commit murder. Several policemen were killed for having had pity on Jews. The peasants often hid Jews. Once, a young Jewess was caught and forced to confess under torture where she had been hiding. The peasants who had been hiding her were killed, while the Polish police was informed that Jews were denouncing the peasants and that, in order to save their countrymen, they should kill Jews at once. (unquote). (pp. 284-285).

Hirszfeld recounts his encounters with members of the Policja Granatowa who stated that they had killed Jews, as from personal vendettas. Far from supporting it, the Polish population found this repugnant: (quote) I discussed these matters with many people: landed gentry, clergy, peasants, and policemen. Almost all were anti-Semites, but no one approved of these methods of liquidating the problem. (unquote). (p. 285). This reminds us that Polish anti-Semitism had been much more bark than bite. Whereas conventional anti-Semitic attitudes were common among Poles, murderous anti-Semitism clearly was NOT.


The taking of bribes for smuggled goods, by those guarding the Warsaw Ghetto, provided the much-needed perspective, (quote) The cooperation was smooth, and the bribes were distributed according to the supremacy of races: The Jew got one part, the Pole two parts, and the German seven. (unquote). (p. 192).

Poles sometimes denounced Jews for rewards. In addition, the author described German auctions of Jewish belongings, and how some Poles bought these goods of the murdered Jews. Instead of blaming Polish "greed and anti-Semitism" for this conduct, as neo-Stalinists such as Jan T. Gross do, Hirszfeld appreciated the significance of wartime demoralization: (quote) Together with the Jewish problem, it was human conscience that was being liquidated. (unquote). (p. 285).

Thievery was a common all-around occurrence in WWII and post-WWII Poland, and certainly not something aimed by Poles at Jews. While evaluating the books and scientific instruments remaining in postwar Wroclaw, Hirszfeld found that many of them had "become the prey of robbers." (p. 354).


Nowadays, Christianity and its traditional teachings about Jews are blamed for encouraging participation in the Holocaust, or at least a disinclination to empathize with Jewish suffering. Hirszfeld found the exact opposite. He came across many Poles, steeped in Catholicism, whose strong anti-Semitism was held in check by their devout Catholicism. He said, (quote) Yet, these through and through good and just people despised Jews and ascribed all evil to them...Nevertheless, they had pity for Jews and severely condemned German cruelty. They, as well as many other people from the same sphere, were a good example of the ennobling influence of the Christian culture. In spite of their antipathy for Jews and their desire to rid Poland of them, they condemned the murders committed by the occupiers. It was obvious that Poland was incapable of such actions. (unquote). (p. 283).


Poles nowadays are commonly berated for even hinting that Hitler solved Poland's Jewish problem, even though approval of the consequences of an action is entirely different from approval of the action itself. Hirszfeld concurred, (quote) Even at that time [pre-WWII] the only way out was for some Jews to emigrate and for others to change their social structure and absorb Polish culture. That process would have required several generations and a higher emigration rate which, incidentally, was being promoted by the Polish Government. This problem was tragically solved during the war. The number of Jews in Poland who have survived...is very small...Almost all Jewish property was taken by the Germans. Now, with the Germans gone, these factories and stores will be transferred to Poles. There probably is no power that could take these assets away from the Polish owners. (unquote). (p. 329).


The nowadays-customary dichotomy of the sufferings of Poles and Jews, as by relegating Poles to spectators of the Shoah, was totally foreign to the author. (e. g, p. 330). As an intellectual, Hirszfeld was quite sensitive to the Nazi genocide of most of Poland's intelligentsia. (p. 311, 353). He had a list of more than two thousand Polish professors, architects, and physicians murdered by the Germans. (p. 353). He also went into considerable detail about the German confiscation and destruction of Poland's scientific institutions, libraries, and other forms of cultural genocide. (p. 179, 341). He was especially galled by the fact that German scientists took part in the pillage. (p. 341). According to a quoted ARMIA KRAJOWA (A. K.) brochure, there was not a single spot in German-occupied Poland that did not go through the German Gehenna. (p. 311).

From the beginning, Nazi attitudes towards Jews and Poles had overlapped considerably. For instance, while everyone knows that the Nazis thought of Jews as vermin, and as bearers of typhus, it is a little-known fact that the Nazis also thought of typhus as a Slavic disease, as pointed out by editors Balinska and Schneider. (pp. xxxii). Hirszfeld notes that the Germans were driven by lebensraum (p. 252). He realized that, after the Jews, the Fuhrer hated the Poles the most, and that Poles were next in line for extermination after the Jews. (p. 247).
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