* By Anna Karolina Klys, cross-posted here from http://www.listyznaszegosadu.pl/george-orwella-s-columbian-mistake 10 March 2018.
It’s difficult to find words. The first words that come to mind are too angry, too radical. But perhaps it’s time to use different words, perhaps just now you have to hit hard with words, not hide behind soft phrases like “it’s unbelievable”, “it’s terrible”, “how is it possible”?
If so many people dared to say and write cruel, untrue sentences about people who were humiliated, maltreated, and murdered, about millions of mothers, sons, grandmothers, and fathers whose bones were burned and what was left was ground into dust in order to erase any trace of their lives; perhaps it is time now, after all, to speak not with a quiet, cool voice but to shout: SHUT UP!
Every word is like a bullet, like a blade that cuts deeper and deeper into an aching body.
That you don’t know about something, that propaganda and a quiet, soothing murmur of cognitive dissonance allow you to forget about all inconvenient information coming from the past is no justification for lies. No justification for insulting people who were once killed physically and are now to be killed for good and all — to be erased from history.
Many people have worked hard to wipe memory clean; to make the conscience white and fragrant so it will not reek of envy, betrayal, cruelty, and greed.
“Everybody knows” that before the war Jews in Poland were stealing from farmers, students, workers; that they made matzos out of Christian children’s blood; that they studied law and medicine; that they were Communists; that they owned factories in which they exploited Christian workers; that they welcomed the Red Army in 1920, collaborated with Germans, deserted from the army, were Zionists, wanted to assimilate and blend into the society of True Poles, that they ate white challah and rolls while Polish peasants ate swedes with water; they had simply all the retail trade in their hands, they bought Poles out of their ancestral Polish soil, they didn’t want to work hard, they were living in their exclusive groups, they wormed their way into the education and culture in order to defile and distort the Polish language, they didn’t learn the Polish language, there were plenty of them, actually they didn’t exist.
“Everybody knows” that during the war (and the occupation) Jews were in the Warsaw Ghetto, where thousands of Righteous Poles, risking their own lives and the lives of their families, delivered weapons and food in one direction and in the other led out hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of children and adults who were subsequently hidden. They were also hiding little bags with secret contents which Jews entrusted to them, and after the war somebody came for these bags and this somebody never shared the contents of the bag, indeed, often didn’t even say “thank you”! Some people know that there was also a ghetto in Łódź. But there it was a different story: there Jews had their own state, they worked for the Germans. You could say that they served the Germans.
“Everybody knows” that Jews are cowards. They let themselves be killed. They meekly went to be massacred. They themselves put themselves into the trains, they themselves betrayed themselves, they themselves murdered and burned themselves in the ovens. They had their own special police force that beat them and drove them to Umschlagplatz, the departure point for the cattle cars to take them to the death camps.
“Everybody knows” that thanks to True Poles (across the board from the right to the left) an uprising could break out in the Warsaw Ghetto, but it didn’t succeed, so it’s not worth mentioning. But without the True Poles it would never have happened at all. But whether it is good or bad they don’t know so they don’t talk about it, just in case.
Everything that was left after the Jews were gone was taken by Germans. Fur coats, diamonds, gold teeth. Factories. Carpets. Sewing machines.
“Everybody knows” also that from the pre-war underworld of thieves and pimps a few less honourable people indulged in blackmail and extortion in Warsaw. Not so in the provinces, because in the provinces – and this really everybody knows – “my grandmother helped the Jews”. Every grandmother, uncle, or grandfather’s cousin “delivered food”, “felt so sorry”, “kept her in the cellar, gave her a loaf of bread, and she gave him a wedding ring as a souvenir”.
And “everybody knows” that Jews were ungrateful; that they were Communist partisans; that they killed Polish National partisans. Though this last bit of knowledge may (as yet) not be known to everybody.
Recently everybody could learn that in Jewish ghettos life was merry, there were coffee houses and affluence, while on the Aryan (Polish) side there was poverty, the underground army, and fear.
Moreover, “everybody knows” that there was a camp. Auschwitz. A concentration camp. Some people know that there was also a death camp. Probably Auschwitz as well. And Irena Sendler. I almost forgot.
And now the period after the war – here not only “everybody knows” but they are direct witnesses of the fact that in the Communist Security Services there were only Jews, in the Communist Party there were only Jews, Stalinists were only Jews, prosecutors and torturing investigators were only Jews, Jews drove each other out in 1968 and thanks to that, the more cunning among them left for abroad and the poor Polish Christians had to stay here and continue to suffer, not in Sweden, not in the U.S., but here in Poland. In Kielce Russians disguised as Jews incited Christians, but actually it is not known who killed a certain number of Jews. And all this was after the war – secret services and Russians. And then to Sweden.
And everybody knows that. This is what they hear, this is what they talk about. In this version there are no missing pieces, everything tallies and gives a feeling of national pride, of historic justice. It doesn’t offend, it doesn’t demand thought, it feeds cognitive dissonance with tasty morsels.
There is, however, some information that is not known to everybody. Somebody knows, though. And so: “it is known” that before the war there were Ghetto_benches. It’s not known exactly what it was, it wasn’t especially onerous, you had to sit separately? This is known, more or less. There is also known here and there (recently a bit more), that even if somebody was an anti-Semite before the war (not without reason! and such attitudes were present in the whole Europe, generally Jews were not liked, for sure!) later he or she had a change of heart and became Righteous, saving Jews.
Here and there it is known that there was a tragedy in Jedwabne. That Germans forced Polish Christians to participate passively in a horrible murder. Who knows, maybe these Christians suffered even more because first they were persecuted by Judeo-Communists, then by Germans and then by Judeo-Communists again, who organized trials, ruined people’s lives, and created bad blood among the townspeople. How to live in such a town when everybody repeats these lies?
And, finally, there is memory. There are people, newspapers, photos, documents, memoirs, reminiscences. In them, there is a different story. There is a story nobody wants to know.
People who left Poland legally before 1939 remembered poverty. Beatings. Humiliation. They remembered bombs in shops and in synagogues. They remembered stones hurled through the air, broken glass on the sidewalks of Mińsk, Częstochowa, Bielsko, Przytyk. They remembered caricatures and poems; they remembered “scientific reports” in which there were descriptions of Jews as lice and vermin (and who were also dirty and spread lice and vermin); they remembered remarks about huge noses, and they remembered talk that they should just go away, disappear. They remembered that they were afraid when they were walking on the streets, that beatings happened not only at the universities but also in high schools and in elementary schools. That every day there was an article in the newspapers about another “incident”. That there were funerals of children, women, and men who died “because they were Jews”. So what should they tell their children? That all this didn’t happen? That everything was wonderful? So they were either silent or they talked about fear and about hatred. And they were telling the truth.
This other side, this forgotten part, encompassed everyday life—work, holidays, births, weddings—but also hunger, broken arms and noses, and smashed skulls.
A Poland that was not built by people of different nationalities is a Poland that does not exist. You cannot rip out from the encyclopaedia of Polish literature pages about poets and writers who had a Jewish mother or grandmother – because only a thin brochure would be left. You cannot cross out “Jewish” scientists because we would be left with kerosene lamps only (oh no, sorry, wait, this can be done after all– because Jewish scientists don’t count when we list Polish Nobel Prize laureates). You cannot go through Polish cities and towns and not to see who built the houses, office buildings, universities, and libraries.
It’s difficult to acknowledge that the Jews live in enclaves because for hundreds of years they were not allowed to live where they wanted, they were forbidden to live and work in the centers of cities and such places. When it comes to the birth rate, it’s not true that “Jews swamped Poland”, because according to official statistics for the third quarter of 1936 the birth rate according to religion was: Roman Catholics 12 per 1000; Greek-Catholics 11.5 per 1000; Orthodox 10.8 per 1000; Jews 9.9 per 1000. The claim that Jews monopolized Polish trade and craft is, according to statistics, not true, however it is true that people of Jewish nationality couldn’t work in any governmental office, couldn’t be chimney sweeps, streetcar drivers, or even janitors in any office. According to statistics for the year 1938 Jews in Poland were owners of 20,000 farms. Some 100,000 Jews worked in agriculture; 8,500 of their farms were smaller than 5 acres;, 6,500 were from 5 to 12 acres; 800 were up to 124 acres; and 700 were above 124 acres.
In 1937 during the debate over the budget of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce Professor Schorr, a senator, said: “Jews are not a foreign population in Poland. We – Jews – have been bound with this country for a thousand years”.
He reminded his audience that countless Jewish small shops and market stalls, tailor’s shops, cobbler’s and locksmith’s shops were not the result of Jewish preference, inclination, or ability but of the historic contingency, rules, and restrictions which before the Partition of Poland and during it determined which particular occupations Jews were allowed to work in. He talked about the problems of the economic crisis in the nineteenth century and the lack of understanding by the Polish nobility of the need for economic development. Jews were called every name under the sun when they tried to convince townsmen and the nobility of the need to create commerce, industry, a bank system, and railways:
“Jews do not want to work hard on the land, they prefer light work”; “Jews, by enticing our noble families into trade, industry, etc. are contributing to the disintegration of the most beautiful traditions of nobility”; “Not profits, percentages, dividends, bills of exchange, or shares are the ideals of a nobleman” – he quoted opinions from the 1850s and 1860s. And he quoted from the work of the economist Surowiecki O upadku miast w Polsce [“On the decline of towns in Poland”]:
“After the country was destroyed by various sad events, after the collapse of towns and the dispersal of their inhabitants, after the disappearance of capital and ready money, there was no way for crafts and trade to remain in Poland. With the exception of a few towns, Poland owes the rescue of trade and crafts to Jews. (...) Whoever looks at Jews without prejudice has to admit that their abilities and entrepreneurship have been until now the extraordinary source which enriched Poland, but if the Jewish nation is useful to our country through its craftmanship, incomparably more useful is it by its trade”.
Senator Schorr listed the names of those Jews who were building Poland’s economy. First Leopold Kronenberg, the creator of agricultural credit, of the Trade Bank, of the Credit Society in Warsaw, the Industrialists’ Bank, of the Warsaw Insurance Society, of the Mutual Credit Society, of the Warsaw Society of Sugar Factories, of the Society of Coal Mines. He was the builder of the Wilno and Wisła railways, the reformer of the Warsaw Stock Exchange, and the founder of the first College of Commerce in Warsaw.
Further: Poznański, Silberstein, Rozenblatt, Osser, Jarosiński, Barciński, Kon, Ettingon – Senator Schorr recalled the contribution of these Jewish citizens to the development of Łódź. Finally, he quoted another Polish economist, Stanisław Szczepanowski:
"Living in a world of constant delusions and fears because of the lack of adequate economic education, we made these Jews in front of us into scapegoats for all our failures and our own deep incompetence, and we barely sense the existence of the reasons for our decline, which are deep and more difficult to remove.”
And you can’t burn all the testimonies of people who were locked into ghettos from the autumn of 1939 (and there were 1100 ghettos in Eastern Europe, most of them on Polish soil), dying of hunger, barefoot, rounded up for heavy work like slaves. With their bare hands they built roads, cleared ruins, and paved streets and squares with the tombstones of their loved ones. And you can’t shout down the fact that it was Polish Christians who could catch the slight accent, somehow changed word order, or a grammatical error. It wasn’t a German Wehrmacht soldier from Leipzig or Munich. And it was neighbours who knew who lived where. It was they who pointed out and torched hiding places. It was they: firemen, navy-blue uniformed collaborationist policemen, and good-natured neighbours. For many, many thousands of these good-natured Christians, Jews became a source of income. He who had “his own Jew” could, for a time at least, count on money, jewellery, tools, and clothing. Later, when there were no more goods, both sides went their own ways. And the ones who escaped with their lives were incredibly lucky. Most often, though, they were not lucky.
If they were not killed by their host, they died from hunger, cold, or an accidental meeting with an “un-righteous”. What else do people not know? That the stupid Germans didn’t like to share goods with anybody so they established a death penalty for trade with Jews? For giving them food and shelter? Or that Germans sentenced a mother and her son to death for hiding Jews; they were True Poles who had killed the whole Jewish family they were hiding (including a child), when the Jewish money ran out? What more don’t you know?
That The Painted Bird is not a fantasy? That a woman who survived execution and crawled out from under a pile of bodies— the body of her little daughter among them – escaped naked to the forest, and Polish farmers gave her a gynaecological search because they hoped she had hidden money and a wedding ring?
What more don’t you know?
That those who survived in the USSR (in tragic conditions), upon returning to Poland AFTER THE WAR, were taken to formerly German Lower Silesia, as they couldn’t return home to Polish villages because they might be killed there?
What more don’t you know? That AFTER THE WAR people were building – just as in the times of German occupation – courtyards, walls, and troughs for animals out of Jewish tombstones?
You don’t know what happened to mass graves, to places where tens and hundreds of people were buried when they “liquidated” ghettos? You don’t know that on the site of a death camp in Chełmno on the Ner, where no fewer than 160,000 people were gassed to death in trucks, 5,000 children from the Łódź ghetto among them, AFTER THE WAR there was a market for farmers? In a place where thousands upon thousands of people suffered unimaginable torment there were piles of – so necessary to farmers – fertilizer and coal.
You may not know that the “Jewish goods” – the plates, shoes, chairs, and typewriters— didn’t burn the hands of True Poles, that they didn’t go AFTER THE WAR to any Jewish organization and did not return this “inheritance”, mumbling something about how sorry they were?!
It’s not possible to hide behind those who were human beings to the very end—behind those who were more righteous than greedy. Behind this tiny handful of Righteous Among Nations. There were TOO FEW of them then to help the greater number of their brothers and sisters and too few now to hide the stupid and evil un-righteous.
It’s perhaps too extreme to suggest reading a list of the “senior cadre of security apparatus 1945-1953”? Who is named there, and where, and for how long? And why is it so incredibly important to know whether they were Jewish or not??
Go and clean your conscience, but use very strong bleach. Maybe it will burn a hole through which you will see faces of True Poles, twisted in a stupid, cruel smile, faces of nice women who said: “Go away, I can’t help”? And be careful in front of mirrors. Because there you will see your own faces.
And what will everybody know then?
Translated by Małgorzata Koraszewska and Sarah Lawson
Anna Karolina Kłys – Polish journalist and author.