Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Warsaw [5]: Leaving for Krakow

We are leaving shortly for Krakow. Will take the train there. I have been here for 5 days, the group a bit less than that. The changes in this city -- and this country -- have been amazing. My first trip was well over 20 years ago.

I feel, more strongly than ever, that it is imperative that, in visiting a place such as this which was the site of some unspeakable horrors [though we do speak about them quite a lot], we keep our historical facts.

The "Poles were worse than the Germans" notion has come up again and my attempt to demonstrate [I do not say argue because this is not opinion, this is fact] that the Poles, many of whom were genuinely antisemitic, were NOT the ones responsible for what happened here. That was the Germans.

Yesterday someone described that as "apologia" for the Poles. I recognize that this tendency to want to blame the Poles is a deeply emotional argument that is rooted in parents' and grandparents' encounter with Polish antisemitism. That was real and in many cases made life terribly difficult. There were Poles who were pleased the Germans "gave it" to the Jews.

But the Holocaust itself... that was the Germans.

One of the other reasons I feel so strongly about this is that it negates hundreds of years of Jewish life in Poland. Someone reminded the group yesterday when we were at the Yeshiva that the rabbi who founded it was a member of the Polish Parliament in the interwar period. He was not the only rabbi who was in the parliament. And certainly not the only Jew.

Life is always more complicated if we don't let facts get in the way....

But, as I argued to the group yesterday, it is critically important that when dealing with this topic which is so filled with emotion, pain, and horror that we get the history right.

It's not just because of the deniers [they are not that important... potentially dangerous yes... important? no]. It's for other reasons:
1. If you are going to draw contemporary lessons from this horror then you cannot draw them based on untruths.
2. The victims wanted you to get the facts right. Witness Samuel Kassow's magnificent new book Who Will Write Our History? It is the story of the Oyneg Shabbes group [Emanuel Ringelblum]. They wanted facts not myth. They wanted a careful recounting of what happened to them. As one of them noted, what happened to them was bad enough. It's not necessary to aggrandize it in any way.

More on that later.

Lively trip. Off to finish packing [why do we always bring too much???] and then, after a meeting with the Director of the to be built Museum of Polish Jewish History, the train to Krakow and another encounter with history and with the present.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Thought provoking post. I lived in Kazimierz in Krakow for three years opposite the old synagogue on ul. Jozefa. Tourist groups would frequently greet me at my front door and it was a reminder of the horrors of the past. For more information about Krakow www.krakow-poland.com is a really good site full of useful information including sections about the Jewish Ghettos.