Issue 10.3, August 1995

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Essay Excerpt

"Perhaps because so many Jews can trace their ancestry to Poland, and to East European Jewish immigrants who were quite determined to put the Old World behind them long before the trauma of genocide left no other choice, few Jews can accept the fact that life, and even Jewish life, continued in Poland after World War II. To them, Poland is nothing more than a vast and shamefully neglected mass graveyard. Poles, of course, are troubled by this perception, and they are particularly disturbed by the fact that although Germans committed the act of genocide, Jews harbor a special grievance toward Poles. The Polish Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz (1987) attributes the cause of the special vehemence Jews have toward Poland as scale: German culpability extends beyond the limits of human comprehension, whereas the Polish contribution to genocide was more limited. Acts of betrayal provoke justified condemnation, but how does one respond to a nation whose principal task had been the annihilation of another? And it probably has something to do with the fact that irrespective of the prejudice harbored in the hearts of the average German, efforts were made by the German Federal Republic to court Western Jews by acknowledging the past in its official public culture and through restitution (Webster 1993), whereas Poland refused to acknowledge either the special Jewish dimension of Hitler's genocide or that not all of its citizens were saints during the war."

From "Bloody Memories: Encountering the Past in Contemporary Poland" by Jack Kugelmass