If you ever forget you're a Jew, a Gentile will remind you. —Bernard Malamud
On February 19th, 2012 I received an e-mailed complaint about my essay on Elie Wiesel's book, Night
from a woman who claimed to be Polish. I've no reason to doubt her, but she never actually said she's living in Poland, and by the end of our 'conversation,' I was convinced that if she is indeed Polish, she is most likely an expatriate living in the U.S. or some other English speaking country. Her English and use of idiom seems too good for someone who has only ever lived in Poland, but not as good as someone who grew up in an English speaking country. Even so, she let me believe that she is living in Poland so everything I wrote to her reflected that belief.
In her e-mail, Ms. MZ claimed that I said Poland was responsible for what happened to the Jews during WW II. She then made a ludicrous claim about Poland today being a destination of choice for Jews and Gypsies, and then she related a lame-sounding story about her Grandfather, who supposedly had no choice but to surrender a pair of Jewish girls to the Gestapo. The tone of her e-mail and her unintentional bigotry were offensive, and her story about her grandfather sounded suspiciously like the opening of the movie Inglourious Basterds
, but my response was civil, if not very congenial.
In the e-mail exchange that followed, as is typically the case with ignorant people who have a personal axe to grind, her responses became more shrill, hateful, and inane with each failed attempt to 'score' a point. I absolutely admit that I was baiting her, but in the end it proved mostly unsatisfying. She not only made it easy for me, she turned out to be not one iota different from any other undereducated, ill-informed person I've ever engaged in a political or religious discussion. In the end, she became tiresome and silly so I stopped responding.
Our conversation is shown below, presented as written, except where I replaced the woman's name with her initials (MZ), and where I corrected one error of omission (the word you
in the sentence, How could you possibly expect otherwise?
). The interspersed quotes are added for emphasis.
In Maidanek, Poland, there was only one place where the children were treated kindly; at the entrance to the gas chamber each one was handed a sweet. —Gideon Hausner
Nazi camps in Occupied Poland, 1939-1945
Sent: Sunday, February 19, 2012 3:51 PM
Subject: Wiesel's Night
I don't know who you are. But I just read your article and being a polish catholic, please explain to me how my country was responsible for what happened to your people. I do not deny antisemitism - it was pervasive in Europe as well as the United Stated of America. Perhaps you should look up the Miss America from the 50s or 60s who had to hide her Jewish heritage. The reason there were so many concentration camps in Poland is because Poland had one of the largest Jewish populations and for good reasons. and for the same reasons we had the largest Gypsy population - even to this day. They choose to come to Poland to this day. I can not speak for every Polak out there but I will speak for my grandfather who was hiding two Jewish girls in his barn. When the Gestapo came it was his family or the Jewish girls. Need I say more. people did what they had to do to survive. I pray to God I will never be put in a position to make an impossible choice like my grandfather did. Polish grandfather.
Sent: Mon, Feb 20, 2012 at 12:56 AM
First of all, I did NOT write that Poland was "responsible for what happened to the Jews." I mentioned Poles (not Poland) only once, in this sentence: "I was raised with the knowledge that many of my relatives—siblings, cousins, and aunts and uncles of my grandparents, most of my extended family—were murdered by the Germans, the Russians, or the Poles, depending on the place and date." Though not certain, it is highly likely that Poles killed members of my family since it wasn’t all Germans running those camps in Poland. That's what I meant and that's what I wrote. If my family had been in or near Hungary or Slovakia, for example, I'd have named those people.
As for Poland, you think it was a good place for Jews, that it was more tolerant than other countries in Europe? Really? Yes, it is true that a lot of Jews ended up in Poland, but that was because they had been expelled from western Europe and were not allowed to live east of the Pale of Settlement (do you know what that was?). Basically, a lot of Jews ended up in eastern Poland and Ukraine because they had nowhere else to go. They were tolerated, but not much, and they were routinely victimized by the communities they lived near.
As for Poland's tolerance of Jews, here's some facts you may not know: Prior to WWII, more than 3 million Jews lived in Poland. By the end of the war, only about 400,000 Jews were alive. Certainly, the Germans and the Russians were most responsible for that, but the Poles were not guiltless. Between WWI and WWII, after Poland became a free country in 1918, many Jews were killed in pogroms by Poles who blamed Jews for the Bolshevik revolution (supposedly because Trotsky was a Jew, but I think that was just a convenient excuse). Also, even though Jews' were supposed to be protected by the Treaty of Versailles, they were not. Jews weren't allowed to work for the Polish government or in public jobs or for any Poland-owned business, and in the 1930's there were anti-Jewish pogroms and boycotts in Poland. After the war, in 1946, there was a pogrom in Kielce, after which even more Jews left Poland. Supposedly, by 1947, the number of Jews in Poland was down to around 90,000. As for today, I don't believe any Jew in his right mind would want to move to Poland unless it's to get out of Russia.
As for your grandfather, he may have 'reluctantly' turned over those two Jews so he could survive, but he did turn them over didn't he? So here you are, alive and writing to me. Of course, the reason I'm able to respond is that all of my Great Grandparents were fortunate enough and smart enough to get out of Georgia, Ukraine, and Belarus while they could. Had they stayed, it's not likely I'd be alive today, especially if they had lived in or near eastern Poland!
And finally, your comparison of the U.S. to Europe is just so amazingly typical of Europeans who want us Americans to think we're no better than you are: "it was pervasive in Europe as well as the United Stated of America. Perhaps you should look up the Miss America from the 50s or 60s who had to hide her Jewish heritage." Seriously? Miss America? Is that best you can come up with?
Do you think I don't know about Jew-haters in America? I'm a Jew and I grew up here. I know all about it. BUT there has never been a pogrom or anything like a pogrom in the United States--ever, not once--not against Jews! There have never been Federal laws aimed at hurting Jews. There has NEVER been a concentration camp or anything like one in this country like the places I wrote about in my essay--like the ones in your country. Yes we had slavery, and yes, a lot has been done wrong by Americans in the past 235 years. But nothing done by America comes close to the evil done by Europeans over the past 1000 years, and especially by the Fascists, Nazis, and Communists in the last century! I thank God almost every day that I was born a Jew in America and not _any_ country in Europe. Frankly, I really don't know how you all live with yourselves.
And that's it really. You are welcome to write back, but if you want to have a genuine conversation, try a different approach, and don't waste time arguing that the U.S. is as messed up as Europe is, or worse. We will never agree and you would always be wrong. That said, I am willing to discuss points of disagreement, philosophy, religion, etc. I would also like to learn true things about your country, and I'll be happy to answer questions about mine. Of course, I am assuming that you are a Pole living in Poland because (as was pointed out to me by a Polish-American woman I know), the word 'Polak' is _not_ used in the U.S. to describe a Polish person. If I'm wrong, feel free to correct me.
—U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
I have lost my mother, my father, my five, and ninety relatives in Poland. Poland is for me a cemetery. —Simon Wiesenthal
What one Christian does is his own responsibility, what one Jew does is thrown back at all Jews. —Anne Frank
Sent: Monday, February 20, 2012 11:34 AM
but he did turn them over didn't he? -- I hope your God has mercy on your people, because it is precisely this kind of talk that ignites hate in me.
Sent: Mon, Feb 20, 2012 at 11:31 PM
You are so typical: typical Catholic and typical post-soviet era eastern-European. So full of frustration, hate, guilt, and envy! You find insult where none was intended; you are aggressive and insulting without cause or awareness; and you focus on the smallest of things to find fault with. I would almost feel sorry for you if I hadn't lived in Germany for six years and learned firsthand how small-minded and hate-filled almost all Europeans are, _especially_ eastern Europeans and Russians--even the Jews from your countries!
Did you really think I would feel sorry for your grandfather, or for you? Did you think I would sympathize with how hard it was for him to send two Jewish girls off to be murdered? He lived didn't he? You are alive aren't you? What could you possibly have to complain about or be angry about that has anything to do with me? I would rather your grandfather and all of your family had been sent to the camps than even one of those Jewish girls! How could it be otherwise? How could you possibly expect otherwise? Hate me for that if you must, but don't expect me to believe hate is a new experience for you.
As for this, "I hope your God has mercy on your people," your old-world ignorance is showing:
1. If you really are Catholic, then the God of the Jews is your God. Jesus was a JEW. Mary was definitely a JEW. The last supper was a Passover Seder. Jesus was a Rabbi. You worship a man who was born a Jew, who claimed to be the son of the God who declared that Jews were His chosen people. Ask your priest, maybe he'll actually be honest with you.
2. For the record, Americans don't talk about 'our people' or 'your people' the way you Europeans do. I am an American who happens to also be a Jew. My 'people' are Americans, not Jews. It is not the same here as it is in eastern Europe, where Jews consider themselves a separate people, and who have that on their passports! I would NEVER have Jew on my passport or allow myself to be identified as a Jew first and an American second. I am an American first, last and always, unlike in your kindly, tolerant Jew-friendly country where I would be a Jew first, and a Pole never.
3. It seems I know more about your country's history than you do, or at least more than you are willing to acknowledge. You started all this by demanding that I explain how Poland was responsible for what happened to the Jews. It is true that Poland didn't start WWII or come up with the idea of murdering all the Jews, but it is also true that Poles and Poland have done evil to Jews, before, during, and after WWII, whereas Jews have never done evil to Poland. Your grandfather may not have been a Jew-killer, but he didn't fight them either--as you wrote, he did what he had to do to survive. That may be true, but it's nothing to brag about or be proud of. It is also nothing to expect sympathy for, least of all from a Jew! Those two girls could have been my cousins or my Aunts, but even if they weren't, why should I care at all about your grandfather--or you for that matter. He lived. You live. They didn't. Nothing else matters.
And on that note, I think I'll stop here. I hope you enjoyed this. I didn't especially, but if you want more of the same, please feel free to write to me again. I am writing another essay to follow-up 'Night,' and your comments are going to be included.
It is often said that Poland is a country where there is anti-Semitism and no Jews, which is pathology in its purest state. —Bronislaw Geremek
Sent: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 11:50 PM
Do you know what would have happened to the girls in any case, the Germans would have set the barn on fire and either they would have burnt alive or if they had ran out, they would have been machine gunned.
I had no idea Poles ran the concentration camps but now I know. I bet Hitler was half-polish and half-Russian.
You are American, first and foremost - do you know who lived there in your country two hundred years ago. Perhaps native americans should take up arms and fight for their lands.
Putting the name of my country with the same people who murdered 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews is hardly focusing on the smallest things to find fault. And if your family were from another country you would have mentioned them instead. Is that all YOU got. Is there anyone other than Americans of course who hasn't persecuted your people. Considering your 5 thousand year old history the answer is no.
Do you realize I was never antisemitic until I took interest in Holocaust, and learned how much hate is directed at us.
And yes you are far better educated and articulate. All I got is a first hand account of a brief time in history that tore someone's heart out. Please don't sympathize with me.
And if you want to talk about who has done evil to who let's not discriminate, let's not limit our conversation only to the Polish concentration camps. Where shall we start?
As far as God is concerned, I mentioned my heritage nothing beyond that. But as long as you brought Jesus up, Jews did some horrid things to Him. Or maybe you didn't have much choice because you were under Roman rule. Or better yet it was God's will after all. You know how to wash blood off your hands - that's one quality I envy about your people. And as long as you talk hate you will get it thrown back at your face.
Sent: Wed, Feb 22, 2012 at 12:10 PM
Ha!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Ms. MZ, you have, in only 3 e-mails, managed to demonstrate everything I've ever told Americans who haven't been to Europe about how full of ignorance, hate, and excuses you all are. I barely scratched your surface, but it was enough to reveal that you really are a Jew hater (you say anti-Semitic, but I prefer the unvarnished version).
Of course, I don't really believe your Jew hate is a new-found thing, or is based on reading about the Holocaust. I suspect you have hated Jews, Russians, Germans, and just about everyone else who isn't Polish for your entire life without even being fully aware of it. Hate is in the air you breathe, the bread you eat, and the water you drink. Europe is covered in layers of hate so old and so complex that if it weren't for the United States you would all STILL be at war, and either Germany or Russia would be in charge. And of course it would be you betraying others just so you could survive . . .
That said, I have to add again that you really are so very typical. You are just full to the brim of the same old tired accusations and examples of why others are no better than you: Americans took their country from the Native Americans; people hate us so we hate them back even more; Jews are not liked in the U.S. or anywhere else for that matter, blah, blah, blah. I've heard the same nonsense scores of times from other Europeans, but their ignorance, like yours, just makes me even more glad I was born and raised here instead of anywhere over there.
But above and beyond all the other stuff you wrote, I really must thank you for this gem: "As long as you brought Jesus up, Jews did some horrid things to Him. Or maybe you didn't have much choice because you were under Roman rule. Or better yet it was God's will after all. You know how to wash blood off your hands - that's one quality I envy about your people. And as long as you talk hate you will get it thrown back at your face."
I simply cannot tell you how pleased I was to see you write that, and I cannot wait to share this with my wife (who is a Christian). Do you realize those same words have been used to justify killing Jews for millennia, including as recently as 1947 in Poland (you do know what blood-libel is, right?). But even better, you again got it wrong: The Jews did not kill Jesus, Romans did, because he claimed to be a King. And it was the Roman, Pilate, who washed his hands of the matter and sealed Jesus' fate, not any Jew. And as for washing blood off, I'd say that if Jews are good at it, it's only because there's so little to wash off, unlike the blood your entire continent is soaked in! Jew haters and murderers will never be able to wash off all the blood they've covered themselves in--especially all the blood they spilled in the name of Jesus, a Jew who preached only tolerance, love, and brotherhood!
You can say all the bad things about Jews that you want, but the facts are these: People who've called themselves Christians have caused more agony and pain in the world over the last 1500+ years than any other religion, including Islam, Judaism, or Hinduism. And Catholics were the worst of all! The Popes who were anything but Christlike, the Jesuits, the Dominicans, the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, all manner of brutality and murder done in the name of Jesus! Don't you know anything? Are you really so ignorant of history and your blood-soaked, idol-worshiping religion that you think it's appropriate to berate an American for what your God demanded and a Roman did to Christ more than 2000 years ago?!?!
And you expect me to believe you came late to hating Jews?
As for the rest of what you wrote, everything is wrong on many levels. For example: "Do you know who lived there in your country two hundred years ago. Perhaps native americans should take up arms and fight for their lands."
1. It was Europeans who came here and started taking the land from the people who were here. It wasn't the Jews. It was mostly Protestants up North, but in the South and in Central and South America it was Spanish Catholics, who by the way, also wiped out a number of native peoples with disease and weapons, all in the quest for gold and land, and done in the name of Catholicism.
2. Those Europeans started settling here over 400+ years ago, not 200 years ago. The U.S. was founded in 1776, but the English colonies had been here for almost 200 years prior to that. Spanish colonies were here too, in Florida and the west.
3. American Indians are still here. It's not a good existence for many, but it's mostly their choice now. They do not have to stay on reservations, and many tribes are making a LOT of money running gambling casinos and resorts. Many Indians do have problems, but they have chosen to stay mired in the past instead of moving ahead--just like you.
4. If Indians did take up arms against the U.S., they'd all likely be killed or imprisoned--again, just like they were 120 years ago. It's not something for the U.S. to brag about, but they did lose the wars and they are lucky they have any land at all left to call their own--unlike the Gypsies in Europe who are hated and treated poorly everywhere they go (and yes, I've seen that, as recently as a year ago when I visited Hungary).
5. The bad stuff that happened 400, 200, or even 150 years ago just really doesn't matter all that much to most Americans. We constantly strive to put the past behind us, to be better than we were, to make amends for past wrongs, to make the country and the world a better place, not only for us, but for everyone. Certainly, it's a lofty ideal and certainly we fail miserably sometimes, but at least we try--unlike Europeans who are responsible for most of the problems in the world today (Colonialism, two World Wars, Communism, Fascism, Nazism, the Mid-East muddle, and so on), and who mostly care only about themselves and their own sad little countries.
As I said before, I just don't know how most of you all live with yourselves.
But enough for now. Again, thank you for taking the time to write. If I had written what you wrote, no one would believe me, that there are still people in Europe like you. Of course, please also feel free to write again. I am willing to tell you what a typical ignorant European you are as often as you ask me to--at least until you really become a bore, in which case, I'll simply stop responding and you can be pleased with yourself for having the last word.
P.S. You should consider moving to the U.S. We already have plenty of Jew-hating Catholics, and large Polish speaking communities in several cities, so you'd be right at home. Of course, you might also learn a few things and who knows? In a few years, you might actually grow past all that and become a better person.
All morons hate it when you call them morons. —J. D. Salinger
Sent: Wed, Feb 22, 2012 at 1:56 PM
I learned to hate from Jews and no wonder why you've been hated for 5 thousands years.
Sent: Wed, Feb 22, 2012 at 1:59 PM
I'm sure you know perfectly well how much I hated all my life - OF COURSE YOU DO. I hate everybody - I hate jews germans russians you are stupid beyond stupid. Let me make something very clear I am nothing like you - NOTHING.
Sent: Feb 22, 2012 at 1:59 PM
One more thing I don't even bother reading your nonesense becasuse you know it all.
Sent: Wed, Feb 22, 2012 at 2:41 PM
FIVE THOUSAND YEARS - HOT DAMN
Sent: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 2:49 PM
I finally read your email - Of course it wasn't the Jews that first came to American it was mostly Protestants. Of course it wasn't the Jews. But you are first and foremost an american. Are you not. But now we cant start hating on Protestants because you know perfectly well I hate them too.
Okay, I understand you are not an American you are a Jew and you had nothing to do with any evil that has ever been perpetrated throughout human civilization. Because if any nation committed a crime against humanity, you're excuse was we're not Polish, russian, american, British we are Jewish.
You are segregating yourselves.
Sent: Wed, Feb 22, 2012 at 5:35 PM
I win. Thank you.
Unfortunately, I cannot respond to you again as you are clearly poorly educated, illogical, irrational, and unable to carry on an intelligent, albeit contentious, conversation in English. Please be advised, however, that in accordance with my website usage rules, everything you wrote to me is now my property and can be used on my website without your permission. I plan to do so, though I promise I will quote you just as you've written. In fact, little I could change would make you sound worse.
In the end, Ms. MZ, if you are angry about what I've written, that's too bad. You started this, and although you may actually be a good person, nothing in the increasingly ugly e-mails you sent me is proof of that. In fact, you have simply confirmed what I already believed about most Catholics, eastern-Europeans, and old-country Poles.
And finally, thank you for showing that the United States is still the best destination for any emigrant who wants to escape the narrow-minded, hate-fueled, ignorant bigotry of run-down, backwards, old-world countries like yours.
Sent: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 6:04 PM
You win and you are the good person. I kill jews and so did my family and so does rest of the world except for Americans of course. Anything else I should know.
Tell me again about native americans - where do they escape to? Oh, it doesn't matter because it was the Protestants who took their homeland away.
Please use everything on your website - again I said that we killed jews and continue to kill them. Does that suit you.
And also post that we invited the Germans over and promised in return to hand over all the Jews and run the concentration camps at no charge. AND we really enjoyed it.
And that's it. Fun reading, no?
Unfortunately, her type really is very common--in every sense of the word. I have had variations of this conversation with Germans, Poles, Czechs, Russians, and other Europeans, all of whom were either apologists for their parents' or countries' past actions or relativists who claimed Americans and Jews were equally guilty of evil and so had no right to judge or complain. Many of them probably considered themselves decent people, but invariably most of them had concluded (and expected me to agree) that Jews have no valid reason to be angry at anyone because Jews incited and deserve all the hate and violence they've been subjected to for millennia. As Ms. MZ stated so succinctly: "I learned to hate from Jews and no wonder why you've been hated for 5 thousands years." From this, I can only suppose that in addition to being often-passive victims of brutality, Jews should also be grateful and
forgiving because modern-day Poland is such a tolerant, welcoming place. . . .
Combined from Wikipedia
& ABC News
Starting in 1968, the Communist government of Poland initiated an anti-Semitic campaign that forced between 15,000 and 20,000 Polish Jews out of Poland and stripped them of their citizenship. Their Polish passports were confiscated and replaced with a ‘travel document’ that did not allow them to return, and their properties were expropriated by the state. The purged Jews, who were mostly Holocaust survivors and their children, emigrated to Israel, the United States, Denmark, and Sweden. During a 2006 visit to Israel, President Lech Kaczynski promised to restore Polish citizenship to the Jewish victims of the purges, but with no blanket legislation covering the issue in Poland, exiled Jews were left having to jump numerous bureaucratic hurdles. Many felt this was an just an additional insult and declined to ask.
on 1 Sep 11:
Police in Lower Silesia are investigating outbreaks of racist abuse at a match between Polish premier division teams Slask Wroclaw and Widzew Lodz on Sunday. Chants from Wroclaw supporters, who were playing at home, denounced the Widzew team as “Zydzew” (Jews), shouting: “Jews, Jews, Jews, all of Lodz are Jews.” The central city of Lodz was the site of an infamous Nazi death camp during WW II. Many of the chants shocked some who attended the game, including: “Auschwitz is your home,” and “and you’re going to the oven.”
What more need I say?
Note: For a number of reasons, I am not willing to debate or discuss anything I wrote to Ms. MZ, or anything she wrote to me. Also, I will not continue the discussion about Poland or Jews, at least not in this context. E-mail that ignores this warning will be deleted unanswered as soon as the topic becomes apparent, and the e-mail address will be added to a delete-without-reading filter at the TGR server. Otherwise, as always, I will gladly correct any verifiable factual errors.