Remembering the righteous ten
Article by Professor Antoni Gryzyk
[The following is an unofficial translation by Peter K. Gessner of the article which appeared in March 10, 2001, issue of the Warsaw daily Rzeczpospolita -- A large collections of Polish language articles published about Jedwabne by the Warsaw daily, Rzeczpospolita can be reached by clicking on the banner.]
I am a Frenchman of Polish ancestry. Although a some point I was deprived of my Polish citizenship, I have always culturally felt rooted in the country of my ancestors - some of whom wore a skullcap.
My soul is gladdened that crimes are condemned and that finally the truth is spoken about human suffering. But as a communication specialist I can perhaps see more clearly than others the nature of the manipulation that includes the recalling of the Jedwabne matter. I am thinking of Norman Finkelstein and his book "the Holocaust Industry." It is with such thick yarn that some of the arguments mentioned in the discussion are sewn. Its as if we have been transported by some time machine to the twenty year interwar period and the gatherings in the Ziemianska café between Tuwim and Nowaczynski. Seen from France, it all seems exotic. I am reading the uncensored pronouncements in "Gazeta," your competitor, in which one can discern a growing wave of anti-Semitism. I know that most of those which today are irritated by the Jews, are not authentic anti-Semites. But I am concerned that if the discussion about Jedwabne takes the wrong direction, they may truly become such. The are reacting as the stereotype of the Pole in the anecdote of Jewish jokes "By the Sabbath candles" entitled about Polish anti-Semitism. I will recollect it: The Poles states that he cannot stand Jews, with the exception - and here he specifies a list of his Jewish acquaintances, using superlatives to describe them. The Jew anwers denigrating individually as swindlers, thieves, etc. all those the Pole had mentioned, concluding that, with those exceptions, he will not permit denigration Jews as a people
I would not wish to have it be thought that I have a poor opinion of the factual preparation of the editors moderating the discussion. But I note with surprise that when the subject of co-existence of Jews with the rest of the Polish community begun to be discussed in some depth, everything suddenly became much stiffer and ignorance and mutual intolerance triumphed. In an elegant manner, at the level of intellectual convention, they almost started trading insults. On one side shouts arise that everything that Jews are accused of is a lie and a scandal, that Jews never harmed the Poles in any way, and if they did, this must be understood for the Pole always treated the Jew with such contempt. On contrary, shout the others, the Pole is good and honorable, only sometimes, the riffraff ... and that the Jews should realize that they are not innocents. And then the floodgates open. Mutual paranoia is back. What need do we have of that today, in 2001?
How many such discussion have I listened to here in Paris ... In 1982, I organized a meeting under the title "Jewish Memory and Solidarnosc." Alas, it all ended in a shouting match. Even poor Brandys copped some accusations of anti-Semitism since he was trying to defend the good name of the Poles. And yet there exists a literature, easily accessible, which in a legible manner could convey to the current generation the deep historical nature of the Polish-Jewish confrontation. Let's read once more, for instance, Wata's "My century." Many years ago I wrote an article for the daily, Liberation in an effort to calm the discussions about Polish anti-Semitism. In that context I said a sentence that I wish someone would at some point say calmly by the Vistula. "When two tribe live under the same roof for a thousand years, the everyday does not consist of only acts of brotherly love. Conflicts, hatreds, and crimes had to be also a daily occurrences."
Defending the good name of the Poles, I added that it seem to me to amount to a caricature when someone imagines that one side is always at fault. The past is very important. But the present and the future bring other challenges than everlasting recollections of ancient wrongs. What happened, happened. Today there is a need to simply say that in the post-partition period the Polish speaking population, wounded in its identity instinctively reacted with hostility toward population groups which refused cultural assimilation, and often instead assimilated itself across the occupation powers cultural refraction. Kapuscinski wrote about this in the context of an excellent article on the subject of genocide in the daily "Le Monde de Débats".
The climate that is forming in Poland as a result of this discussion about Jedwabne, saddens me more and more, as I still have family in Poland. My relatives tell me that something bad is beginning to happen, that something hangs in the air. Maybe we are all already (a matter of a genetic defect) oversensitizes; maybe we are reacting like startled birds.
Lets for once properly face to face. Poles of all shades of identity, private or religious, lets straightforwardly put forth all that was ill, but for God's sake, don't let us forget about that which was good. God promised Lot that he would spare Sodom and Gomorrah, if there will be found there ten righteous men. Don't we have in the relations of Poles and Jews, ten righteous men, whose memories could help us build jointly in the third millennium our common Sodom and Gomorrah - Poland.
Let us remember about Roza Luksemburg, for she wanted to eliminate Poland from the map of Europe, but don't let us concurrently forget the Hasidic Jew with forelocks in Grottgers painting. Let us remember those young Jews who, seduced by Communist propaganda, joined the army of Soviet Russian in 1920. But let us also remember the hundreds of boys from the Galician shtels who volunteered to serve in the First Brigade in 1916. I met one of them here in France, today the centenarian Dr. Maurice Wajdenfeld, a friend and translator of Korczak. With pride he showed the Virtituti Militari received for his participation in Kiev campaign, and a letter of praise from the Marshal. Let us remember those who collaborated with the Soviet occupier in 1939, but let us not forget the thousands who paid with death in the gulag for their desire to join the Polish Army in exile, like Herling-Grudzinski. Let us remember Manachim Begin, who deserted from the Polish First Corps, but let us kneel before the graves bearing the Star of David in the cemetery at Monte Cassino.
And in Jedwabne, weeping over the suffering of the cruelly murdered, grateful thoughts are directed to those who, at the risk of their lives, saved a few human beings, the later witnesses, without whose testimony no one would ever have learned of the truth. I try to imagine how difficult it must have been for them after the war, daily looking into the eyes of their neighbors, who surely deep down held them a grudge, that they didn't do the same as the majority. For hero's it has always been tough once the echo of the cannons died down.
And maybe we should raise them today a monument. Why only in Israel is there a place of remembrance of the righteous. Why have we never thought of something similar in Poland, instead of waiting till in a foreign country a foreign nation will single them out and honor them. Is a similar gesture beyond the our means. now that we are finally united above our religious divisions, thus to inaugurate the new millennium?
The author is a Professor at the Ecole Supérieure de la Réalisation Audiovisuelle.
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