WIEDERGUTMACHUING

Mah Nishtannah? What makes this Yom HaShoah different from all previous Yom HaShoah commemorations? A little over three months ago President Andrzej Duda said that he would sign into law a bill making it illegal to accuse “the Polish nation” of complicity in the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities. In doing, so the President of Poland ultimately shed light on a thorn in the side of the Jewish people that has subconsciously been gnawing at them for over seven decades.

Right or wrong, many have been inclined to characterize the Polish people and the German people as polar opposites. The Poles are visceral; the Germans are cerebral. The Poles are all heart; the Germans are all heartless. After all, who else but a nation of cold and calculating Deutschen could systematically set in motion a plan to annihilate an entire people in the most efficient manner possible?

Wiedergutmachung is the German word for reparation. Like many German words, it is constructed from three other German words: wieder (again), gut (good) machung (making). For me, this three-origin term brings with it three sentiments as well.
Wiedergutmaching acknowledges responsibility. Responsibility is not taken lightly by humans. Adam refused to take responsibility for disobeying HaShem; Adam’s son, Cain refused to take responsibility for murdering his brother. Both father and son resorted to lame excuses: the former pawned the misdeed off on his wife; the latter feigned ignorance by countering – How should I know, am I my brother’s keeper? No different than Adam and Cain, the Polish government also is shirking responsibility. Like Adam, the Polish Government pawns the genocide off on the Third Reich; like Cain, the Polish Government feigns ignorance by countering – How can I be guilty of in-humaneness towards Jews, when I too was the victim of Nazi in-humaneness? Given the disingenuousness of the Polish government, even if Wiedergutmachung was a Polish word, the Polish Government could not bring itself to utter it.

Wiedergutmachung acknowledges contrition. Only when one is contrite, does one ask the question: “How can I set things straight?” Only when one shows remorse, does one turn to the aggrieved or injured and say: “I’d like to make it up to you. Please tell me how.”

Wiedergutmachung acknowledges that there is a desire for resolution and a quest for peace a need for closure. After its defeat, German leadership realized that that in addition to losing the war, they had lost the ability to ascribe value and respect to Jews and to a lesser extent others. German leadership also realized that an embrace, a hug and even a handshake on their part would be repugnant to most Jews. German leadership was well aware that there were no words they could offer, that could possibly set things straight. Even if they were to stumble upon magic words asking for forgiveness, those words would ring hollow in Jewish ears. Resolution, peace and closure could only be achieved through Wiedergutmachung.

Scorn the re-conciliatory  German government as much as you like.  Regard Wiedergutmachung as nothing more than expiation on the part of the German people, if you must. See any and all motives of Konrad Adenauer’s Germany as highly suspect, if that’s the conclusion you have arrived at. But admit if you will, that however flawed and self-serving Wiedergutmachung may have been, it was much more than the Polish government was ever prepared to do.

As we remember the six million, let us also keep in mind that over the years there has been protestation and excuses. On the other hand, there has been admission of culpability and Wiedergutmachung. Let us never blur the difference.

SCHWEINEHUND*

Kfar Kitvin is an 87 year old Moshav, a stone’s throw from Netanya, a thriving city on the Mediterranean between Tel Aviv and Haifa. To the best of my knowledge, until last week, Kfar Vitkin had made the news only once. Back in July 1948, the Atalena, an Irgun ship filled with ammunition, docked at Kfar Vitkin for a very brief time, until it had to pull up anchor. The ship then headed for Tel Aviv, where it was summarily destroyed by the nascent Israeli army. Kfar Vitkin evokes bitter memories of David Ben Gurion butting heads with Menachem Begin – Jew against Jew.

Recently, Kfar Vitkin was in the news again. It appears to be yet another story of Jew against Jew, given the paucity of neo-Nazis in the area, as well as in all Israel. A week ago Saturday, Omri Kessler woke up only to discover that overnight, the family dog had been sprayed with a swastika. If any Jew wishes to send a message of great displeasure to his co-religionist neighbor, then he ought to be careful how he wades into the domain of the Third Reich.

Schweinhund! Swastikas are the sole domain of Nazis, neo-Nazis, and other pure-blooded Aryans. On a good day, moronic anti-Semites, as well as school age children who are at par with moronic anti-Semites in that they have no idea whatsoever as to the meaning of the swastika, might also have the blessings of the Third Reich to deface objects with swastikas. But for a Jew to paint a swastika on an object, whether animate or inanimate, is totally verboten.  Gott in Himmel! This is what happens when society becomes overly tolerant. It’s bad enough Jews sullied Germany in the 1930s with their mere presence. Now these Jews must sully the swastika that has has been sacrosanct to Nazis by painting it on a dog. How dare those Jews!

Speaking of dogs, doesn’t this miscreant who defaced the Kessler dog have any reverence for the life of an animal? The only thing that could be worse than spray-painting poor Schnuckiputzi (cutie pie) would be if the Kessler hound was a Doberman or a German Sheppard. Nazis sure did love their Dobermans and German Shepherds! In fact, as far as Nazis were concerned, any mutt off the street had far more worth than even the noblest Jew. I recall watching a short documentary of Nazis herding Jewish children into a mobile killing unit, only to interrupt the “final solution” so that a Nazi soldier could retrieve a German Sheppard that, together with other trained canines, was nipping at the legs of the children and in the process had mistakenly followed the children into the van. It was simply unconscionable for a Nazi soldier to let a poor dog meet the same fate as the wretched Jew children. Anyone who would dare deface a dog is deserving of being called Schweinehund!

“Don’t get mad, get even” is a quote attributed to the late Robert (Bobby) Kennedy. “Schweinehundt!” Adolph would have responded. “You Americans and you Israelis! You Fiji Islanders and you Liberians! You don’t know what mad is. If you want to see madness, then you must watch the way, I (Hitler) am depicted in the 2004 movie ‘Downfall’! Why my anger tantrum is so effective that it has spawned a number of parodies. Nothing gets people to quake in their boots more than being the target of the rants of an infuriated madman.  Only a dummkopf would spritz a swastika on a dog, not realizing that a spittle-flecked tirade of a madman, impossible to placate, would be far more effective.”

Can you just imagine if the aggrieved Kfar Vitkinite responsible for the swastika would have appeared at the doorstep of the Kessler residence and exploded into a harangue of a Nazi madman, all the while holding the pooch by the scruff of the neck? Omri Kessler would have immediately decided that it wasn’t worth it to leave the dog unchained. If there were other Kfar Vitkinites who felt the same way about the dog, the “madman” would have instantly become a hero.

How can Jews possibly decry swastikas when they use the same shape to get a message across? How can Jews possibly spray paint a dog with a swastika when they are totally ignorant of the canine’s political beliefs? How can Jews respond in such a ridiculous fashion when unbridled anger, while even more ridiculous, has proven to be far more effective?

*Schweinehund is a German infinitely potent expletive for calling someone a piece of garbage.

For Some, Guilty is as Difficult to Say as Zbigniew

Oifen Ganniv brent dos Hittel is a fabulous Yiddish saying that came to mind recently, when I read that Zbigniew Ziobro, Poland’s Justice Minister is planning to unveil plans to make it illegal to refer to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka and Sobibor as Polish Death Camps. Literally translated, the aforementioned Yiddish aphorism tells us that the hat worn by the thief burns on his (the thief’s) head. Implied is “you have guilt written all over your face”.
While it’s true that the number of Poles that died in World War II equals the number of Polish Jews murdered by the Nazis (three million), what’s left unsaid is that it’s more than mere happenstance that Hitler targeted Poland as one of the first countries to invade. While Hitler and his war machine knew only too well that in addition to pockets of resistance, there would be individual Poles who would literally risk their lives to defy the Third Reich and save Jews at all costs, they also knew that the vast majority of Poles would look the other way to what was happening. Hitler was well aware that a little bonus such as half a kilo of butter goes a long way in war ravaged Poland, where food shortages abound, in getting Poles to turn Jews over to the Nazis. Most important of all, Hitler knew that Polish soil was extremely fertile when it came to the nurturing of anti-Semitism and that more than a few Poles felt in their heart and soul that the time was ripe for avenging the death of their savior. Could it possibly be that Zbigniew Ziobro hopes that by wiping away the name, the Polish people would be wiping away the shame?
Pardon my attempt to reproduce a German accent in print, but here in these United States a good many of us who are quite frankly sick and tired of hearing: Vee ver chust following ohduz from war criminals that have been put on trial. It insults our intelligence to hear such drivel. Apparently the Poles are very much aware of the fact that such an excuse of just following orders just doesn’t cut it. So the Poles have been trying a different tack. For decades now, the Poles have bleated: no different than you Jews, we Poles were victims as well. Excuse me! Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m not aware of Hitler having planned to cleanse Europe of Poles. I’m not aware of Poles having being deported to death camps simply because they were Poles. Most important of all, I’m not aware of groups of Jews jeering, as they witnessed Poles being rounded up by Nazis (unlike the Poles jeering as they witnessed Jews being rounded up by Nazis) to be transported to unknown destinations, where an all but certain death awaited them. Could it possibly be that in their obsession with victimhood, the Poles saw to compare themselves to the Jews? Forgive them, for they know not what they speak. Let them compare themselves to Ukrainians or Serbs, if they must. But comparing themselves to Jews, a people that they denigrated over the centuries makes them look ridiculous!
The silver screen has depicted southern small town sheriffs as “urging” the one who has just been apprehended to “fess up”. “You’ll feel a whole lot better,” they reassure the suspect. Perish the thought that we Jews typify a southern small town sheriff. And we have no interest in serving as judge, jury and executioner when it comes to complicity on the part of the Poles with the Nazis. Just the same, the Polish people would feel a whole lot better if they fessed up. While coming forth with their mea culpa, the Polish people could have admitted to the Jews that even though the Poles exemplified the good, the bad and the ugly when it involved Jews, the Poles could have urged the Jews never to forget the good and positive that came from their Polish experience over the centuries. After all, isn’t Eastern European cuisine essentially Polish cuisine? Doesn’t the Yiddish language contain any number of words of Polish origin? Why, even our family names reveal our Polish past!
Many years ago, I recall having read that anyone who seems himself as a victim has no future. Futures are made up of people who have never abdicated their freedom. Futures lie in the hands of those who chart their own course in life, not those who wring their hands and cry that their hands were tied.
By removing Polish from Death Camp signs the Polish people hope to heal their past. It’s quite possible however that they are harming their future.