A few days ago, I thought of the fictional television character Archie Bunker and the way he would verbally abuse his son in law Michael Stivic who was of Polish descent. If Archie wasn’t calling Michaelm Stivic “meat head”, then he was referring to him as a “dumb Polack”. Unwittingly, Poland’s education minster Anna Zalewska recently provided Archie Bunker with an “I told you so”. In an interview she gave on TVN, Polish national television, Poland’s education minister was asked by journalist Monika Olejnik about the prospects of including into the curriculum the Jedwabne massacre of 1941 when Poles locked more than 300 Jews in a barn and then set the barn ablaze and the Kielc pogrom of July 1946 where 42 innocent Jews were killed because Poles made no effort to investigate certain suspicions and immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion. Anna Zalewska responded by saying: Jedwabne is a historical fact that has led to many misunderstandings and very biased opinions”. When Monika Olejnik countered “Poles burned Jews alive in a barn” Ms. Zalewska retorted “that’s your opinion”.
Instead of trying to worm her way out of two events that left a black stain on Poland’s history and risk being labeled an anti-Semite, education minister would have done well to employ any one of the following three approaches:
1) Like other countries, Poland has a past that it is quite ashamed of. But we Poles are trying to make amends. That’s why each year, thousands of Jewish high school students spend a few days in Poland en route to Israel as part of March of the Living, where they visit Auschwitz-Birkenau and spend time in Warsaw. The people of today’s Poland wish to convey the message that we have nothing to hide.
2) Jedwabne and Kielce are a stain on our collective past. You have every right to shake your fist at us for slaughtering innocent Jews. But when you do shake your fist at us in raging anger, perhaps you can extend both arms as well in loving gratitude, as you open your fists and give us a hug for those of us who risked their lives hiding Jews from Nazis or at the very least by providing hungry and starving Jews with food before the Poles, fearing for their own lives, sent those Jews on their way.
3) Just as Poland has a past that we are so very ashamed of, Poland also has a past that we are so very proud of. Poland produced rabbinic greats such as Rabbi Moses Isserles, whose Ashkenazic contribution to the Shulchan Aruch or Code of Jewish Law counterbalanced the Sfardic practices of Rabbi Joseph Karo. Poland is the birthplace of the renowned Yiddish authors such as Sholem Asch and I.L. Peretz of Bontshe Shveig (Bontshe the Silent) fame. Why, the Yiddish language is filled with Polish words such as shmatte (rag), katchka (duck), and Kravitz (a Jewish family name which is Polish for Tailor)!
“Physician, heal thyself” is a teaching that finds its roots in the Christian Bible (Luke IV: 23). It’s quite obvious that Poland’s education minister is ignorant of such a teaching… As well as so much more.
*Debil rhymes with De Ville. Debil is Polish for moron. It is used in everyday Hebrew thanks to Polish Jews introducing it to the language of Israel upon making Aliyah.