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.