I’ve come to the conclusion that a steady diet of kielbasa (Polish sausage) causes one to go soft in the head. How else can one explain the recent suggestion of Jaroslaw Sellin, Poland’s Deputy Minister of Culture that a “Polocaust” Museum be erected to honor the victims of Nazi genocide between the years 1939-1945? With the recent passage of a law warning of a monetary fine or incarceration or both for anyone who dares to suggest that the Nazis had an accomplice in the Polish people, as it systematically murdered three million Polish Jews and others, doesn’t Pan (Polish for Mr.) Jaroslaw realize that he’s adding fuel to a fire that was recklessly started?
If Pan Jaroslaw truly wanted to ameliorate a situation that has Jewish leaders world over up in arms, then perhaps thought ought to be given to building a Jewish Heritage Museum in Warsaw or Lodz or Krakow or Kielce? With a rich history spanning over a millennium (in 1264, Boleslaw V actually invited Jews from other countries to settle in Poland), Pan Jaroslaw should have no problem in amassing material that would fill a museum faster than you can say “Jak se mas” (Yak Shemash – Polish for “what’s up.”)
Thanks to our illustrious past in Poland, we Jews can proudly point to a wealth of literature – both religious and secular – that had, and continues to have, an impact on us that is beyond measure. The definitive Talmud (The Vilner Shas) was originally printed in Vilna (Vilnius) when it was part of Poland. Rabbi Moshe Isserless, the (Ashkenazic) redactor of the Shulchan Aruch or Code of Jewish Law lived in Cracow, Poland. The Magen Avraham, a renowned commentator of the Shulchan Aruch hailed from the Polish town of Gombin. On the secular front, great novelists such as Peretz of Bontshe the Silent fame and Sholem Asch, who has left an indelible mark on yours truly with his trilogy (assailable in English translation,) Three Cities can lay claim to Polish ancestry as well.
Close to 30 years ago, I was sitting across the table from a native Pole in a coffee house in Warsaw, as an ensemble was tunic up. “Kapelye, tak?” “An ensemble, correct”, I asked in Polish. My knowledge of the Polish language is admittedly fairly limited. But one thing I do know. In Jewish music you can find many elements of Polish folk music. The instruments, the key, the tempo all sound eerily familiar. Yet, this should come as no surprise, given how our people living in Poland were influenced by the greater culture.
You don’t have to be fluent in Yiddish to have used words such as “schmatte” (rag) or “farblondget” (lost, geographically), but both words find their roots in Polish. Even though the Yiddish language contains any number of slavisms such as “kishke” and “polke”, there are a goodly number of Yiddish words that are uniquely Polish in origin.
Last, but not least, the recipes of the many ethnic foods we eat, find their origins in the Slavic countries of Europe. A food maven, I am not. I would be hard pressed to tell you exactly which country spawned gefilte fish as we know it, or stuffed cabbage or kreplach or latkes. I would be quite surprised, however, if Poland couldn’t make a claim as the birth place for some of the dishes we claim to be uniquely Jewish.
Pan Jaroslaw. Play it safe. Play it smart. The Holocaust is a “lose-lose” proposition for Poland. Why emphasize the negative when it comes to Jews in Poland? Why not emphasize the positive? Given the centuries that preceded the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, there is no shortage of areas in which Poland richly contributed to and enriched Jewish life. Let Poland bring a smile to Jews worldwide who typically grimace the mention of its very name.