June 18, 2008 - Ottawa Citizen - response to article

Andrew Cohen propagates a rather skewed portrait of Poles and Poland, replete with negative stereotyping, inaccuracies and dubious relics from the past. It is a view of Polish-Jewish relations that has been rejected in recent years by authorities such as Szewach Weiss, Israel’s former ambassador to Poland, and Israel Gutman, the chief historian at the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem.

On linking Poles to the Nazis Gutman recently stated: “I too, at first, accepted these negative stereotypes as truth. Collaborators, blackmailers, neighbours who wouldn’t help. That’s what was said in all articles and books. But when Yad Vashem published its Encyclopedia of the Righteous – of which I was the editor – I was forced to examine this again through the stories told by Jews who were saved. I don’t change my opinions readily, but these testimonies brought about a diametrical change in my opinion.”

The claim that Poles thought that Jews had no right to their property after the war, pushed recently by American sociologist Jan Gross, is baseless. While tragic incidents did occur, the norm was quite different. Thousands of properties were returned without incident. The American Jewish Yearbook reported in 1947: “The return of Jewish property, if claimed by the owner or his descendant, and if not subject to state control, proceeded more or less smoothly.”

The postwar period also witnessed a broader conflict that stemmed not just from anti-Semitism, but primarily from support for the Soviet-imposed regime, on the part of the umbrella Central Committee of Jews in Poland (and others), and opposition to it, on the part of most of Polish society. Recent studies show that 38 percent of the leadership of the dreaded security office were Jews (together with Soviets they constituted a majority). That institution was responsible for the death and torture of tens of thousands of anti-Nazi and anti-Communist Poles. All of the players in the arrest and show trial of the General Fieldorf, the heroic leader of the Polish resistance who was executed on trumped up charges of collaborating with the Nazis, were Jews. Many of these Stalinist henchmen were later granted “refuge” and immunity for their crimes in Israel and other Western countries. Stanislaw Krajewski, a pre-eminent moral authority, has gone on record to state: “The challenge for Jews is to accept that … Jews were not only among the victims but also among the victimizers. In my view, the number and quasi-religious character of some Jewish communists, for whom Stalin was the messiah, generate a share of moral responsibility.”

As for the 1968 purge of Jews from the Communist Party and Poland, that too was not simply the work of “the Poles,” but the Communist regime which was imposed on Poland. That regime excelled in persecuting Polish patriots and the Catholic Church and had little popular support. 

Canadian Polish Congress, Toronto District