re Were they from Poland or Russia? #general

Alice Josephs

Tilford Bartman <> writes on Fri, 03 Jun 2005
03:27:51 -0700

<<Last time I was in Poland I had a very interesting conversation with
very well educated, very nice, English speaking Polish guy who expressed
to me his belief that much of the "anti-Jewish" feeling in Poland stem
from the "fact" that Jews had a different attitude and feeling toward
Russians. Another guy in Eastern Poland who was ethnic Belorussian
Orthodox insisted that members of his Belorussian Orthodox minority in
Eastern Poland had a much better attitude toward Jews and had a much
better relationship with Jews before the war than Polish Catholics

Well, as far as I can tell - I don't pretend to be an expert and have
only relatively recently started researching the Polish (Russian
Polish) side of my family - such a discussion is a small part of the
complex, and often in the past, tortured jigsaw which makes up the
relations between - shall I call it Poles and Jews? Or non-Jewish Poles
and Jewish Poles?

This question of vocabulary is part of irresolvable questions through
the ages. Whether the questions of whether Jews were or were not
"Polish" or for that matter natives of other central and Eastern
European countries should have been posed at all is of course another
matter. But Poland has always been made up of what was defined as
"minorities" - Jews being among them, non Jewish Belorussians another
and Ukrainians another and so on. There has always of course been the
influence of the Catholic church for better or for worse and then

I recently lent a book called The River Remembers by S L Shneiderman ,
a Yiddish journalist born in Poland ( ISBN 0-8180-0821-0), to a
university graduate Polish Catholic who grew up during the Communist
era. When she returned it to me, she told me she had made lots of notes
from it and said she had no idea the Jewish population had played such
an active part in Polish mainstream life. The Communist party in
Poland, as far as I can tell, had always tried to suppress the role of
religion and, along with some opponent Polish nationalist groups, also
suppressed the nuanced history of the Jews in Poland. Economic peaks
and troughs and political jockeying all played their part in attitudes
towards "the Jews" (who of course varied and vary as much as any other
group of people including non Jewish Poles).

I don't know of course whether her reaction is "representative". But
her received imagery had probably mostly been through the media and
perhaps lacking the depth and nuances which are needed when talking
about any group of people. It is true, as far as I have found out,
that many Jews found the ideals of Communism very attractive but others
were not interested and embraced the ideals of Polish independence
until they were ejected >from the nationalist cause.

>from what I can tell, Romantic Polish literature played no small part
in Polish nationalism and many Jews were influenced in their early
education by this as much as anyone else in Poland. Canadian Morris
Macarz who has written a biography Staying Ahead (ISBN 0-8158-0522-5)
writes that in his home town of Pultusk before Polish independence
Jews had lived relatively peacefully for centuries but after
independence, after the First World War, the Jewish population was
buffeted by a boycott movement and anti-Semitism - in no small part due
I suppose to the economic circumstances of the time.

Small wonder that many turned to Communism and, being a cross section
of the human race, some Jewish Poles and Jewish Russians found
themselves put in a position of power, and may not have acted in an
ethical way whether because of a bad convergeance of circumstances or
because of their own personalities or a mixture of both. Yet in the
Stalinist era the Jews found themselves still a target, although it is
a matter of debate whether many of those murdered and imprisoned were
targetted for being Jewish or just because so many of them were in
positions of authority in the USSR and therefore prime targets for
purges in the political infighting or a mixture of both.

I have recently heard that in Hollywood there has arisen a difficult
situation regarding a monument to fallen Soviet soldiers. What I have
heard is that former Soviet mostly Jewish army veterans in Los Angeles
wanted to put up the monument - a slab of red granite with lines >from
a Russian poet rather than a representation of soldiers and videos of
soldiers relating their experiences - but this immediately raised the
hackles of many Polish Catholic Americans who saw this not in terms of
the liberation of the camps but a vindication of how the former USSR
was allowed to take over Poland after the German National Socialist

A symbol can mean different things to different people. This has to be
put alongside the present day politics in Poland itself and how Poland
is still redefining and negotiating how it deals with the states at the
heart of the former Soviet Union. I don't know whether the Hollywood
situation has now been resolved and I hope I have accurately defined
the situation. These are problems not to be carelessly written or
talked about.

This is only a small part of what I have learnt and I hope interpret in
a realistic way since tentatively treading the tangled path of Polish
Jewish genealogy and I am sure I have much else to learn, not least as
more and more literature is published by Polish Jews >from families who
have never left Poland.

Alice Josephs UK Jewish Pultusk
website :
STERN (STARR) Heppenheim HERZ Kochendorf MARKUS Otterstadt, Hainchen,
Roedelheim GRUEN GRUENEWALD Roedelheim HOCHSCHILD Gross Rohrheim
MAYERFELD Biebesheim, Germany.

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