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Poland and the Jews. It is sophisticated

I had heard that that they had been banned. I had heard that they have been now not being produced.

And but, there they have been – proper in entrance of me on a shelf, in a stall in Krakow’s market sq. – the most important medieval market sq. in Europe.

I’m referring to the “Lucky Jew” figurine – a statue of a bearded Jew, in conventional garb, holding a bag of cash. Jewish kitsch.

No, I’m not kidding. You should buy a kind of, in a wide range of sizes, in any variety of locations in Poland. Apparently, authorities tried banning the sale of them, however they merely wound up being too standard.

What do they signify?

  • For the Poles who love them, they function talismans. They hold in properties and sit by money registers in retailers and eating places throughout the nation. Personal one, and also you, too, will grow to be rich.
  • For others, the collectible figurines symbolize mourning for Polish Jews who’ve died in the course of the Shoah. In sobering reality, Jewish collectible figurines outnumber actual, within the flesh, reside Jews in Poland.
  • For others (together with me), the collectible figurines are antisemitic.

Welcome to Poland and its Jews. As Fb would put it, the connection is sophisticated.

You can’t inform the story of Poland with out speaking in regards to the Jews, as you can not inform the story of European Jewry and Judaism with out telling the story of Poland. That’s the important reality that grabbed me just lately, throughout my 5 day sojourn in that stunning, proud, and tortured land.

A candy legend about how the Jews acquired to Poland. Within the 1100s, the Crusaders had devastated the Jewish communities of the Rhineland. The Polish king welcomed Jewish refugees (he had his personal financial causes). Birds flying overhead sang to the Jews: Po-lin. You’ll be able to lodge right here. And so it was – a lodging, a sojourning that lasted for greater than a thousand years.

For hundreds of years, Jews in Poland have been below direct royal authority. They have been capable of set up themselves as bankers, retailers, and royal directors. 

By 1921, Poland was dwelling to virtually three million Jews. That was virtually eleven % of the inhabitants. It was the most important Jewish group in Europe, and in inhabitants it was second solely to the American Jewish group. Because it seems, a reasonably giant variety of American Jews can hint their ancestry again to Poland/Ukraine — particularly Ukraine, which encompassed the Pale of Settlement. This was the heartland of Ashkenazic Jewry.

Within the centuries of Polish Jewish sojourning, there have been good years, even lovely ones. However, there have been additionally ugly, troublesome, and tragic instances.

Which brings us to right now, to Yom Ha Shoah – which is the commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto rebellion.

As Timothy Snyder makes clear in his seminal guide Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin: Hitler and Stalin conspired to destroy Poland. That was why the Nazis positioned focus camps there — Bełżec, Sobibór, Treblinka, Majdanek, Chełmno, and, after all, Auschwitz. Of the three-and-a-half million Polish Jews, over three million perished in fuel chambers and execution fields.

And the Poles? Most have been silent and passive. Some perpetrated violence. In not less than a dozen villages, Poles carried out anti-Jewish pogroms. The biggest occurred on July 10, 1941, within the city of Jedwabne  Poles taunted Jews, lynched Jews, and eventually pressured a number of hundred Jews right into a barn and setting hearth to it.

And but, there has additionally been teshuva for that horrific crime. In Might 2001, Polish bishops got here collectively within the Warsaw Cathedral to beg God’s forgiveness for what occurred at Jedwabne. President Aleksander Kwaśniewski stated: “We’re right here to hold out a collective examination of conscience. We pay homage to the victims and we are saying: by no means once more.”

Within the phrases of Waldemar Kuczynski, a Polish economist and journalist:

A fraction of the Polish folks that burned a fraction of the Jewish individuals. This deed will proceed to incriminate us…And so we can not solid off and take away from our conscience that burning barn, that screaming that could possibly be heard two kilometers away.

After the struggle, the violence continued – most notoriously at Kielce, the place on July 4, 1946, Poles killed not less than forty Jews who had returned to their village.

And but, we should stability this grim historical past with one more historical past – that of Poles who helped Jews.

Yad Va Shem acknowledges no fewer than 6,620 Poles as Righteous among the many Nations. Poland supplied the most important variety of Righteous Among the many Nations. 1 / 4 of all these honored at Yad Vashem are Poles.

Like I stated: relationship – sophisticated.

Is it a type of teshuvah that right now, Poles are fascinated by Jews, the Jewish individuals, Jewish tradition, and the Jewish faith?

Allow us to take notice:

  • Non-Jewish Poles are getting masters’ levels in Jewish historical past, and learning Hebrew, and dealing as loyal workers in Jewish establishments.
  • 300 individuals are learning Hebrew on the JCC in Krakow — 275 of whom aren’t Jewish.
  • The biggest Jewish cultural competition in maybe your complete world — the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow — overwhelmingly appeals to non-Jews.

Relationship – sophisticated. It’s like a kind of Russian dolls which are additionally obtainable for buy in Polish shops. Unpack the doll, and there may be one other doll inside it. There are at all times tales inside tales.

Drop all the things, and get a replica of Mikołaj Grynberg’s assortment of quick vignettes, I’d Like to Say Sorry, but There’s No One to Say Sorry To.

These are small oral historical past testimonies, soliloquies: from Jews, and those that is likely to be Jews, and those that just lately found that they have been Jews, and profitable enterprise individuals who resent being mistaken for Jews, and those that love the Jews, and those that respect the Jews (just like the teenage boy who collects and buries bone fragments from the world of the Warsaw Ghetto rebellion), and those that don’t just like the Jews, who persecuted Jews – and but echo the title: There isn’t any one is left to say “I’m sorry” to.

Take a stroll to the Jewish Quarter within the previous metropolis of Kazimierz. It’s 4 blocks lengthy. It’s concurrently candy, eerie, and cloying. It is sort of a Polish Jewish model of Williamsburg, Virginia — a Jewish theme park.

  • The Klezmer Home: most of its shoppers are non-Jews.
  • Two Jewish bookstores, with books about Judaism translated into Polish: its house owners and most of its shoppers are non-Jews.
  • An Israeli restaurant: its proprietor and diners are non-Jews.
  • Bus excursions to Auschwitz-Birkenau: the passengers on these buses are non-Jews.

When you are within the Jewish Quarter, go to the restored Remah Synagogue, constructed within the 1500s, which had been the non secular dwelling of the well-known Rabbi Moses Isserles. Take a look at the ark. Take a look at the attractive mantles of the Torah scrolls.

Look extra intently, and you’ll discover that there are not any scrolls within the ark in any respect. They’re merely painted photographs of Torah scrolls.

Then, take into consideration what meaning.

Is there nonetheless antisemitism in Poland? After all.

And but, discover me a European nation that lacks antisemitism. Britain? France? Hungary?  (Um, you do know that there was a sixty % rise in violent antisemitic assaults in america?).

Now, discover me a European society that’s as introspective about its previous as Poland; solely Germany can measure up in that regard.

(Essay query: Examine and distinction Poland’s relationship with its antisemitism, to america’ relationship with its racism.)

Right here is the excellent news.

You understand how the prophet Ezekiel envisioned a valley of dry bones, and requested: Can these bones reside?

Poland isn’t just a Jewish graveyard. It’s Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. And sure, these bones can reside.

The JCC in Krakow has a thousand members. Amongst its shoppers are the kids and grandchildren of Polish Jews who hid their identities. These are the kids and grandchildren of Polish Jews who wound up with false baptismal certificates, in an effort to save their lives.

Their heritage is there like misplaced baggage — ready to be reclaimed.

As Adam Michnik and Agnieszka Marczyk write within the introduction to the great assortment Against Antisemitism: An Anthology of Twentieth Century Polish Writings:

Even when the tombstones of Jewish graveyards flip to mud, if new generations rework the final remaining synagogues into live performance halls or artwork galleries, and the final European forgets {that a} quite a few Jewish individuals as soon as lived on the banks of the Vistula—ghosts of murdered Jews will hang-out our properties at evening.

As they need to.

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