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The Jews & the Poles

December 27, 1987

I completely understand how Connie Haskell feels about Zubin Mehta's remarks about how the Poles treated the Jews during World War II (Calendar Letters, Dec. 20). It is quite natural for anyone to have such feelings when one's people are criticized.

What happened in Poland can only be understood if one is familiar with the brief history of pre-WWII Poland. I was born in Poland, I am Jewish, I was liberated from the Nazi death camp Dachau by the American Army. Many members of my family did not survive.

In pre-war Poland there was no government sponsored anti-semitism; however, the mentality of Hitler and Goebbels was evident everywhere. When Nazi Germany invaded Poland it found a fertile ground for the mass murder of defenseless Jews.

Living as Jews in pre-war Poland was horrifying in many ways. There were quotas on Jewish students at the universities, anti-semitic slogans painted on the walls and Polish newspapers misrepresented Jewish people in caricatures.

I remember how some misguided Poles in my neighborhood openly were jubilant and hopeful that the Nazis would solve their Jewish problem. I remember how Polish youth were pointing out Jews to the Nazi police, and how Polish police armed by the Nazis were rounding-up Jews for deportation to the death camps.

I absolutely agree with Haskell that the Polish people suffered greatly under the Nazi occupation and that there was a death penalty for any Pole giving aid to a Jewish person. I can not agree with her that many Poles helped Jews. The fact is that a very few Jews received any kind of aid and in most instances it was motivated by a financial reward.

Soon after the war I returned to Poland to see if any members of my family survived. I never expected to see Jews terrorized in Poland again. I soon found out that the few Holocaust survivors were greeted in Poland with death threats and pogroms.

In May, 1946, four young Jewish men and one woman, survivors of the Holocaust, were murdered by local Polish people after their return to their hometown, and their bodies were dropped at the roadside.

The Jewish people in the city of Krakow arranged a public funeral. We carried the five young bodies through the streets hoping for the world to see what was happening in the post-war Poland.

A few weeks later, in June, 1946, in the city of Kielce, 43 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust were attacked and murdered by the local Polish people. I decided to get out of Poland. I returned to West Germany and, strange as it may sound, post-war Germany was safe for the Jews to live in, but Poland was not.

I take my hat off to all those Polish men and women (no matter how few they numbered) who helped the Jews during the war. They are the heroes and giants within the human race.

But I also wonder if those individuals that Haskell questioned during her visit to Poland ever told her what was really happening there.



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