Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk




In July of 2000 the Polish historian Jan Tomasz Gross published a book called Neighbors. The contents of this book are in no sense surprising to the Jewish community since the author describes one of the many mass murders committed by the Polish population against its Jewish neighbors. This and other documents prove in detail the Polish complicity in the Holocaust and in the brutal persecution of Jews in Poland for centuries before and after that German instigated nightmare.

All of this is recorded in detail in a book by Celia S. Heller called On the Edge of Destruction in which the author summarized the treatment of the Jewish minority by the Christian majority in Poland by writing that the Jews in Poland were treated “like the blacks in Mississippi before the civil rights movement.”

While all this has been confirmed again and again by the Jewish survivors of Polish atrocities, the current debate concerning the book by Gross concerns his description of the mass murder of 1,600 Jews in the village of Jedwabne in Poland on July 10, 1941. On that day a Polish mob forced all of the Jews of that village into a barn and set the barn on fire after pouring kerosene over the barn. The corpses of the dead Jews were then robbed of their rings while the gold fillings in the teeth of the dead Jews were removed for additional profit. The Poles then seized all of the Jewish property including the homes of the slaughtered Jews. The Poles live in these homes with impunity to this day.

All this is described in the book Neighbors by Gross. Polish reaction to this book today has been, in the main, critical and denunciatory. The so-called Professor Bender of the University of Lublin pretended in an interview with a local newspaper that Gross engages in “anti-Polish” falsehoods and that the book is “sensationalist” and “superficial”. Others called the book a series of “horror stories”. The Polish “primate” or highest placed Polish priest or Cardinal, Joseph Glemp, admitted the massacre but said he was opposed to the Polish nation accepting responsibility for it. Others blamed the Germans for these mass killings although the Germans, in this instance, did not do that massacre. Nevertheless, the German invaders did authorize Poles to murder Jews at will, a permission which the Poles followed most assiduously.

It is of course true that the German government, and not the Poles, set up the murder camps in Poland. It is however also true that the vast majority of Poles were more than happy to participate in these killings despite the fact that some Poles saved the lives of some Jews.

In fact, the Germans treated the Poles most brutally but compensated the Poles for this brutal treatment by allowing them to murder and rob Jews at will.

Lest it is believed that the slaughter of Polish Jews at Jedwabne was an isolated incident, it needs to be recalled that similar horrors were perpetrated by Poles on their Jewish fellow citizens in numerous other places. Most notorious among these killings was the mass murder of the Jewish population in Kielce on July 4, 1946, long after Germany had been defeated and there were no more German military on Polish soil. There can be no doubt that the Kielce slaughter was entirely a Polish undertaking.

The excuse for the slaughter of over 40 death camp survivors was the pretense that Jews were murdering Polish children in Jewish homes. The old “ritual murder” accusation was recently revived by the same Saudi government which pretends to seek peace with Israel. That accusation is of course an insidious banality which needs neither comment nor refutation.

Participants in these murders were units of the Polish police and army. Those who did this also organized murders of Jews in Rzeszow in 1945 and in numerous other Polish towns and cities. Therefore, the few Jews who had returned to Poland after the German carnage also left that land of hate and bigotry so that there are hardly any Jews in Poland today. Remember that before September 1939 Poland was home to 3,300,000 Jews. Only a few thousand survive now.

The Polish clergy too applauded the slaughter of Jews. Priests incited their parishioners to attack Jews and praised the German invaders for their killing of Jews, which they called “a good job.”

The Polish home army killed innumerable Jews. Instead of fighting the German invaders that “army” spent almost all its time hunting and killing Jews who had escaped the German organized “ghettos” (The word ghetto is derived from the Italian word for an iron foundry where Jews had to live in medieval Venice. It may also have been derived from the Hebrew word “get”, meaning a divorce or separation.).

Because the Germans offered food to the Poles for hunting Jews and delivering Jews to the Nazi killing machine, many Poles took advantage of that offer and fed themselves by collecting rewards from the Nazi invaders after capturing one or more of their Jewish fellow citizens and turning them over to the Gestapo (abbreviation for Geheime Staats Polizei or secret state police). Therefore, Poles organized “Jew hunts” which they justified by claiming that “the Jews tormented Christ.” How someone living in 1941 can torment someone living over 1900 years earlier was not explained.

Poles also enjoyed the spectacle of seeing Jews jumping from the burning buildings in the Warsaw ghetto during the assault on that enclave by the Nazi killers in 1942. Particularly popular was the sight of a Jewish mother or father jumping to his death with a child in his arms. The Poles applauded such sights vigorously.


There are of course some signs that some Poles will yet make an effort to join the ethics of Western morality and renounce their long history of hate and violence against the children of Israel.

First, there is the Polish born Pope, Karol Wojtyla or John Paul II. Born in Krakow, he was a young seminarian during the Nazi occupation of his homeland. There can be no doubt that he then and there helped Jewish families survive and that he did all he could to live by those Christian ethics which he sought to teach others. During his papacy John Paul II has made a considerable effort to eradicate the age-old anti Jewish bigotry once taught by his church. His Declaration of Prague, his visit to the synagogue in Rome, his visit to Israel, his repeated denunciation of anti-Judaism (do not use “anti-semitism” as we are not Semites) and his public sorrow at the Holocaust all indicate that there are of course Poles who have nothing to do with the common hatreds of the average Polish citizen.

Two examples of the willingness of the present Polish pope, John Paul II, to extend love and friendship to the Jewish people are his “Request for Forgiveness” on December 1999 and the earlier declaration called Nostra Aetate. The “Request for Forgiveness” says, among other things, that: “…the Jews are out dearly beloved brothers,” that “the Church draws sustenance” from the Jews and that repentance is necessary. The text uses the Hebrew word “teshuva” and calls on Christians to “keep a moral and religious memory of the injury inflicted on the Jews.” The second example is the papal declaration Nostra Aetate (in our day) which denounces bigotry against Jews and reminds the followers of the Polish pope that the church came from the Jews.

On the 10th of July of last year, 100 Polish Catholic bishops apologized to the Jews for the Jedwabne massacre.

The president of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, eager to have his country admitted to the European Union, “asked forgiveness on behalf of his country for crimes committed by the Polish people against the Jews during the Holocaust.”

In sum, there is an effort on the part of some Poles to recognize the horrors inflicted on our Polish parents, grandparents and ancestors by the Polish population of a bygone day. Such recognition in of course welcome. It cannot of course restore to lives the 3 million Polish Jews murdered there between 1939 and 1945.

However, it is possible that those who are truly sorry for theses crimes will do the one thing that an honest Baal Teshuvah can do. Support Israel now. Those who claim they are sorry for the blood they shed have one more opportunity to redeem themselves. Support Israel now. That is their only chance before they disappear from history as had the Phoenicians and the Philistines, the Spanish Inquisitors and the Nazi hierarchy.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Stigma:  How We Treat Outsiders.

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