The unfortunate and avoidable dispute about legislation in Poland that would make it a crime for people to blame Poland for what Nazi Germany did there in the Holocaust has been largely focused on broad public policy. What did Germany do? How did Poland respond? How did the Polish people individually respond?
Maybe it's time to consider the matter in much more personal terms, as my co-author Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn and I tried to do in our book, They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust. (Last week we wrote this Kansas City Star online column about this disputed legislation.)
This article in The Forward does just that -- that is, approaches the story from the perspective of individual Jews and their families.
It describes how "the National Library of Israel announced that it had received an astonishing donation that proved just how much everyday Poles knew about what was happening" as the Holocaust was occurring, much of it on Polish soil.
What was the donation? Envelopes. Envelopes that, the story says, were "mailed between September 1940 and May 1941 from the central office of a Jewish aid society in Krakow to branches of the Jewish aid society located throughout Poland.
"The envelopes were returned to the sender, and all were marked with statements in Polish — written by hand by the mailmen—indicating exactly what happened to Poland’s Jews.
"Statements on the letters include:
“'The Jews were expelled.'
“'The Jewish society no longer exists.'
"If the mail carriers knew, and the Polish mail service knew, well, then, so did plenty of regular Poles."
There is, of course, no question that many Poles understood what was happening to their Jewish neighbors and that many of them collaborated with the Nazis or, at least, cheered them on. Our book tells the rare stories of some non-Jews who risked their lives to save some of those Jews. And Poland can be proud that there were several thousand such rescuers in a country in which the penalty for helping Jews was usually death.
It's fine to debate policy issues. But it's something else to see those policies in human terms -- like real envelopes that never reached their Jewish destinations because the recipients had fallen victim to the Germans' genocide.
Poland's foreign minister says the bill is being misunderstood. No, it's not. The reality is that its critics understand it well. It's an effort to relieve Poland of its own guilt of having a long history of antisemitism and of knowing that many Poles cheered on the Nazis.
Sometimes guilt is a good thing, such as when it reflects actions for which the perpetrator should feel guilty. The Poles should not feel responsible for what the Germans did in Poland in World War II. That's true. But they should feel some remorse and guilt about Polish citizens who cheered them on and aided them.
(The photo here today is one I took from a Jewish cemetery in a small Polish village. It sits across the street from a Catholic cemetery.)
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CAN THE TERM 'EVANGELICAL' BE SAVED?
In the age of Trump, does the Christian term "evangelical" still have any religious meaning? Jonathan Merritt of RNS wrestles with that question in this piece. It's well worth asking, given that Trump got about 80 percent of the vote of white evangelicals even though his life is a stark refutation of almost everything evangelicals stand for.