Most of us, when looking into the face of evil, tend to avert our gaze, and either pretend that evil is not there, or forget that it was there. A recently published book, “Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz” reminds us that mankind remains capable of unspeakable evil.
The book deals with virulent anti-Semitism, of the kind fatal to Jews, in post World War II Poland. Get that? Post WWII Poland. During the war, of course, Poland was Hitler’s willing little helper, enthusiastically participating in the attempted extermination of Jews. The end of the war did not put a stop to the hatred. From the editorial review at Amazon:
Fear relates, in compelling detail, how Poles from virtually all segments of society persecuted the poor, emaciated and traumatized Holocaust survivors. Those who did not actually participate in the persecution, e.g., Church leaders and Communist officials, refused to use their influence to stop the pogroms, massacres and plundering of the Jews.
Fear was also reviewed by no less a moral authority than Eli Wiesel in the Washington Post. Mr. Wiesel, however, does not believe that Poland qua Poland is to blame:
Does it follow that all of Poland was to blame? I do not believe in collective guilt. Only the guilty are guilty; their contemporaries are not. The children of killers are not killers but children. Today, a new generation will assume responsibility for its history. And yet there is this: The past lives on in the present, impossible to forget. Jan Gross forces Poland to confront that past. Just as he forces his readers.
“Only the guilty are guilty.” Well, that’s always a true statement. True, but how is it that a nation of alleged Christians could allow the widespread, and unhindered persecution of God’s chosen people?
This smacks of national guilt. I’m not a sociologist, or cultural anthropologist, but my common sense says that whenever a nation allows a pervasive evil to thrive it is because it, the nation, is itself evil. There is national guilt when the nation does not take steps to remedy such evil. As in Germany during the war. As in Poland during the war, and, apparently, afterward.
For those of us who are believers, the total depravity of many Poles is not a surprise. It is simply part of the human condition — we are all of us, Poles, Britons, Americans, you name it, members of a fallen species. Think “T” in “TULIP.”
Nations can change. Germany appears to have. Poland, in many ways, remains our ally in the world today. But this does not mean that they have admitted their sins of the past, and repented of them.