National guilt?

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.


One comment

  1. Anonymous · · Reply

    As you said, you are not a sociologist. Nor are you a historian. Terming Poles as the “little helpers” of Germans is inaccurate. WWII did not leave Jews as its only victims, and collusion between Nazis and Poles was as widespread as collusion between Jews and Nazis. Surprised that I say that – that’s not a shock, the public media in the US do not give it much attention. Same with the fact that Jewish survivors set up concentration camps for germans fleeing the Soviet occupied territories. As you said, people are able to become depraved, and five years of war, witnessing 1/3 of Poland’s population (of 32+M prewar) and 90% of its Jewish population gone makes people do odd things. However Poles, living under threat of autmoatic death (a law imosed by Nazis only in Poland) for themselves, their families and oftentimes whole villages, still hold more places among Yad Vashem’s righteous than any other group. If you would like to become educated on what Poland is truly like, vs. spouting inane prose on subjects with which you are totally unfamiliar (like failing to understand the fact that there was a civil war in POSTWAR Poland after WWII, and 25-50k people died in total, 700 of which were Jewish, meaning same casualty rate among Jews as Poles in postwar Poland, per Jewish historians)try looking up what Jewish figures actually living in Poland today, such as Schudrich and Michnik, have to say about it. Poland is not free of antiSemitism, like no country is free of racism, but lets remember that there is a reason Jews settled there for 500+ years and built the largest Jewish community in Europe under Polish protection. Poles mark the Kielce anniversary every year, set up gov’t commissions with each new charge of wartime crimes, and provide much of the documentation and research for scholars (gross included) to study what understand happened. It is a nation which admits sins of the past (remember President apologizing for Jedwabne, and every year commemorating pogrom in Kielce?), but not a nation that will have its good name and history revised by scholars pandering to a select group of academics in the US. Read some of Gross’s earlier work – when he was a real academic.

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