This issue contains papers given at the second Polish-Jewish dialogue held at Houston's Holocaust Museum on 29 March 1998. We return to the issue of Polish-Jewish relations with much anguish but also with gratitude. Gratitude to the Houston Holocaust Museum for allowing us to speak freely about issues that are of concern to us. We are keenly aware of the fact that the agenda for the Polish-Jewish dialogue cannot be shrunk down to the issue of anti-Semitism. Poland was not a country with a tiny percentage of Jews, like Holland or Denmark or Bulgaria. The number of Jews in Poland was larger than in all the countries of Europe taken together, excluding the USSR. The percentage of Jews in the Polish population was 10-11 percent: by comparison, the American Jews constitute two percent of the United States population. Under such circumstances, the Jewish population of Poland had an effect on political, economic, social, psychological and religious issues in ways that simply cannot be compared to the situation in England or Sweden or Denmark or Holland or Bulgaria. Given the fact that until World War I, Poland was itself colonized and dominated by hostile empires, the history of Polish-Jewish relations assumes aspects that have not yet been articulated or addressed. The issues were further complicated by Jewish non-assimilation. What in the sixteenth century was a sign of progress and confidence in the multi-national Polish ResPublica, the Jewish separateness, under conditions of foreign domination in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries became a drawback for Poles and Jews alike. While a certain percentage of Jews did assimilate and entered the mainstream of Polish culture (Dr. Abraham Peck mentioned some in his paper, and so did your Editor), the majority stood apart. Polish political attitudes, conditioned by generations of equating Polishness with Catholicism, did not help either. Poles did not regard all Jews as Poles, only the assimilated ones. The unassimilated Jews did not feel loyalty to Polish aspirations to sovereignty or to the Second Polish Republic. These are issues that call for further investigation. In conditions of economic backwardness and political insecurity, a large unassimilated minority was virtually certain to arouse hostility and to respond in kind. The secularism of some Jews and Roman Catholicism of the large majority of Poles were bound to arouse mutual suspicion as bread was scarce and foreign armies all too visible. The Soviet conquest and exacerbation of ethnic animosities which ensued brought the final parting of ways. In the meantime, World War II, the Holocaust and the unprecedented destruction of the Polish Catholic population and statehood by Nazis and Soviets had to be coped with. To explain these intensely tangled relations just by invoking the cliché of anti-Semitism is like saying that winter is caused by falling snow.
The two review essays by Professors Cienciala and Wilczek deal with two books which differ widely in quality. Professor Stokes' collection of essays wins hands down over Pollard's. An old adage says that those who lose are always in the wrong; but even so, similarities between the successful acquisition of liberties by English and Polish nobility are striking, as Professor Cienciala points out. The powers-that-be in Europe cultivated the image of Poland as a kingdom of darkness for reasons that had much to do with their greed for Polish lands. As Professor Wilczek shows in his review, Alfred Rambaud's History of Russia (derived partly from Russian historiography) was one of the sources for the extremely biased assessment of Polish religious debates in A.F. Pollard's book on Jesuits in Poland. As one traces back numerous inaccuracies and falsifications concerning Poland in this book and in others, one realizes that they have moved from book to book, and with each move they acquired more credibility and prestige, until a virtually impenetrable body of discourse was created which is now the task of postcolonialist scholars to penetrate.
Last but not least, Judith Olsak-Glass' review of Tadeusz Piotrowski's Poland's Holocaust is worth noting. This magisterial book brings together a great deal of material that otherwise would have had little chance to be noticed by English-language scholars.
Our cover page features Leopold Tyrmand (1920-1985) whose book, Tu w Ameryce, czyli dobre rady dla Polakow, inspired The Sarmatian Review. Photo courtesy of the Rockford Institute.
Back to the January 1999 issue
The Sarmatian Review
Last updated 2/1/99