In this issue, we approach the much-understudied subject of Polish-Jewish relations. Many untruths have routinely been taken for granted concerning these relations, and it may be painful for some readers to be reminded of these untruths by this issue. Nevertheless, the topic is timely, and an opportunity presented itself to explore the subject. Here is how it happened.
In Fall 1997, Dr. Abraham J. Peck, Executive Director of the Holocaust Museum Houston, invited representatives of Houston's Polish community to join the Steering Committee at the HMH in preparing an art exhibit by Jan M. Komski, a Polish Catholic artist and Auschwitz survivor. The Exhibit opened January 22, 1998, and it was followed by two Polish-Jewish discussions, on March 1 and March 29. In this issue, we publish an interview with Jan Komski and three presentations delivered on March 1. The HMH Director was the moderator; the Polish side was represented by the Sarmatian Review editor, and the Jewish side, by a specialist in Catholic-Jewish relations, Professor Michael Wyschogrod. It should be added that the HMH has positioned the Polish-Jewish dialogue within the context of Catholic-Jewish relations, as indicated by the choice of the spokesperson for the Jewish side, and by the fact that the Most Rev. Joseph A. Fiorenza, Bishop of Galveston-Houston, moderated the March 29 discussion.
We are happy to have had an opportunity to interview Jan Komski, one of the very few Polish Catholic Auschwitz survivors still alive. Since 1949, Komski has lived in the United States, while most of the Polish Catholic victims of Nazi concentration camps had their lives cut short by the appalling living conditions in Soviet-occupied Poland in the 1940s, '50's, 60's, '70s.... By 1980, they were largely dead. How many millions of Polish lives were significantly shortened or otherwise damaged or destroyed under "Stalin's Polish puppets," as Teresa Toranska called them in her book "Them" (Harper & Row 1987)? The interview in that book with Jakub Berman, Stalin's appointee in Poland in the 1940s and '50s, is a 'must read' for anyone who wants to acquire a rudimentary knowledge of what life was like for a crushing majority of Poles in Soviet-occupied Poland, and what interpretations of the situation were likely to follow. It is in the context of a continuation of terror (this time the terror coming not from the Nazis or directly from the Soviets, but from the Soviet-imposed government and security forces) that the events of 1945, 1946 and of subsequent years have to be viewed.
The three papers that follow are verbatim copies of what was said at the March 1 meeting. We emphasize that our goal is to present to our readers the real state of Polish-Jewish relations, and not some Pollyannish pap that is sometimes advanced by perhaps well-meaning people who believe that incantations and formulae can advance a dialogue. The Polish-Jewish dispute is a genuine intellectual and philosophical dispute, and it touches upon perceptions, principles of interpretation, attitude to facts and the realities of political influence.
One can, of course, hide one's head in the sand and say, I am not interested in all this, this is spinach and I do not like spinach. But the Sarmatian Review principle has always been that we gain dignity as human beings only by facing difficult issues and giving of ourselves to these issues, so that we make some impact for the good in our otherwise unredeemable existence.
We express our gratitude to Bishop Fiorenza for his sponsorship of the Polish-Jewish encounter. We are grateful to Dr. Peck and to the Curator of the HMH, Ms. Ellen Rosenbush Methner, for inviting us to attempt this dialogue. It was the Museum that paid for Mr. Komski's exhibit and publicity, and the cost of such a massive undertaking runs into tens of thousands of dollars. We express our gratitude for that also. The Polish community has to understand that unless it provides comparable funding for scholarly books, journals and other means of disseminating information in society, its chances of having its story told remain slim.
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