Monday, October 27, 2008

Life in a Jar - Airdate - 10/27 - 4 p.m. (ET)

Update - 10/27/08: This show has aired. You can download the MP3 from our archive. Let us know what you think!

Maria Putzer

If it had not been for three high school girls in Kansas, we might never have known about the work of Irena Sendler, an unsung heroine of the Holocaust. A Polish Catholic social worker, she saved about 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto. Today on Here on Earth, we'll talk with Sendler's translator Kinga Krzeminska and Megan Felt, a member of the 1999 class that started the Life in a Jar Project. Please call in (1-800-642-1234) from 3 to 4 pm CST to give us your thoughts or leave us a comment here!


Patrick said...


This comment is a repost from my entry on Jean's blog regarding the show. I feel so strongly about the issue that I decided to post it again!

I’m so glad to learn your Monday show. Sendler is a Polish jewel. I hope through her deeds your listeners will gain a more objective view of anti-Semitism in Poland. Unfortunately it seems to me that Polish-Jewish relations have been misrepresented in the US. Before I say anything else I do acknowledge that anti-Semitism did and does exist in Poland. However, today does not compare to Poland’s past history. I also believe that Polish-Jewish relations in the US have been actively misrepresented by some Jewish-American organizations for their own political interest.

I have lived both in the US and Poland (in both countries for over five years) and have several good Jewish friends in Poland and America. During the past two years Polish-Jewish issues have interested me immensely. I have spoken to Jews and Poles in the US and Poland about this issue at length and read more about it through nonfiction and Polish-Jewish literature.

In order to explain my view I want to draw your attention to my recent study abroad experience in Warsaw:

One thing I became very aware of during my recent sojourn in Poland is the general hate toward Poland by some American Jews. I don’t know the exact figure – what is more important is the influence this has had in the US regarding Polish anti-Semitism, especially the image American Jews have about Poland. This animosity is also present EVEN in some of the new generation of American Jews, even as the new generation of Poles (me included) are driving a renaissance of Jewish culture in Poland. I noticed
this myself in especially in two American Jewish studying with me in Warsaw. Even though one of them made a lot of Polish friends - he had a strong indoctrinated view of Poland and of the Holocaust. In sum – that Poles are generally anti-Semitic and that the noun Holocaust is only reserved for Jewish extermination. Why? Why do many American Jew loathe Poland, even some in its new generation?
Why should it be that only Jews claim the term holocaust (what about the millions killed in the Russian Gulags, what about Native Americans massacred by the colonists and US government policy?)?

There are many theories. One theory expressed by Norman Finkelstein's (of Polish-Jewish descent) in "The Holocaust Industry" argues that some American Jewish elite organize around victimization- that the world is anti-Semitic and that the Holocaust is unique to Jewish suffering. He also points out that Poland is (at the time of writing, 2001?) one of the few or only European and democratic countries that had not paid reparations for confiscated land and other damages (keep in mind that it was the Polish Communist Gov't that did this - a proxy of the Russians). Basically, Finkelstein argues that some American Jewish elite/organizations inappropriately use the holocaust to expropriate money, and in many cases a lot more than is justified. In the end, Finkelstein states, the true Jewish victims see very little from these reparations.

I believe the situation is more complicated. I think it is reasonable for people who directly suffered from anti-Semitism to feel victimized. Yes, many Jews fled Poland because of pogroms in certain
areas and at certain times and this is unacceptable. Throughout Poland's past, some and many
Poles were anti-Semitic. The history is very long with ups and downs. Most of the post-war generation is unfortunately very ignorant of Jews (this has fueled unfounded prejudice, but that's different than racism and true anti-Semitisim) and this was promoted by the communist government, especially in the 60’s in a power struggle. For better, today true anti-Semitism is limited to a sad marginal portion of Polish society.

The Germans (not simply Nazis!) carried out most of the Holocaust on Polish land because of its central European location. So why is it that I notice Poland being singled out more so than Germany for anti-Semitism in general? I think it’s because Poland is purposely and sometimes unintentionally associated with anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

Here is another reason why Poland has a bad association with anti-Semitism. Do you know what happens today? Many Jews and Gentiles travel to Poland for the "March of the Living", a walk to the city of Auschwitz were one of the infamous German concentration camps was located (I stress German again because several years ago a Canadian newspaper headlined the 50th commemoration of the Holocaust by running a title with the words “Polish Concentration Camp”. Moreover, these were not Nazi’s but many Germans involved in the bureaucracy of extermination, just as some Poles were involved in Pogroms).

Specifically, these visiting Jews spend a week visiting German concentration camps and then many
immediately fly out to Israel. Basically, these Jews visit a country which was chosen for its central location by the Nazi Germans to kill their forefathers. My sense is that that is all they see and learn. You can imagine the connotation that stays with them – Poland is a land of Jewish death. Add in the perceived anti-Semitism and it creates a horrifying mix. By the end of the week when you can’t take it anymore you are “saved” by flying out to Israel. BUT- Why don't they also visit the rest of Poland? I wish there were more significant exchanges among Jewish and Poles.

It is evident that with democracy and freedom Poles are able to rediscover their true past history. Censorship is no more. Poland, a country that was once inhabited by millions of Jewish, is now a country were the youth is rediscovering and celebrating the Jewish past. Yes, curiosity has spun a revival of Jewish culture by young Poles!

One final thing that comes to mind - Poland was the only country that Germans would kill a person for hiding a Jew. Sometimes whole Polish families were killed as a consequence for hiding a Jew. Sometimes even a whole apartment block. I mention this because sometimes Poles did not hid Jews. However, sometimes it was because the Pole was really an anti-Semite. However, sometimes did save a Jew by hiding him or her.

I'm really glad you'll be airing this show. Recently my mom met a Jewish lady in who visited Poland and is very interested in Polish culture. They are quickly becoming friends. This is more of the
kind of exchange needed (like the Jews and Palestine’s in Michigan regarding your recent show).

I hope more American Jews decide to visit Poland, and not just the concentration camps. You’ll get a different sense for the country – and hopefully a better one.

Anyway, the reason I mention all of this is that Poland has received too much negative coverage in the US regarding its Jewish history. I think it's very important to expose everything, but in proportion.

I look forward other listeners’ comments and especially hope a few fellow listeners respond to these observations.


Jean Feraca said...

Hi Patrick, Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I do see your point, but I also believe that the best defense is the truth - i.e. that there is a whole spectrum of responses to consider, as Kinga explained it - on the one side, anti-semites who hated Jews, on the other, Poles who risked their lives to save them, and in the middle, those who did nothing.

I learned about Polish anti-semitism from my husband who is Jewish. He has a Jewish friend who, when the story of Neighbors was published, denied it outright. That's the kind of impasse that gets us nowhere. The truth must be acknowledged first before there can be any reconciliation.