Time to Remember

By Alex Sternberg

The more obstinately Poland clings to the ridiculous new “don’t call it a Polish death camp” law, the more controversial it becomes.

Israel and Poland had some preliminary discussions about revisions to the law, but the Poles backed out. They want to sanitize, whitewash, and revise the history of the Holocaust and their part in it.

Jews in Israel and around the world will have none of it. Jews living in Poland are reporting an increase in anti-Semitic provocations from their gentile Polish neighbors. The Poles, it seems, are really angry that the Jews insist on telling the truth.

It reminds me when, years ago, my friends and I had some “interaction” with some neo-Nazis who were carrying signs saying “Hitler didn’t kill enough Jews.” We were trying to teach them the error of their ways, while some Jews told us that beating them up would simply make them more anti-Semitic.

What can make a neo-Nazi carrying such signs hate Jews more? For that matter, what can make Poland and Polish people more anti-Semitic?

We just read Parashat Zachor, which obligates us to remember what Amalek tried to do to us thousands of years ago. On Purim, we read Megillat Esther to remind us what Haman attempted to do to our people in Persia. Jews are obligated to remember.

Several days ago, Ronald Lauder, heir to the Estee Lauder fortune and the president of the WJC, placed a full-page ad in the New York Times urging Polish leaders to resume dialogue with Jewish representatives in an attempt to reconcile and resolve the issue of the new Polish law.

Lauder writes in his letter that 30 years ago, when he began to develop Jewish schools, synagogues, and summer camps in Poland, “there was close to zero Jewish presence in that country.”

Then, suddenly, the Soviet Union collapsed and the Iron Curtain crumbled, and “Jewish men and women came out in the open for the first time since the War … But now, this new law brings back some of the well-founded fears of Poland’s Jewish citizens.”

Yes, at the end of the war there were virtually no Jews left in Poland. That is because the Nazis, with tremendous help and cooperation from the virulently anti-Semitic Poles, murdered nearly the entire Jewish population of close to three million Polish Jews.

We all know — even the Poles cannot deny — that many Jews freshly liberated from Auschwitz and other camps, who returned to their previous homes in Poland, were set upon and murdered by the local population. They didn’t want to see any Jews in their land.

Remember the full-scale pogrom in Kielce? This occurred in 1946. There were no longer any Nazis to blame it on. Is remembering this also against the new Polish law?

“Some people on both sides of the argument have suggested that Jews should now leave Poland again.” Mr. Lauder says he is against this. He believes that “Jewish life should continue to grow in Poland.” After all, “Jewish citizens helped Poland for over 1,000 years.”

Mr. Lauder, just because we have a right to live anywhere, doesn’t mean we should live everywhere. Hitler wanted to make Europe Judenrein, free of Jews. The Poles, Hungarians, Romanians, Ukrainians, and Croats were willing partners in this enterprise with Hitler. Why go back to places where the local population hates you so much that they are willing to kill you? Isn’t it time for us to remember?

Why should we make contributions to the Polish economy again? Look at the economies of all the Euro-pean countries where Jews were murdered and expelled. How is that working out for you, Poland, Hungary, Croatia, and Romania?

Recently, I read a fantastic and thoughtful article published in a Spanish newspaper by Sebastian Vilar Rodriguez, titled “Who Really Died At Auschwitz?”

I would like to share parts of it with you. “I walked down the streets in Barcelona and suddenly discovered a terrible truth — Europe died in Auschwitz. We killed six million Jews and re-placed them with 20 million Muslims.

“In Auschwitz we burned a group of people who represented culture, thought, creativity, talent. We destroyed the Chosen People, truly chosen, because they produced great and wonderful people who made great contributions to the world, and thus changed the world.

“The contribution of today’s Jewish people is felt in all areas of life: science, art, international trade, and above all, as the conscience of the world. Look at any donors’ board at any symphony, art museum, theater, art gallery, science center, hospital, etc. You will see many Jewish surnames. These are the people who were burned. Of the 6,000,000 who died, how many would have grown up to be gifted musicians, doctors, artists, philanthropists?

“And under the pretense of tolerance, and because we wanted to prove to ourselves that we were cured of the diseases of racism and bigotry, Europe opened our gates to 20 million Muslims, who brought us stupidity and ignorance, religious extremism and lack of tolerance, crime and poverty, due to an unwillingness to work and support their families with pride.

“They have blown up our trains and turned our beautiful Spanish cities into the third world, drowning in fi lth and crime. Shut up in the apartments they receive free from the government, they plan the murder and destruction of their naive hosts.

“What a terrible mistake was made by miserable Europe!”

In the history of our people all throughout Europe, we repeat the same template. Kings and land barons invite us in to develop commerce, trade, and grow the economy. We prosper and our hosts prosper.

Then comes the Church that begins to agitate against us. The people are jealous of our success, and anti-Semitism is a crop planted in fertile soil. The king, who has borrowed heavily from Jewish money lenders, can’t or won’t pay back the loan.

What to do? Kill and expel the Jews from the realm! Is this not the Jewish history repeating itself all through Europe for centuries? And yet, we always did return. And history repeated itself again, as it must.

Should we repeat this again in Poland, in Hungary, and elsewhere? Is it not time to zachor — remember?

After liberation, my father and mother returned to Hungary. I wondered why. Speaking with my parents and other survivors, I learned that liberation was a very sad event for all the liberated. For the first time, after years of suffering, they realized or came to learn that all their loved ones perished.

During their time in the camps, time stood still. They could not focus on children, parents, brothers, and sisters from whom they were separated at the gates of Auschwitz. Only on survival. But after liberation, they were faced with the sad reality. They were the only ones left alive.

My parents did not know for sure, so they returned to Hungary to search. They were met with hostility by their former neighbors. Naturally, the property that these former friends stole was never returned. They lived in my parents’ house, cooked in their pots and pans, and ate from their dishes. Wore their clothes and their jewelry.

Of course, they hated the returning Jews! Will they demand their property back? Will I have to return it?

So now, after the present Polish or Hungarian generation no longer has any guilt about stolen property (they stole it fair and square), they want to erase any guilt about their complicity in the murder. Why return to such countries? What will change?

Remember, those who don’t learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it. Those countries where the Church has a heavy influence are the ones with the most entrenched anti-Semitic population.

As we know, Poland is a Catholic country. Let the Poles and others wallow in their self-created misery. Why should we help them? We certainly don’t owe them anything.

Mr. Lauder, we needn’t return to Poland. We have been there and it didn’t work out for us. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to remember.

Dr. Alex Sternberg authored the forthcoming book “Recipes from Auschwitz – My Parents’ Story of the Murder of Hungarian Jewry.” He is a lifelong student of Jewish history, focusing on the development of Zionism and the Holocaust. He teaches graduate studies and is active in several pro-Israel organizations. He is a retired research doctor in children’s pulmonary health and a master karate instructor.

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