A letter from a reader: Poles, Jews, and World War II

November 12, 2007:

I was disturbed by the implications and charges in Norman Ravitch *62's letter to the editor in the Oct. 19, 2005, issue of PAW. I was reluctant to respond in the event that my Jewish classmates would not fully understand my position on the matter. Inasmuch as no one else has responded, I feel I must.

First, I will address Professor Jan Gross' book on the Jedwabne incident. It lacks credibility. When he was delivering a lecture at New York University in February 2002, he was confronted during the question-and-answer period by Boleslaw Domitrz, an eyewitness to the incident who with two other boys saw only German Nazis in uniforms with machine guns and dogs performing the atrocity. The good professor was so stunned, he left the stage without replying.

As to Mr. Ravitch's charge condemning all Poles because they did not have the ability "to understand the martyrdom of others, particularly of the Jews who lived among them for at least 600 years": In the event he does not know, let us first explain why the Jews were in Poland for 600 years. Poland was a haven for Jews who were being expelled from other European countries (Germany did it twice in the years before World War II). Not only were they welcomed into Poland, but because of the concern of the rabbis about intermarriage with Christian Poles, they were allowed to install their own judicial system to reduce contact with Poles.

  His next paragraph reflects his abysmal lack of knowledge about the real situation in Poland during World War II. Poland was the only European country in which any person found assisting a Jew in any manner would be executed – and in many cases, with his entire family. Despite that, many did help, and this is well documented. I suggest Mr. Ravitch take the time to read the following: Did the Children Cry (Hitler's War against Jewish and Polish Children) by Richard C. Lukas, Forgotten Holocaust (The Poles Under German Occupation) by Richard Lukas, Zegota (The Council for Aid to Jews in Occupied Poland) by Irene Tomaszewski and Tecia Werbowski, and Your Life is Worth Mine (How Polish Nuns Saved Hundreds of Jewish Children in German-Occupied Poland) by Ewa Kurek.

  He might also try to learn about Irena Sendler, who as a Polish social worker smuggled 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto at the risk of her life and refused to disclose their whereabouts even after being tortured by the Gestapo. There is much more to her story if he cares to look into it. She is being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

  Lastly, I would like to shed some light on the possible reasons Mr. Ravitch's grandmother was forced from her home in Grodno in 1921. That was a very troubled time in Poland. After a century of occupation, the Poles were trying desperately to re-establish their country. Many treaties were being negotiated to determine Poland's post-war borders with their neighbors. Some who had lived under the occupiers may have developed a stronger bond to them than to the "new" government. Grodno was in the Russian-occupied zone. In addition, Russia attacked the new Poland to regain land that had been awarded to Poland. Poland successfully repelled the Russians. I in no way want to disparage his grandmother, but it is possible she was forced to leave because she favored the Russians over the Poles. If this is true, deportation is certainly preferable to execution.

I disagree with Mr. Ravitch. It is easy for me being Polish. I am proud of my Polish heritage.  

Highlands Ranch, Colo.

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