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Chodakiewicz: People’s past has to be reviewed critically on individual basis

Piotr Zychowicz 11-01-2008, ostatnia aktualizacja 31-01-2008 14:03

Another scientist working across the Atlantic ocean, historian Marek Chodakiewicz does not agree with the theses of Professor Jan T. Gross. His book titled “Po Zagładzie” (After the Holocaust) also appeared recently in Polish bookshops

Rz: What is your disagreement with Professor Gross?

Marek Chodakiewicz, a historian: I agree with him that anti-Semitism was ubiquitous. But it was universal not only in Poland, but all over the world. Only in 1960s when the cultural paradigm was redefined, a more favorable attitude arose toward minorities.

Does the fact that back in those days in Europe there was anti-Semitic public feeling, justifies the fact that after WWII, as Professor Gross put it, we would murder our Jewish neighbors?

We murdered? I did not participate in that. We should ask Professor Gross to avoid collectivistic generalizations. I assume that an individual has a free will. And if the individual has a free will that implies that I can be a murderer or an angel or someone in between. And only I bear responsibility for that.

Let me invoke a shocking example. Would Professor Gross state that the Jews murdered themselves on the basis of undeniable fact that quarter of a million inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto were assembled and delivered to Umschlagplatz by the Jewish police? Does it imply that the Jews exterminated other Jews? This would be a kind of madness. People’s past has to be reviewed critically on an individual basis. Based upon the sources at our disposal it is not possible to put forward and defend a scientific hypothesis as Gross did, namely that Polish Roman Catholics continued the Holocaust because of their savage anti-Semitism. There were people who murdered Jews due to savage anti-Semitism, but there were others who did that because a Jew had a nice pair of shoes. How would you classify that?

As a robbery. But don’t you think that these two things could go together?

Certainly I do not rule out that the bandit could be also an anti-Semite. But under those circumstances it did not matter. When you are a fan of the Polonia Football Club and you have negative opinion about the fans of the Legia Football Club then it does not mean that you are bound to set up a team immediately to murder all Legia fans. You can shout something at them, throw a stone, but you will not kill them. You can share a negative stereotype that all Afro-Americans are potential rapists of white women. But does it imply that you are obligated to hang them immediately on the trees? Cultural stereotypes have always been with us. But they are not the factors determining mass murder. The same was true about a belief that the Jews kill children to make matzos. This belief existed for hundreds of years, but before the arrival of the national socialists with their neopagan, „scientific” anti-Semitism, there was no murdering [of Jews] in Poland for that reason.

However, in the city of Kielce people killed Jews, without following the teachings of Darwin or „Mein Kampf,” but on the grounds of a rumor that the Jews kidnapped a Christian boy.

This was a pretext. Before WWII neither the National Democratic Party, nor any other party that invoked anti-Jewish sentiments mentioned matzo and blood. Rather, this belief functioned at the folk level. Once I researched folklore in central Poland before and during WWII. At that time, for example, common folk believed that when the moon turned red that it meant that a fratricide lived there. Or if a woman with messy hair went by a cow, then one had to throw stones at her, otherwise milk may turn sour in the cow’s udder. And certainly another belief was that the Jews killed children to make matzos, whereas the Gypsies caught children in big bags. All such beliefs have to be assessed against the background of the strange folklore that the poor, uneducated people used to explain the outside world to themselves.

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