Polish Complicity in the Shoah

There is currently a controversy raging over the degree of Polish complicity in the Shoah, the Holocaust of European Jews during WWII.   This was initiated by the passage of a law going through the Polish Parliament and supported by the Government of the ruling nationalist Law and Justice Party.  The Law seeks to absolve Poland from any official guilt in the murder of its Jewish citizens and to ensure that the many concentration camps that operated on Polish soil will not be termed “Polish Concentration Camps” but rather “Nazi or German Concentration Camps in Poland.”  The difference may be subtle but is important to Poles.

It is true that as a nation the Poles fought the Nazi Germans and that their Army was decimated at the beginning of WWII.  Subsequently Poland was divided and to a large extent opposed Nazi rule.  Polish President Andrzej Duda stated “there was no systematic support from the Polish side for the Holocaust.”  However, the Germans located most of the major camps, including the death camps, Auschwitz, Sobibor, Treblinka and many others in Poland for two reasons.  Poland had the largest Jewish population in Europe, over 3 million Jews, and also the Poles were renowned for their anti-Semitism.  Many pogroms had taken place in Poland from the Middle Ages through to WWI and therefore the Germans could be confidant that the local population would cooperate in the murder of its Jewish neighbors.  Of course, the Poles were only marginally more anti-Semitic than their neighbors, the Ukrainians, the Lithuanians and Hungarians and others. One might ask why, if these peoples were so virulently Jew-hating, why so many Jews continued to live there for so long?

I happen to be in a good position to have seen both sides of this argument.  I had a friend in London who died a few years ago named Jerzy Lando, who wrote a book called “Saved by my Face,” obviously his blond hair and blue eyes saved him.  He described how many Polish people helped him, how he was an officer in the Polish Home Army and fought in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 and how he managed to survive.  However, this is somewhat deceptive, because his father was a wealthy fabric manufacturer who had many Polish friends and who paid  them to hide and feed his son.  Also, when he was ordered to fight for the Home Army he carefully disguised the fact that he was Jewish, in case his fellow Poles murdered him.  Nevertheless, he was an active member of the British-Polish Friendship League.

I also have a friend, Eddie Bielawski, with whom I published a book entitled “Invisible Jews: Surviving the Holocaust in Poland,” which describes how his father and his brothers managed to hide a family of ten people for 3 years in order to survive the War.  During this time they were very clever and also lucky to be able to avoid being turned in and/or murdered by the vast majority of hostile anti-Semitic Poles.

The fact remains that over 3 million Jews lived in Poland before the War, and barely 50,000 survived until its end.  This terrible program of murder and destruction of Jewish men, women and children by the Germans could not have been accomplished without active and enthusiastic Polish participation.  That there were numerous massacres of defenceless Jews by Poles during and after WWII is an established fact.


New Appointment

Dear readers, I have been appointed a Visiting Professor for three years at the Chemistry Department of Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva.  I received the treasured yellow parking sticker that enables me to park anywhere on campus.  I will be pursuing research into the synthesis of chemically modified analogs of DNA in collaboration with a young member of the staff, Barak Akabeyov.  In addition, I will be helping him and others with writing grants and papers in English.  This will involve me in spending some time on the campus, which is about 10 mins drive from where we live.  I am telling you this because it might affect the time I have to write blog articles and might reduce my output.

I have been writing this blog, IsBlog, since about 2000, that is an amazing 18 years, with an almost daily posting (excluding Shabbat) since about 2013.  In fact I have posted 3,467 articles, amounting to ca. 1.6 million words.  I have already published a collection of my humorous and diy articles in a book entitled “Humorous Husbandry” that is available on Amazon.com.   One day I would like to publish a selection of my articles about Israel and the Middle East, but time so far does not permit that.  I originally said I would continue writing these articles until there is peace between Israel and the Arabs, but that may take forever.

In fact, I have now been a Visiting Professor at all three top Universities in Israel, Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and now Ben Gurion University.  I wonder how many people have had that distinction.  Also, I am now approaching the age of 80 years old (anyone who would like to see my abbreviated scientific cv can go to: http://jackcohenart.com/Scientific.html ).  I must say that when I started out as a young post-doctoral fellow at the Weizmann Institute in Israel in 1964 I never expected that I would still be engaged in active research at this advanced age.  One never knows what adventures lie ahead.

Primitive Islamic Societies

I noticed an item in the media that two female volunteers were tortured and murdered in Pakistan because they were administering polio vaccinations to children.  The report said that the Taliban stated that it was “unislamic” to vaccinate children.  A few months ago a Ghanaian doctor at a hospital in Karachi was shot dead for similar reasons.

In Afghanistan, apart from attacks on health workers, women are unable to run any form of business without threats by the Taliban and need constant bodyguards.  One older lady who ran a bakery in Kunduz that employed only women, swore that she would not give in, but soon was forced to flee.  Now men work in the bakery and keep guard on it too.   You might think that because the Taliban no longer control Kunduz or Afghanistan that this is only a problem of the extremists, but interviews with men on the street (women are fully covered in burkas and cannot talk to strange people) showed that most of them agree that according to the Koran women should not be allowed to run businesses.  Note also that in Afghanistan, after the supposed defeat of the Taliban, schools for girls are regularly fire bombed and female teachers are regularly murdered.

This is not only a problem for those supposedly backward societies, but these kind of attitudes permeate all Muslim societies, with only a few allowing “westernization” or “modernization.”  Saudi Arabian schools and universities are completely gender segregated, with only teachers of the same gender allowed, or they can teach via remote media.  Even in supposedly secular societies, such as Turkey, the current trend is back to Islam rather than accept foreign western influences.  I am always amused by the TV ads for Doha and Dubai that show them as so modern, yet away from the cameras the same restrictions on women apply.  It is a traditional part of Islamic culture to keep women in their place, under control.  They are about 100 years at least behind the West and they are losing the incredibly valuable input of half their population.  It keeps their societies more violent, less civilized and backward.  Why don’t the liberals of the BDS movement campaign about this?

International Holocaust Day

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, that commemorates the liberation by the Allies of the concentration camp at Auschwitz during WWII, we should reflect on the causes of that great tragedy for the Jewish people.  Certainly the overwhelming cause was the deeply ingrained hatred of Jews that permeated European societies.  This had its roots in Christianity and racial animosity.  There was a prevalent belief among the competitive European national tribes (Germans, Hungarians, Lithuanian, French, Poles, etc.) that the Jews were an untrustworthy and vulnerable group that could be blamed for their problems.  The complexity of the situation has been analyzed in numerous books, of which I highly recommend “The Pity of It All: A Portrait of Jews in Germany 1743-1933” by Amos Elon (2002).

However, in any objective analysis of the then contemporary situation one must conclude that part of the blame lay with the Jews themselves.  We must face the unpalatable facts.  This is not an attempt to transfer the blame to the victim, that has so often been the case in the past, or to ignore the many acts of Jewish defiance, resistance and heroism, for example described in the book “They Fought Back: The Story of Jewish Resistance in Nazi Germany” by Yuri Suhl (1967).  Such groups as “The White Rose” and the Bielsky Brothers have been documented and many found ways to survive under extreme circumstances, see for example “Invisible Jews: Surviving the Holocaust in Poland,” by Eddie Bielowski and Jack Cohen (2017).  But, in fact there was no organized Jewish resistance on what we might call a national or tribal level.

The reasons for this are of course complex.  One major reason was that the Jews were called disloyal by other national groups, and to have organized resistance to them would have confirmed that belief.  This is a common reaction by minorities to accusations of disloyalty, as shown by Japanese Americans during WWII in California (although surprisingly not in Hawaii) where they accepted being transferred to concentration camps (although they were not destined to be murdered).

The Jews were a “liberal” people in the sense that they depended on the brotherhood of man as a defense against precisely the kind of fate that awaited them in Europe.  One of the major factors that inured them to their situation was their religion.  Judaism, like all religions, was an opiate, it emphasized pacifism over aggression, acceptance of fate as a manifestation of God’s will.  Due to their minority status in every country, Judaism and Jewish society became especially and unavoidably complaisant.  The general rubric was “don’t rock the boat,” don’t stick your head above the parapet, “shtil.”  Many will argue that it was impossible under the circumstances for the Jews to organize effective resistance, but the fact of the matter remains that throughout Europe no established Jewish community organization set up an armed resistance group.

A German once told me that the Jews suffered because “when you live among wolves, you must act like a wolf.”  This is the Darwinian view of the situation, “the survival of the fittest.”  In the many nature films seen on TV these days, nature is not a benign and peaceful kingdom, but one in which survival is always at stake in the most violent of ways.  A male lion gets to mate with the females if he can defend himself against all competitors, but in return he must protect his females and his offspring.  Otherwise they will be taken away from him and his cubs killed.  Not all species act like this, some pair off and mate for life.  But, whether or not this Darwinian view is true, the Jews who survived learnt the terrible lesson of the Holocaust.  To be passive in one’s defense is a death sentence.  To accept one’s own national or tribal status and protect it at all costs in this world is essential.  That is the lesson that the Jewish people in their homeland took to heart and hence the IDF is a recognized and fearsome force.




Door Perceptions

Those who follow my blog know that I like elegant but simple solutions to difficult problems.  I also love to do things myself, I am a diy addict.  But I also know that my abilities are limited and I sometimes need to obtain help.

Case in point, I had a screen door installed in our new house some months ago.  The one that had been there before opened the wrong way (!), so I had to scrap that and have a new one fitted.  The person who installed the new one was an expert and did a good job, but charged a lot.  However, after he left I realized that he had not installed a spring to close the door automatically.  I called him to come back and do it but he wanted an extra NIS 100 for the job, and I thought it should be included in the price.  Anyway, for one reason or another he never came back.  So I had to find a solution myself.  My daughter has a long horizontal spring on her screen door, so I went to the hardware store and asked for such a spring.

The salesman there gave me an alternative solution, a vertical metal cylinder with a spring inside it (cost NIS 40).  You attach the cylinder to the door frame and then attach an arm to the central part of the cylinder that turns.  It must be turned against the spring, so that when released the spring pushes the arm against the door and closes it.  I figured out how to do it, but I could not drill the holes in the door frame because it is metal.   I asked my friendly carpenter Geraldo if he could drill these holes. He suggested using special screws that drill the holes themselves in metal with an electric drill.  This worked well and then all I had to do was turn the arm against the screw (adjustable) so that it would spring back and then it closed the door.  I added small soft patches to the door frame to avoid banging.  It works very well.

Actually Geraldo came to our house to fix the doors on the walk-in closet that he built for us.  We are very pleased with it, but the two doors never closed properly and then often sprang back and left a gap.  I called him because I bought two magnetic connectors that are supposed to close the doors, but I could not see how to fit them without drastic surgery on the doors.  He agreed there was a problem and removed the plastic pieces that prevented the doors from closing tight.  Then he attached the magnets to the doors and they worked.  But it is unsightly, not an elegant solution, because he inserted wooden strips on the inside of the doors to attach the magnets and also large metal clips to bind with the magnets.  He agreed it was not satisfactory and he will return with the kind of magnetic strips that you find on shower doors that hold them together.  To be continued.

Turkey Invades Syria

Turkey has invaded northern Syria with massive military force in order to destroy the chances of an autonomous Syrian Kurdish region named Afrin.  The situation is complex because Turkey is both an ally of the US against Pres. Assad and an enemy of the forces supported by the US, namely the Kurdish YPG and their allies the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The Turks are against the continuation of Pres. Assad in Syria and against his allies the Russians and the Iranians.  But, the Turks see the formation of an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria, or anywhere, as a direct threat to their own sovereignty.  They label any Kurdish forces as terrorist because they say they are aligned with the PKK, the Kurdish People’s Party, that indeed are considered terrorists in Turkey where they foment insurrection.

Although the situation seems murky it can all be explained as part of Pres. Erdogan’s aims to “make Turkey great again.”   Turkey once controlled the whole Middle East and Iran was its main enemy.  When Kemal Ataturk established the Turkish Republic after WWI as the modern embodiment of the Turkish Empire, he moved Turkey towards a sectarian Republic.  But, Erdogan and his Muslim allies are in the process of trying to reverse that process and seek to reassert Turkish influence and even control over the Arab world.  This will never happen, but he can at least use the threat of the Kurds as an excuse to intervene outside Turkey’s borders.

Another world leader, Pres. Putin of Russia, seeks to make “Russia great again.”  His intervention in Syria has proved successful and he has propped up his puppet, Pres. Assad, and ensured his survival.  But Putin and Trump, on opposite sides regarding Assad, both resent Erdogan’s military incursion into what they consider their sphere of influence.  Where all this will go, with the US, Russia, Turkey and Iran all engaged in the Syrian morass, is difficult if not impossible to fathom.

VP Mike Pence Visits Israel

US VP Mike Pence is visiting Israel and was welcomed effusively by PM Netanyahu.  They have been friends for years since they met in the US Congress.   Although Pence visited Egypt and Jordan on this trip, he did not visit Ramallah and meet PA Pres. Abbas because of his rejection of meetings with US representatives since Pres. Trumps’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  This topic played a big role in Pence’s visit to Israel and indeed in his speech to the Knesset.  His major new announcement was that the US Embassy will indeed be moved to Jerusalem soon and will be completed before the end of 2019.

Pence emphasized that the US is still committed to forging a peace agreement between Israel and the Arabs, and especially with the Palestinians.  It seems impossible at this point, but who knows what will happen.  Meanwhile Pres. Abbas met in Europe with the Foreign Affairs Minister of the EU,  Federica Mogherini.  You could call this the booby prize, because the EU has pretensions to be an arbiter of peace between the two sides.  But, Israel would never trust the EU because of its pro-Palestinian stance.  Even on this trip the emphasis was on what the EU could give the PA in order to help it build a state and they proposed East Jerusalem as its capital.  There is no consideration by the EU of the continued use of terrorism by the Palestinians, both in Gaza and the PA, nor on Israel’s interests in the matter.

During this trip the emphasis was also on the common interests vis-a-vis Iran between the US, Israel and the moderate Sunni Arab States (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the  Gulf States).  Indeed the Palestinian issue is taking a back-seat to both overall Arab-Israel reconciliation and US moves to strengthen Israel.  With a potential crisis looming with Iran, the Trump Administration is playing the first chess moves, and the Palestinians are the pawn that is being sacrificed to a greater cause.  With the whole Arab world in turmoil many of us believe that is their true level of significance.