Poland Unfairly Vilified

Whose Ox Is Being Gored?

For years I’ve been in stubborn denial every time the Left accuses conservatives of sowing hate. Now I’ve learned the Left has been correct in its charge. In fact I’ve rarely found as much inflammatory hate speech as turned up in a column (May 30) by a Murdoch media empire superstar, who writes for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post and is frequently on The O’Reilly Factor, Debbie Schlussel. The column was titled “Poles were complicit in Holocaust: Outrage over Obama Gaffe is Fraudulent, Ignorant.” And the diatribe gets even nastier as one reads on. Schlussel rages against Obama for apologizing for an apparent mistake when he described Nazi death camps as “Polish.” The columnist is even more strident against Rush Limbaugh, that “self-hating Jew Matt Drudge,” and other Republican luminaries for suggesting that German Nazis, not Poles, were responsible for the Holocaust. 

According to Schlussel, “there is a reason why Poland was so easily occupied by the Germans.  Poles were eager to become “Hitler’s willing executioners” and “Polish police all too happily worked with the SS to round up Jews.” Although Schlussel concedes there was “a tiny” group of Poles who helped Jews during the War, the vast majority of this loathsome nation “were gleeful and eager to murder Jews.” We are told quite summarily that “Poland DOES bear responsibility for the Nazi genocide of Jews.” Indeed the Nazis located their death camps in Poland because they knew its inhabitants would do their dirty work. Although at the beginning of her invective Schlussel holds the Poles responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of her Jewish kinsmen, by the end of the rant the genocidal figure has soared up into the millions.

Reading this hate speech (which is what it is), one can easily refute Schlussel’s charges, by citing easily documented facts that are accessible on Wikipedia. (Schlussel talks about “facts being stubborn things” but she doesn’t really give any, except for listing death camps on interwar Polish soil.) The Poles tenaciously resisted the German invasion of their country in September 1939 and in the course of the war and subsequent occupation, many Polish cities, including most of Warsaw (particularly during and after the abortive Warsaw Uprising in 1944), were turned into rubble. Over 2 million Polish Catholics were executed by the invaders. Moreover, in addition to the 2.9 million Polish Jews who lost their lives, there were non-Jewish Poles placed in concentration and death camps beside their Jewish neighbors. (Polish-Canadian scholar Mark Wegierski has shown that the horrors of Auschwitz are a recurrent theme in post-War Polish as well as Jewish literature.) Millions of Poles were also deported during the War as slave laborers and many of them perished in captivity. The “tiny few” among the Poles who saved Jewish lives saved more than 30,000 of them, although the penalty for virtuous Poles who were caught shielding Jews was death. (My mother-in-law who was a Polish Catholic saved many Jewish lives, including the life of her Jewish husband.) 

Abe Foxman of the ADL owes his life to devoutly Catholic Poles, who saved him during the German occupation. Wikipedia also features a picture of Polish Jews being liberated by the Polish underground during the uprising in Warsaw, that is, before the German army crushed the insurgency with the Red Army sitting on its hands across the Vistula and refusing to lend support to the Polish rebels.

Two other facts may be relevant here. One, after July 1944, when the Red Army began to occupy Poland, a civil war broke out between the regular Polish resistance and the People’s Army of Poland, which represented the government Stalin had set up in eastern Poland. Most Polish Catholics opposed Stalin as well as Hitler but many educated Polish Jews were sympathetic to the Soviets as well as opposed to the Nazis.  The death of Jewish property-owners in Jedwabne, in northeastern Poland, which was featured in a book by Jan Gross as a Polish anti-Semitic outrage, still seems clouded in mystery. The death of about 300 Jewish residents on July 10, 1941 may have resulted partly from the crossfire that took place between pro-Communist and anti-Communist Polish forces. Moreover, some of Jedwabne’s Jews had been friendly to the Soviets when they had occupied the town, before the German offensive drove the Red Army out, a situation that had created anti-Jewish resentment among the townsfolk. It is also clear that the occupying Germans incited the Polish population against the Jewish inhabitants and from all accounts participated in the killing. On a more general note, no one with even a nodding acquaintance of these cultures would deny that Polish Catholics and Polish Jews have disliked each other for centuries. This is one of the many animosities that have characterized life in East Central Europe. Given this sad fact, it is remarkable that Poles risked their lives as often as they did to help Jews being pursued by the Nazis.

Two, the worst victims of Polish inhumanity were not Jews. It was those Germans whose lands the Poles took after the War, plus German minorities who had been living in interwar Poland. Over 3 million Germans were expelled from territories occupied by the Poles after World War Two, and hundreds of thousands were murdered. Alfred de Zayas in his heavily documented studies provides even higher figures for the victims of these expulsions. Needless to say, nobody in the current conservative movement would lament these crimes, since there is nothing to be gained from deploring crimes committed against Germans— any more than those crimes carried out against Polish victims of the Nazi occupation.

This brings me to the striking difference between what happened to former National Review writer, John Derbyshire and the fallout from Schlussel’s outburst. Derbyshire, who is now battling lymphoma, was unceremoniously dropped from his editorial job, after warning the parents of young white children against having their offspring seek the companionship of black adolescent strangers. Derbyshire’s humorous attempt, which was posted on the website takimag, to speak to white children in the way that leading black political and journalistic figures were warning their children, with media approval, against “white racism” destroyed this talented writer professionally. His witty response to black self-pity elicited violent condemnation throughout the English-speaking world, especially when Derbyshire waggishly warned his readers against stopping to help blacks trying to wave down assistance from a white passerby.  But Schlussel’s far more insulting attack on Poles has had no comparable repercussions. Ms. Schlussel has suffered not in the least from her recent outburst against Poles. She still bestrides the Murdoch Empire, and from what I’ve learned, she is second only to Ann Coulter as a female conservative speaker. 

From this one may draw some usable lessons. A journalist is perfectly safe going after European nations or Euro-American Christians for being anti-Semitic or for being hypercritical of the Israeli government. (Schlussel specializes in both types of denunciation.) But one should always try to present visible minorities in a favorable light, and particularly if one works for what purports to be a “conservative” magazine. Nothing less than exemplary tact will do in dealing with authorized victims.  


exemplary tact or chutzpah?

It is often not exactly clear what "hate speech" consists of.  There are facts, and there are opinions.  And lies.  Today, statements of fact are sometimes considered hate speech, making the words rather meaningless if used casually.  One presumes it to be a term of art, although why anyone would want to use this phrase within an intellectual, or even pseudo-intellectual context, is something I cannot possibly hope to understand.

Second, neither the Wall Street Journal nor the New York Post, and probably not even Bill O'Reilly (but with him you never know), would allow Debbie Schlussel to print (or otherwise distribute) her article as it stands, so for whom she writes is a somewhat peripheral issue, unless there is a more subtle implication intended.

Third, for Miss Schlussel it is and has always been Israel and the Jews über alles, so whatever does one expect from her?

Fourth, I would hardly call someone writing opinions on a weblog a journalist, especially a woman as shrill and shrewish as Miss Schlussel.  But, then again, I grew up in the Eric Severied era, and it must be admitted that few could ever figure out what he was getting at with his erudite commentary, so I suppose that times demand change.

Fifth, for us, Germans will always be the bad guys—or at least as far in the future as one can ever imagine. Even the Japanese, and certainly not the hapless Italians, are not thought about similarly, nor are they really thought about much at all, these days. Communists, for their part, always smell better to the Anglo-Western (and French) nose than the evil Hun.

The question we must ask is, why is it so? And this alone is what makes such an intellectually unpleasant personage as Debbie Schlussel so instructive, and such an exemplar.