Wednesday, 17 May 2028


I put up this blog as a record of a discussion I had in May 2016 with an American educator about the part Polish citizens played in the genocide of the Jewish people during the 1939-45 occupation of Polish territory. This discussion (if one can call it that) was prompted by a public demonstration on May 5th outside the Polish consulate in New York by staff and students of the Rambam Mesivta High School, a private Jewish High School in Lawrence, New York, USA. (Rosh HaMesivta - Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman, Principal - Rabbi Yotav Eliach, Assistant Principals - Rabbi Avi Haar and Mr. Hillel Goldman). They had the misfortune that the demonstration was filmed by Nowy Dziennik (Anna Archiszewska) who also attempted to interview some of the participants.

The claims made were troubling, the rabbi stated that the Poles "let the Holocaust happen" in their occupied land, and alleged that - because they were all anti-semitic - themselves led to the killing of Jews by handing them over to the Germans, and that Poles allegedly "killed more Jews in the War than they did Germans". Furthermore he informed onlookers that the Poles refused to admit events where Jews were killed by Poles (such as Jedwabne) and alleged that the Polish government was trying to silence historian Jan Gross who was speaking of such things.

The students taking part are seen to be holding maps of post-1945 Poland and exhibited no knowledge that during the World War II Poland did not exist as a country. They ignore the fact that Nazi concentration camps were founded by Germans when Poland was under German occupation. They are also dismissive of the fact that the citizens of Poland have the world's highest count of individuals who have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations for saving Jews from extermination during the Holocaust in World War II. In Nazi-occupied Poland the task of rescuing Jews was especially difficult and dangerous. All household members were punished by death if a Jew was found concealed in their home or on their property. It is estimated that the number of Poles who were killed by the Nazis for aiding Jews was as high as tens of thousands, only 704 of whom have been posthumously honoured with medals.

Within a few days, links to the video were being disseminated by the Polish media and attracting comment. I posted two texts on it on my blog, one was addressed to one of the participants. I also sent a message to the school, inviting them to comment on my blog. I received a reply by email from Rabbi Friedman (here) which started off by challenging me to "address the above issues in an honest manner" and making a number of statements intended to support what he'd shouted at the Consulate.

I spent two days answering carefully this letter, making sure to cite sources where the ducator could check what I was saying. I split the answer intio three chunks, one on the response to my blog-post's points, the second answering (I leave it up to the reader to judge how "honestly") the additional questions, and the third to the final comment of the US rabbi.

I really need not have made the effort, the Rabbi said he could not be bothered to read carefully what I had written and respond, he just wrote dismissively of it all.

I put it up here as one quite often hears similar poisonous remarks of Jews in America who seem to have a problem with seeing the complexities of the issues they harbour so many prejudices over. It may be helpful to somebody to see the other side.

I have rearranged the post order so they read chronologically from top down. I have also removed  email addresses from the texts of letters. Unlike the declaration on my other blog, for the moment I welcome substantive comments on the matters discussed here, BUT only on the same conditions as apply to my other blogs - first please read my conditions for posting comments on my blogs.

Declaration of Interest, I am English but also a proud Polish citizen and am neither Jewish nor Anti-Jewish. I just think that establishing a truth about these complex events is more fruitful than spreading pseudo-history based on superficial thinking.

NOTE: The first dozen or so posts on this blog [that is, those containing the original discussion about what the Rabbi said in New York]  are forward-dated two years to remain on the top of the  blog, later material will be found below them.

1) My Original Blog Post: Discussing a US School's Hate-Video

Republished from a post of Tuesday, 10 May 2016 (More "Polish Death Camps" hate-speech: American Heritage Education?) on my 'Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues' blog

"A love of learning [...]
sensitivity and concern for others"

"We're here to protest" says the young man from the Rambam Mesivta High School, but when asked for the details about what he is "protesting" about, he seems not really to know anything much about anything. Another American high school student volunteers that the Second World War started in "1941" (duh). "Talk to the administrator" they shyly volunteer. But Rabbi Zev Friedman who led this band of hate-screaming chanting youths to the Polish consulate in New York actually knows bugger all about what he is saying, he was in Plaszow (the Schindler's Ark camp) but cannot pronounce its name, he misread the inscription on the monument overlooking the town there. He seems surprised that both towns and camps are at major railway junctions (duh) and lies to the impressionable and uncritical kids at the Rambam Mesivta High School by saying that all the major concentration camps were "in Poland" (Dachau, Ravensbrook, Mathausen, Dora, Gross Raden, Theriesenstadt and all the rest of those so-called "Polish Death camps" eh Rabbi?).  If the education of American youth is all in the hands of ignorant bigots like this, no wonder Donald Trump has so much support over there.
Look at this video by Nowy Dziennik (Anna Archiszewska) of pathetic pudgy schoolkids led astray by their "teacher", and cringe:

 US Schoolkids totally clueless about European history
dragged out by their school to shout hate slogans
outside the Polish consulate in New York

Here they are mentioned in a Polish Newspaper (Legal Journal) 'Żydzi protestują przeciw „pisaniu na nowo historii o Holokauście”...', Gazeta Prawna 06.05.2016
Organizator protestu, rabin Zev Friedman w swym przemówieniu obarczył Polaków odpowiedzialnością za istnienie i funkcjonowanie „polskich obozów śmierci”. Jego zdaniem powstały one na terenie Polski, ponieważ „Polacy się na to godzili". Przyznał, że niektórzy Polacy pomagali Żydom, ale jak przekonywał „wielu doprowadziło do ich śmierci” [...] Polscy obserwatorzy czwartkowej demonstracji, byli zaskoczeni poziomem niewiedzy uczniów na temat czasów, których dotyczył protest. W trakcie rozmów z nimi wyjaśniło się, że "uczniowie nie wiedzieli, iż w trakcie II wojny światowej Polska nie istniała jako państwo [...] Przyszli tutaj z mapą Polski w granicach z 1945 r.” 
The Jewish Telegraphic agency likewise is critical of the event: 'Jewish high schoolers picket Polish consulate in NY to protest ‘Holocaust whitewash’...' May 5, 2016).
an inflammatory misrepresentation of history that whitewashes German Nazi crimes and transfers them onto their Polish victims [...] inflammatory speech filled with falsehoods against the Polish government
As expected, there has been a rather strong reaction of the right-wing press in Poland, the story is all over them, the Rambam Mesivta High School has become quite famous here over the past few days. The liberal Gazeta Wyborcza also covered the story from a standpoint more critical of the government: USA.Żydzi protestują przeciw "pisaniu na nowo historii o Holokauście" 06.05.201

The ignorant bigots at the Rambam Mesivta High School will no doubt automatically claim they are the victims of "anti-semitism" when criticised for this stunt. I suggest that anti-semitism derives from exactly the same kind of sterotypising generalisations based on false arguments and ignorance that we see here Rabbi Friedman "teaching" his students here. I suggest furthermore that the latter would do well to familiarise himself with the critical reviews (some 30 of them) of Gross's book by Polish professional historians of all political shades familiar with the material he covers before waving it around as any kind of "evidence" to base his hate-speech (does the Rabbi read Polish?). Too often (Dove World Outreach Centre Koran burning, Westboro Baptist bigots, Curtis Culwell Center Garland Mohammed cartoons etc) the "First Amendment" in the US is a shield for provocative bigoted, ignorant out-and-out hate speech. I'd draw the attention of the rabbi and his students that it is precisely in the Poland he so freely insults, that the fight is on by a large part of the population for  a renewal of "Freedom, Equality and Democracy" and I guarantee him that none of the people in that movement would have any truck with the present government's distortion of history. Indeed, we hope that this populist government will soon be on the way out.

For the record, prompted by the debate over "Neighbours" fifteen years ago (Rabbi F., please keep up), I have read several of Gross's written works with a great deal of attention, some (maybe most) of the reviews of them, and I think he quite clearly allows his feelings towards the Poland of 1968 to colour his selection of topics and material. But Poland in 1968 is as distant from Poland in 2016 as LBJ's USA of 1968 is distant from today's nation (I hope). Jedwabne happened, other things happened, there was and is anti-semitism in Poland.  Nobody really denies that. The "Polish government" does not deny that and has *not* "questioned" Gross about what he said - that is just a lie.

I personally think that when the American Gross writes that "Poles" killed "more Jews than Germans" in WW2, that is not actually a fact - but I would like to see him present the evidence on which he bases his opinion - like where all those bodies were put. I see this sentence more as rhetoric taken out of context. I see it as a personal opinion with which I do not agree, and do not see it as particularly libellous, any more than a metal detectorist saying what they do is "good for the heritage" or that the "foxes like being chased by the hounds".

It is a great shame that Rabbi Friedmann instead of digging up old history does not look at the context of the statement in an article Die Osteuropäer haben kein Schamgefühl, (Die Welt 13th September 2015), about xenophobia in Poland in the context of the Syrian refugee issue and see what the topic really is. This is far more topical and places anti-semitism into the broader spectrum of xenophobia (not exactly absent from today's America either). I think his students would benefit more from being shown the broader picture  than being instructed to shout mindlessly at foreign nations over a narrow one.

The Gazeta Prawna article states that it is a falsehood that the Polish government is taking legal action about this one sentence. It clarifies that the State Prosecutor was investigating notifications from some 150 private citizens that in their opinion a crime had been committed against § 133 of the Polish Criminal Law (rt. 133. kk - Rozdział XVII Przestępstwa przeciwko Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej). I rather think that the pace at which the case has proceeded suggests that the Prosecutor too sees no evidence of a crime. But this is a distraction from the real point Gross was making - which is a good one and I would like to hear more Poles engage with that issue. But let us also ask: is Eastern Europe any more xenophobic these days than Western Europe? I have a horrible feeling that it is not. And THAT is disturbing. It is a shame that Rabbi Friedman and his students are more keen on stoking it than challenging it.

Rabbi, an apology would not be out of place here. 

[I am not taking any comments on this post. UNLESS, in accordance with my policy of allowing the right to answer, they are written by any of the people who took part in this protest - please state your name and say you were there. Otherwise, experience on this blog has taught me that attempting to discuss anything involving US-based Jews tends to leave the realms of rationality pretty quickly. Write, instead, to Rabbi Friedman]

It seems from their website this "high school" has attacked other nationalities too. I wonder what else they "teach" there:

 "Ukraine, You are to blame" says one of the posters. Perhaps that "school" might like to explain here just what they mean by the word "Ukraine" if they are referring to "Generalplan Ost in 1941-45. There was no country or government called Ukraine in this period. Perhaps here too the school might like to read up their history before sending its students out to engage in divisive political agitation.

2) Blog post: Invitation to Student Spokesman

This is a republication of the second blog post on the subject of this atrocious video: (I am not sure if his name should be spelt Joni or Yoni): Tuesday, 10 May 2016 Joni Needs to take a Closer Look: Invitation to Joni]. Joni, needless to say, never replied.

This is "Joni" who claims to have read Gross's Neighbours". Maybe he has, but now he needs to read about the Polish Resistance (not "resilience") to the Nazi occupier and the Resistance to the Communist takeover 1945-49 and in particular which government was responsible for these units - clue Joni, it was not a Warsaw or even Lublin government).

Joni, if ever you are in Warsaw, look me up, I'll show you the material evidence and nuances your educators over there seems to miss out. I'll show you where in a friend's house, one of Rabbi Zev's "just individuals" hid a Jew who'd escaped the Ghetto and tell you, standing on the spot,  what happened when the Gestapo found out.  I'll show you the Ghetto. Come at the end of August and the beginning of September and take part in the "Festiwalsingera" (annual Jewish culture festival) and go back and tell Rabbi Zev how much antisemitic feeling you experienced there.We can go to Plaszow and I'll read you what it actually does say on the monument.

If you have time we will go to the site, in a forest, with the architect of a prize-winning monument to be built soon to commemorate a sub-camp of an extermination site and we can talk about the problem of the Post-War fate of such ephemeral sites in the ruined country and the proper way to commemorate such events. The Chief Rabbi was very enthusiastic, the site is a difficult one to preserve. 

 I'll also show you what happened to those Resistance fighters and why what you said does them a great disservice. My late father in law was one. I'll take you to his grave in the small Jewish town of Grójec and we'll have a talk about Poles and Jews living alongside each other for generations before the Nazis came. let us talk about why so many Jews moved west in the nineteenth century into precisely the Polish-speaking areas of the Russian Empire and what the origin of those "Pogroms" which your friend "knows about" actually were. 

I'll do that if you promise to then arrange to give a talk to all those young people Rabbi Zev dragged along to attack my country and its people and tell them (honestly) what you saw and learnt here.

Culture, shared history and heritage, Joni, have the ability to link, to unite, and I am dead against anyone who tries to play on ignorance and intellectual laziness to use them to sow division like your rabbi attempts to do in the video.


Monday, 15 May 2028

3) First contact: My letter to the Rambam Mesivta School

From: Paul Barford 
Sent: Wednesday, May 11, 2016 12:55 PM
Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman,
Principal Rabbi Yotav Eliach

Subject: Jan Gross, "the Poles" and Xenophobic attacks by Rambam Mesivta students
Dear Sirs,
I am writing with regard to the event recently staged by staff and students of the Rambam Mesivta outside the Polish Consulate in New York. This is receiving a lot of attention in Poland, though I am not sure that this is the kind of renown you sought for your school by staging this.
While we can all support attempts to increase the historical awareness of the younger generation, this does require the teachers actually knowing and understanding the material. In this case we can see that both teachers and students are lacking even the basic information about the situation in Poland in the 1940s. All you have done is to draw international attention to the shortcomings of the education your school has to offer and promote divisiveness and intolerance. I really cannot think what your aims actually were. You clearly are confused about some quite basic facts about the Second World War in eastern Europe, and have the facts completely wrong about Jan Gross. Does Rabbi Friedman even read Polish?
I have blogged my thoughts on the offensive display staged by your school. You are invited to comment there if you wish.
Please can you draw the attention of the student named as Joni - the only one interviewed who tried to explain what (he thought) he was there for - my invitation to him? (You may pass on this email address to him). Let us replace the loudmouth ignorant opinion which seems to be revealed to be your teaching methods with first-hand observation of the material facts.
There is no  "love of learning [... or…] sensitivity and concern for others" visible here. There is only a display of crude ignorance, unconcern for the facts and certainly absolutely zero sensitivity or concern for the effects on others of your false accusations.  The School really does owe the Polish community an apology, whence all this hatred? .
Yours sincerely
Paul Barford

Sunday, 14 May 2028

4) Rabbi Friedman's Reply

[published with the sender's permission]

From: Rabbi Zev Friedman  
Sent: Wednesday, May 11, 2016 8:54 PM
To: Paul Barford
Cc: Rabbi Yotav Eliach
Subject: Re: Jan Gross, "the Poles" and Xenophobic attacks by Rambam Mesivta students

Dear Mr. Barford,

First let me compliment you on your civil email.
I say this because the overwhelming number  of emails I've received (90% or more), either began with F.... Jew or some form of Holocaust denial.
Some even went so far as to suggest that Hitler was Jewish and was paid by the Jews to start WWII.
One certainly would get the impression based upon these emails that anti-Semitism is alive and well in Poland today!!

I will answer some of the points you raise below but first let me ask you the following:
1. Did Polish citizens kill Jews during World War II?
2. How would you explain the various anti-Semitic laws that existed in Poland before World War II- see link below:
3. Didn't Polish citizens (police) kill Jews in Kielce AFTER  WWII?
4. We have two first-hand accounts from families of our student population whose grandparents were murdered by Polish citizens when they returned to their villages after surviving concentration camps.
5 Many Holocaust survivors who were born in Poland speak about the anti-Semitism and hatred they experienced from Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians... And their Polish neighbors.
6. A recent survey of Polish attitudes towards anti-Semitism revealed that over 60% of the Polish population believes that the Jews are involved in a conspiracy to control
media and finance. Over 20% still think that Jews drink Christian blood....
I trust that you will address the above issues in an honest manner.

I will respond to some of your comments.
1. One of the themes of the rally was the heroism of those Polish individuals who sacrificed their lives to save Jewish people. In most of those cases they have been honored in Israel for their heroism. Our community and school, in fact, found out about one of these cases and paid to fly the family to New York to reunite them with the Jewish people that they saved. They truly were a light in a very dark era.
2. The focus of the rally was to highlight the fact that Polish citizens did in fact kill Jews join World War II - and that we feel it is wrong for the government to accuse Dr. Jan Gross of "insulting the state" for bringing these truths to light.
3. Even if Dr. Gross is mistaken in his numbers: let's say Poles killed 200,000 Germans and 199,999 Jews, the point and question for you to answer is: why were Polish citizens killing other Polish citizens (who were Jewish) when they should have focused their efforts exclusively on killing the common enemy?
4. You and many others have pointed to the fact that some of the boys interviewed did not "know their history" and let's even assume that you're right and those boys asked were totally ignorant: I'd like to point out that in the same way you and many others say that we cannot generalize and accuse Poland of anti-Semitism because of the actions of the few. Isn't it strange that you seek to do the same thing by claiming, "the school is ignorant" because some kids did not answer accurately??
5. The student that said the war began in 1941 was coming at it from an American perspective: for Americans the war began after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Did the student know that the war actually began on September 1, 1939?? I think so. Did the student know that it took Germany less time to conquer all of Poland than it took to vanquish the Warsaw ghetto???

Very truly yours,
Rabbi Friedman