Sunday, 13 May 2018

5) My May 13th Reply to Rabbi Friedman (1 of 3)

From: Paul Barford []
Sent: Friday, May 13, 2016 11:01 AM
To Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman,
Principal Rabbi Yotav Eliach

Subject: Rambam Mesivta students: Perpetuating the heritage of hate 1/3

Dear Rabbi Friedman, Rabbi Eliach
Thank you for your letter responding to my blog post. I have to say that I am a bit disappointed that your response really does not actually answer the points I raised. Instead you attempt to draw discussion off into other areas and ask me to “honestly” answer your other questions – which of course I will. In order to retain clarity, I will split my reply into three, first the part you apparently intended as a response to what I wrote on my blog about what we saw on the video. The extraneous issues you now introduce will be addressed in a second and third.

1.You suggest that “one of the themes of the rally was the heroism of those Polish individuals who sacrificed their lives to save Jewish people”. Then you are going to have to publish the full text of what you said, because you are filmed shouting through the megaphone something quite different. I was among many you angered being so demonstrably and offensively dismissive of the efforts of those “individuals”, you contrast it with the activities of “countries”. That is why you are shouting your remarks at the Polish consulate. But between 1941 and 31 December 1944, Poland did not exist as a country (and certainly not in the borders shown on the maps your students were displaying). You seem unable to accept that this means that your argument is a false one from its very inception. You place yourself among those who can be seen to allow anti-Polish prejudices to cloud their interpretation of the facts.

You in fact say (the video to which I link on my blog 7 minutes 26 seconds) that the main purpose of the rally is “to remind Poland that all the major concentration camps were in Poland” (that is completely untrue. I pointed that out in my blog post naming just a few that were not – a point which you ignore). You then go on to say “Your land is drenched in blood” – at which the gathered Rambam Mesivta High School students chant in unison “your land is drenched in blood!” presumably as they’d been instructed to do.

I really am at a loss to know how to respond to that. Poland has been affected by many bloody battles down through the centuries. A fact that is symbolized by the red lower field of the Polish flag – but you are trying here to monopolize the symbolism, claiming that the only blood spilt which matters is Jewish blood. That is just downright offensive. Perhaps, next time you are in Poland, you should get some more people to read you what is written on some other monuments from the period 1939-1945 (and 1914-1918), though it is my feeling that even then you will not really understand, so focused are you apparently on wallowing among the wrongs done on Polish soil to your own people seven decades ago.

2. I do not think you actually read what I wrote, you may “feel it is wrong for the [Polish] government to accuse Dr. Jan Gross of "insulting the state" for bringing these truths to light”. Certainly what he says is without doubt not only offensive but deliberately phrased to be offensive. But before shouting your mouth off about it through a megaphone, you need to check just what the grounds are for the statement you plan to make. The facts, such as they are, are not “hidden”. Except the ones that Gross does not present to support his opinion quoted in Die Welt. You put one emphasis on the known facts, others see the same facts in a different context – but when they try to express that, you in the spirit of ‘free speech’ no doubt, merely shout them down with a megaphone. I am less convinced than you that your school’s take is the correct one, but I am certainly not going to stand with a megaphone outside the US Embassy here in Warsaw denouncing you (or “all American Jews”), nor do I see why you feel members of the staff and students of the Rambam Mesivta school are exempt from such considerations of civilised behaviour. 

As I (and Gazeta Prawna) pointed out, the Polish government is not itself the instigator of the critique of Gross’s words in Die Welt. You have not actually answered that point.

On the other hand, I not only “feel” it is wrong, but am convinced that it is wrong to talk as you did on film of “Polish death camps” (8:16). You have not answered that point either.

But in any case, you say it is a “truth” that Poles killed more Jews in World War two than they did Germans – I ask you to back up the statement, certainly Jan Gross certainly has not.

3. “Why were Poles killing other Polish citizens”? Why do Americans kill other American citizens? It’s happening now, in peace time
the shooting of members of the same family in and around Piketown Ohio the other day. Appalling violence. Or this sort of thing:

You explain that, and then we’ll talk about how in an invaded country in which jackbooted thugs use division and fostering fear as a means of dividing to control a subject people (and then affected by an enforced political change), such conflicts arise. I really do not see anything difficult to understand, provided that you know the history.

4. A school is where people send their kids to learn something. If it was one of my kids on that video dragged along by his teacher to some dubious political demonstration and made to look a complete fool when asked to explain what he’s doing (because he does not really know why he is there), my kid would not be at your school for long. Maybe your parents are proud their kids made it to You Tube, I don’t know.

You say that the Polish government denies that the Jedwabne events took place (video 5:38). This is simply not true, there is a big monument on the site and it has been there a long time. In his speech at the unveiling of the new monument, the President of the Polish Republic admitted fully the Polish involvement and apologised for it. That is not denial. Rambam Mesivta school should apologise for your false accusation made through a megaphone on a busy street.

It is both offensive and simply ignorant to question (video 5:42) that the Poles were the victims of the unprovoked German invasion of their country and imposition of Nazi rule – I cannot imagine why anyone would say such a thing. Through a megaphone.

You did not answer my point about the meaning of the monument at Plaszow (video 6:07)

You did not respond to the point made that the reason why concentration camps in general, and the ones you offensively label “Polish death camps” (8:16) are where they are is because they were at important nodes in the railway system which was used for mass transport in the 1940s. The fact is that major towns, especially those with industry, were sited at these points for the same reason. I do not see why that raises any “questions”, it is a simple fact of human geography. 

“Why did they let this happen?” (7:57), well your folksy explanation  of “why the Germans set up the concentration camps in Poland” (8:33) [apart from the ones they did not] equating it with Kansas corn-growing is pretty transparent manipulation. If you look at the situation in and especially the jurisprudence of the Third Reich, it is clear that there are two main reasons why certain types of facilities were placed in the conquered territories.

Firstly, it is analogous to the reasons for the siting of the US prisons and black sites involved in the scandalous Extraordinary Rendition and Detention Program, where people (people’s sons, brothers and fathers) were (and at Guantanamo are) held without a trial and tortured in your name by your government’s operatives. They are scattered all over the world and are not in South Carolina and Kansas. This is not because the populace around the ones you had in Poland at Szymany and Stare Klejkuty are “a fertile ground” in any way supportive of human rights abuses that were secretly going on behind the razor wire there, but because Washington wants to do things in secret on our soil that they would not attempt within the US because it is illegal (and attempts were made to keep the truth from the public and lawmakers both in the US and host countries). The German camps like Birkenau and Treblinka were situated in occupied territory subject to different laws than in Germany. But these were laws the Nazi invader established in place of the ones made by the lawmakers of independent Poland. 

Secondly, I do not know if you’ve been with your megaphone and chanting students outside the German embassy on any anniversary of Kristallnacht. The reason why a network of camps was quite quickly built in Poland was the size of the Jewish population that had not fled Poland like many German Jews had after 1933, precisely because they obviously did not feel particularly threatened here until it was too late, with the Nazi invasion and the creation of the ghettos. I am sure you know this, which is what makes what you say on the video so very offensive. Yes, many Jews fled Nazi Germany – there were also some refugees from Poland in the west, but many Jews remained in Poland after 1st September 1939. Are you going to say maybe that they too “let this happen”? Is it not a rather large jump in logic for the Rambam Mesivta School to accuse Poles in occupied Poland for “letting this happen” (9:05) to Jews, but not to say the same about the Jews (Polish citizens as you yourself pointed out) in occupied Poland who basically could by the same token be said by and large to have “let it happen” to themselves and other Jews? That is just nuts.

You say that in Poland there was ”very little resistance” – I am not even going to dignify that slur with an answer. It will not endear you to anybody here whose family members risked their lives to put up that resistance, unparalleled in most other countries of Nazi-occupied Europe. I suggest you really do need to read up on it, and when you have replaced your prejudices with facts and worked out what happened in Poland during the Nazi occupation, apologize for what you said.

As for your suggestion that there were “1600” Polish righteous individuals, you learnt after you started your shouting that Yad Veshem commemorates many more. And yet it is sickening to see how scathingly dismissive (9:55) you are of that – that Rabbi, is a pretty disturbing reaction for you to exhibit before your students. What is the Rambam Mesivta “teaching” these young people? An apology is needed, from the school, for that too. 

You scathingly contrast the efforts of the (non-existant) “country of Poland” with that of Denmark (10:30 and 12: 51). You seem not to realize the differences in scale or situation. The ‘model protectorate’ of Denmark had almost three years (from the ‘light’ German takeover and collaboration in April 1940 to imposition of German martial law on 29th August 1943) to gather the resources and set the plan into operation to save seven thousand Jews. In Poland there were incomparably larger numbers of people (millions) and severe martial law was imposed on the territory under their control by the occupier from day one. Despite what you claim, after the west refused to help, the Polish Resistance serving the Polish Government in Exile also organized such help, their Rada Pomocy ┼╗ydom (the so-called Zegota council). Sadly, with the borders closed, getting them out of the occupied country was more difficult, but they saved many by hiding them in the homes of Polish families. Hiding one Jewish family and despite rationing getting supplies and false papers for them would typically require  getting more than one Polish family involved (and you know, I am quite sure, the punishment that would be met by anyone found doing this). Maybe you would like to tell me where else there was such an underground organization specifically dedicated to this task in Nazi occupied Europe. Now perhaps you can tell us why your student at the beginning of the film, who stands right next to you when you start speaking, accuses that same Resistance (he gets the name wrong too) of killing “more Jews than Germans”. Is that what you told him?

Numbers vary for the number of people helped by Zegota, but it was many thousand, an effort that certainly should not be disparaged in your attempt to smear the memory of these selfless people. Nine thousand Jewish children were smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto alone to families on the ‘Aryan side’. The Irena Sendlerowa which your students in the film were so ignorant of was responsible for organizing help for 2500 of them herself. Yes, these are the “individuals” whose efforts you so summarily dismiss. Seven thousand by the entire state of Denmark, 2500 one woman whose memory the Rambam Mesivta’s Rabbi Friedman with his megaphone publicly disparages. Sorry, but that is just so wrong.

How can you say (10:30) that all the rest, the “average person on the street was actually involved in perpetrating crimes, actually handing over Jews [inaudible]”? How can you say that? The numbers clearly do not support this. You say that there were “30 million” people in the Polish Republic at the time of the [beginning of] the War. Of them, 50 000 are believed to have been executed for hiding Jews (that’s wikipedia, you can find alternatives I am sure, smaller or bigger it still shows your statement is false). Since the punishment was the shooting of the whole family in a building where Jews were found hidden, that would be (let us say as a round estimate) 10 000 families. Some of them would have been discovered due to routine Nazi patrols looking for something else, some due to reporting by neighbours from vindictiveness (nota bene to the families of the Polish neighbours they were thereby condemning to death) or fear. I have heard it said that some of the people reporting Jews in hiding were those who had something to hide in their own bloodline (a family member who may have been Jewish) who wanted to save themselves by getting a reputation as loyal and enthusiastic subjects of the Reich. So, even if you double or treble it, ten thousand reported Jew hidings is not really supportive of the generalization you make that all Poles were actually involved in “handing over the Jews”. That is nonsense deriving from the obvious prejudice you and your fellows have towards the Poles, rather than any facts. 

How can you say so categorically (12:41) that it is  “absolutely false” that Poland was the only country where people [actually whole families] were killed for hiding Jews? Can you document that remark? In what other occupied country can you point to such a law being instituted by the Nazis? If however it is you that is wrong (which I am pretty sure you are), why would the Nazis introduce such a law to occupied Poland and not any of the other countries they invaded if Poles really were handing over Jews on the massive scale you claim? Answer that please. Show that a Rambam Mestiva educator bases that statement on knowledge rather than prejudice. Can you?

The Polish government [...] is trying to silence dissenters” (10:59). Pardon? Remember, I live here. Dissenters of what? What do you understand by the phrase “Polish government”? Are you accusing them, like the woman at the beginning of your megaphone rant, of “Holocaust denial”? Poland’s government rejects very strongly the words of those who spread misinformation and falsehoods in order to attack and undermine Poland. For example, the use of the term “Polish death camps” whether it is done so in malice or ignorance. US newspapers do it all the time, a fact which is noted by our own media every time it happens. Do you count yourself and your students a dissenters (“we will not be silenced”) for using it? As I said in my blog post, over on this side of the Atlantic we differentiate the idea of free speech (11:41) from nasty or ignorant hate speech deliberately intended to provoke, damage and wound. Contrasting what you say with what most of us see as the realities of war-time occupied Poland, I cannot see what you and the Rambam Mesivta students under your guidance are shouting as anything but the latter.

Certainly there has been no government “silencing” in Poland (though see below) of the academic discussion of any aspect of the Holocaust, nor in the public media. It is precisely because Gross’s remark in a German news magazine was widely known in Polish society – not “suppressed” - that private citizens reading it and finding it offensive reported him to the prosecutor. It is therefore ironic that you and your claquers chant “let his voice be heard” (12:22) when his books have been translated into Polish and widely discussed in the Polish media and academic literature (I asked you if you read Polish, there are over 30 reviews of his “Neighbours” by professional historians familiar with the primary documents which you’d really need to read before assessing whether what he says can be accepted as written). I think that since the public (not “suppressed”) discussion a decade and a half ago of “Neighbours”, anything Jan Gross will say about Poland and the Jews will immediately attract attention by a wide public in Poland. Indeed you and your students totally misunderstand the political situation here, it is precisely this party (the right wing nationalist PiS – Law and Justice party) who with the greatest relish say “look what this man has written about us now”. You may be proud to know that your own agitation is also being presented in the Polish press in the same terms: “what the enemies of Poland are saying about us”. This, I would imagine is to the dismay of the Jewish community of Poland who no doubt will be concerned that this does not get manipulated by other more extreme factions into “the Jewish enemies of Poland”.

As for any alleged attempts at “supression”, you should know that today Polish citizens are no more cut off from world trends and discussions through the internet or personal contacts with foreigners than you are. Here I am sitting here corresponding with two Rabbis half way around the world about Jan Gross and other stuff, the position of the Polish government is neither here nor there. I fail to see why you think I might be in any danger of being “silenced” for writing about it. The idea that there is any difference between me in Poland and you in the USA in this regard is just completely nuts and again regrettably must be based on your anti-Polish prejudice rather than any knowledge of the facts.

As I said, Jan Gross has so far neglected to provide the evidence for this throwaway (as I suspect) remark about the proportion of Jews to Germans killed which was published in a German magazine. When he provides his evidence, we can discuss it, not before. So yes, let the Princeton historian’s voice be heard, let him say what he “knows” and we will discuss it. Maybe that’s why he’s on a two-year sabbatical at the moment, writing the book that will crush Poland. Or not. But actually the Polish government currently has bigger concerns than what he writes. 

There is an interesting exception to the situation described above, the case of the naive provincial  academic (Dariusz Ratajczak ) who, misled by Holocaust skeptic material originating FROM THE USA – you know the stuff I am sure, wrote an article (a unique article in the Polish literature) questioning the “Holocaust Industry”. He lost his job almost immediately, was prosecuted for Holocaust denial (that is illegal in Poland) and in fact his life fell apart and he died a homeless man sleeping in a car in a supermarket car-park a few years back. I do not think though that this counts as censorship, the article was pathetically naive and called into question his abilities as a researcher. I initially supported the “freedom of speech” and “academic freedom” standpoint of Michnik’s (nota bene) Gazeta Wyborcza but when I got hold of a copy of the book and read what he wrote, changed my mind. What is notable from the point of view of what you are affirming is that what this young man had written on two thirds of a page of a book became a widely discussed national scandal and the man lost his job in this Poland you unjustly present as so opposed to the Jews. Again, prejudice unsupported by any real knowledge.

I am sure you “will not be silenced”, but – given that informing yourself of the facts before you go out shouting your mouth off is not all that difficult - that is rather your shame and that of the school you represent than ours. There is a difference between uninformed rant and debate.

As for “if you ask ANY Holocaust survivor [...] they talk about Polish anti-semitism” (12:57), you might like to explain whether these are the people who wholly unaided survived the Holocaust, not helped by people risking their own lives to do so? Or are these people who were helped and then turned round and said this about the behaviour of those that could have turned their back but selflessly placed themselves at risk to do what they did? You said ANY, which implies anecdotal evidence from all members of both these groups. But would you agree that there is a big difference in the US between racist jokes or using the N-word and a lynch-mob or gunning down unarmed coloured teenagers for walking through a ‘White neighbourhood’? The one may lead to another, but they are not equivalents. Here you are quite clearly making that equivalence.

I have lived in Poland thirty years, and I must admit I have never “felt the antisemitism” as you claim (13:03). I really am at a loss to know what you are talking about, maybe you were unlucky in the company you chose to keep. In Warsaw, I see curiosity and interest in the culture of the multi-cultural society of pre-War Poland, the Polin museum is very popular, its events are well-attended, the Singer festival is always the cause of a massive crowds in the streets, the performances of the Jewish Theatre are very difficult to get tickets for. I spent New Year’s Eve there this year – a full house. Publishing houses see publications on all sorts of Jewish-related topics a good financial prospect, certainly not a niche product.

The opinion, which you adduce as support of your views, of Israeli politicians on “the Poles” which seem just as prejudiced as your own does not interest me.

There is no “guilt of the Polish people” to “admit” (13:14) any more than you as a Jew are personally responsible for Israeli shelling of homes and schools in Gaza in July and August 2014.

You go out with a megaphone to accuse the whole Polish nation of something, blurt out some ill-digested generalisations and illogicalities, but then refuse to discuss it (as part of that “free speech”) with somebody who challenges you to substantiate your insinuations (13:17). Free speech in the Rambam Mestivta understanding of the term is represented as “listen to me and shut up”, obviously. A great example, Rabbi, to set the young people watching. A great example to us all of American values there.

“How many Polish people killed the Jews?” you ask (13:42) the lady rhetorically, rudely addressing her through your megaphone. “How many?” she asks – quite a reasonable question to ask an educator who claims to know more than her. So Rabbi  Friedman, how many Poles killed “the Jews”? “More than six thousand”? (13:49) where do you get that figure from? Where, Rabbi, are the bodies? Can you substantiate that by saying where the bodies of those six thousand were put and why they are not now lying in larger numbers in cemeteries of the civilian victims of the War such as Palmiry (where some of the graves are of Jews, marked with a star of David headstone)? If the graves have not been exhumed, how have you counted the numbers of this specific group of dead? Evidence, not prejudiced supposition or anecdote please.

That is enough on the response to the comments I made on my blog, I will turn to the other points you made in a separate message.

Yours sincerely
Paul Barford 

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