Thursday, 17 May 2018


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.


Tuesday, 15 May 2018

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

Monday, 14 May 2018

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

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 Żydom (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