“This is My Homeland…” by Władysław Bartoszewski and Zofia Lewinówna (1966): a critical reading
On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Władysław Bartoszewski and the 55th anniversary of the publication of Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej. Polacy z pomocą Żydom 1939–1945 [This is My Homeland. Poles Helping Jews 1939–1945] , we will take a new look at the author-witness book in a study by Prof. Tomasz Żukowski, literature historian at the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences, which deals with issues of public discourse in Poland. Read more about Władysław Bartoszewski in the special edition of the Polish Righteous website on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth.
Table of contents
- Władysław Bartoszewski and Zofia Lewinówna. Authors, circumstances and construction of Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej… ⇩
- The Self-Portrait of Poles. Duringthe Holocaust, did we, en masse, help Jews? ⇩
- Evil on the margins. Did Poles display hostility towards Jews during the Holocaust? ⇩
- Always in solidarity – the dominant theme in the narrative about Polish aid to Jews ⇩
- The survivors amongst us ⇩
- We could do nothing – Why was Polish aid to Jews ineffective? ⇩
- Money – a contribution to the question about Polish Government-in-Exile help for Jews ⇩
- In summary – two nations suffering – the parallels and the contrast in the fate of Poles and Jews during the German occupation ⇩
Published in 1966, this book by Władysław Bartoszewski and Zofia Lewinówna Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej. Polacy z pomocą Żydom 1939–1945 [This is My Homeland – Poles Helping Jews 1939-1945] established a canonical version of the Polish narrative about saving Jews in occupied Poland. Fifty-five years after its publication, it is time to verify what was presented as the picture of Polish society’s attitudes towards the Holocaust. Over the past decades, research into this issue has grown immensely. As a co-author of the book and a participant in the events presented in it, Władysław Bartoszewski outlined a picture of the mass participation of Poles, both individuals and institutions, in activities to save Jews. Today, this need to be substantially corrected. Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej... treated by many as a faithful record of the truth about the occupation, is primarily a document of its time, a source for the studying of social memory.
Władysław Bartoszewski and Zofia Lewinówna. Authors, circumstances and construction of Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej…
Władysław Bartoszewski (1922-2015) is not only a co-author of this book, but also a witness to the events presented in it. He was an active participant – an activist of Catholic Front for the Rebirth of Poland and a member of the Home Army [AK]. He was also a member of the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews and, for helping Jews, was honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. Bartoszewski travelled to the Yad Vashem twice – firstly in 1963, to plant a “Żegota” memorial tree in the Garden of the Righteous, and then in 1966, to plant his own.
It was during that period, together with Zofia Lewinówna, that he worked on Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej…. Lewinówna (1921-1994) survived the Holocaust, hiding on the “Aryan side” in Warsaw. Her hiding places included with her school friend Zofia Celińska, the sister of Jan Józef Lipski, the well-known literary historian and left-wing social activist. After the War, she worked as an editor in, among other places, the State Publishing Institute and the State Scientific Publishing House. She knew well Bartoszewski’s future wife, Zofa Makuch, who recommended her for the work.
The preparation of the book, by Bartoszewski and Lewinówna, was initiated by the famous campaign collecting memories about the saving of Jews, which was published, on 24th March 1963, in “Tygodnik Powszechny”. The article, which called for testimonies, deserves our attention. It begins by recalling unfair accusations against Polish society, thus bringing to the fore the stereotype of “Jews slandering Poland”, which is known, for example from Protest by Zofia Kossak-Szczukięć (Leon Uris plays the role of the slanderer). The responses, collected as a result of the campaign, are intended, by the organisers, to negate the slander.
Bartoszewski outlines the frames of possible answers to the survey. By definition, he separates Polish violence against their Jewish fellow citizens from the image of the nation, qualifying “the harms caused, during the occupation of Poland, to Jews and to Poles helping them”, as a matter of “criminal elements”. He underlines the fundamental importance of German terror (and not denunciations by neighbours) for the low effectiveness of the aid, as well as the mass participation of Poles in activities to save Jews, despite the price – the certain death penalty.
A lack of knowledge about the helping of Jews is explained by the death of witnesses, their reluctance to “think back to tragic events” and modesty (considering helping as a “simple fulfillment of their duty”). This does not allow us to speak about the real reasons for the silence – an aversion to the rescuers and repression on the part of their neighbours.
When formulating the request for testimonies in this manner, Bartoszewski and “Tygodnik Powszechny”, de facto, formatted the responses. On the one hand, an honest response about the realities of the occupation would easily qualify as “slander”. On the other hand, for people who were genuinely grateful to “Żegota” for saving their lives, a conflict over the image of Poland would put them in a psychologically difficult situation.
The campaign us Antoni Słonimski’s poem (1943), from which the title of the book was taken:
He, who forgets about his own country
On knowing how the blood of the Czech nation flows,
I feel like a brother to a Yugoslav,
A Norwegian, when the Norwegian people are suffering,
With a Jewish mother over her beaten sons
Bows himself, wringing his hands with regret,
When Moscow falls – feels like a Muscovite,
With Ukrainians, cries for Ukraine.
He, who opens his heart to everyone,
Is French when France suffer a Greek,
When the Greek people are dying from hunger.
He is from my homeland. He is human.
The work was published, in 1966, by the “Znak” Public Publishing Institute. (It was in bookstores in April of the following year.) Its second, extended edition was published in 1969. Both the period for the collection of testimonies and the time of the volume’s publication were difficult for Jewish Poles. The year 1956 saw a revival of antisemitism, which resulted in a wave of departures. More and more, nationalism gained a place in 1960s Polish culture which, in 1968, led to the largest act of discrimination since the Holocaust. The book, by Bartoszewski and Lewinówna, was used, without the authors’ consent, in the antisemitic campaign, as proof of the impeccable attitude of Poles towards Jews during the War and of the “ingratitude of the Jews towards Polish society”.
Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej… consists of two parts – an extensive introduction by Władysław Bartoszewski, entitled Po obu stronach muru [On Both Sides of the Wall] and a collection of testimonies. Amongst their authors, we find people whose wartimes stories became widely known only many years later. They include Jan Karski, Irena Sendler and Antonina Żabińska. Testimonies were also provided by Jews who had survived the Holocaust, mainly those who were involved in the resistance movement such as Rachela Auerbach and Basia Temkin-Berman, as well as Szymon Datner.
The introduction, intended as a guide to the reading of the testimonies collected within the volume, prepares you to read them and, at the same time, indicates the most important threads within the material collected and explains their meaning. They are arranged in a certain key manner and, at stake in these treatments, is the image of Poles. They, are also the main heroes of this history. The model of seeing and relating Polish-Jewish history which is present in Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej… is, on the one hand, the prevailing beliefs on this subject and, on the other hand, the provision of the status of the truth, as confirmed by the source and witnesses.
Let us focus on a critical reading of this introduction.
In Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej…, Władysław Bartoszewski has, consistently, built an image of the actors in the events – the nation as a whole – and has created a collective portrait.
In this book, Poles saving Jews are representatives of a much larger community – we see various regions of Poland, professional groups, social classes, world views, political orientations and, finally, a number of institutions, headed by the Delegation of the Government of the Republic of Poland to the Country. Their description takes the form of a list, illustrated by specific examples of rescue.
The help turns out to be massive, as a rule of conduct towards Jews.
In Bartoszewski’s story, the universal, social commitment is reflected in the position of public institutions. In his view, the establishment of the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews (4th December 1942) channels the social activity of the vast majority of Poles. At the same time, the unequivocal position of the Government Delegation provides rescuers with a certain social prestige.
We read, “The very […] existence of an organised centre […], at that time, representing the official position of the Polish government, had a fundamental moral and psychological significance. It was conducive to the creation of an appropriate climate for increasing the initiative and efforts in helping Jews. Over the last two years of the occupation, the Council became a real support for wider social activity”.
Efforts to rescue Jews did not even have to be initiated. It was enough to reinforce them. It was such a climate in which “large-scale social activity” developed.
Research, carried out in recent years, shows that the Polish environment was, primarily, a threat to the hiding of Jews and, on a societal level, solidarity was not so much about helping Jews, but more about allowing the Holocaust, taking advantage of its effects, as well as activities which were part of the Nazi German extermination actions. This is also the picture which emerges from documents. Jan Karski, the legendary political emissary of the Polish Underground State and the Polish Government-in-Exile, during World War II, at the beginning of 1940, wrote about the Polish community:
“Their attitude towards the Jews is mostly merciless, often merciless”.
The picture, drawn by Bartoszewski, of the mass participation of Poles in aid activities, should be corrected. Its foundation and, at the same time, its tacit assumption is the conviction that several dozen Poles must have been involved in the helping of one Jew in hiding. This leads to the conclusion that hundreds of thousands of Poles were involved in helping Jews.
The reality was quite the opposite. Care was provided by individual families, or even by lonely people, to sometimes several people. An example is Antonina Wyrzykowska, of Janczewka near Jedwabne, who, together with her husband Aleksander and her parents, Franciszek and Józefa Karwowski, extended help to seven survivors of the Jedwabne pogrom (10th July 1941). Those extending the help ensured, as much as possible, that no one knew about their activities. Therefore, the number of these people was limited.
If we take the number of twenty thousand Jews, who managed to survive of the “Aryan side”, as given by Antony Polonski, chief historian of the POLIN Museum’s Core Exhibition, and assume the aid was provided individually (and sometimes to a few rescued), the Polish contribution to saving Jews turns out to be modest.
The reality of the German occupation of Poland can be seen on the margins of the story as told by Władysław Bartoszewski:
“Conducting defence activities as well as caring activities, under incredible conditions, we are running a double conspiracy against a background of a raging German terror against the Poles also”.
This “double conspiracy” must mean hiding activities, not only from the occupier, but also from the Polish surroundings. It is evidence of actual difficulties, which the author decides not to mention. After many years, in an interview with “Die Welt”, he spoke clearly about them:
“I did not have to fear an officer in the street, who had no orders to arrest me. But, I had to fear my neighbour, who noticed that I was buying more bread then usual”.
Thus, the “right climate” around helping Jews did not make “Żegota” members feel safe within their own communities.
“The Council to Aid Jews (RPŻ)”, we read, “assumed the code-name of ‘Żegota’, initially unofficially, in order to avoid, under occupation conditions, the especially irritating and dangerous word ‘Jews’”.
The necessity to cover the phrase “helping Jews”, under some neutral code-name, calls into question the moral atmosphere which led to that necessity, about which Bartoszewski writes so much. For, if the organisation operated under a code-name, which hid its actual goals from even their closest associates involved in the underground, how could its existence be of “fundamental moral and psychological significance” for “increasing the initiatives and efforts to help Jews”?
Members of “Żegota” faced the same danger, from their underground comrades, as did those, who saved Jews in the provinces, from their neighbours and from the partisans. In the spring of 1944, the counterintelligence of the National Armed Forces and the Delegation of the Government of the Republic of Poland to the Country, due to alleged communist sympathies, monitored several people involved in activities to help Jews, including Aleksander Kamiński and Irena Sendler. On 13th June 1944, Jerzy Makowiecki, head of the Bureau of Information and Propaganda of the Home Army, was murdered. Witold Bieńkowski, who dealt with Jewish Affairs in the Government Delegation, collaborated in that event. That murder and others almost ended the activity of “Żegota”.
Nevertheless, Władysław Bartoszewski constructs his statement in such a manner as to separate the dangers threatening the rescuers from the Polish surroundings, from the image of the nation and, at the same time, blurs the scale of the issue. Denunciations of help turn out to be exceptions to the rule. At the same time, there are people acting on low motives, i.e. people who cannot be included with the national community:
“It is not permitted to deny and keep silent about the harm done to Jews, by those Poles, during the years of occupation in Poland. These Poles found themselves on the margins of their own community and also collaborated with the occupiers to the detriment of Jews and to the detriment of the Christians who helped them”, we read.
“But, we must remember, as stated by the eminent writer Adolf Rudnicki, that one myth, as always in similar times, could harm thousands of honest people. All this is not justifiable. But, we are justified and can confirm the fact that, with the exception of the fascists and the ONR [Organisation of Radical Nationalists], the entire Polish political underground helped Jews, especially after 1942, even though there was no help without the threat of the death penalty.”
Perhaps, all the statements in that passage are false, in the light of research conducted over the last twenty years. However, let us not dwell on the figure of “one louse”, which remains the reverse of the motif of “a few or sometimes a dozen or so people” engaged in the saving of one Jew. Only by combining both images do we create the desired image of the nation. There are always many Poles who are helping.
By implication – as in Bartoszewski’s stated conclusions – rescuers act as a community. Those, who consider their help cannot be effective, are, by definition, isolated. The impression arises that the efforts of the rescuers were thwarted by one person, or a small group of people, who were able to track down the Jews in hiding. As part of the picture as suggested by Bartoszewski, it is impossible to think of the “one louse” being responsible for the death of each hidden, as being one of many. After all, precisely because there were so many potential informers, meeting them turned out to be, statistically, quite frequent.
Utilising stylistics, Bartoszewski consistently excludes the hostility towards Jews from the image of the Polish community. He constructs his statement in such a manner as to associate the word “Poles” with rescuing. When he mentions Polish complicity, he avoids referring to perpetrators in terms which would link them to the Polish community. So, on the one hand, we have the repeated expression “the Jews and the Poles who help them” and, on the other hand, we have “the Kriminalpolizei's professional informants – Germans, Lithuanians, Poles and Jews, denouncers won over by the occupant with promises of material benefits, as well as blackmailers who extort their own ransom from Jews, and the Poles helping them, under the threat of turning them over to the German police”. Blackmail, unlike aid, is not a Polish practice. It is practised by various nationalities, with Poles only being in fourth place – next to the Jews themselves.
Today, we know more and more about the denunciation, as well as about the murders of Jewish Poles in hiding during the war, and about the aggression displayed towards returning survivors after the war ended. The massive scale of such attitudes prompts historians to speak about collective violence and ethnic cleansing. Until recently, the manner of viewing the war, as introduced by Bartoszewski, prevented Polish culture from noticing these phenomena.
Władysław Bartoszewski’s story develops under the mark of the best possible relations between Poles and Jews. Already, in the Second Polish Republic. Jews constituted a separate group, but they themselves, were responsible for this separation. We read about “Orthodox communities”, which have, “for centuries, been isolated from their non-Jewish surroundings”. The lack of information about the scope and strength of antisemitism in the 19th century, allows us a picture of participation in public life by those members of minorities, who actually decided to do so: “At the same time, the Polish intelligentsia, of Jewish origin, took an active part in Polish social life”, “Jews also actively participated in Polish political life”.
The reality of this participation is evidenced by the internment of several thousand Polish soldiers and officer of Jewish origin, including volunteers – in Jabłonna, Modlin and Zgierz, at the very beginning of the rebirth of the Polish state, and the hysteria caused by National Minority Bloc’s election result, which resulted in the murder of the first President of the Republic of Poland, Gabriel Narutowicz (16th December 1922). Reading Bartoszewski, we get the impression that “Wiadomości Literackie” set the standards of thinking and behvaiour during the inter-war period, while the tone of collective life was instead set by their relentless opponents.
With Bartoszewski, only Adolf Hitler enters into the Polish-Jewish idyll. Thus, the Nazis become the sole perpetrator of the persecution and the Polish community is placed into the role of a group counteracting the fascists’ intentions towards the Jews.
According to this story, the Germans’ regulations break the norms of the minority’s existence in the eyes of the Poles. The assimilated Jews also turn out to be surprised, as if they did not know discrimination based on their own pre-war experience.
Bartoszewski writes, “Persecution, based upon race, also affected many people who neither considered themselves Jews, nor did they consider themselves Jews within the Polish.
He contines, “The period of closing off the ‘Jewish residential districts’ confronted many people, who were considered to be Jews according to the Nuremberg Laws, with the very difficult problem of choosing their ongoing way of life and many ‘Aryan’ Poles faced the moral necessity to come to the aid of those, who had decided to take the immense risk of not complying with the German regulations”.
Once again, the realities make themselves felt on the margins of the text. It is difficult to understand the “immense risk” of staying outside of the ghetto, as those in hiding, “were not considered as Jews within Polish society”.
According to Bartoszewski, at a social level, the Holocaust caused a positive change in the attitudes of Poles towards Jews. He qualifies cases, which contradict such a diagnosis, as being derivative of the character and moral attitude of individuals, thus separating them from the collective community.
Contemporary historical research reveals an opposite picture. Following the war, a wave of antisemitism rises and triggers the emigration of Jews. In accounts by survivors on the “Aryan side”, there is repeated information regarding the threat coming from the Polish environment. Jews needed to develop strategies to hide their origins from the watchful eye of passers-by and neighbours. The issue turned out to be not so much the dilemmas of those who hesitated to help or not – about which Bartoszewski writes a great deal – but more about the lack of dilemmas amongst those who felt that they could be unpunished for persecuting their Jewish fellow citizens or who considered it to be natural to point out a Jew.
As early as 1940, Jan Karski wrote:
“The nation hates its mortal enemy [ed: referring to the Germans] – but this [ed: Jewish] Question, after all, creates a kind of narrow footbridge upon Germany and a large section of Polish society meet”.
Nevertheless, the story about the fate of the Jews, during the German occupation, forms part of Bartoszewski’s list of Polish achievements in the area of aid. The dominating elements in this relationship are cooperation, mutual understanding and Polish commitment. We read about military and political aid, transfer channels, the flow of information, the sympathetic gaze of Polish witnesses to German crimes, individual and institutional help and the involvement of government.
With regard to the theme of Polish solidarity towards Jews, there are two interwoven elements – its development and specificity. The idea that the surviving Jews survived within the Polish community and, only due to its heroic sacrifice, is accompanied by the conviction that the Poles could not actually do anything, because they were living under similar conditions as were the victims of the Holocaust. Combining these two figures, on the one hand, presents ethnic Poles as a nation which passed the moral test by paying a high price for it. On the other hand, it provides absolution in advance, and without going into the reasons for the ineffectiveness of the aid.
Władysław Bartoszewski creates an image of Polish society which ensures survival from extermination, thus isolating them from the Germans, making it impossible to implement the “final solution”, “The rest survived amongst the partisans or in hiding inside Polish surroundings, in contact with and receiving help from Polish society”. Again – the collective community helps and individuals only remain as envoys.
In this narrative, the occupiers see the Poles’ friendly attitude towards Jews and are convinced that fugitives from the ghettos are hiding amongst their former Polish neighbours. To the “ever more frequent facts about Jews in hiding”, they react with terror and with threats directed at the Poles. German repressions fall upon the Poles which, in Bartoszewski’s opinion, have no connection to the denunciations of neighbours, “These warnings are followed by the executions of Jews captured outside the ghetto. At the same time, there are arrests, deportations to concentration camps and executions of Poles who helped them”.
German terror does not change Polish attitudes, “In response to these repressive actions [ed: against the Jews and the Poles who were hiding them], the Polish underground press repeated its appeals to, at all costs, save the victims of Nazi bestiality”.
Władysław Bartoszewski emphasises that effective help was, in fact, impossible. However, the issue of unwanted and hidden knowledge, about Polish behaviour towards Jews during and after the war, does not concern what could not be done and what was not done. Rather, it is, however, related to what could not have been done and what Polish society, collectively, did. Comments, about the impossibility of providing mass help to the victims of the Shoah, hide knowledge about the scale and effectiveness of violence and, thus, complicity in the Holocaust.
It is about the issue, which Andrzej Żbikowski, called “existential collaboration”. In his opinion, “overt action against the outlawed Jews was, de facto, aid given to the occupier”, and not just that:
“It was also an expression of the partial acceptance of the rules of the game, a gesture of agreement […]. Such action, which seems to be the most important, is a testimony to the fact that, during the occupation, it was still possible to achieve certain specific goals, formulated by ideologies of antisemitism, even though the anti-Polish policy of the occupier was not generally accepted.”
The most important of these goals turned out to be the removal of Jews from Poland and the seizure of their property. Collaboration, in this work, took many forms, ranging from the hostile and the isolation from observation of the Germans’ actions, through robbery, to direct aggression. But, all had the same effect. They prevented those [destined for extermination] from escaping and, in effect, led to their deaths. Help - even the type which was possible under the conditions created by the occupier – was not possible precisely because of the attitude of the statistically decisive majority of Polish society, as described by Żbikowski.
In Bartoszewski’s view, effective help was prevented by factors independent of Polish attitudes and actions – the size of the Jewish population in Poland, their concentration in the cities and, finally, that separation... We learn about how great were the difficulties associated with attempts to save representatives of the Jewish poor, and how their situation was different to that of the assimilated intelligentsia. The division, into ghetto and the assimilated elite, removes from sight a large group of Jews – also those from small towns – who were no different in their clothes, but were still considered as strangers.
A question disappears from the picture as outlined by Bartoszewski. To whom was revealed the “distinctive difference in customs” or “the insufficient knowledge of the Polish environment and language”? The wording, itself, indicates that it was necessary to hide from the Poles who, unlike the Germans, were capable of recognising, often subtle, cultural and linguistic differences. Although German terror was of fundamental importance in this story, Polish attitudes, to a large extent, increased the effectiveness of the Nazis’ actions. This is left unsaid.
In the introduction to Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej…, information about the establishment of the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews brings an important element to the image of universal aid for [those destined to be] exterminated – the financial outlays of the Polish state and society to save Jews. Bartoszewski places the emphasis on the “material support of the activities of “Żegota” by the Polish Government-in-Exile. He lists the sums transferred and the sources of support. Thus, a belief is formed that Poles, as a community, did not profit from the Holocaust. On the contrary, they incurred expenses as a result of it.
And, at this point, the picture, as outlined by Bartoszewski, does not correspond with reality. Marcin Urynowicz states that the Council to Aid Jews received a large proportion of funds from Jewish political parties in the country which, at certain times, financed as much as 40% of its activities, Historians, including Dariusz Stola, point out that a large part of the funds was lost on its way to the recipients.
Marcin Urynowicz states,
“It is only one step away from the assumption that hundreds of thousands of dollars, which never ended up in the hands of Jewish organisations in the county, were allocated by the DR [ed: Government Delegation] to other purposes and that the activities of the Council to Aid Jews were not financed de facto by the state treasury, but primarily by money from Jewish organisations. The DR, itself, would limit itself to only transferring these funds, falsely identifying them as coming from the Polish state treasury”.
Moreover, the Government Delegation did not supply aid in dollars. It exchanged the money at under-valued rates, and the money was given to the needy only after enormous delays.
It appears that the Polish Underground State was no exception when it came to taking advantage of the situation of the Jews, so widespread in Polish cities and in the provinces. As a result, funds, earmarked by the PPP for saving Jews, were not only low in terms of the budget, but – as the Council to Aid Jews stated in its notes to the Delegation – “it did not allow for any activity which could be treated seriously”.
It is worth adding that the picture, as proposed by Bartoszewski, omitted not only the financial contributions by Jewish organisations to the aid activities, but also the significant participation of Jews in the structure of the Council itself, amongst its members, liaison officers and co-workers.
In summary – two nations suffering – the parallels and the contrast in the fate of Poles and Jews during the German occupation
“The implementation of these tasks [ed: the expulsion from western Polish lands] – both in relation to Jews and Poles – was entrusted to Heydrich, by Adolf Hitler, on 21st December 1939”, wrote Władysław Bartoszewski. “Around 200,000 Poles and around 100,000 Jews were deported in the winter of 1939/1940 from the same ‘Warta Country’ alone”.
Bartoszewski’s narrative presents the Holocaust as an element of Nazi Germany’s terror against the Polish population in general. The repressions against the Jews turned out to be parallel to the repressions against the Poles, which is illustrated by the above quotation. Information about the persecution of the Jews is accompanied by comments such as “in the General Government, the terror against the entire society increased from month to month”. This was followed by a comment about the “mass arrests and execution” of the Polish population and the shooting of Kraków professors. Although the Polish victims and suffering are not subject to discussion, the disproportionate fate of Jewish and non-Jewish Poles, during the Holocaust, is blurred.
Contrast also finds it ways into the similar fate narrative. German terror meant that the price for saving Jews was often death to the rescuers, But despite that, Polish society passes a difficult examination at almost all levels.
In the case of Jews, the impression is that they could not cope with their war experience and, unlike the Poles, they could stand up to the task. Cases of human smallness, selfishness and cruelty are present, not as marginal, but as one of the elements which characterise the Jewish community.
Bartoszewski balances this description with the heroism of the rebels who decided to fight during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and in other cities, or who joined the partisans. But, at the same time, he does not introduce any fundamental difference between the situation of the people in the closed-off districts and the situation of the Poles on the “Aryan side”. He does not speak about the incomparably greater pressure to which the Jews, outside the ghetto walls, were subjected, or of such prosaic details as the fact that the Jewish underground was decimated during the 1942 deportation operations. There is also no place, in his story, for justifications analogous to those applied to Poles.
In effect, the description of the extermination activities takes the following form: “The Nazi Vernnichtungskommando carried out this bloody task with the help of Ukrainian, Lithuanian and Latvian collaborative units. The Jewish Order Service (ghetto police) was also used”. This is about the deportation operations in the Warsaw ghetto (July-September 1942). The role of the Polish community in sealing the ghetto walls, preventing escapes, is included in the formula, only as an exception.
The culmination of the story, told in this way, are Polish trees in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. The Jews, the beneficiaries of Polish aid, do justice to the Polish community, thus confirming, to a great extent, the fictitious account of Polish attitudes during the Holocaust.
* * *
Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej… is one of the first attempts to collect testimonies about the Holocaust. For this reason alone, and to this day, it is an interesting source of knowledge. At the same time, it remains a testimony to the practices and discourses which have shaped our perception of the extermination of the Jews, especially the Polish image relating to the Holocaust. It is not only the witnesses’ accounts which require reflection, but also the ways in which stories are created within culture – the extracting of certain threads and the hiding of others, the construction of heroes, what to accent and, finally, putting pressure on those who will talk about of their fate.
Prof. Tomasz Żukowski, ed. Mateusz Szczepaniak, February 2022
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