Shocker: Jewish Author Confirms “Marches of the Living” Anti-Polish Character
Here is my review, recently appearing at Amazon. This Jewish-authored book confirms Polish suspicions about the Israeli “Marches of the Living” in vivid frankness.
Review of Above the Death Pits, Beneath the Flag: Youth Voyages to Poland and the Performance of Israeli National Identity, by Jackie Feldman. 2008. Berghahn Books, New York, Oxford.
Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis
Revealing Insights into Israeli Teenagers’ Holocaust-Related Visits to Poland
“Over the past two decades, the Shoah has come to play an increasingly significant role in Israeli collective memory and civil religion”. (p. 1). This book provides valuable information about the Israeli visits to Poland, covering nearly every aspect of their occurrence in encyclopedic detail. The Israeli voyages to Poland have grown from 400 visitors in 1988 to over 28,000 in 2005. (p. 249).
If you, the reader, come with an idealistic view of recent Polish-Jewish relations, be prepared for a shock. I have studied Jewish anti-Polonism for some time [see Peczkis Listmania: EXPOSING POLONOPHOBIA…], and some of the information in this book startled me. This work, by a Jewish author, largely confirms the most cynical and extremist Polish views about the nature of, and motives behind, the Israeli visits and the “Marches of the Living”.
To begin with, the perceptive reader will see, in this book, the usual tendency of diffusing responsibility for the Holocaust away from where it belongs–the Germans. For instance, during a prayer at the site of the ruins of the Birkenau crematoria, the leader asks how long Jews will be a prey and victim of the gentiles. (p. xiv). This paints with a very broad brush. With the exception of Haman’s Persians, Hitler’s Germans were the only gentiles to ever attempt to exterminate the Jews. In like manner, Auschwitz is commonly called a ZIVILIZATIONSBRUCH–a breach of civilization. (p. 1). Was it really a breach of human civilization, or was it a breach of German civilization?
There is also a displacing of responsibility for the Holocaust away from where it belongs–the Germans–and unto the Poles. Feldman (p. 88; see also p. 115) repeats the rather silly contention that this happens (and seems to excuse it) because “the Germans are not visibly present”, and so Poles can serve as stand-ins for the bystanders and even executioners. Ironic to this absurd and insulting scapegoating of the Poles, it is the Jewish side frequently complaining about scapegoats! The dying Jews, smoking chimneys, etc., are also not “visibly present”, and have not been for seven decades, yet this does not prevent the visitors from focusing on them by one iota.
The displacement of Jewish hostility from Germans unto Poles also occurs in various subtle contexts. Feldman (p. 78) even presents a table that makes it obvious. For the visiting Israelis, the inside of the bus or hotel represent an “inside space” of warmth, Jewishness, security, joy, life, and “us”. The “outside space”, Poland, represents the exact opposite: coldness, the Holocaust, danger, tension and sorrow, death, and “them”.
The “Polish-Jewish dialogue” aspect of the Israeli visits should not be overblown. Feldman notes that, (Quote) The meetings with Polish youths (when they do take place) and the presence of Polish guides are structured so that they have little impact. The stories of Polish victims of the Holocaust, as well as the dilemmas encountered by Polish bystanders, are also rarely heard. Even righteous gentiles are encountered as stage figures elevated from oblivion by the State of Israel’s recognition and honor, and not as an “other” to be heard. (unquote)(p. 242). Poles serving as guides have been discouraged under various pretexts. (p. 66). Except for a brief time, meetings between Israeli and Polish youth have been minimized–on alleged security grounds. (p. 61). Polish guides at Auschwitz-Birkenau have also been either removed or encouraged to be silent. (pp. 136-137).
Israeli security guards envelope the visiting Israelis. In part, this policy is consistent with visits even within Israel. (p. 93). However, Feldman admits that it also exists in order to reinforce anti-Polish feeling, (Quote) The security arrangements enable the students to imagine that they have returned to the scene of the crime, in order to reenact the Polish(gentile)-Jewish situation of the Holocaust. This time, however, thanks to the State of Israel, they are the victors. Beyond its functional role, the highly visible presence of Israeli security forces is an important element in the symbolic world of the voyage. (unquote)(p. 71). Once again, the German perpetrators have all but disappeared.
Poles must be thrilled to find themselves in the company of de-Germanized German mass murderers (Nazis) and archetypical murderous ancient pagans (Amalekites). Feldman quips, (Quote) In Poland, the [Israeli] flags are directed, not against a current foe, but against a past enemy–the Nazis, the Poles, or Amalek. (unquote)(p. 264).
Allegations have been made in the past about some Poles supposedly saying that Jews deserved to die because of the Jewish role in the Crucifixion of Christ. Ironically, some modern Jews engage in similar collectivist condemnation: They say that Ukrainians deserve the Chernobyl disaster because of “what they did to Jews” (p. 58), and that Poles deserve their poverty as punishment for Poles’ presumed collaboration in the Holocaust. (p. 87).
Naomi, one of the guides, told the Israeli teenagers visiting the site of Treblinka: “`No Poles served in the death camps, in spite of the stereotype. The Poles were not collaborators with the Germans. They’re a very nationalist people. They weren’t prepared to live under occupation. Even though they hated the Jews.” (p. 112). Is the latter statement a projection of Jewish hatred for Poles?
Not surprisingly, Israeli teens have absorbed strong preconceptions about the ubiquity and intensity of Polish anti-Semitism. (p. 88). Apart from ignoring the historical situation that placed Poles and Jews in conflict, and the Jewish share of responsibility for the negative aspects of Polish-Jewish relations, all this avoids the fact that Polish anti-Semitism was far from universal. [See, for instance, the Peczkis Listmania: PRE-WWII POLISH JEWS EXPERIENCING LITTLE OR NO ANTI-SEMITISM].
Rarely is this “Poles are anti-Semites” mantra broken. One Israeli youth, evidently alluding to the fact that Arabs are also Semites, warned that, (Quote) “And we are the people who have suffered most from anti-Semitism, and we’re anti-Semitic now. I never hear anyone who doesn’t curse Arabs.” (unquote). (p. 122).
The agenda behind the Israeli youth visits to Poland is unmistakable. Feldman says, (Quote) Among the most important messages of the voyage are that Poland is a Jewish cemetery and a hostile anti-Semitic country, and that the continuation of Diaspora Jewish life is in Israel. (unquote). (p. 177).
Some Poles think of the Israeli visits as a provocation. Feldman, using roundabout language, acknowledges that this is not only true, but is intentionally so. She cites a Ministry handbook that affirms that the visits are SUPPOSED to confront the Poles with their “role in the tragedy of the Jewish people”. (p. 73). She adds that, (Quote) The prominent display of Israeli symbols and the performance of mass processions through territory perceived as hostile not only affirms common belonging, but announces Jewish-Israeli claims to the legacy and remnants of the Shoah to the Polish “other”. (unquote)(p. 73).
Poles are a stand-in not only for the German mass murderers. The Poles are also enlisted as a kind of substitute for Islamic extremists, as pointed out by Feldman, (Quote) The insular nature of the voyage and the encounters (real or imagined) with Polish anti-Semitism are extended to the Arab-Israeli dispute. (unquote)(pp. 274-275).
In this book, there is but one brief mention as “other crimes of the Nazis” (p. 60) by an Israeli critic of the voyages to Poland. There is no evidence that Israeli youth visiting Poland are taught, at least to any significant extent, that the Nazi Germans had also murdered millions of Poles. To the contrary–the prevalent view, not surprisingly, is the standard Judeocentric (if not Judeochauvinistic) one. Feldman comments, (Quote) Furthermore, for most Israeli participants, the Poles are not fellow victims, but Holocaust bystanders or perpetrators. (unquote)(p. 138).
Some prominent Israelis have criticized the Holocaust-related visits to Poland as a means of instilling Israeli nationalism (p. 19, 60), and for adhering to a policy that seeks to “minimize contact with modern Poland and instill a negative sense of place.” (p. 20). Certain Polish diplomats have also protested the anti-Polish nature of the voyages. (p. 267).