Deeper and Deeper into the Heart of Darkness

On 10 July 1941, the most shameful chapter of my native Poland’s history was written. In a small town of Jedwabne, occupied by the Nazis, its sizeable Jewish community was brutally murdered by the Poles. For years, the perpetrators shifted the blame away from themselves. It took sixty years for the Polish president to say these memorable words at the site of the massacre in 2001: “This was a particularly cruel crime. It was justified by nothing. The victims were helpless and defenseless. For this crime, we should beg the souls of the dead and their families for forgiveness. This is why today, as a citizen and as president of the Republic of Poland, I apologize.” In the same year, a book was published by Jan T. Gross under the title Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community of Jedwabne, Poland. It caused a storm. To this day, many Poles refuse to accept its undeniable truth: that in 1941 some 600-900 Jews were herded in a barn and burned alive by the Poles. Those who had hidden or escaped were tracked down and mercilessly murdered. Undeniably, on that day the Polish victims of the Nazis turned into most cruel perpetrators; and not without a large dose of relish, mockery, even joy:

 “The Jews were wrenched from their houses and beaten, driven to the marketplace and ordered to weed it with spoons, forced to break up a statue of Lenin and run around the marketplace carrying its pieces while singing ‘the war’s our fault.’”

Via http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/nov/19/jedwabne-even-worse-we-thought/

The quote comes from a review of a Polish book most recently translated into English: The Crime and the Silence: Confronting the Massacre of Jews in Wartime Jedwabne by Anna Bikont.

Before the war, the Jews were treated as aliens all over Europe. In Poland:

 “As elsewhere, the Jews were placed in all sorts of inescapable double binds. If they were forcibly kept apart from society, it meant that they were by nature separate and alien; if they assimilated, it was because they wanted to undermine Poland from within. They were forbidden from buying land in pre-war Poland, then told that—despite centuries of presence—they were ‘guests’ with ‘no tie to the land.’”

It is not wrong to look for such rational explanations in the face of atrocity, but the hardest questions will always remain unanswerable; especially if we persist in looking for answers outside – in the social order, in others, in the circumstances, but always away from the dark roots of our own hatred and fear.

The Jews of Jedwabne

The Jews of Jedwabne

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21 Responses to Deeper and Deeper into the Heart of Darkness

  1. litebeing says:

    Thank you so much for this blog Monika. As you know I am Polish on both sides of my family and have Jewish blood as well. Eventually I came to learn that many of my ancestors were like you said, aliens all over Europe.

    This post is very timely in terms of the recent slew of terrorist attacks. Taking responsibility and accepting the truth is so important. Assigning blame is such a common and typical human reaction to just about any behavior. This coping style is dysfunctional at best and will not move us forward. It is interesting, that while you are not of Jewish heritage, you share a profound compassion for the Jewish people. You have a huge heart and I thank you for shedding more light on this subject.

    Hugs, Linda

    • Dear Linda,

      I am very happy my short post resonated with you and reminded you of your roots. I was no aware you had Jewish ancestry – so interesting. As I come from Krakow, I cannot help but be fascinated by the culture. The most beautiful part of the city is the old Jewish district. I hope you can visit one day.

      I do not feel worthy of posting on the terrorist attacks, but I still wanted to write something that expressed the sadness we all feel right now.

      Love,
      Monika

  2. Thank you. Timely read for me since I watched Woman in Gold yesterday evening.

  3. Don says:

    So profoundly sad, Monika, and what makes it even more sad is the shifting of blame. Facing up to the truth always eventually sets us free.

  4. I will forward this information to people dealing with this topic and/or who have also a strong relationship to Poland. Do you know if there is any kind of memorial place in Poland for this massacre? If yes, where. Thanks in advance.

    • Hello, yes – there is a stone memorial in Jedwabne.

      From Wikipedia:
      “It was reported on September 1, 2011 that the memorial to the Jedwabne pogrom had been defaced with a swastika and graffiti that read “They were flammable” and “I don’t apologize for Jedwabne.”[75][76] Poland launched an anti-hate crime investigation involving the country’s domestic intelligence agency, the ABW.[77][78] Poland’s President Bronisław Komorowski condemned the vandalism. Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski stated: “I utterly condemn these acts of criminality, alien to Polish tradition. There is no room for such behavior in Polish society.”[79] Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, said the use of the Nazi swastika by vandals was anti-Polish as well as anti-Jewish and that “Non-Jewish Poles also suffered horribly under the Nazis … the vast majority of Poles are appalled by what’s just happened.”
      Thank you for reading.

  5. Thank you, Monika. It’s powerful healing both in the present and through the ancestral lines to remember and honor. In Poland, an estimated 3 million citizens of Jewish descent and 1.9 million Polish natives of non-Jewish descent were murdered, which is echoed elsewhere and sends shockwaves through the descendant lineages to be sure. Thanks for remembering and honoring some of those Polish citizens here. Blessings, Jamie

  6. hypodemicnoodle says:

    such a great post. by far the most subtle yet as effective as any comment i’ve read on recent events. respec’

  7. Jeff Japp says:

    Hi Monika. Wow, what a powerful post! Thank you for sharing it. I was recently in Israel and while in Jerusalem I went to Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial there. Very moving. Thanks again for reminding everyone of the horrors perpetrated in that dark period of history.

    Sending hugs and blessings.

    Jeff

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