#24 / Editorial


The accounts are still not settled between Poland and the Jewish world, as one can discern in the attempt of the country’s Parliament to put the kibosh on the restitution of looted property.[1]. The hot potato, that is to say blame for the despoliation of Jewish property and larger responsibility for the Holocaust, is forever passed to Germany. This is fair, except when one notes the role of active collaboration. Poland remains a land of denial, despite the courage of a few. Poland represents the paradigmatic case of a society as both victim and perpetrator, and owning up to such a status remains difficult. The state of Israel, the official home of survivors, hits out at this problem regularly; and the United States, a country solicitous of the survivors, does too. But the European Union remains rather taciturn. The EU waved Poland through the accession process after the fall of Berlin Wall, certain that this weathered product of European Catholic nationalism, emancipated from the Soviet Union, would soon travel the distance to post-national European identity. We today realize how naive that assumption was. Poland is nonetheless part of Europe, part of ourselves, even as it presents us with a fun-house mirror reflection.

The essay of Ewa Tartakowsky, the first part which runs in K. this week, casts this thesis into sharp relief. Poland cannot avoid an acknowledgement of the past, and so has integrated the Holocaust into the national narrative through the celebration of Polish rescuers of Jews, transfiguring Poland as the ultimate martyr. One might say this is more tolerable than an open exultation of Polish complicity in the Final Solution. The word « complicity » seems far too mild a term, however, when one recalls that Poland produced pogroms and active antisemitism even after the collapse of the Nazi order.

Barbara Necek’s investigation on a false Righteous Among the Nations hero, republished in K. this week as part of our summer reprise, reminds us how coveted the status of rescuer is, no matter how that lines up with reality. Henceforth, one can be a good Polish patriot and rescue of Jews, without contradiction, but at the price of the generalization or fabrication of an individual grandeur of spirit. One imagines that this Polish operation of self-deception will eventually fail under the weight of historical fact. Polish youngsters, now awash in denial and counterfeit glory, will be forced to face history (of course, there are many who have already seen through official propaganda). « External guides are not allowed to guide through the exhibition, » reads a sign in Markowa’s museum dedicated to the town’s Righteous Among Nations, according to Tartakowsky’s report. Is there a more sophomoric way to protect oneself from the truth?

This teaching tool is situated in Galicia, in the Subcarpathian region, a few miles from the small city of Sanok, a stop on Danny Trom’s route to Lemberg, the former capital of Galicia, now the Ukrainian city of Lviv. Drawing on Philippe Sands’ work East West Street[2] and his own family history, Trom revisits the dilemmas of the Jews of the region, once at the heart of a vibrant Europe which is now a distant memory. He approaches the problem from a different angle than Sands, examining the connections between Zionism and international criminal law, both of which have deep roots in Galicia, as two elements of the self-same process.

The state of Israel is a belated outgrowth of the European idea of the right to national self-determination, but the state is before and above all the child of international criminal law, whose failure it also signals. Thus, European crime and the state of Israel, the sometimes-contested, sometimes-recognized legatee of the Jews of Europe, find themselves at the heart of Europe’s process of self-knowledge. Europe must grapple with the crimes of the past in order to create a new future, a hard labor hindered by the refusal of countries like Poland and Hungary to reflect seriously on their own history. Europe, in Pollyanna fashion, hoped that prosperity alone, like a new Marshall Plan, would ensure the triumph of the union’s values among the new members. Despite the denial of participation in the crime, the silt and sediments of history are inexorably dredged up, like cadavers appearing after heavy rains. And so the face-saving makeshifts are swept away. The twinned strategies of Poland and Hungary, which have sidled up to Israel in order to pursue ultra-conservative policies while protecting themselves from charges of antisemitism, and of Israel, which has sidled up to Poland and Hungary to influence European diplomacy, touch their limits here. But when the state of Israel and the European Union, in concert or each in their turn, throw a veil over this issue, these entities might protect their immediate interests. But that comes at the price of leaving European Jews to stand on their own.


1 Germany’s DW reports that « the bill states that administrative decisions can no longer be challenged in court after the expiration of a 30-year period — essentially preventing Jews from recovering property seized by Poland’s communist-era authorities. »
2 Philippe Sands, East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016

A group of students enrolled in a course on the Polish Righteous Among Nations went to Markowa, in the Subcarpathian region, to visit the “Museum of Poles Saving Jews during the Second World War – Ulma Family.” Ewa Tartakowsky accompanied this visit. She explains how the discourse that accompanies it resonates with the memorial policies promoted by the PiS government. Excerpts from a field diary, part one.

Did Eugene Lazowski save 8,000 Polish Jews during World War II? Or not? Barbara Necek looks back at the history of a historical fake news that has become a tenacious legend that has continued to captivate audiences.

After reading Philippe Sands’ essay ‘East West Street’, Danny Trom returned to the Galician town, once Polish and now Ukrainian, to follow in his family’s footsteps. The footsteps of Lemkin and Lauterpacht, the two heroes of Sands’ best-seller, overlap with those of Trom’s  grandfather. Lemberg was a land of crime and the epicenter of emerging international criminal law, but also a place where Zionism was dreamed up in Yiddish. Why does Sands occlude this fact? Now war is raging in Ukraine – and thus in Lviv, formerly Lemberg. In what way and how does the tragic situation in the Ukraine involve the Jews? Ukraine addresses this question to both the Jews and the State of Israel. Danny Trom, to resolve this matter, revisits his story with an epilogue, from which he draws a common position for both Europe and the Jews.

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Thanks to the Paris office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation for their cooperation in the design of the magazine’s website.