Thursday, 25 April 2013 13:31

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Polish Jews address ”The Washington Post”: the Kielce Pogrom had nothing to do with Holocaust (June 2010)

schudrichI was glad to read Richard Cohen’s „What Helen Thomas missed”, setting the record straight on why Jews could not, after WWII, just „go back to Poland” and elsewhere in Central Europe, as the veteran White House correspondent had suggested. I was dismayed, however, to see Cohen qualify the violence against the Jews there at that time as “a mini-Holocaust”.

 

The Holocaust was a once-only, stand-alone event; it does not come in different sizes. It had ended on V-E Day, with the end of the Nazi regime which had made the genocide of the Jews one of its main objectives.

 

To suggest otherwise, to refer to killings of Jews by Poles, or Slovaks and Hungarians, or by Arabs, after that date and outside the Nazi framework, as Holocaust, mini or not, unavoidably legitimizes the use of the term to refer to other mass killings.

 

If Kielce and other post-WWII murders of Jews in Poland were a “mini-Holocaust”, then surely, say, the recent mob violence in Kenya was one as well. The term “Holocaust” would then become just another synonym of not only genocide, but indeed mass murder.


Just as importantly, however, to call the post-war killings of Jews in Poland a “mini-Holocaust” is to ignore a crucial aspect of the Holocaust, i.e. the role of the state. The Holocaust was not just six million murders: It was a systematic and organized state campaign, reflecting the policies adopted by the German Third Reich. Post-war murders of Jews in Poland reflected popular anti-Semitism, the corrupting impact of Nazi propaganda and action, and the general lawlessness of the country which lost one fifth of its population, and saw Soviet occupation replace the German one – but the (Communist-dominated) Polish state played no role in it.

 

To the contrary: the military and the police tried to suppress pogrom attempts, even if orders were not always followed, and after Kielce, the government authorized the setting up of a Jewish armed militia for self-defense purposes. If killings of Jews in this context can be called a “mini-Holocaust”, then we have to assume that State policy was irrelevant to the Holocaust itself.

I doubt if Richard Cohen was aware of the implications of the term he had used. However, as the French writer Albert Camus had famously said, “to misname things is to add to the unhappiness of the world”. I am afraid Cohen runs the risk of having done just that.

Sincerely,

Michael Schudrich,
Chief Rabbi of Poland                       

Piotr Kadlcik, UJCRP President

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