Germany: a hostile friend

1 09 2007

Source: Wprost weekly of 2 Sep. 2007
Author: Krystyna Grzybowska
Translation from Polish for this blog: MoPoPressReview

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Should we acknowledge the German domination in Europe and humbly take in the attacks of the German media and some of the German politicians on this country? Or should we continue the hard policy of defending national interests, like the Germans do, on the European and international stage? As far as the relations with Germany are concerned, these are the options Poland has. Think not Poland has to do talk with Germany knelt down. Germany respects a nation that respects itself; and won’t be frightened. This is one of the reasons they treat Russia with such respect. The lesson they’ve got in Stalingrad got deep into their minds.

German patriotism

We are not a superpower; not with us the German government is competing in pursuit of being the first in Europe, or the leading world superpower. Chancellor Merkel receives such praise in Germany not due to her new orders in internal politics or important reforms. She’s so popular because she maintains strong position “in the world of Bush, Sarkozy and Putin”. It’s about influencing the world – because 62 years after the war the Germans are regaining self-confidence, which they lacked for decades. German self-confidence is however always combined with nationalism and arrogance. That’s how it was in history, and how it is now.

For a long time the word ‘patriot’ was regarded in Germany as offence – complained ‘Die Welt’ daily in one of it’s commentaries. And that makes the Polish accusation of German chauvinistic attitude towards them absurd. It is true, that one of the elements of de-Nazification of the West Germany was avoidance of presenting attachment to Vaterland, as there was the fear that it would turn to nationalism. I didn’t, however, notice any indications of patriotism in German everyday life – because patriotism in Polish, French or American style doesn’t exist there. The national euphoria during the recent football world cup faded away together with the event. Despite president Horst Koehler’s calls to continue with this patriotic enthusiasm. Germans don’t know what is patriotism. You need ages of fighting and efforts to keep territory, to have freedom; and also humility, to know what it means to love one’s home country.

German courage

For hundreds of years Germany, or German states and their variable coalitions to be more specific, have been pursuing to take other people’s territories in possession – until it ended with a barbarian war started by Hitler. Today Prussia is being glorified, and called German’s pride. ‘Der Spiegel’ weekly devotes pages to descriptions of the might and great merits the Prussian state made to the Germans. Grateful readers are sending letters thanking the paper for having courage to have this difficult subject published. “You rehabilitate the the biggest, and politically and culturally the most influential German state, dissolved in 1947 by the winners. No institution either in the East, or in the West, has ever had that courage” – wrote Joerg Ulrich Stange from Sleswig-Holsatia. It isn’t the first or the only attempt to rehabilitate the disgraceful German past.

The most worrying is the tone of the media, which accuse Jarosław Kaczynski, and the current Polish administration, of nationalism. “Prime-minister’s rhetoric, seasoned with nationalism, falls on the fertile ground among the elderly, who lived through the German occupation” – wrote the conservative German ‘Focus’ weekly. Is that supposed to mean, that those Poles who made it to survive and escape the death from German barbarians, are nationalists? One is tempted to paraphrase the famous Jacques Chirac’s quote “The Germans didn’t use the opportunity to be quiet”.

There are several words and terms the Germans shouldn’t use in relation to other nations, and most importantly in relation to Jewish and Polish nations. One of those is ‘nationalism’. It sounds cynical, coming from a country that apparently has overcome nationalism; although it’s citizens can freely associate in fascist parties like NPD, and bald-headed “patriots” run around East-German city streets bashing every foreigner who happens to be of different skin colour than a typical blonde would have had. Recent violence, that affected people of Hindu origin, highly-skilled professionals – which the richest country in Europe constantly lacks, prove how multiculturalism and tolerance work in the soul of an average simple German.

In the German East nationalism is visible straight-forward, whereas in the West it proliferates in beer pubs, manifested in complaints on Polish car-thieves and dirty Turks. On the other hand, political correctness and fear of the Muslims mean that the Germans are having even more mosques built, like the one in Cologne, although there already are over 2500 Islamic temples in the country.

Criticising Kaczyński, and accusing him of nationalism, when he warns Civic Platform party (PO) of being over-submissive towards Germany, is another attack on Poland, a country which hasn’t done anything wrong to the Germans, which was ready to put aside the past and reconcile with a nation that has done her so much harm.

Polish-German idyll

It were the Germans who began to revise history, when they recognised they can allow themselves for that. And the recent Expelled Associations’ congress in Berlin showed that this revision could have European dimension. The sole presence of the European Parliament’s president Hans-Gert Poettering on this undoubtedly anti-Polish event, only proves this point. How is the Polish government and the Polish public supposed to react for such demonstration? Should we pretend that everything is all right, and Erika Steinbach and her federation is a margin – like the politicians of German left and right would want us to believe?

Polish politics is a deep crisis. Parliamentary opposition, although among which there are many patriots, is demolishing the state in plain view of Europe and to German praise. The German media for some time have been trying to influence the Polish public, fighting together with the Polish opposition with Kaczyński brothers. They are almost certain that PO will win the next elections and form coalition with The Left and Democrats (LiD), which will finally relieve the nationalist tendencies in Poland. And there will be idyll between Poland and Germany: the way the Germans want of course.

People who defend the theory about the marginal role of the Federation of Expellees cite positive examples: for it was the enthusiasm for “Solidarność” that was the impulse for Merkel to get into politics – wrote Thomas Urban, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung correspondent in Poland. Germans like symbols, symbolic gestures are to fix problems between the two nations. The joint declaration of German president Johannes Rau and his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwaśniewski in 2003, according to Poettering, has provided a final solution for the claims. ‘Bla bla bla’ – one would want to say. 22 families have to leave their homes, because these homes will be returned to the Germans. Further evictions are on their way.

If the next Polish government is to lead the equal partnership policy with Germany through trivial declarations, we will find ourselves in a corner, and without any chance for regaining the position the current government has undoubtedly won. We might also learn that the Polish veto against Russia is a betrayal of European interests – while the Baltic pipeline is only a gesture of German-Russian reconciliation.

We are fed up with the symbols of Polish-German reconciliation. German politicians very eagerly refer to the Letter of the Polish Bishops to the German Bishops, and the famous quote “We forgive and we ask for forgiveness”. Today these words are getting new meaning, Poles ask for forgiveness for they must be guilty. Hans-Gert Poettering assured he represents the 27 European Union member states – and this is another example of the German arrogance and disrespect for other nations, especially Polish. Unconvincing is the argument, that Poettering as a German Christian Democrat wants to win the favour of the expelled as voters – because he does it at the expense of Polish fears, and he doesn’t care if he increases the tension between the Polish and the German.

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If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.

 

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Poland will not return priceless art works to Germany

6 08 2007

Source: Gazeta Wyborcza 4-5 August 2007
Author: Bartosz T. Wieliński in Berlin
Translation from Polish for this blog: MoPoPressReview

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For over a week the Polish and German media have been heating up the debate over German art works, that Poland acquired after the Second World War. It is for instance the so called ‘Berlinka’: the collection of old prints and manuscripts (by Goethe, Beethoven and Mozart, inter alia), and a collection of aircrafts from the beginnings of air travel. During the war the Germans relocated them to Silesia region, where after 1945 they were found by Polish authorities, gaining control over the Recovered Territories.

Since 1992 their return is being negotiated. Today Warsaw refuses to return them saying that these collections are a compensation for the Polish works of art destroyed during the war by the Germans. Polish experts estimate these losses at 20 billion dollars.

Last Friday the German Frankurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily wrote, that Polish stubbornness is unlawful, and reminded that Poland had broken off the talks in 2005. FAZ called the German government to be more firm in demanding the return of their national treasures. Later the German press referred to these works of ar as “loot” or “hostages”. Yesterday Anna Fotyga, the Polish Foreign Affairs Minister, called these remarks a “Cold War relic”. While the Polish Government’s Plenipotentiary for the Polish-German relations said that these claims made by Germany are ‘a defeat of the peculiarly understood reconciliation, forced by the scriptwriters of the Polish foreign policy in the early nineties.’

INTERVIEW
with Prof. Tono Eitel, German diplomat and main negotiator of the return of the German art works

Bartosz T. Wieliński: Why do the Germans call Berlinka a “loot”? Poland did not steal it.
Toto Eitel: I don’t see anything wrong with that. When as a result of war some goods are taken oven and relocated, they are called loot. Berlinka is a “looted art”. There also exists another term “stolen art” – but this applies to the works of art that the Germans have stolen from Poland during the war.
No one had stolen Berlinka or the collection of air crafts. Poles have found them on the lands granted to Poland after the Seond World War. They did not destroy it, but have taken care of it. Why do you want them back?
Because that’s what the international law says. The Hague Convention of 1907 forbids confiscating art works. These belong to Germany, Poland couldn’t have taken it then. Nowadays only Warsaw and Moscow refuse to agree with that argumentation. The Berlinka collection has an exceptional value for the Germans. If these were paintings, sculptures, no one would have made so much fuss about it. But this is about the manuscripts of our most wonderful artists, including the manuscript of our national anthem. This is our national heritage, and it just belongs to Germany.
Beethoven’s scores and Goethe’s manuscripts are Europe’s heritage. Does is matter in which European country they are placed?
I disagree. Beethoven was a German, he was writing in German. His manuscripts should be placed here. How would you feel if the manuscripts of Sienkiewicz or Mickiewicz were in German storage? Poland would be demanding them back, as firmly as we do.
The Germans seem to forget that they had themselves been destroying Polish collections. The SS were burning the collections of the libraries of Warsaw for days.

We are not forgetting. We have always been saying that destroying the Polish culture the Germans have committed terrible crimes. However the attitude of Nazi Germany, the large-scale disregard to international law, cannot be an example for other countries. The Ukrainians have returned our works of art, and we had been plundering and exterminating them too. Kiev acknowledges that this is the law.
Poland thinks that Berlinka and other German collections are substitute restitution. You have destroyed our works of art worth of 20 billion dollars – we are taking yours then. That’s fair.
I don’t agree with this opinion. There isn’t such solution in the international law. Besides, Poland had renounced her claims of restitution from Germany in 1953, which was repeated in the treaty of 1970.
But it was the Soviet Union that forced Poland renounce these claims! And it was Moscow, who received compensation money from Germany after the war. Passing only some leftovers to Poland.
But you can say Poland received one fourth of the territories of the German Reich. I cannot accept the argument that what was signed during the communism doesn’t apply today. Thank God that system collapsed, but the Polish state continues to exist, and law is law.
Most of the 180.ooo German works of art taken over after the war are in Russia. Russia doesn’t want to give it back to you either, nevertheless German press only attacks Warsaw. Why?
Because people can’t understand why we are not able to come to an agreement with a country that we are in friendship with, with which we are in NATO and the EU. We can’t come to an agreement although we’ve been negotiating for 15 years now.
Did you come to any joint conclusions during the negotiations?
No, although we continued the talks. Once in Poland, once in Germany. Unfortunately in 2005 Poland broke off the talks. We were not given any reasons. The subject was just cut.
Maybe because Germans all those years have been demanding everything, that Poland refused in advance. Wouldn’t it be better to found an institution, for instance in Wrocław, a European city with a Polish-German history, and deposit Berlinka there?
Why not? Such solution was never excluded. But both parties need to seek the solution together. And for the last two years Poland doesn’t want to.

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C O M M E N T
by Włodzimierz Kalicki
Gazeta Wyborcza daily

A burgler breaks into our house. Whatever he was capable of carrying – he had taken out and stolen. At the end he set fire to our house, and the rest of our treasures perished in the fire. When he was running away, he lost his coat.
Years gone by, he comes with a generous proposal: if you can still find in my apartment anything that I stole from you, I can give it back to you. But on one condition: you’ll give me back the coat I lost. And don’t mention the things I burned – that doesn’t exist any more.

A farce? Not only. This is the newest line of German argumentation: if Warsaw gives us back Berlinka and air crafts collections, we’ll give them back whatever we still have in our storages of the things we robbed from Poland.

What about the treasures of the Polish cultural heritage, that – in large part – were being destroyed in a planned, organised fashion? German negotiator thinks that it doesn’t have anything to do with the return of Berlinka.

Poland will not agree for that.

Any potential return of Berlinka is possible only as a response to Germany’s compensation for destroying Polish cultural treasures. The compensation could, for instance, have the form of a foundation. A foundation seeking, around the world, and buying off, the works of art that were stolen from Poland by the Germans; a foundation that would also promote Polish-German joint cultural initiatives.

Nudging one another will not bring us closer to solving this problem. Only a reasonable compromise, that the public opinion in Poland and Germany will accept, will let this outrageous row end. The outrage is evidently caused by Germany.

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If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.

 





Yossi Avni-Levy: ‘My mum didn’t want anyone to see my book’

11 06 2007

Source: Duży Format, June 11th 2007
Interviewer: Katarzyna Bielas (with simultaneous translation from Hebrew by Michał Sobelman)
Translation from Polish for this blog: (beta version) MoPoPressReview

Interview with Yossi Avni-Levy, Deputy Ambassador of Israel in Poland, former intelligence agent, historian, lawyer, and writer. He lived and worked in Berlin, Bonn, Belgrade and Warsaw. He published four books (his début was a collection of short stories in 1995). Ciotka Farhuma nie była dziwką (Auntie Farhuma was’t a whore after all) is his first book published in Poland.
Yossi Avni is his pseudonym.

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Yossi AvniKatarzyna Bielas: In your book there is a scene, in which the main character Jonatan and his partner Arik are purchasing a flat in Tel Aviv. When they haggle its price, Jonatan notices a camp number on the landlady’s arm. Without hesitation, he deciphers it – the date, the transport, the camp. Surprised woman drops the price, he agrees, and then feels distaste.

Yossi Avni-Levy: I still feel it. But it was no manipulation, I just saw the number during the conversation and recited what came to my mind, the first association. I remember that this elderly lady was from Austria.
There is a lot of my biography in that book.

You were born in Israel. Where does that camp knowledge come from?

Even when I was a child I was interested in Holocaust.
My parents didn’t come from Europe, and aren’t Holocaust victims. My mother comes from Iran, father from Afghanistan. Mum used to send me to library, so that I wouldn’t become a thug, but I wasn’t looking there for Verne’s stories or romances, but books about Holocaust. One day the librarian said “Dear child, this isn’t good for you to read things like that, this is difficult even for grown ups” – but I saw in his eyes that he was pleased. I was borrowing the books, and learning everything by heart: the number of murdered in each camp, names of German commanding officers, camp identifications by number. I was like addicted to that evil magic. I became a little expert on Shoah.
Everyone, my non-European family, and that woman from Austria, we constituted a community, and that community made me a boy, who – not literally – was saved from Shoah. Because of that, Holocaust has become maybe the most important thing in my life.

Auntie Farhuma wasn't a whore after allWhat does it mean? When did you first hear about Holocaust?

Holocaust has always been like a magnet for me, that attracted me to pain. I keep asking myself, when did it start.
I remember, when I was eight, teacher standing before our class and explaining what had happened. I heard “those who were saved” came to Israel. In Hebrew “to be saved” has the same core as “to fry on fire”. In my imagination I saw Germans grilling people. Those, who made it to survive, are my neighbours, people I meet in the street.
At school I was one of few Sephardim – Jews from the East – among many Ashkenazim, who have come from Europe. When I was ten, I had this imaginary aunt, her name was Batsheba. She came from Afghanistan to Crimea, where in 1943 like other Jews, she died in boats that were being sunk by the Germans on The Black Sea.
That imaginary aunt was a way I identified myself with European Jewry, I wanted to feel like my friends, whose parents remained in Treblinka.

Ciotka farhuma nie była dziwkąDid you feel you were outside the community? How were you educated?

No, I didn’t feel excluded.
In the sixties and seventies Shoah was constantly present in our lives. On Holocaust Day, I remember, television used to show terrible documents, and pictures. My whole family gathered around the TV set, with mouths open and fright in their eyes. There wasn’t a single noise in the whole neighbourhood, only blue television light visible in every window, and people were like hypnotised with the nightmare. It’s the stamp of suffering we bare. I myself stood there , I gave myself to it, hypnotised.
However, if I am to be frank, this magnet is in my case an issue connected with my psyche. My friends don’t have it.
This pain is something I can hug to, with my private sadness, I need it, it’s like my emotional anchor.
Even now – and I am in my fourties – I have no answer to why it is so.

That reminds me of Arik. When his reltionship with Jonatan collapsed, he said that he doesn’t want to be happy, that he puts up resistance, because he thinks he doesn’t deserve.

There are people who are not looking for happiness. Sadness is their true home. Sometimes I accuse myself, that I adopted sadness as my inner ID, as the most comfortable solution, to live in a dark cloud all the time. I don’t know why.
People, who know me, say ‘Yossi you’re so joyful with us, having fun, telling jokes, but when you write, your pen is dipped in tragedy. Which of these two is the real Yossi?’

Yossi AvniWhich?

I don’t know. Maybe writing is the road to getting to know yourself – and to liberation. I write about things closest to my heart. When after some time, I read what I have written before, I start to know who I was then. I’m changing. I wouldn’t have written now, what I wrote in early nineties in ‘The Garden of Dead Trees’ for instance.

You wouldn’t have written what?

I wouldn’t have written about the inferiority complex as I did then. It’s a very private matter.
My family, like the whole Sephardi community always wanted to be someone else, more beautiful, richer, better, educated, more like the Jews from Europe.
To go on concerts, take taxis, dine in restaurants, eat gefilte fisz, speak low voice.
Recently Israelis are rediscovering their roots, they say “I am Israeli, but I like Tripolitan food and Yemeni music”. In the sixties and seventies we wanted to be homogeneous nation. Israel wiped out immigrants’ ethnic origins. I was ashamed of my Eastern origins. When I think about it now, I’m sad.

Yossi AvniOne of your characters recalls, that when he was child he used to be ashamed of his mother, who desperately haggled a lower price, buying him clothes. Hate towards the poverty driven cleverness remained in him ever since.

There were situations that were more sad than this, about which I was ashamed to write.
We used to live in constant want. Father was a workman, he picked fruit that were later sent to you, to Europe. He also had a second job.
My mother was a domestic help, a maid. In the sixties it was very difficult for a woman with four children to earn for living. One day I noticed that she begun working as a maid in one of my school colleagues’ home. I acted very arrogantly towards her then, I started to blame her for me not having the sort of parents, my friends had, and i told her I was ashamed of her.
Today I am very ashamed of myself for doing that. I ask her for forgiveness for a hundred, a million times.
In my books I portrait, apart from the sense of humiliation, the very intimate relationship between mother and son – this is very important in Jewish people – and a very distant relationship between father and his children. Undoubtedly this has a huge influence on young boy’s soul.
I am one of those people who have a huge hole in their stomach, and it is difficult for me to fill that hole up. Every time when I suspect I am happy – I run away.

This hole is about what? Is it guilt?

Katie, it would have been great, wonderful, if I knew. But I don’t know.
My mother was still blaming herself, I remember her saying “Yossi, I ruined your life, I am guilty, I need to be punished”. But there was no reason for her to say that.

Tell me something more about her. I still see her moaning, talking back her husband, and cooking.

She was born in 1940 in a small town in Iran. Her mother’s marriage was arranged, and she married a 50-year-old man when she was 10. His children from previous marriage were twice her age. They lived in poverty. My mother was a sensitive girl, living with her fantasies. She wanted to educate herself, but she never made to. She came to Israel in 1952. To earn her living, she picked potatoes. Her education was terminated.
Israel of the fifties, was a country full of barracks, tents, metal huts. In several years the number of inhabitants rose from 600.000 by 2 million. Immigrants needed to be given housing, food… New nation had to be built.

She couldn’t study because she couldn’t afford to?

Not only because of that. All the governmental structures, social structures, education, were reserved for Ashkenazi Jews, school headmasters, teachers all were from Europe. They perceived Jews from the East as second category people, as primitives. Access to education was very difficult.
Mum married my dad when she was 22, not for love. It was hard for everyone, my parents were saying “You will have a different life”.

Were Jews in Iran persecuted at that time?

No. Iran was one of few countries mostly tolerant towards Jews. But people found out a Jewish state was formed. Emissaries from the Jewish Agency were coming and encouraging people to return. In Poland and other countries it was the same. The time to go back home has come.
Similarly, like everywhere, many of the rich remained in their countries, and the poor have left for Israel. Half of Jews stayed in Iran. Most of them left that country only in 1980-82, after Khomenei came to power. Now several thousand live there…

Yossi, where are you going?

I have to show you something.

What’s that huge calendar?

My mother showed it to me, when recently I went oin Israel. She started writing, about her childhood in Iran. She writes about the hunger, about the bathhouse, which they used to frequent, and Muslims shouting at them Jood – Jews – causing fear.
Mother said “Yossi I would like this was published one day as a book”. Look at her fancy handwriting. I started reading, and I was amazed, as this is written in rich, literary Hebrew, with great talent.
I was so moved, I closed myself in the toilet and cried. I’m afraid I’ll start crying again now.

What moved you?

A feeling that I have lost something.
My mother always dreamt about different life, she didn’t want to be poor, she didn’t want to be maid, she wanted to speak languages. She wanted to be a “lady”. And she is a lady. She dresses tastefully, wears make-up, she speaks good English, although it’s self-taught. She used to work in a hotel, where guests from Germany used to stay at, so she knows basics of German. From her neighbour Goldica, she learned a bit Romanian. She knows she could have accomplished a lot more.
Although their tough life, my mum and dad never regretted having come to Israel.
I have inherited this sense of loss, of underachievement, from my mother, like her sensitivity, even little hysteria, and a complete, constant lack of complacency.

And your father?

He is one of the biggest mysteries of my life. We lived next to each other, not knowing one another. We lived in the same flat, but I felt he wasn’t there. He was an uneducated, closed man. Years gone by, I can now see how much he loved me, but he could never afford too say that.
He came from a very patriarchal Afghan family, male part thereof couldn’t express feelings. They are difficult, closed people, and when they are angry, they never forgive. My father didn’t speak with his sisters for 37 years, although they lived 2 blocks away. They had a row over inheritance, but in reality, I think it was about whom their parents loved more.

I remember two years ago papers – in Poland Wojciech Jagielski personally – reported about two last Jews of Afghanistan, Izaak Levin and Zabulon Simentov. So quarrelled, and so passionate about it, that even though they were sharing a house, they never spoke with each other. Constantly making pranks, working on each other nerves reporting one another to Talibs and mujahideen. They pursued a private war over who’s in charge of the local synagogue. Only one of them is left now. 80-year-old Levin froze to death in a dirty chamber, in some kind of pallet. “Now only I rule here” – said then the other with satisfaction.

The one who died is my uncle! I also found about his death from a newspaper. I had a business flight from Frankfurt am Main to Warsaw, I grabbed the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and there, on the first page, I read my families’ private stories. I felt, how different and distant worlds, which are contained in me, suddenly get into touch.
My uncle Izaak died, whom I have seen only once in my life, when he came to Israel, and I was ten. Father missed him all the time.
These quarrels are a Jewish tragedy.

Who was he? He claimed he was a rabbi, who sent his family to Israel, and stayed in Kabul himself, to have an eye on the synagogue,wrecked by the mujahideen.

Maybe he was a gabbi in a synagogue, maybe he was a faith healer selling herbs to Muslims, who regarded him as a saint, because had been to Jerusalem.. I don’t know.

Strange.

Very strange. This too is a part of me, hidden in a drawer. Not the only one. I know it. I’ve put my childhood there, unhealthy relations with my parents and I engaged in something else – Holocaust, Germany, where I had lived for years. Now I feel closer to Afghan identity. I read a book on Afghanistan and I said surprised ‘Unbelievable! The way they speak, the humour, the food, the way they express anger – that’s me! I am like that! I am an Afghani!’
Look, I even start to look similar, I only need beard.

Maybe you would like to “return” to Kabul?

Only as Israel’s ambassador, that would have been interesting. So far we don’t have diplomatic relations with Kabul. We recognise them, but they don’t recognise us.
I don’t even know if my uncle knew that his brother’s son is a diplomat, our family has had so many turning points.

How did they land in Afghanistan?

There weren’t many Jews in Afghanistan, almost all of them have left for Israel. My father lived in Herat. Most of Afghani Jews came from Iran fearing pogroms, most of them from Mashkhed, after the reputed “Jewish ritual murder” in 1839. Some came from Buchara in Tajikistan.
I don’t know where my grandparents come from, but they were quite wealthy – grandfather was the head of Jewish community. Through my whole childhood I heard my fathers stories about the wonderful lamb meat they used to eat, about the gardens they used to have and about summer house and winter house. Mother stood in the door, and and ridiculed “Yes, yes, summer house and winter house”.

She didn’t believe?

Mother used to call us, when Afghanistan was being shown on TV: ‘Come quick, they’re showing your father’s country’. We looked at primitive houses, people sitting on the floor, women with covered faces.
Later I understood that the stories our father was telling u, weren’t just his individual story, they were also Afghanistan’s history, the mysterious country, which he had missed, in which his family enjoyed a good living standard, where they were respected by their neighbours. And Muslims called them hajiji, showing their respect, like they call Muslims pilgrimaging to Mecca, as his family used to visit Jerusalem.
He also told us about dwarfs, who kidnapped and ate children. Afghanistan is a country of ghosts and thugs, many tribes, and monsters, legends, fantasies, which are still alive in the oral tradition. Father used to add a lot of this magic dust to his tales.
These stories about houses, this anger, this blockage, this lack of harmony within the family, I still carry that on my shoulders through my life. Maybe one day I will write about this, but now I’m not strong enough.

Why is it so hard to open this up?

Katie, I’ll tell you something. My first book was about my mother. She never read it. My second book was about my mother and my father. They never read it. I’m not even sure, if they’ve heard about it. It was written under a pseudonym. The issues I was writing about were very private, intimate – and almost sensational.

You really didn’t tell your parents about your books?

OK. My mum saw my first book, and she hid it under a pillow, so that no one could see it. She’s afraid, that someone will knock to the door, that policemen will enter, ask where is Yossi and take me to prison. She constantly lives in terrible fear.
One day I asked ‘Mum, did you read a bit at least?’. She closed the door, took me to the corner of the room, and said ‘Yossi, our enemies are waiting behind the corner. Don’t say everything about yourself. Everyone plays some game in their lives, and you do similar. Don’t be a loser. Don’t trust people. People are evil like poisonous snakes.’
SoI asked her again: ‘Mum, but nevertheless, did you read a bit?’ She replied ‘Your mother has a concave face, that’s how you see me’, and she smiled sadly.

What was it about?

There was a description of a woman, in that book, a woman with round, and sort of concave face, who spends 10 hours a day cooking food in the kitchen. That’s how I see my mother, among the great flavours and herbs. I think she started reading, but got so scared, that she never finished.

Scared of what? That your characters are gay? Scared that you are gay?

I don’t know.

What do you think?

I never asked her, why she didn’t finish reading that book. I have some of my own boundaries too. For me too, it isn’t easy to talk with my parents. I decided to come back to that issue some other time.

In Auntie Farhuma, in which you write a lot about your family, growing up in Israel, you don’t mention any kind of oppression. What was she so afraid of?

I haven’t experienced any physical oppression – that’s true. But it’s not only about that. You grow up, you see that people around you have families, and you are different. You have a problem. You start to think about loneliness, and no one wants to be alone. No one wants to be different.
Mum was afraid, that if I talk about my leanings, about my life, my pain, my loneliness, my search for love in an open way, I will get hurt in Israel. A country very macho-istic, conservative, a country in which power decides about everything. Israel is a country of many faces. Tel Aviv is the pluralistic pole, liberal, like Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, even more than Warsaw. But there are many conservative faces of Israel, for instance Jerusalem.
Maybe this is the reason, why it is easier for me to write than to speak?
My work as a diplomat also plays a role here. I’m split into two persons: private person, and state person – it’s like having two heads.
Writing is a way to stay free, when I write I sit by myself at a desk surrounded by complete silence. Being very sad. If I wasn’t writing I would have exploded. Writing is a medication. Catharsis.

You needed freedom and you’ve become a diplomat. Why?

I wanted to serve my country. Since I was little I felt I was different than my school friends: I wasn’t interested in money, expensive cars, I wasn’t interested in stock market – the only thing that attracted me, were the big difficult questions, Jewish nation, Zionism. I saw myself as the future leader, I cared about my country.
Some people just have it that way, they feel their life is connected with their homeland.
After having done a degree in law, I worked in a law company. It was the worst, the most boring time in my life. I imagined myself in some sort of political activism, government, but I didn’t know which path to follow. Should I join a political party, or send my CV to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I chose the latter.
I was thinking about leaving the country. I wanted to get out. The charm of foreignness worked on me, new cultures, possibility to breathe different air.
Probably every Ministry of Foreign Affairs applicant will tell you that.

Why, with your obsession with Holocaust, did you come to work in Warsaw? Looking for and apartment you specified you didn’t want it to be within the former Jewish Ghetto.

Probably to light up my biggest secret, the attraction of pain. I’ve been living in Germany for five years, but that wasn’t enough for me. There – this is a paradox – I felt the tragedy of Holocaust much less. In Warsaw I walk the streets of former ghetto.
This was my choice. I’m glad I’ve come here.
Before, I used to be prejudiced like other Israelis. I remember myself ten years ago, talking to my friends in Berlin ‘There are several countries around the world I would never like to be in, for example Poland’. You will ask ‘why?’. Because I thought Poland doesn’t like me. Now I know my views were stupid and unjust. I mean the anti-Semitism, of course, which I have never encountered here. Let’s don’t be naive, Poland has a very unflattering image among Jews in Israel, and outside Israel.
However during the almost three years I have spent here, I have met many people, I saw that for example in a cafe, when I say I’m an Israeli, people say ‘OK, cool’.

What did you expect to happen?

I thought that they would beat me up, spit at me, that I would have to hide my Israelisness, my Jewishness, that I would have to mind what I say – but no. With Poles you only can’t talk about the number of victims, you can’t make comparisons, because their faces instantly cloud over, they take offence, they have to be the world champions in suffering.

How is it in other places?

When in the Western Europe I said I was from Israel, people were scowling, because they are pro-Palestinian. I even felt hostility. My friends-diplomats, for instance, in UK, Ireland, Sweden, Greece, Belgium, France, tell me about terrible ordeal they have with local youth. In Cologne, Brussels people were interrupting me during my lectures. Here – never. Palestinians are not sexy in Poland.
In Poland Israelis are much more liked than there. I feel that Poland is hugging me, and I do want to be loved. Poland turned out to be a huge surprise.
It is only a pity people aren’t vaccinated against anti-Semitism. In Frankfurt on Oder you can say things, you wouldn’t be allowed to say in Frankfurt am Main. In Warsaw’s souvenir shops you can buy little figurines of a Jew counting money.
Now I will say something dangerous: I think I’m experiencing rebirth here, I’m shaking off my addiction… Living here, in a place so closely related to Holocaust, made me distance myself from that subject.

What hasn’t still changed about you? You’re going back to Israel soon.

There was a time, when I wanted to run. From my mother’s hugs, from the feeling of suffocating, from the family-intimacy. In my first book I described the desire to escape from my small town to Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv was my New York. Then I escaped from my country and I started to wander about the world, looking for freedom. My first book was about tearing handcuffs, breaking walls surrounding the body, about escape to Europe.
Europe was the ultimate paradise, beautiful, with red-yellow autumn, an opposite to the heat in the Middle East and colours of the desert. I felt close to my virtual European roots. That was part of my need, my desire to be someone else.

And what do you want now?

I want to go back. Make a circle. I see many young people leaving Łódź, Wrocław, Warsaw, they go to Ireland, to London. I meet them in cafes. I hear them talking about wages, about the need to escape, about the great world that is out there. Sometimes I want to grab their sleeve and stop them. Although you can always return, you can’t turn back time, it may be too late for some things.
I’d like to reach some stability. These are the problems of many embassies’ employees: who travel and have loved ones in every port. But I don’t want it any more. I have an apartment in Tel Aviv with boxes, that haven’t been unpacked for the last ten years.

What happened so suddenly?

I felt that I want to belong to something. I want to be part of something. I want to have a family, I want to be a father. But I don’t know how to do it. Should I have a traditional family? Or make up something different? And isn’t it too late for that?

The wish to have a child, is strongly accented in ‘Auntie Farhuma’. Characters discuss possible mothers. Jonatan even makes a statement: “The experience of death is the strongest for gays (…) There is something left after every person, only gays really die. (…) Fully-fledged fags will deny angrily what I said, and call me a homophobe”.

Many people, mainly gays, were offended by this sentence. They wrote to me outraged. They thought I was cruel. It’s true, this is brutal, but this is the essence of loneliness, you have no extension. My book is full of fear of death, because I’m afraid of it.
Now talking about children, about adoption, is something usual, but when I was writing this several years ago, it wasn’t so. Many gay people adopt children in Israel, they also have children of their own. If they don’t marry women, they arrange it somehow, and children have both parents, although they’re not together. Many children are born in these relationships in Israel.
Two weeks ago I received another letter, author wrote ‘It’s not true that those who don’t have children really die – those, who don’t have children don’t know how to live.’
That sentence from my book really touches people, it disturbs them.

In how many worlds do you live Yossi?

I know that the way I answer you questions, shows how divided I am. I admit to that. I have several passports, sometimes it’s very tiresome. I have my personal passport – my friends know which cafes and clubs I go to. Second is the state passport, my work, my position. There is also my family passport, in which it’s written “be careful”.
We don’t live in an Utopia. Life is more complicated than progressive slogans.
I’m not a gay rights activist. First and foremost I am a Jew and Israeli. This is my prime internal commitment. If I was to choose between pro-Israeli, but very conservative direction, and very liberal, but anti-Israeli – I would have chosen the former.

Mum’s preaching is not wasted then.

The private microphone is not on this table, but it’s plugged to a book. I never lied about myself.

* * *

See also:
Yossi Avni’s review of Aharon Appelfeld’sPoland is a Green Country’ in Haarec
Another interview – with picture. In Polish. in Gazeta Wyborcza


If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.





“On what Poles and Jews don’t like to remember”

2 06 2007

Note from the blog’s editor: I decided to translate this text after having read comments posted to THIS (click) article. I would like to thank Nemeczek. All texts on this website, apart from this one, are current media reports.

Author: Adam Michnik (editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza daily, former leader of anti-communist opposition, human rights activist, Pole and Jew)
Source: dialog.org. (Lecture given in July 1995 in Krakow, on a conference entitled “Polish remembrance – Jewish remembrance”, first published in Tygodnik Powszechny of 16th July 1995)
Translation: MoPoPressReview (beta version)

* * *

The problem of Jewish remembrance of Poland is anti-Semitism. But the problem of Polish remembrance, is that Poles often encounter hostility from Jews.

My roots

My perspective is very specific, and that is why I reluctantly express my views on that mater. I always have a sense that my status is unclear. The status of Pole of Jewish origin rather than a Polish Jew. Moreover, such a Pole, who very much wants to be a Jew for anti-Semites and who always tells them “I am a Jew”. This is that specific kind of Pole. I don’t have complexes in pointing to anti-Semitism in Poland when I see it. That is why I am a Pole. This is my national pride, and my cultural identity. If I have done anything good in my life, I have done it within the Polish culture.

At the same time I have the feeling, forgive me my egocentricity, that all my grandparents died in Holocaust. No one asked them whether they were Poles, Jews or perhaps Ukrainians. It was decided for them that they were Jewish and that they had to die. It is my duty to repeat “I am a Jew”. Otherwise, I would be spitting on the ashes of my murdered family. And therefore I am a strange kind of Pole, who identifies with Poland, who doesn’t have any other identity nor cultural nor moral, nor ideological, but also who whenever hears anti-Semitic cliché, says “I am a Jew”. I hope I will have enough determination to keep doing so until the end of my life.

What our Jewish friends don’t remember about

When I repeatedly wonder where does such dramatic tension in Polish-Jewish relations come from, I notice that Jewish publicists don’t talk with that passion about any other nation but Poland. Not about Germans, not about Russians, not about Ukrainians. Why? Where does it come from? I think this is the unrequited love mechanism.
When we analyse the documents of Jews living in Poland – letters, diaries, and other documents – what we see in them is the love to the Polish ethos, to the Polish culture, to the Polish system of values. And that love was rejected. If I may, I will risk a thesis: the tension, the drama, the hurting on the Jewish side is the result of unrequited love mechanism. No one hates a man, like rejected wife or lover. And I think that is why there is the taboo in the Polish side.

Stanisław Krajewski wrote somewhere, that for two nations which see themselves as chosen nations, it is very difficult to coexist. We have had our Messianism, and Jews have had theirs. Jewish rabbi from United States, Mr Klenicki, said wisely that in the Polish-Jewish dialogue there are a lot of mistakes and vices on the Polish side, but on the Jewish side there is something what you could call “triumphalism of pain”: which means that only we, the Jews, have the right to pain, only we have the right to be the object of compassion as sufferers. While this is a perspective, which Poles will never accept. Poles have had their Auschwitz. Poles have had their executions, have had their martyrdom. To expect that the Poles will forget about this, is to not understand the essence of the Polish nation’s spirit.

I would also like to reply to several remarks that Mr Jean Kahn, made speaking before me. I see nothing strange in the fact that during a mass a Catholic bishop talks about the suffering and agony of Christ, that in every speech a bishop talks about Jesus Christ – because that is what the Catholic religion is about. And I see nothing strange in the fact that Polish bishops do not want to talk about responsibility for the Jews’ disaster in the joint letter with German bishops. Because whatever you can say about anti-Semitism in Poland and within Polish Catholicism, and you can say a lot, you cannot compare and name responsibility of Polish bishops for Polish Catholics’ anti-Semitism alongside the German bishops’ responsibility for the German Catholics’ participation in Holocaust. These are two very different things.

And one more remark to Jean Kahn. When you create an image of allegedly only country, with concentration camps during the war, and pogroms after the war, the whole thing perfectly clicks together: Poles are a specific nation, which just dreams to persecute Jews. And when I hear such a thing, I am very afraid of it, for hundred of reasons. But three are the most important. First: because it’s a lie. Second: because it’s not good to stick to lies. Third: I went through this subject in the Balkans, what people in Croatia say about Serbs, and what people in Serbia say about Croats. So all of this is just untrue.

Need for Church’s voice and a certain kind of sensitivity

I am not going to spare our Jewish friends unpleasant truths. But we have to remember about the other side too, and here I would like to be very frank. So when we think about where do anti-Semitic slogans come from in Poland, then at least partial answer has to be clear. Although the existence of “Tygodnik Powszechny” weekly, although Jerzy Turowicz, although the priest professor Tischner, the Polish Church hasn’t yet come clear with its fault for anti-Semitism. That single pastoral letter, which no one even remembers, is not enough. And you have to say very clearly that there is one institution in Poland, only one, and it is the Catholic Church, which can and has to say it clearly, and painfully frankly, that anti-Semitism is a sin, a sin which you have to confess, and that everyone who commits anti-Semitic propaganda sins. Everyone who shouts “Gas the Jews” needs to know they have committed a sin against the Holy Spirit. You cannot be silent when faced with anti-Semitic language. Underestimating silence is a sign of permission.

I would also like to briefly talk about a specific aspect of Polish-Jewish relations, for our Jewish brothers as I think, not quite clear. Romain Rollan in “Jean Christopher”, Maria Dąbrowska in “Dzienniki” reflect on such a phenomenon: how does it happen that Jews in France, in Poland, try to be better French patriots then the French and in Poland better patriots then the Polish. These questions seem anti-Semitic, and at first are inconceivable. But hear I would like to address our friend, Mr Gershon Zohar, Israel’s ambassador: what would be the reaction of Israeli elites, if suddenly their Israeli literature was stormed by a mass of wonderful Palestinian poets, writing in Hebrew, and who are better poets then all Israeli poets? Wouldn’t that have caused some confusion within the public opinion in Israel? Here I want to somehow appeal to the sensitivity. I know this is not simple. Everything, which is new, is often shocking. Why does someone of different roots, different background, should suddenly be a star of Polish literature. He, who came from ghetto and not me who came from country estate? This is one of the phenomenons of the Inter-war period (1918-1939). I am not justifying, I am just explaining that this is a real problem, encountered by everyone of us.

Think before you accuse

Within the polish spirituality the Jewish subject is still basically taboo. Of course it is not a taboo for Polish anti-Semites, who keep repeating that the Jews are guilty for everything. It is a taboo for everything that is good and noble in Polish culture. Polish culture cannot cope with this, because it cannot cope with what professor Jan Błoński described first, and what I will name using my own ineffectual words – the Polish culture cannot cope with the phenomenon of “unfaulty fault”. Because it is not the Poles’ fault that Holocaust was on Polish soil. Yes, it is the Poles’ fault that anti-Semitism, pogroms and discrimination were here. But it is not the Poles’ fault that Hitler built concentration camps here, in which he murdered the whole Jewish nation. But this happened on Polish eyes. And a normal Pole, also a Pole of Jewish descent, cannot cope with this. How can we? Of course thank God for people like Władydsław Bartoszewski, but basically we were all leading normal lives and suddenly we closed our eyes because we couldn’t cope.

I cannot cope with this myself. If I was in a war situation: would I take two people to my apartment, who speak bad Polish, whom I don’t know, who stand out, whom probably my neighbours will identify, and for me helping them my wife and my 7-year-old son will die.. So I cannot cope with this, and I thank God it was not me who had to make such decisions. But I know one thing, and I agree with what minister Bartoszewski has said: that you cannot accuse people, due to the fact they have been afraid. Marek Edelman is of course right, when he says that in extreme situations giving up equals guilt. But he is allowed to say that, because he survived the hell of ghetto. However none of us has the right to say that, us who didn’t live through this. And who says that, is commiting a political manipulation, for very dirty reasons.

The stereotype of Pole vs Yalta

I have been reflecting many times, why in the world there is no such stereotype, that Russians are anti-Semites. There is no such stereotype. Or why today in Israel it is said that Holocaust was done by Nazis not by the Germans? It’s not that Poles didn’t have their fascists. We did. Every nation has them. And the fact that Hitler didn’t find here any Quisling or Laval I don’t see as some Polish merit. He probably would have found if he looked for. But it is a different matter. People are talking around the world about the Poles as anti-Semites, although they didn’t have their Laval or Brasillach, and they aren’t talking like that about the French, who had. Why? Because there had to be some way to justify Yalta. So that the West could say to themselves “There was such a nation, that did fight Hitler from the first day of war, but it was a dreadful nation, intolerant, and they have done much evil to the Jews”. This nation was then sold in Yalta to Stalin, and there had to be found a way to justify oneself for that. And it was very easy to say: Poles are such terrible anti-Semites, that giving them freedom would have meant that they would be doing pogroms. However Russia was then too powerful, to accuse it in such a way.

Here I see the harm done to Poland, and I identify with this harm. I am one of those publicists, who tell the worst things to their own nation. And maybe it legitimises me, to say here what I think, about the meanness that is being done and was being done to Poland. And there weren’t many people like Alain Finkielkraut. When Lanzmann accused Andrzej Wajda of anti-Semitism because of his film about Korczak, Alain Finkielkraut said that if Wajda is anti-Semite, then he is anti-Semite too. There weren’t many people like him, and I would like to thank him today.

We didn’t have the right to say anything

I think we will never have enough time to pay tribute to those, who during occupation were helping the death-facing Jews. Never. And a discussion on whether there was a lot of them or little is senseless. Whatever was their number, their existence is an empirical evidence of God’s existence. Because in times like those, to bring oneself to this kind of heroism means to be someone absolutely exceptional. And we can only pay them tribute and thank God that he sent them.
But I should say one more thing. An anthology of underground, resistance press, connected with the Warsaw Ghetto Rising was published. It has to said clearly: yes, in our Polish resistance there were any heroic attitudes, and that press proves that. But there also were foul, and anti-Semitic attitudes, and these weren’t rare. And the fact that we weren’t able to settle this tiny bit of our history is our moral responsibility for what is going on today. Such texts exist too. I agree with what Alain Finkielkraut had said, that this is a family secret, that this is the secret of my, your, every family on this soil, Polish family, Jewish family and Ukrainian family. And basically it is hard to live normally knowing what our parents and brothers went through.

An important element of that family secret, is what Mrs. Simone Veil said about the brutal manipulation of the communists (March 1968), who incorporated it, and then it became very hard to modify it, due to censorship and dictatorship. It is said sometimes, that it reflected the views of the Poles. Maybe. I don’t know. I know that no one asked Poles. No one has given them a chance, to democratically choose anti-Semitism. They all were gagged. And when they could finally open their mouths, it turned ambiguous.

It is not that the subject is difficult and painful, but the majority would like to annihilate, reject anti-Semitism, I wouldn’t say that. Too ofte I hear anti-Semitic slogans. But on the other hand, how many parliament seats did the parties with anti-Semite views get? How many? Zero. Zero seats. In sauch a reportedly anti-Semitic country. No seats with current electoral law, when every idiot who could scream loud enough got a seat.

Politics and anti-Semitism in Poland

I am the last person who wants to falsify anything. Different times, we have freedom and sovereignty. So: were there people who reported Jews? Yes, we have t say it clearly – there were. But it would be indecent not to mention underground resistance courts’ death sentences on them – which were usually executed. There were the underground courts, these people were condemned and their crimes were condemned. In what sense I feel responsible for these people? Me, who identifies with Poland and Polish culture? In the same sense, like I feel responsible for those Polish people who everyday murder or rape. I can’t be responsible for people, with whom I fight whole my life, whose enemy I am. I can take the fault for all my actions, but I can’t be responsible for the actions of Polish communists, who closed me in jail, because I didn’t want to share their faults. And we have the obligation to make that distinction.
Poland was an enslaved nation, it was a conquered country, and you cannot talk about Polish anti-Semitism from before the war, which was disgusting and vile, together with that dry pogrom in 1968. Because the dry pogrom, was in fact a pogrom on Polish democratic Intelligentsia under anti-Semitic slogans. It was then when that weird phenomenon has started, the phenomenon of anti-Semitism in a country without Jews, anti-Semitism that wasn’t really aiming at the Jewish community, but at the polish democratic and freedom aspirations. I will say sarcastically: normal healthy anti-Semitism is such anti-Semitism that says “Adam Michnik is a Jew, and that’s why he’s hooligan”. Whereas the Polish refined anti-Semitism says “Adam Michnik is a hooligan, which means he probably is a Jew”.

I say that in Poland you get nominated to be a Jew. Well, I have deserved those offences, which I am not spared by the anti-Semitic press. But for what sins for example Hanna Suchocka was declared a Jew? She was good for everyone and so self-restrained. But it only takes to know the alphabe, to make someone a Jew on the political scene.
We will be talking about these matters for a long time. I am comforted however, that today in Krakow, although we argue radically, we talk about about painful things knowing that our adversaries too have the good will to reach the truth.

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If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.





Young Israelis in Poland – continuation

31 05 2007

Please note: this article is continuation of matters raised HERE (click). It is advised to read the former first.

Source: Przekrój of 31 May 2007
Author: Anna Szulc
Translation: MoPoPressReview

* * *

Recently we have written about hotels and aircrafts being wrecked by young Israelis visiting Poland and the brutal interventions of their bodyguards treating local inhabitants like criminals. Reactions were instant.

We got reactions from diplomats, officials, hospitality workers, and journalists too. First in Israel. The Jewish internet portal ynetnews.com published in mid-May an information on Przekrój’s article together with Israeli politicians’ comments. Including Shmuel Abuav, director general at the Israeli Ministry of Education. David Pelog, Israel’s Ambassador to Polandtold the portal, that articles like this show young Israelis in negative light and threaten the future of trips to Poland programme . (…)

Polish Home Office’s reaction was a bit absurd. After over a month after receiving our questions, the Ministry’s spokesman Michal Rachoń informed that in Krakow both the residents and tourists were able to “almost normally” walk on Szeroka street, which hosted Jewish celebrations in April this year. The spokesman has completely disregarded to the excesses mentioned in our article, which were taking place at that time. According to the ministry, there is absolutely no problem whatsoever. ‘Cooperation with Israeli security, up to date, does not imply that their behaviour could be causing any kind of disturbance of public order’ – wrote the spokesman.

We have also received many e-mails from readers describing their – usually unpleasant – encounters with Israeli bodyguards. Restaurateurs and hoteliers, not only from Krakow but from around the country, describe in their letters (unfortunately usually requesting to remain anonymous) their problems with Israeli teenagers and security.

The owner of Krakow’s Astoria Hotel, whom we have mentioned n the article (young Israeli guests burned his carpet), has informed that there is good will in solving the problems. Teenagers’ guardians settled the matter with him fast and in a proper way – and that is why he decided to keep having Israeli teenagers groups in his hotel.

This, unfortunately, is an exception. Many others resign from having troublemaking guests. Last week some of those entrepreneurs complained to the Krakow City Council. Therefore the council members are persuading the mayor to launch a special action informing tourists from Israel on the Polish law.

Will young Israelis start respecting Polish law? Israel’s ambassador assures yes, and the government of Israel will take a closer look on the bodyguards that accompany children, and the schools that organise the visits.

* * *

 

Przekrój’s interview with David Peleg, Ambassador of Israel in Poland

What is your opinion on the behaviour of Israeli teenagers and its security officers in Poland?
– The Article in “Przekrój” was a surprise for us, and the incidents described there indeed sound serious. We will investigate each described case carefully, and if the accusations confirm, we will take consequences. You have to remember however, that each year 30 thousand young Israelis come to Poland, and such incidents do not characterise the whole Israeli youth. We are intent for Israelis to see contemporary Poland as it really is, without prejudices and stereotypes. All this demand certain changes in current logistics of the visits. You have to remember, that this is a long-lasting process, that changes will not happen overnight.
But why does it have to take long? Is it so difficult to include several meetings with young Poles in the trips agendas?
– Lets remember, that Poland for Israelis is not the same country as for instance the completely neutral Sweden. Poland is for many Israelis, especially the older generation, emotions, it is the Holocaust, but also the after-war memories, not always good. These people are the grandparents of the teenagers who come to Poland. They are in a way programmed by their families. When during social meetings I tell them that Poles and Jews have lived here for many centuries, that Poles were the victims of war just like Jews, young Israelis look at me surprised. And they add, that until now they have known another story.
The more a dialogue is needed, a living exchange of ideas…
– Yes, but this dialogue is possible only now. Previously about many things both Jews and Poles tried not to talk. I have the impression, that only now we can really look into each other’s eyes, and without beating about the bush talk about the things that are painful to us. About stereotypes Israelis may have, but also about Jedwabne, Kielce Pogrom, about March ’68, but also about anti-Semitic graffiti you can see now in Lódz or about Radio Maryja, about new monuments being raised to Dmowski and Kuraś-Ogień, or about the recent ONR (Polish Nationalists) march in Krakow, witnessed by young Jews. They could leave Poland believing they are not welcome.
Like ordinary residents of Krakow and tourists could have the impression they are not welcome by the same young Jews.
-We are going back to where we started: to the changes that need to happen, because it is about two so closely related nations. I can promise once again: if the accusations described in ‘Przekrój’ confirm, those who are guilty will face consequences.

* * *


If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.





Israeli teenagers are a nuisance in Poland

11 05 2007

Source: Przekrój weekly of May the 10th 2007
Link to original article in Polish
Author: Anna Szulc
English translation: MoPoPressReview

The list of losses Israeli teenagers’ visits leave behind is long and costly. It begins with burned carpets in Polish hotels, and ends with Jewish teenagers’ trauma. But more and more often with local residents’ trauma too.

Roberto Lucchesini, originally from Tuscany, for several years now a resident of Krakow, hasn’t been sleeping well recently. Before he will be able to move his arms normally again, he will have to go through long rehab. All this because of how he was treated, in broad daylight in front of passers-by and several teenagers who were hermetically closed in their coach-buses. Israeli bodyguards, equipped with firearms, binded his arms behind his back over his head with handcuffs. In Krakow, in the middle of the street. A moment before, the Italian was trying to make coach drivers parking in front of his house turn their engines off. – ‘Israelis handcuffed me, threw me on the ground, my face landed in dog excrement, and then they were kicking me’. After that the perpetrators were gone. Italian had to be freed by the Polish police.

Lucchesini moved to Kazimierz, a district of Kraków, that used to be a Jewish commune of which the only things left now are synagogues and memories, often painful. He found an apartment with a view on the synagogue. – ‘Back then I had thought this was the most beautiful place on Earth’ – he says – ‘after some time I understood that the place is indeed beautiful, but not for its today’s residents’.

Kicking instead of answers

Another resident of Kazimierz, Beata W., office worker, is of similar opinion. Israeli security searched her handbag on one of the streets, without telling her why.
‘When I asked what was this all about, they told me to shut up. I listened, I stopped talking, I was afraid they’d tell me to get undressed next’ – she says annoyed.
A young polish Jew, who as usual in Sabbath, went to pray in his synagogue couple months ago, also didn’t get his answer. He only asked, why can’t he enter the temple. Instead of an answer, he got kicked.
‘I saw this with my own eyes’ – says Mike Urbaniak, the editor of Forum Of Polish Jews and correspondent of European Jewish Press in Poland. – ‘I saw how my friend is being brutally attacked by security agents from Israel, without any reason.’

All this apparently in sake of Israeli childrens’ safety.
‘For Poles it may be difficult to understand, but security agents accompany Israelis at all times, both in Israel and abroad’ – explains Michał Sobelman, a spokesman for Israeli embassy in Poland. – ‘This is a parents’ demand, otherwise they wouldn’t agree for any kind of trip. Poland is no exception.’

But it was in Poland, as Mike Urbaniak reports, where Jews from Israel brutally kicked a Polish Jew in front of a synagogue, and then threatened him with prison. In plain view of the Israeli teenagers.

‘We are very sorry when we hear about such incidents’ – Sobelman admits – ‘Detailed analysis is carried out in each case. We will do everything we can, to prevent such situations in the future. Maybe we will have to change training methods of our security agents, so that they would know Poland is not like Israel, that the scale of threats here is insignificant?

Professor Moshe Zimmermann, head of German History Institute at Hebrew University in Jerusalem thinks however, that the problem is not only in the security agents’ behaviour. He thinks Israelis basically think that Poles aren’t equal partners for them. And it’s not only that they think Poles can’t ensure their children’s safety.

‘They are not equal partners to any kind of discussion. It applies also to our common history, contemporary history and politics. In result Israeli youth see Poles as second category people, as potential enemies’ – he explains bluntly.

An instruction on conduct with the local inhabitants given away to Israeli teenagers coming to Poland couple years ago may confirm professor’s opinion. It contained such a paragraph: ‘Everywhere we will be surrounded by Poles. We will hate them because of their participation in Holocaust’.

‘Agendas of our teenagers’ trips to Poland are set in advance by the Israeli government, and are not flexible’ – says Ilona Dworak-Cousin, the chairwoman of the Polish-Israeli Friendship Association in Israel. – ‘Those trips basically come down to visiting, one by one, the places of extermination of Jews. From that perspective Poland is just a huge Jewish graveyard. And nothing more. Meeting living people, for those who organise these trips, is meaningless.’

A resident of Kraków’s Kazimierz district, who is of Jewish descent, says that there is nothing wrong with that: – ‘Israelis don’t come to Poland for holiday. Their aim is to see the sites of Shoah and listen to the terrifying history of their families, history that often is not told to them by their grandparents, because of its emotional weight. Often young people who are leaving, cry, phone their parents and say “why didn’t you tell me it was that horrible?”. To be frank, I am not surprised they have no interest in talking about Lajkonik.

However according to Ilona Dworak-Cousin the lack of contact with Poles, causes Israeli youth to confuse victims with the perpetrators. – ‘They start to think it were the Poles who created concentration camps for Jews, that it is the Polish who were and still are the biggest anti-Semites in the world’ – adds Dworak-Cousin, who is Jewish herself.

The above mentioned Kraków resident has a different opinion. – ‘I don’t believe anyone was telling them that the Poles had been doing this. That’s why there is no need for discussing anything with the Poles’.

Teenagers behaving badly

However, many Israelis say that although the instruction was eventually changed, the attitude to Poles has not changed at all.
‘Someone in Israel some day decided, that our children going to Poland have to be hermetically surrounded by security’ – says Lili Haber president of Cracovians Association in Israel. – ‘Someone decided that young Israelis cannot meet young Poles, and cannot walk the streets. Basically these visits aren’t anything else but a several-day-long voluntary prison.’

Voluntary, but also very expensive: 1400 USD per person. Not every Israeli parent can afford such a trip.

‘Moreover, as it turns out, the children are too young, to visit sites of mass murders’ – adds dr Ilona Dworak-Cousin. Traumatic experiences that accompany visits in death camps have its consequences. Kids become aggressive. And instead of getting to know the country of their ancestors, in which Jews and Poles lived in symbiosis for over 1000 years, Israeli teenagers cause one scandal after another.

It happens sometimes, that somewhere between Majdanek and Treblinka, young Israelis spend their time on striptease ordered via the hotel telephone. It happens sometimes, that the hotel service has to collect human excrement from hotel beds and washbasins. It happens sometimes, that hotels have to give money back to other tourists, who cannot sleep because Israeli kids decided to play football in hotel corridor. In the middle of the night.

6-year-old Krzys from Kazimierz played football too. On Sunday night on 15th April, after shooting two goals, he wanted to go home, as usual. He lives near a synagogue, in front of which hundreds of young Israelis have gathered on celebrations preceding March of Living. Just before Szeroka street he was stopped by some not-so-nice men. – ‘This is a semi-private area today. There is no entry’ – he was told. It didn’t help, when he told them, his mum will get upset if he won’t be home on time.

Security officers, which is interesting, were Polish this time and accompanied by the Polish police. They also denied access to the area to a Dutch couple, who had reserved a table at one of the restaurants on Szeroka street six months ago. – ‘Is this a free country?’ – One of the tourists tried to make sure.

On a normal day you can access Szeroka street from several sides. That evening from none. I tried to get through myself, without any success. Only eventually, the police helped me to pass the security line.

‘There are no official restrictions here’ – they were convincing me a moment later, although the “unofficial practice” was different.

– ‘We have only set certain restrictions in movement’ – Sylvia Bober-Jasnoch, a spokeswoman for Malopolska Region Police press service, explained to me later.

The police cannot say anything else. Polish law does not allow residents to be denied access to the streets they live at. Even during the so called mass events (however the celebrations on Szeroka did not have that status) residents have the right to go back to their homes and tourists have the right to dine in a restaurant. Also Israeli security agents have no right to stop or search passers-by.

I tried to find out more on the rights of Israeli security agents in Poland. First at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from where my question was sent to…. the Ministry of Education. I have also sent questions to the Home Office. Although I was promised, I received no answer. Only person eager to talk on that matter was Maciej Kozłowski, former ambassador in Israel, currently the Plenipotentiary of the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Polish-Israeli relations.

‘Regulations are imprecise’ – admits Kozłowski. ‘Basically bodyguards from a foreign country should not move around Poland armed. However for the government of Israel security matters are a priority. Any convincing that their citizens should use the services of Polish security turned unsuccessful’.

Airplane like battle field

The Polish-Italian couple, Robert Lucchesini, his wife Anna, and their two-year-old daughter, cannot understand Polish government’s attitude. Which contrary to the Israeli government, is not able to ensure the safety of its citizens. Safety is not the only thing among the pair’s priorities, but also peace and quietness. They are however being woken up every morning by the loud noises of engines, of the Polish coach-buses with groups of Israeli youth. Their Polish drivers brake driving regulations all the time. They’re allowed to park at the square near the synagogue (in front of Robert’s house) only for up to 10 minutes. They stay there much longer, even hours. With their engines turned on. Reason? Youth’s safety – they would be able to leave quicker in case of a threat. And because Israeli kids need to be served coffee. Because even though Kazimierz is full of cafes, Israeli teenagers don’t go there. They are being told: no contacts with environment, no talking to passers-by, no smiles nor gestures.

This has been going for years. Israeli groups contact with Poles only there where they have to. First in airplanes.

‘A plane after such group has landed, looks like a battle field’ – admits a worker of LOT Polish Airlines asking for his name not to be published. – ‘The worst thing is these kids’ attitude to Polish staff. Recently a stewardess was slapped by a teenager in her face. Because he had been waiting for his coca-cola too long’.

Leszek Chorzewski, LOT spokesman, admits that Israeli youth is a difficult customer. – ‘They demand not only more attention then other passengers, but also more security precautions’ – he adds. These precautions are long aircraft and airport controls conducted by Israeli services. These are also the high demands of the teenagers’ security agents.

Katarzyna Łazuga, student from Poznań, could see that first hand. She participated in a tourist guides’ training on one of Polish airports. ‘Young people from Israel entered the room we were in’, she recalls. – ‘Our group was then made to stop classes and rushed out of the room. Israeli security officers told us to go out, right now and without any talking. Because… we were “staring” at their clients. Yes, we were looking at them. They were catching attention, they were good looking.’

Young Israelis see Poles also there, where they board – in Polish hotels. If any of them still wants to have them. Most of those in Kraków don’t want to any more.

‘We have resigned from admitting Israeli youth once and for all’ – admits Agnieszka Tomczyk, assistant manageress in a chain of hotels called System. ‘We could not afford to refund the loses after their stays any more’.

These loses being: demolished rooms, broken chairs and tables, human excrements in washbasins or trash bins, or like in Astoria, other hotel in Kraków, burned carpet. Astoria also backs out from having Israeli groups. One of the reasons is that the teenagers’ security agents were ordering other guests, whom they didn’t like, to leave.

‘I understand that Israeli security agents are over-sensitive to any disturbing signals. They are coming from a country where bombs explode almost daily, and young people die in terrorist attacks’ – ensures Mike Urbaniak. – ‘But Poland is one of the safest countries in Europe. Here, excluding tiny number of incidents, Jews are not being attacked, and Jewish institutions don’t need security, which is very unusual on a world scale’.

Huge business

Chasidim, travelling in great numbers from Israel, also (surprisingly) don’t need security agents. Including for example many Orthodox Jews, who came to visit our country recently, as they wanted to pray at Tzadik of Lelów’s grave. They came to the market square in Kazimierz without any security assistance and without any fear.

‘They chatted eagerly with tourists interested in their outfits, with passers-by who don’t see Jews with side curls every day’ – adds Urbaniak.

In Kazimierz chasidim are nothing unusual. Like groups of Israeli teenagers. This year 30,000 Israeli teenagers are coming to Poland, and they will have 800 security agents to protect them.

Roberto Lucchesini reported to the Polish police that he got beaten by Israeli security. Krakow Prosecution Office is investigating the case, and so is its counterpart in Israel.

‘Results of this investigation are of medium importance’ – thinks Ilona Dworak-Cousin. – ‘What matters is if the youth that visits Poland, will still treat it as hostile and completely alien country’.

Polish-Israeli Friendship Association in Israel and Cracovians Association in Israel both try to convince the government of their country, not to send any more teenagers to see only the death camps in Poland. Chances are slim.

‘These trips are mostly a huge business for people who organise them’ – says Lili Haber – ‘including Israeli bodyguards’.

C O M M E N T S

Szewach Weiss, former speaker of Knesseth, former Israel’s ambassador in Poland:
I have a dream: I would like Israeli youth to come to Poland not only to see death camps, but also to see the life of Polish cities and towns. That they would even stay under one roof with Polish young people, so that after some time Poles would visit them back in Israel, that Poles would be invited and welcomed there. Is that one of those dreams that will never come true? I don’t think so, I believe that it will come true in 5 years at worst. In the meanwhile the most important thing is to change the current form of Israeli teenagers’ trips. A perfect solution would be direct contact between Israeli and Polish schools. That would have given a real chance to talk, exchange ideas, or even have an argument. I would however like the Poles to understand our difficult position, how deep is in us that idea that our children could lose their lives, even in a country as peaceful as yours. Of course that does not give anyone right to brutal behaviour towards Poles. Aggression is aggression, regardless of circumstances.

Yuli Amir, Israel’s Education Minister:
I think that Israeli youth doesn’t think good or bad about Poland or Poles. These trips are more about them, their Jewish identity. This is such Jewish feeling, that the whole world was against us, and Poland was on the wrong side too. You have to remember, that for many years Israeli youth has been rejecting Holocaust. For them it was a specimen, of how not to act. “Why did we go like sheep for death?”Holocaust was that weakness, they didn’t want to identify with. By coming to Auschwitz they have started to treat the victims of Shoah differently. This is a moral rehabilitation of Jewish past. of course we are aware of imperfections of the visits programme, we are considering changes. We discuss a lot, we think what influence these trips have on youth, on education. But all changes need time.

Mike Urbaniak, editor of Forum Of Polish Jews and correspondent of European Jewish Press in Poland:
I have met many Israelis in my life. Most of them are great, cheerful and exceptionally open people. They don’t have superiority complex. Everyone, who has at least once been in Israel has to admit that. In Poland however their image is getting worse and worse. And this will continue, if those trips will still look like a visit in countryside museum. This is a problem that needs to be solved in Israel as soon as possible.

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See also » Young Israelis in Poland – continued


If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.





President awards human and civil rights activists from the 1970s

24 03 2007

Source: Rzeczpospolita online, March 24th 2007
Author: Rafał Guz

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Over 30 creators and activists of the Ruch Obrony Praw Człowieka i Obywatela (Movement for Defence of the Human and Civic Rights) were awarded in Friday by the President Lech Kaczyński, as a part of the celebrations of 30th anniversary of its establishment.

‘ROPCiO and other underground organisations were the sign of our nation’s resistance to the communist oppression’ – said the president during the ceremony. He added that Poland has to respect Her heroes.

ROPCiO was created by those opposition people, who thought their views do not match the operating since 1976 Workers’ Protection Committee (KOR). Some were in conflict with groups dominating KOR, called secular left, and concentrating around Adama Michnika and Jacka Kuronia. Bogdan Borusewicz, Speaker of the Senate, and local opposition leader in Gdańsk during the People’s Republic, thinks that the Movement enriched the spectrum of democratic opposition in those days. ‘ROPCiO grouped people of more right-wing views than KOR. It was another step in gathering freedom’ – he said.

ROPCiO was established on 25th March 1977. Its manifesto was signed by gen. Mieczysław Boruta-Spiechowicz, Andrzej Czuma, Leszek Moczulski, ks. Ludwik Wiśniewski and Wojciech Ziembiński. Activists of the Movement emphasize its connection to the Second Republic and Home Army tradition, and the Church. Among them were former political prisoners of the ’60s underground organisation “RUCH” (which was discovered by the secret services), veterans of both the Home Army and postwar anticommunist underground.

Respect and defence of human rights was one of the main ROPCiO aimes. The movement also organised help for the oppressed as well as political actions, for example 11th November Independence Day celebrations. Many of its members were imprisoned.

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If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.