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.

 

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“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)

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.





Expelled from Tschenstochau

15 03 2007

Source: Wprost (weekly) of 18th March 2007
Author: Piotr Cywiński in Berlin

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German law allows the number of the expelled to be endlessly multiplied
‘A Russian dragged my sister-in-law out of the room. We heard shots. Then he returned. We we praying as he was shooting the grandmother, then my father, who only managed to say “auf wiedersehen” to my mum and us. My sister was sitting on the side. She was holding two children in her arms. He shot them too. Then my aunt. He wanted to take me. When i struggled, he hit me with the gun butt, cut my trousers down and raped me. Then he went away, but shortly came back and shot the baby in a pram’. This is a fragment Christel Jolitz’s memories published by the German Bild daily. This popular tabloid had published the real-life tragical stories before the public ARD channel broadcast the film entitled Die Flucht (Escape), by the public ARD channel. The characters and the plot in the film were fictional. The only real thing about it was the great exodus of Germans before the incoming Soviet Red Army.

Although a record number of viewers watched Die Flucht, the film is not a work of art. The screenplay unfolds a story about love between a German countess and a French POW doing forced labour on an estate in Eastern Prussia. The story is not very convincing, however it is set in the background that reflects facts. As Erika Steinbach, the president of the Federation of the Expelled (BdV), rightfully points out, the reality was more cruel and tragic. The 46-year-old director Kai Wessel says with pride, that he finally said out loud what had been kept in silence for 60 years. However, that reputed-silence surrounding the 12 million Germans, who run away fearing revenge or were resettled, is just a plain marketing trick.

Hitler’s last victims
There have been millions of pages of academic theses and literary works written on the subject of escape or resettlements in the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1949 a Ministry for the Expelled was formed, which existed until 1969. Museums remembering the little Heimats are scattered around the country, as well as Landsmannshafts receiving public funding, affiliating former residents even of those cities like Tschenstohau (Częstochowa), where German minorities before the war did not exist. And there is the powerful Bund der Vertriebenen (Federation of the Expelled). First movies about old lands and the fate of Germans were made in the 50s, for example Grün ist die Heide, or the later produced Death of My Father. Only in the last few months we could see on silver or tv screens: Escape and expulsion, trilogy Exile, Hitler’s Last Victims (on the tragedy of the Wilhelm Güstloff ship), two-episode Dresden (on bombing) and two films on the last days of Hitler’s life.

Talking about a silence surrounding expulsions is as nonsense, as the German politicians’ assurances that Erika Steinbach is powerless. Nota bene the problem does not only come down to her, although she actually personifies it well. The sole fact of appointing her in 1998 to the office of president of the Federation of the Expelled was a provocation. Since her parents were nazi occupants who settled in Rumia near the city of Gdynia during the war. BdV is full of people like her. And it is legitimised by an awkward definition in the statue for the expelled and refugees (Gesetz über die Angelegenheiten der Vertriebenen und Flüchtinge). It says:

Expelled is the one, who as a German citizen or a person belonging to the German nation, had had their place of residence in the German eastern lands, which had been previously under foreign administration or on the lands of the German Reich, on December 31st 1937, and had lost it in relation to the occurrences of The Second World War due to expulsion or escape’.

In accordance with to that definition, “expelled” in Germany multiply in numbers – and some estimates say – their number has risen to 15 million people. BdV membership cards are given also to the grandchildren of the resettled or economic migrants of recent years. Politicians seem not to see this, like they similarly do not see the links between BdV and neonazi movements, which were pointed out couple times. Paul Latussek, who used to be Erika Steinbach’s deputy, was also ruling the extreme right Free Citizens Federation (BfB), while his outrageous remarks on Holocaust cost him the job of lecturer at University of Ilmenau.

Few years ago Klaus Bednarz asked a question in his tv show “Monitor” ‘What does the multimillion budget funding for Bdv go for?’ The funds are aimed at helping to preserve cultural tradition, and historical inheritance of the expelled, and they go into destruction’. Maybe this is a coincidence, but soon after Bednarz lost his job at the television, and Erika Steinbach was chosen for the ZDF public channel’s board, and to thegoverning board of CDU, the party currently governing Germany. And then for the president of the CDU/CSU Human Rights Working Group at the German parliament. And some other lucrative posts. When not so long ago, in a tv debate with Steinbach, I quoted a letter sent by BdV members accusing her that she ‘is making political career using the resettled’ and calling her to ‘resign as soon as possible’ , she replied to me with a cynical smile, that she cannot complain for lack of support. Steinbach is very selfcertain. The main argument she directs at her political opponents is the electoral blackmail. Large parties are afraid of losing votes.

Rewriting History
Steinbach uses the good old rule, that a lie told over and over becomes truth. When she speaks, things start to take different proportions. Causes become smaller, the outcomes become bigger. The number of “expelled” increases too. During the expultions and escape 500-600.000 Germans died. She keeps talking about 2 million. It’s rewriting history. No serious researcher confirms these numbers. Who gives those numbers only wants to make foreign policy with it, and gather attention – says Ingo Haar, historian from Berlin.

Research conducted by the Federal Republic f Germany in 1974 conluded that there were 400.000 victims on the East from river Oder and 100.000 in Czechoslovakia. In the 80s a joined Czech-German commission, after doing deep research, has lowered the number of victims to 15-16.000 and agreed that the false numbers from the 50s will not be repeated any more. Stainbach remains deaf for these arguments.

Steinbach über alles
For bad Polish-German relations Steinbach blames the Polish parties, which she compared to neonazis. When a Wehrmacht’s officer’s daughter, born at the end of the war, who after 50 years voted against the border treaty with Poland, says that – it carries some extra meaning. (…) It is difficult to count her provocations: from attempts to block Poland’s entry to the EU until it returns the estates and pays compensations to the expelled, to outrageous remarks about “not consulting the fitting of buildings in Warsaw with Germans, who tore the city down.”

It raises a question, is one person more importaint for the Germany than good relations with a neighbouring country, or are her views more common? German politicians seem like they were acting according to “Steinbach über alles” principle. It is not needed to hear her apology. What is needed is a discussion among Germans themselves, what are they going to do with BdV-anachronism? Stefan Hambura, attorney from Berlin, thinks that the current Polish-German crisis is the last chance to close the the issue of of escape, resettlement, “expulsion”, and compensations. He suggests a final solution to this problem by proper acts, that should be attached to the European Constitution.

Will German politicians find enough strong will to deal with this inconvenient ballast from the past? One thing is certain: the way of solving the problem of BdV will be a gauge, that will tell us how sincere their conciliatory intentions are.

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