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Ernest Erber

Anti-Semitism and the Polish People

Reply to Edward Findley

(April 1947)

From The New International, Vol. XIII No. 4, April 1947, pp. 127–128.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The editors of The New International seek to edit it in the spirit of free scientific inquiry within the general framework of Marxist thought. As a result, there is no effort to counterpose “an official” view in reply to every aspect of a subject dealt with in a signed article. This is above all true where the subject matter is not directly related to current political questions as in the fields of history, philosophy, anthropology, literature, psychoanalysis, economic theory, etc. Where the general line of an article is in direct conflict with the view represented by the magazine, it is published under the heading of “discussion article.” The general line of the articles by A. Rudzienski on the problems of the Polish labor movement is in accord with the views we have expressed editorially (September 1946), as well as with the views expressed regularly in Labor Action. The specific criticisms made in the above letter by Edward Findley will, no doubt, be dealt with directly by the author of the articles in question. However, in view of the seriousness of the charges, we will express our views on several of the questions which deal with matters of known fact or of general political concepts.

The real facts of the Kielce pogrom are not yet established in detail. This can only be done by an international commission of investigation representing various tendencies of the labor movement and having authority to conduct an inquiry on the spot, including access to all pertinent documents relating to the incident. What is known about Kielce is what Findley himself records in his letter. The central fact which refers to the question of the Stalinists’ guilt is contained in Findley’s parenthetical insertion, “... tortured to death several dozen Jews (who had been disarmed and turned over to the mob by the Stalinist militia).” The responsibility of providing protection to persecuted citizens rests in the first place upon the authorities. If the Stalinist militia, the main armed force for the preservation of “law and order,” turned the Jews over to the mob, the guilt of the Stalinist regime should be considered established beyond a doubt. Their participation in the pogrom must be considered to have been explicit. To the extent that the political opposition, mainly the Peasant Party, was in a position to intervene against the pogromists and did not, they too bear the guilt for the barbarous spectacle. However, it is exceedingly difficult to establish the facts about the role of the Peasant Party. Here above all we have no facts, only surmises, like Findley’s about the influence of the Mikalyczyk movement in the area. The guilt of the Stalinist militia, however, is established.

The fact that the workers struck in protest against the execution of the “nine lynch mob leaders” cannot be accepted as evidence of anti-Semitism. It must first be established that the persons executed were the guilty ones. We would be most foolish to accept the word of the Warsaw regime for this. If the local Stalinist militia was guilty of turning the victims over to the mob, why should we believe that their Warsaw chiefs dealt even-handed justice in seeking out the pogromists? Is there not extreme plausibility on the side of Rudzienski’s charge that the Stalinist agent provocateurs stir up the pogroms and that the Stalinist police utilize them as an occasion to frame up and liquidate political oppositionists? Is it not possible that the strikes were on behalf of victims of Beirut’s GPU and not in defense of pogromists?

We know from all experiences with pogroms and lynchings throughout history that the actual participation in the mob actions usually embraces an infinitesimal percentage of the population. That the actual participants also usually have the sympathy of wider circles goes without saying. But even these wider circles need not represent more than a minority of the population.

Rudzienski has never denied the prevalence of anti-Semitism in Poland. On the contrary, his articles have sought to trace this characteristic of Polish life to its historic sources. What he did contend was that the anti-Semitism of the Polish people as a whole, and of the Polish working class especially, was greatly exaggerated in the minds of people in Western Europe and America. The role which Polish anti-Semitism has played in active political life is related, as in other countries, to the amount of encouragement or tolerance it receives from the authorities. In this sense, Rudzienski’s view that the revival of active anti-Semitism is the result of artificial stimulation through Stalinist channels does not deny the prior existence of anti-Semitism among the people, especially the petty bourgeoisie.

Nor does existence of Jews in prominent posts of the Stalinist regime preclude an anti-Semitic role on the part of the latter. We need but read the record of the Nazi occupation in Poland to realize that among the Jews, as among all peoples, were found those elements who faithfully served as Gestapo agents even though they knew that they were assisting in the extermination of their own people. The Jewish police of the Ghetto continued to carry out the task of rounding up the deportees for the death camps even when their own families were no longer immune, according to Marek Edelman in The Ghetto Fights. Why should we expect protests from Jews in the Warsaw regime who are either old-time Stalinist hacks, devoid of any moral concepts other than those of the Kremlin machine, or broken-down and exhausted ex-reformists who want nothing but the peace and security they hope for in a government post? Trotsky has had occasion to refer to the fact that Stalin was not above utilizing undercover anti-Semitism in his fight against the Opposition, especially where the continual reference to the Jewish names of prominent Oppositionists and their alleged anti-peasant program would line up support for Stalin in the countryside. The following quotation is of interest in this regard:

“On February 27th in Jerusalem the Jewish daily, Hadashot Haerew, denounced the growth of anti-Semitism in the USSR. The Soviet authorities appear to ‘object’ to this anti-Semitism, but in reality the Jews see themselves passed over in a thousand ways. For instance, entry to the schools which train Soviet diplomats is practically barred to Jews, as only persons originating from the National Republics are admitted. In practice, people have to be of Russian origin to be considered as originating from a National Republic. In the domain of literature and the cinema, frequently subjects are chosen which are likely to evoke the old anti-Semitic prejudices. For instance, it has become a popular theme to extol Bohdan Chmielnicki on the screen and in books. It is well known that Bohdan Chmielnicki, who lived in the 16th century in the Ukraine, ardently persecuted the Jews.

“That anti-Semitism survived in Russians who have known the old regime is a phenomenon by itself; but the fact that it also exists among the younger generation is even more astonishing. It is true that the awakening of a certain anti-Semitism seems called forth by recent press and film propaganda.

“‘Naturally this novel form of anti-Semitism provokes reactions among the Jews of the USSR. That is why, for instance, no more mixed marriages are being contracted.’” (East Europe, March 12, 1947, London.)

Without knowing the political tendency of Hadashot Haerew nor the accuracy of their reference to mixed marriages, we know from the whole trend of Russian nationalism and Great Russian chauvinism that Stalinism is not at all immune to the practices referred to. Who would deny that in a period of crisis the Kremlin would not resort to pogrom as a means of diverting mass discontent that would threaten the regime, even as the Czars did? The last thing that would stand in the way of those who have the blood of millions of innocent people on their hands would be moral scruples. Then why is it not likely that the Stalinist machine in Poland, where it confronts a mass opposition, engineers events like the Kielce pogroms for its own political purposes? To determine the role of NSZ bands from the forests or to analyze the extent of anti-Semitism among people is important. But it must not obscure the fact that the prime guilt is upon the heads of the Warsaw regime.

Findley’s challenge to Rudzienski “to cite specific acts of material aid to the Warsaw ghetto fighters” on the part of the Polish underground reveals an astounding lack of information about the Ghetto uprising on the part of one whose contributions in the pages of our press have been so rich in factual material on Jewish political problems. All accounts of the Ghetto battle establish that the Ghetto fighters were armed entirely from the outside. Their chief supplies of arms, as well as military instructors and advisers, came from the underground Polish Socialist Party.

Mary Berg’s Warsaw Ghetto, written as a diary of her experiences as an inhabitant of the Ghetto and an internee in a Ghetto prison, speaks bitterly about the failure of the Polish population to give more aid to the Jewish victims of their common oppressor. Her bitterness seems restrained when one considers the circumstances under which she wrote it. Yet one must weigh the failure of more Poles to conceal Jews in their homes at the risk of their own lives (and the hiding of someone in a city apartment for years is not easy) against the operation of this same instinct of self-preservation among the Jews themselves, above all the hostility of the Jewish community during its first two years against those in its midst who carried on a counter-terror against the Gestapo. Their hostility was born of a fear of Gestapo reprisals against the community as a whole. But even Mary Berg’s account, that of a young, unpolitical observer, repeatedly exonerates the Polish working class movement from her accusations against the Polish population at large.

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