Friday, 11 March 2011

Reaping a Golden Media Harvest

I was amused by First by the wording: "Golden Harvest, a new book by Jan Tomasz Gross, was released in book stores across Poland today. The event did not go unnoticed, however ...". Unnoticed? Well, of course not. has been very busy promoting it, giving links to eight previous articles over the last three months.

Second by the mp3 commentary. Is that really John Beauchamp talking, or is it a computer generated version of his voice? He doesn't sound human. (Part of the reason for this note is that it gave me a chance to try and embed an mp3 into the blog. Here it is.

Having been amused, I started to get serious. I'm not sure if I've said any of this before. I think I started to write things, but never had the courage to complete them, but maybe I am repeating myself.

The relationship between Poles and Jews considered by the author all seems very controversial in Poland. From the little I've read of it, however, it all seems pretty obvious. Britain had a King who was supposed to be a Nazi sympathiser. The French had their Quislings. That Poland had people who treated their neighbours appallingly (Poles as well as Jews) is completely unsurprising. It was Poles shooting Poles back in those anti-communist riots too. Indeed, the newspaper editor - Lisicki, roughly pronounced Lishitski - who comes across as the main critic of the book, agrees towards the end of the interview that some Poles did kill Jews, but points out the difficult times and the context.

I was shocked by the level of comments about Jews when I first came to Poland, but it did not take long to realise that that was just the difference in our backgrounds. I read an article a couple of years ago about an international opinion poll conducted by a Jewish lobby organisation about what type of boss people would be willing to have - a Jewish boss being greatly preferred to an atheist in Poland. My immediate thought was that I'd never had a Jewish boss, but then realised that, some 25 years before, I had worked for a guy called Mike Cohen. It would have taken a Pole a split second to work that one out. It was only on thinking about this article, that I came up with a second - Solly Gross.

It just wasn't an issue for me, but if we English had had a second distinctive racial group/nation living in large quantities beside us for centuries, we would have very different attitudes as well. Poles are justified not only in being more Jewish aware than the English, but also in being more anti-Semitic. Negative prejudices about other peoples may not be nice, but they stem from basic human psychology - part of the human condition. Much as I admire Polish people, I cannot expect them to be so perfect that they can overcome something that is common to all of us. (My positive prejudice about Poland does, however, make me suspect that the English would be much worse - I never figured out why British neo-Nazis hated Jews so much.)

I do feel it's pretty silly to provide such an enormous amount of advertising to a book of questionable value. (Gross's book the Golden Harvest is terrible - don't read it. Its now available in bookshops. Do not go and ask for the book called Golden Harvest whose author's name is Gross.) However, I dislike far more the immediate impression that some Polish people want to hide the truth - Lisicki's comment noted above being only complete confirmation of what I felt in the first place.

Another article directly relates this to the campaign against lazy, uncaring US journalists using standard, simple English. I got the same feeling there. It would never have occurred to me that Polish people would have been committing heinous crimes against humanity in the places referred to. That's why so many of us are Germanophobic (we hate the Germans), isn't it? However, the best way to create a rumour is to deny it, so there must be a rumour, right? Thousands of signatures create a lot of smoke, so where's the fire? What are they trying to hide?

OK, I still don't believe it about the camps, but then I don't want to believe it. On the other hand, I have now been fully prepared by the Polish campaign for the barrage of outraged criticism if the next Jewish anti-Polish book comes along claiming something to the contrary. I will be disappointed, but no longer surprised if Lisicki or someone like him then manages to both condemn and confirm the claim.

And finally, please don't tell me to go and read a book about a Pole who helped Jews survive the Germans. Even comments like "thousands of Poles risked their lives to save Jews" mean that millions of other Poles cared so little about their fellow countrymen that they didn't, just because their neighbours were Jewish. They were difficult times and I do understand a little of the context, intellectually if not emotionally, but what I find difficult to understand is how, even today, a people that many Poles are proud to claim they lived with for hundreds of years, often adding 'peacefully' or 'in harmony', are still so separate that helping them was a special act of human kindness and endeavour.

The Germans made it harder to help Jews than Poles and the sheer difficulty of doing anything is completely understandable. However, rather than pride in having given some help, shouldn't this be an explanation, an excuse even, for a feeling of failure at not having helped as many of your fellow countrymen as you would have liked? As I've said before, the psychology here seems pretty universal - I remember the breakdown of Yugoslavia as a more recent, far worse European example - and I assume that I have been culturally cushioned from the same emotions. My feeling here is of ignorance, not any sense of condemnation.

No comments: