Gross denounces Poles

Paweł Śpiewak · 18 September 2015
By publishing his latest article in the German press Jan Tomasz Gross in a way “denounced” Poles. As if absolving Germans from their sins by saying: “remember, there are always the Poles – equally maleficent, but less settling”.

Based on his literary and academic output, Gross is not a historian, but a moralist. Fear could work as a hallmark in his case – it is an accusation of Poles as a nation permeated by anti-Semitism even after the II World War. Naturally, everyone can moralize, but the arguments should be tenable and convincing. And Fear passes this exam. Gross’ latest, bizarre article from Die Welt does not.

His claim that during the II World War Poles killed more Jews than Germans, righteously outraged Polish readers. There is evidence that Poles murdered or contributed to murdering many Jews. Some were just indifferent to their harm, some were actively denouncing. There were cases of robberies and executions. But we do not, and probably will not know the scale of those crimes because no one estimated it. We do know the rough number of Jews in wartime Poland, and how many of them died in the ghettos due to hunger or diseases. We also know how many died during the German terror and in extermination camps. Based on these estimates we cannot say what happened with approximately 200,000 Jews. We should ask how they were killed, but we shouldn’t assume the Poles did it. Yet, from the Gross’ article I have an impression that Poles waged war against Jews, not Germans. Such grave and concurrently academically unwarranted accusations are unacceptable.

All the more, they were published in German press. By this Gross in a way involuntarily “denounced” Poles. As if absolving Germans from their sins by saying: “remember, there are always the Poles – equally maleficent but less settling”. It is an unfair assessment. Poland is one of a few Eastern and Central European countries seriously settling with its past. There are museums, movies and research dedicated to it. And they are changing the attitude towards Polish-Jewish history not only among the capital’s elite, but also common people. Gross not appreciating or even seeing this takes the easy way out. It is yet another example of his misunderstanding of contemporary Poland.

It is also hard to find the alleged relation between settling the past and present attitude towards refugees from Asia and Africa. Austria also has not settled its historical wrongs but it is granting asylum to the refugees. There is an indubitable correspondence between the nationalist attitude and aversion to the Other. But even that is ambiguous, because Poles are sympathetic to some foreigners (Chechens, Ukrainians). We do not just reject every Other. And even if there are now strong national tendencies in Poland, there is no connection between settling war wrongs and welcoming Arabic immigrants. Publishing such untenable conjectures harms above all Gross himself. Overzealousness and lack of knowledge about present events in Poland reduces his credibility.

This lack of knowledge is clearly visible when we consider the real causes of migrant problems in Poland, of which main are the ongoing Parliament elections campaign, and weak political leadership. Gross mentions not even one of them. Contrary to the popular belief of a considerable part of society, since some polls evince at least half of Poles do not oppose to granting asylums to foreigners, refugee’s issue was foisted on Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz as a crucial campaign topic. The Prime Minister lacks in imagination, courage and decisiveness, and let the nationalists moderate the public debate. This is the mediocre standard of our political class.

We will pay for their cowardice. Poland will have to grant refugee asylums anyhow, but our international opinion will suffer. It will not pay off, because as a result we could face the Ukrainian crisis alone in the future. It is a possibility we must consider. But Polish political leaders behave as if they didn’t know that Poland is a part of Europe. And as a part of Europe we have responsibilities, but none of them have anything in common with Gross’ arguments.


Translated from Polish by Julian Kania