Posted Ian Shulman
Thomas Soxberger was born in 1965 in Lower Austria. He moved to Vienna to study History and Jewish Studies. In the early 1990s Thomas participated in Yiddish Summer Programmes in Oxford. 1998-2000 - Master Degree in Yiddish Studies at London University. After moving back to London, Soxberger finished his dissertation at Vienna University and worked for the Austrian Parliament. He has also worked in several research projects and as Yiddish teacher at Vienna University. Soxberger’s publications include research articles in the field of Jewish and Yiddish studies, several translations of Yiddish literature, two novels in German and Yiddish poetry and short prose. His book on Yiddish culture in Vienna "Revolution am Donaukanal: Jiddische Kultur und Politik in Wien 1904 bis 1938" was published this spring by Mandelbaum Verlag, Vienna.
To start with, tell me how did you get to do what you are doing now?
It came rather straightforward, based on the things I was encountering on my way. I had a general wish to do Jewish studies. It is difficult to answer the question of personal motive, but certainly it was something that was “in the air” at that time. The 1980s, especially before and after the Waldheim elections, were an interesting time. People started to talk about the Austrian past and questioning the official narrative. Remember, the Green party started at this time too. It was somehow all connected with each other, so I think it was also a generational thing. At this time contemporary Klezmer music came to Austria. Some klezmer bands were also putting Yiddish songs into their repertoire. This was an opportunity to encounter this language, which for a German speaker is mostly easy to understand. I immediately felt a fascination with that language. Then there was the encounter with the general theme of Jewish culture and Jewish history, as well as with the part Austria played in this history. And then it was also about finding my own place in this world. Anyway, I decided to do Jewish and then Yiddish studies. There was a summer program in Oxford in the 1990s; by that time I had already been studying some Yiddish in Vienna University, a basic course. I seems that I did have a certain talent for the language and I started to write little poems in Yiddish, first of all as an exercise. I was writing poems in German before. But it was a feeling I could express something special in a special language.
Can you think of a point which turned your fascination into something you dedicated your life to?
It’s difficult to tell whether I actually “dedicated my life to it”. It turns out that just now I’m not working in the academic field. For many years I thought that I would go on to an academic job in Jewish studies, that I could turn this into a career, but one thing lead to another and now I’m doing a journalism job for the Austrian parliament. But I’m also a board member at the Jewish Liberal Community ‘Or Chadasch’ in Vienna, and this becomes an important part of my life more and more now. Of course, I am also doing academic work if I can; I have been writing for an exhibition on Jewish Humor, which openend in the Vienna Jewish Museum in March. I was asked to write about the role of Yiddish in the development Jewish humor, so I had a chance to speak about Sholom-Aleichem and also some Viennese humorists. To tell the truth, it was probably just too hard for me to make an academic career with Yiddish, because the academic field is rather limited. Apart from that I’m still writing literature, mostly in German, but in Yiddish as well. I do both poetry and prose, though prose is the bigger challenge for me.
Could you elaborate on that?
Many people think that prose is easier to write, but indeed writing good prose is a big challenge. You need to have something to say and you need to have a good technique and language to express it. Speaking about what is now considered to be contemporary Yiddish literature, quite a few people do write Yiddish poetry, because it’s a short form and I suppose it’s also a question of how much time and effort you can dedicate to writing. And not even all people who want to write in Yiddish do have a sufficient grasp of the language to write prose.
What are your topics in prose?
My last story was published in the journal Gilgulim in Paris, and unlike previous ones, it is a longer piece. There I tried to describe my own Yiddishist experience, yet that is not as easy as one might think. It’s not exactly autobiographical, I am trying to create a literary fiction based on my experiences. But in general for a writer, once you realize how vast the range of human experience is, naturally you want to write about some of that. Interestingly, there are some writers around – some of which I know personally – who try to write in Yiddish and I think we do share the same experience with Yiddish literature to some degree: you take from it and you want to give something back.
You were mentioning your involvement in the Liberal Jewish Community. How can you describe the link between your involvement in Jewish culture and your more recent involvement in Jewish religion?
Religion helps to understand Jewish culture. Apart from that, religion provides some answers that secular culture alone cannot give. At least that is what I feel. Liberal Judaism is a result of trying to connect the two and allow for the individual to find its own answers. On the other hand, many religious Jews will think that Liberal Judaism is too laissez-faire in many things. So the question arises: where is the common ground? I find this issue immensely interesting.
Contemporary Yiddish literature: Some people question the very right of it to exist, since Yiddish is not a contemporary used language.
But who are these people that they have to be asked whether Yiddish literature is allowed to exist? Indeed, some people might think that literature in general is irrelevant for their life and wonder how others can spend time on such nonsense. It’s a very loaded question. You might ask: is there still relevant literature in Yiddish at all? I think you just have to look for it, to find it and then you will realize it’s just as relevant as any other literature.
What would you answer to people, and there are many of them, who argue that Yiddish belongs to the past, and younger people should not pay too much attention to it?
Well, one could just as well say that Torah belongs to the past; it’s actually even much older. You always have to decide which part of the past you use. What can be a reason for people to decide that they don’t want to use this specific part of the past? I am also an historian and I can say that you need to know something about the past, otherwise what’s your claim for the future? This is my first argument against it. Also, there are many useful things to be learned from the Yiddish experience. If you question the relevance of a certain experience, you should at least know something about it and not dismiss it out of hand. Modern and older Jewish culture will never be fully separated. You might claim that Yiddish is not as mainstream now as it was back then in the Eastern Europe, that the Jewish mainstream is somewhere else now. If people just decide that they want to look only at things that are mainstream, alright, if they want it that way ... But for example, there are still people doing Latin poetry, and Latin is certainly more “dead” than Yiddish. But they have their own reasons for doing it.
There are people who write Yiddish poetry today, who just keep the tradition alive. There are people who take Yiddish and try to make it sound modern. It particularly applies to modern covers of traditional Yiddish songs. They are not trying to prolong the tradition, but rather to offer it as a new tradition, to revitalize it. What’s your opinion about this approach?
Before answering that, I have to underline that Yiddish has been “modern” now for over 100 years ... Of course, if you do use a language, it will develop, even if fewer people speak it now than was once the case. Yiddish of the early XIX century was different from Yiddish of the middle of the XX century, when it was still a widely spoken language. It was developing until this period and this did not really stop after that. You cannot say that everything Yiddish just ended with the Shoa. This enormous crime actually destroyed the whole culture in Eastern Europe. But there were big Yiddish-speaking communities in the USA and other places, which did not quit speaking Yiddish because of the Holocaust, but for other reasons. And there were also some people around who tried to keep it alive. In that respect, you could argue that the second half of the XX century was mostly a big failure for the Yiddishist enterprise, and who wants to be a part of a failure? It was not so for the Chassidim, but they are a different matter.
So did Yiddish language develop since 1945?
Obviously, it did. The Yiddish speaking communities of Chassidim were always alive. But there have been also non-chassidic, even secular circles, where the language was passed on from generation to generation. And if we look at it, there language also has developed, though there is criticism of this development too. For example, among dedicated Yiddishists there were attempts to prescribe which words in Yiddish should be used and which should not be used, because of their being “too German”. You find such “warnings” in the dictionary of Uriel Weinreich. And Mordechai Shechter in New York continued that tradition, he always argued for more “Yiddish”, more “Jewish” words to be used instead. That is a purist approach which argues that everything should be and can be expressed in Yiddish terms. If you lack words, you should make up new words, which is a phenomenon in itself. But I personally think the purist approach does not show the way to any new development of Yiddish.
Yiddish has many dialects. Is there a certain ‘high Yiddish’?
I would say there are at least two of them. There is Yiddish as the language of the Yiddish stage. And then there is Yiddish as a language of Yiddish literature, which appeared during the XIX century and which was then thought in Yiddish schools. These literary languages avoid regional expressions and aim at a style that as large an audience as possible will understand. Many languages are in a situation like that. I read that in Norway during the XIX century, two literary languages were developed, and people still use both of them. Some prefer the one because it’s closer to the spoken language of a certain region, and others prefer another one because it’s connected to a longer literary tradition, even though it’s closer to Danish. And not every language is like French, with its language academy and tradition. There are many languages which are in more ‘disorder’, so to say, and one of them is Yiddish. One can always cultivate a supposedly ‘uncultured’ language and use it in a very literary way. It is a lot about people who know how to use language.
Do you have some practicing partners in Yiddish?
I was doing Yiddish courses in London, and there we talked Yiddish most of the time. I meet people at Yiddish language conferences. It’s an interesting phenomenon. The dilemma is whether it’s only about keeping Yiddish literature alive some way or other or really pushing it to a level of some relevance.
What would you say about Yiddish culture becoming trendy in Eastern Europe now, for example in Poland, where there are not so many Jews, but there is an active Jewish stage and a high interest to the Jewish culture?
It reminds me a lot of what I have mentioned about Austria, it just came to Poland a little bit later. It happened when Klezmer music became a part of the whole trend of world music, a part of the mainstream. I am not surprised that such things are taking place. It’s the younger generation, who is looking at the past of the country and trying to come to terms with it. It also has a lot to do with questioning the received narrative about the national history. Austria had a certain narrative too about being the first victim of Nazi Germany in 1938. I remember it quite clearly, the whole thing about questioning this received narrative in the 1980s, and now a new version has become the mainstream. Politicians for example have to acknowledge on memorial days in an almost ritualistic fashion that it wasn’t only the Germans that occupied Austria, but there was Austrian participation in the crimes of the Nazis and an Austrian responsibility. I don’t know if all of this holds much promise for Yiddish literature in particular, but to all people who are interested in this topic, this development is interesting.
Can you think of some other people from Austria, who were also influenced by this trend to that extent?
I can mention a friend, Armin Eidherr, who is actually teaching Yiddish literature in Salzburg; another academic friend of mine, Brigitte Dalinger, is writing a lot about Jewish theatre. When I look around, there is also a bunch of people involved in Jewish culture, often touching the topic of Yiddish too. It’s a very small group, but I think it certainly can be found.
Poems that Die Young
by Thomas Soxberger; translated from the Yiddish by Irving Massey
There are always some poems that die young.
It's always been that way, always will be.
No sooner do they see the bright day
Than they're buried
With a handsome titlepage for a headstone
In a book (published by the author), in an anthology, ,
Or maybe it was in the pages of The Future I
That they entered immediately upon their eternal rest,
Or got into The Golden Chain,
And already nobody cares about them.
What do those poems sing about, the ones that die young?
About anything that you can think of, and about the fact that
In the year 1965 there was a spring,
And, obviously, an autumn.
There were stars in the sky that year
As there were the next year.
And at that time there was love, too,
People longed, hoped, and the dear departed
Had not yet been forgotten.
What do we need those poems for, if
Anyway they're going to die young,
If no eye will ever see them again
In their selfappointed graves,
And no one is going to waste any breath
Reading them out loud?
Whom could you ask? Could it have something to do
With the fact that there will be poems being written
About spring in 2115, about love in 5790?
לידער, וואָס שטארבן יונגערהייט
אלע מאָל זײַנען דאָ לידער, וואָס שטארבן יונגערהייט.
אזוי איז געוועןף און אזוי וועט ווײַטער זײַן.
זיי האָבן נאָר וואָס דערזען די ליכטיקע שײַן
און זײַנען שוין באגראָבן געוואָרן
מיט א שיינעם שער־בלאט צוקאָפּנס
אין א בוך (פארלאג פונעם מחבר), אן אנטאָלאָגיע,
אָדער זײַנען גאָר אויף די זײַטן פון דער צוקונפט
ארײַן אין זייער אייביקער רו,
אָדער ארײַן אין דער גאָלדענער קייט
און זיי גייען שוין קיינעם ניט אָן.
וועגן וואָס זינגען די לידער, וואָס שטארבן יונגערהייט?
וועגן וואָס נאָר איר ווילט, און וועגן דעם,
אז געווען איז א פרילינג אין 1965,
און א הארבסט, פארשטייט זיך, אויך.
שטערן זײַנען געשטאנען אין די נעכט דעמאָלט
פּונקט ווי אין א יאָר ארום.
און דעמאָלט איז אויך געווען ליבע,
מען האָט געבענקט, געהאָפט, און טײַערע טויטע
זײַנען נאָך ניט פארגעסן געוואָרן.
פאר וואָס דארף מען אזעלכע לידער, אויב זיי שטארבן
דאָך סײַ ווי שוין יונגערהייט,
אויב קיין אויג וועט זיי שוין מער ניט זען
אין זייער זעלבסט פארלייגטן קבר,
און קיינער קיין אָטעם ניט פארשווענדן
זיי צו לייענען אויף א קול?
גיי פרעג א קשיא. אפשר האָבן זיי א שײַכות
צו דעם, אז מען וועט נאָך שרײַבן לידער
וועגן פרילינג אין 2115טן יאָר,
וועגן ליבע אין יאָר
4.18.13 at 1:25 am | Thomas Soxberger was born in 1965 in Lower. . .
4.18.13 at 1:23 am | Today is April 10th … a significant date for. . .
4.18.13 at 1:15 am | As she was passing by some girls in their. . .
4.18.13 at 1:07 am | I must admit that even before we arrived in. . .
3.19.13 at 7:47 am | The poetry of Naftali Herz Kon was finally. . .
3.19.13 at 7:45 am | The Holocaust, globally the largest crime in. . .
7.25.12 at 12:48 pm | Unfulfilled murderers, domestic sadists – nice. . . (71)
4.18.13 at 1:15 am | As she was passing by some girls in their. . . (19)
4.18.13 at 1:07 am | I must admit that even before we arrived in. . . (8)
April 18, 2013 | 1:23 am
Posted Michał Zajda
Today is April 10th … a significant date for Polish people, being another anniversary of the Smoleńsk catastrophe, which some call an assassination. I have no intention of debating here, what happened there that day, since I am not an aviation expert and was not present at the aiport in Smoleńsk, staring up at the sky. I am mostly only interested insofar as this fact concerns the “present day”. I leave the fight for the truest truth to the more “real” and more “heroic” of my countrymen. I propose we focus on the aftermath of what happened. Poland became divided in a way that had not happened before. People stopped talking to each other, aggression rose, as well as animosity and distrust. What appeared is what I fear most, that is increased nationalism and xenophobia. People who I had respected up to then – went mad; people who appeared to be thinking individuals – went crazy; people who could have been the avant-garde became a dangerous extreme. A large part of society went into a kind of hysteria, demons of the past returned. Protests, called patriotic by some, in truth became dangerous parteitags, conventions for an oppositional political group. When I see the images from the anniversary ceremonies I remember the story of Horst Wessel and the craze that reigned in Germany after his death. Then it was also THEM who were to blame, because THEY killed him and THEY had to pay. I fear the rhetoric of revenge and settlements, since it always leads toward something the modern state cannot turn to.
Janusz Korwin Mikke, whom I personally valued as a competent publicist, with skill in speaking and an independent thinker, also became part of the mass madness. In the piece entitled Słownik polsko@polski” taken off the air, because TVP spent money on programs about Jews, JKM clearly shows that he is heading in the wrong direction, since a man above a certain „level” does not use rhetoric like this. His colleague of the pen, Stanisław Michalkiewicz, whom I have devoted plenty of room to in the past, succumbs to the lowest instincts a publicist can in his text entitled Instead of Stations of the Cross – a whore’s instruction. Using the word “Jew” in various ways, he vents his animosity at times turning into hate.
Sirs, how puny you have become!
Gazeta Warszawska, a bastion of followers of anti-Semitism in its pure form, leads the pack of the elite loonies of the press. In its form and content it exceeds the Toruń-based media organ Nasz Dziennik, Gazeta Polska Codziennie and other quasi-national periodicals, enthusiasts of the enigmatic, ill-defined conspiracy, which will supposedly be the ruin of Poland. The paper printed an article called The Myth of the good Jew in which we find out that, „It was not Zionists who killed 66 million innocent Jews in Russia, but Jews who called themselves communists, who were supported by other Jews, who called themselves Americans or Britons and who took control of Western finance, legal systems and systems of conducting war.” Later, the author springs to an even higher level of madness, „One ought to remember, what I have said before, that the Talmud is the heart of darkness in human history, and not the Zionists, which is a word favoured in use, being a great all-purpose trick word. It matters not, how smooth their speech and how nice they seem, because we are speaking of the bane, the curse of this world, which all Jews are, engaged in a conspiracy against humanity, against life itself.” I won’t comment on the above outbursts, since that seems useless. I only want to remind everyone that only two or three years ago such texts were rare, even online. Above all, I am asking everyone, including the authorities, appealing to the common sense of all people – what is happening in a Country which was free from these kinds of slogans not long ago! And what follows, I ask again: If someone allows the publication of such shit, as there is no other word for it, and they are not prosecuted for this, then why is the sale of Mein Kampf banned? A book which, at this point, has historical value and could also serve as a negative model for similar such closet crazies?
Certain specific political groups in Poland, who for unknown reasons refer to themselves as „right wing”, have crossed a certain line which I believe is unaccetapble. Imposing on others their world view, under threat of sanction, accusal of treason and being anti-Polish, has far-reaching consequences, which can become the root of an internal conflict.
Unfortunately the tragic crash in Smoleńsk was the beginning of a polarization in Polish society, which keeps layering further, emotionally, because conversation about the event has this basis surprisingly often. The melancholy messianic spirit found in the Polish soul is seeking expression in the search for conspiracies and mysterious partnerships created to destroy the Polish Nation! Many do believe this, mixing in God, who was killed by Jews of course... Let us beware!
April 18, 2013 | 1:15 am
Posted Jewrnalism reporter
Finally, we got to the March of the Living. A group of young Jews from several cities in Poland who decided to take part in this enormous and powerful way of remembering the ones who perished in the Shoah. We were accompanied by several non-Jewish people, life partners and friends who felt the need to share that experience with us.
It is obvious how powerful standing next to the gas chamber can be and what kind of emotions can it bring. We walked speechlessly, which does not happen too often, and took out the flags of some Jewish organizations we are part of and the red and white flag of Poland. It was not even five minutes later when some English speaking person passing us by said to his friend: “It is kind of awkward to see a Polish flag here”. We did not react to that statement however shocking for us Polish Jews it was; maybe we felt a bit embarrassed because of our gentile friends standing next to us.
We decided to use the one hour before the beginning of the March to walk around Auschwitz. At the meeting point it turned out that unfortunately not everyone seemed to understand what this march is about. At least not how we felt about it. Our Polish friend, life partner of one of Jews from our group, was walking between the barracks with Polish flags with her long blond hair falling on her leather jacket. As she was passing by some girls in their twenties, wearing blue coats and waving and Israeli flag she just heard: “Oh hello you Polish asshole!” She did not react, just moved forward.
Organizers divided the area in zones and each group was to walk from a certain starting point. We gathered in the F zone, the one that we believed to be for people supposed to walk at end of the March, the zone for the Polish and Austrian people. The red and white was separated from the blue and white with a fence and a buffer zone. However, the gate separating us from the people already marching opened earlier and we were able to walk with everybody. It was kind of a relief.
And there we were, Polish assholes, Polish gentile assholes, Polish Jewish assholes who decided to take part in something big, something worthy of doing. Something that must be done. We took the Polish flag up and marched with everyone. When we got to Birkenau it was the blond girl wearing leather jacket who was telling us about that camp and showing the barracks. Her knowledge seemed much bigger than ours. Thank you for going there with us you Polish asshole.
April 18, 2013 | 1:07 am
Posted by Klaudia Klimek
Everyone who knows me, knows that I like to participate in various trips, events and seminars organized by Jewish organizations. I always meet someone interesting, learn something useful and see a new place.
The March of the Living is one of the few events, which negates all three of the above, however this was not the reason that I did not take part until I was 25 years old. I already had had several occasions in the past, but the idea of this event never quite moved me, encouraged me, perhaps I did not feel invited?
This year I decided to find out for myself what the March of the Living is really like and seized the occasion to participate with my good acquaintances, as well as those just met a couple days earlier at a seminar - people who came to the march from all over Poland. It is worth noting that the group traveled to Oswiecim as an official group of Polish Jews. We held flags of the Socio-Cultural Association of Polish Jews (TSKŻ), the Jewish Agency for Israel in Poland, as well as the white and red flag of Poland. Since I had somewhat of a chance to see behind the scenes of the seminar preparations and our presence at the March, I must admit that even before we arrived in Oswiecim I felt disappointed with the March of the Living (MOTL) organization’s approach to us, Poles and Jews in one.
But let’s start at the beginning - what the March of the Living is. On the official website we read that it is an annual educational program, which aims to inform participants about the history of the Holocaust, and examine the roots of intolerance, prejudice and hate. Indeed, this is quite interesting, but why is it that the organizers want to teach us about these matters in Poland specifically? Poland was the location of many concentration camps, I agree, but we will not find the history of the Holocaust here. That story began much earlier than the camps themselves; it was many years of politics, events and bad decisions, which led to someone like Hitler taking power. If we want to confirm history with the landscape, then I invite you to Berlin and Munich, then only lastly to Poland. The concentration camps were the final strokes of Hitler’s sick politics, and not its beginning or the idea itself. As for prejudice and intolerance, Poland is also the wrong address, since it was known to Jews for 700 years as a place that they called home. This is not clear to everyone. One of our friends was called a “Polish asshole” as she was walking through the Camp with a Polish flag in hand. The sender of this message was a girl wrapped in an Israeli flag, though she was American.
Reading further the MOTL website, we arrive at the topic of the three kilometer march in silence. It is far from silent, dear readers. The march begins in Auschwitz I. A horrible crowd mills at the toilets, I was witness to some 50+ ladies bidding over who had the worse kidney disease and pushing each other out of line. I immediately thought of the story of one prisoner, who described how women supported each other near the toilets, giving each other those few moments to relieve oneself, by standing around the person on the “toilet”, so that others could not push her off. But that is just an anecdote that came out of nowhere, maybe it was because of such anecdotes that I couldn’t camp out like the others, by the walls of the barracks with a sandwich and a cola in hand.
In the description of the idea behind MOTL we read that a week before the March participants visit a place which was once a haven for Jewish life. Attention, attention - in most of these places there are still Jews cultivating their traditions and religion. If the organizers of the March wanted participants to have a dialog with Polish Jews they would have contacted us beforehand. Here the situation is quite the opposite – Polish Jews had to solicit for months for permission to participate in the March. A bizarre situation! Not only does one pay for participation in the March, and not a small sum, then you have to plead to enter the camp, which is open every day to visitors for free. That’s not all; you have to stand in the proper place assigned and marked for your country. Each group receives a map to position themselves properly for the March. Imagine my surprise when I saw that Polish Jews stand at the very end, next to groups from Austria and Germany. I could not believe my eyes, checking the plan several times. I was convinced that we should at least be near the head of the march, this was quite a disappointment. Unperturbed and unyielding we pushed in front of the group from Los Angeles, ripping the tape which barred us from the Arbeit macht Frei gate, in a gesture of cooperation and support for each other.
Another matter is the presence of former inmates, survivors of the Holocaust. Several times already I’ve had the chance to attend meetings with survivors who told their stories. The young do listen and even feel it, but too bad their memory is short. While in Camp I, before the March started, I was witness to an older man with a cane crossing the square – a former inmate. Too bad no one noticed him, it is not a sight one will see often. Speaking of former prisoners and how grateful everyone is for them being there, surviving and coming to such ceremonies to testify history. After the ceremony ends, first leave diplomats and high position people. It takes quite a long time, because of the regulations, rules, protocols. Former inmates and spectators are at the end. Then organized groups go into the buses and former inmates to the bus stop. No one thinks to provide these seniors with a decent mode of transportation to and from the Camp. After the spectacle, let the actors worry about getting home on their own.
In closing, I will recall the last sentences from the official March of the Living website, which speak about how youth after the march return to Israel strengthened in their Jewish identity, remembering the Holocaust and more engaged in their local community. At what and whose cost, I ask? At the cost of history not quite told, staged emotions, an omitted dialog, future generations from across the water thinking that there is no Jewish life in Poland?
I went to the March of the Living with a critical attitude but also with a will to change my views and give it a chance. Unfortunately, the event did not redeem itself in my eyes. Regardless, it will take place next year and the year after, and for a few or a dozen more. I have no qualm with that, in fact I support it, but only with a different narration and let some use come of it.
March 19, 2013 | 7:47 am
Posted Pavel Pustelnik
The poetry of Naftali Herz Kon was finally released from the imprisonment of the Polish Archives.
In January this year I was exploring complicated happenings around the poetry of Naftali Herz Kon. The poet was accused of espionage and all his archives were confiscated in the early 1960s (Read more here). A battle between the courts and Kon’s daughters Ina Lancman and Vita Serf took years. When it was finally decided that the State Archive should return the property to the inheritors, procedural issues aroused.
Today, finally the poems are free. - First we got through all the formalities. The Director of the Archives read aloud the operative part of the judgment, which put the Archives under an obligation to return the literary estate. It was an extremely emotional moment. The daughters cried and I was on the brink too as the emotions got to me after such a prolonged battle – says prof. Tomasz Koncewicz, who was working on Kon’s issue. Indeed, it was a long battle set in the realities of slow Polish courts, which seemed to miss the whole point and did not understand who absurd the whole situation was. - It is hard to believe but to get the literary estate back to their rightful owners I have written more than 1000 pages of interventions, pleadings, statements… You name it! – says Koncewicz, passionate about the problem.
When we met with prof. Koncewicz in January this year he was sure that one day the poetry would be returned. Even though, we started to plan a poetry evening consisting of a broad historic background of the story, readings of the poems both those then available and those that would be “set free”. There was hope in his voice, but nobody could be sure when the issue will be solved. – During the commemorative evening with the poetry of Kon on 7th of March at the Center of Rabi Schorr in Warsaw I even quipped that that all this would make up decent novel “Lost in the Archives”. – prof. Koncewicz says today. – I make fun of all this now but I will never forget that 6 months ago the mood was much more somber and I was desperate – he adds.
It was not easy to predict what is hidden in the boxes imprisoned in the Archives. Everyone was expecting poems, but as we see now, there is much more. - There is some amazing content hidden in the Kon’s papers. Apart from the priceless poetry, there are intimate letters, notes and photographs. One document, which is most symbolic, is the original of the Kon's release order from gulag in the fifties! – says prof. Koncewicz who had a chance to assist in receiving the documents.
- All in all it was a wonderful and fulfilling day for all of us. The case is a powerful proof that justice and dignity stand for something after all – Koncewicz sums up.
Now the documents need to be ordered with great care. They were kept in the Archives for over 50 years. When Koncewicz first saw the files in 2010 they were covered with dust. It was obvious that nobody was touching them, perhaps the lawyer was the first one since the 1960’. Lancman and Serf are planning to translate the documents to English and Polish.
All photographs related to this text courtesy of TT Koncewicz.
March 19, 2013 | 7:45 am
Posted Michał Zajda
First, one must ask the question, what was the so-called people’s government in Poland? Right after the Germans yielded, I am purposely avoiding the word ‘liberation’, the Soviets dictated their way of running the country. The system, which was forced on Poland, wasn’t Lenin Bolshevism anymore, not to be mistaken with Marxism, but a Stalinist totalitarian emanation of it. The Stalinists got rid of the opposition very quickly, by putting them in jails, or exterminating them physically, callously and ruthlessly suppressing the smallest forms of resistance. Until Polish October (or Gomułka’s thaw – ed.) in 1956, soldiers of the underground resistance were being destroyed, their fight against the Nazi invaders marginalized and they were attributed with the biggest war crimes.
The Holocaust, globally the largest crime in human history, was slowly becoming a weapon in the fight against Polish patriots. If someone spoke of bandits in the forest, they couldn’t have meant anybody else than the Armia Krajowa (Home Army – ed.) or the National Armed Forces. They were accused of collaborating with the enemy, which was the official basis for trials and later sentencing of the leaders of the Polish Underground State (PPP) to death. Unfortunately, such thinking still lingers in the minds of the unreflective part of society, which repeatedly looks for signs of supporting the Holocaust in PPP’s actions. This is, and must be made completely clear, wrong - from the ground up. PPP’s aim was to protect citizens against the German aggressors and as is known, Jews were full-fledged citizens of the pre-September Poland, that is, until this country was invaded and then swept away by the Nazi-Soviet machine of destruction!
But the Polish state, meaning the civic community, has suffered most in the war. Nearly four million people were killed (the number is impossible to determine, yet according to statistics Poland was populated by around 35 million people in 1939, that number fell to 24 million) and thirty percent of the national wealth was destroyed or stolen. Poland lost nearly seventy-seven thousand square kilometers of land! What more is there to say, just look at a photo of post-war Warsaw… After the year 1956, the routine use of force against Polish patriots stopped, but the verbal bashing continued until the regaining of sovereignty in 1989. Then, the perception of responsibility for the crimes of the Holocaust was subject to a more pragmatic view. Yet the mental effects dug into the Polish awareness very deeply, filling out the guilt with a kind of negation of certain historical facts. Why? From the very beginning, the so-called socialist historiography, in other words – propaganda, stuffed the Polish society with very specific “truths”, which passed for reality. Quite clearly, they suggested that the Pole, as inherently good, guided by their own worldview could not allow the szmalcownictwo (blackmailing for profit) and other war crimes against the Jewish people. He had evil and deceitful leaders! How nice and pleasant for all, easier to accept.
Quite an interesting observation seems to be a semantic fact, used mostly by non-democratic systems. Please note, that whenever the word “truth” is abused it often legitimizes the “untruth”. So the more one seeks to know the truth, the more he/she does not want to know it. Also, I have the impression that today this principle refers to certain specific cases. The Smoleńsk wreck is crowning proof – without bowing in any direction, it is clear that in this case, the “truth” is a political tool in the hands of both sides of the conflict over “the truest truth”. Nobody wants to reach it, because the lack of knowledge gives a lot of leeway which is very convenient for both sides. Just divagations about the service of “truth” in the world of “untruth”… so much on this topic, I’ve written too much anyway!
The tragedy of the Holocaust became a powerful, ideological weapon in the hands of the communists. We should keep in mind that the main arena for the crimes of the Nazi genocide were lands that are in accordance with the Yalta order, that prevailed at the end of World War II, in the Soviet sphere of influence. The communist propaganda twisted the facts, mainly by giving imaginary numbers of victims – these actions usually concerned Auschwitz, as a symbol of the Nazi crimes. Why? Many times during the “real socialism” or “communism with a human face”, as party notables used to call the PRL (People’s Republic of Poland – ed.), one could hear of about six million murdered in Auschwitz, or more accurately, yet still far from the truth, information about three million murdered. On the basis of reliable historical research, we can now say that this number is believed to be around one million one thousand. It is known to anyone interested in the matters of genocide by the Germans in 1942-1945, that the camp in Auschwitz couldn’t have murdered the number of people mentioned earlier.
What was the purpose of these manipulations then? The Federal Republic of Germany in the Cold War propaganda was presented as the primary enemy of the Republic of Poland, because it combined the long-standing aversion towards Germans as the eternal adversary of Poland, besides it pointed to FRG as the direct ideological heirs of the perpetrators of the tragedy of war. The effect of such thinking about the „revisionists from Bonn”, as the inhabitants of Western Germany were commonly called in the media east of the Elbe, was assigning them the will to change the Oder-Neisse border. That is where, according to eastern propaganda, Nazi war criminals were hiding. Again, that is where the gains of Nazi eugenics were used and the money stolen from Poles, as well as Jews, was being laundered. It was the border agreement created on December 7, 1970 that "calmed down" the propaganda and began to slowly and timidly, regulate the relations, diplomatically, as well as economically.
So the tragedy of the Holocaust was a bargaining chip in the hands of the communists, in shaping domestic policy. It served to drag the families affected by this disaster onto their side. For a limited time. In 1968 the myth burst like a bubble and the delusion of a good communist gave way to cold-blooded, cunning, political calculation. Jews weren’t needed anymore. They changed from victims and became a partner, standing at the side of the class enemy, the American imperialist. The rhetoric of “backstabbing” could be used again as an irreplaceable antidote for all injustice. Of course, an escalation of violence could not happen again, yet twenty years after the war, people were going through an ideological déjà vu… A simple man could have thought, WE helped you disinterestedly, and this is how YOU repay us? To Israel, we don’t want you here in Poland anymore. Such thinking from a simple man was expected by the “people’s government”!
History has come full circle…
March 19, 2013 | 7:42 am
Posted Tal Dror
It is no secret that Antisemitism is bluntly on the rise in Europe, South America, the Arab world and almost everywhere in the world. So why would Facebook, the 3rd largest 'country' in the world with over a billion 'citizens' would be different? Why would Wikipedia, home for millions and millions of 'tourists' entering through its gates on a daily basis would be any different? Antisemitism doesn't stop on the borders of Europe or the Arab world. It crosses borders and boundaries, and infiltrates the cyber world as much as it infiltrates schools, mosques and community centers.
In its 2009 study on social networks, the Simon Wiesenthal Center showed a growth curve in the number of websites calling for violence against Jews In 2000, 1400 sites were identified, as opposed to 10,000 sites in 2009.
The reasons for this huge growth are many. But I would like to focus not on WHY online Antisemitism is on the rise, but on WHAT can we do, and HOW we can combat it. The Web allows unmonitored access to marginal groups' contents, and thus can greatly influence the various audiences exposed to that information, mainly young people who are easily influenced. Considering that the Internet is used as a significant instrument for spreading Antisemitism and hatred towards Israel and the Jewish people, it is also the proper platform on which we should battle the Antisemitic websites, undermine them, and spread credible and balanced information instead of them.
In 2011, a group of young leaders from the National Union of Israeli Students (NUIS) decided that for too long the cyber world was a failed warzone for Israelis and Jews all over the world. In this warzone, the invisible 'enemy' launches numerous attacks on us, inflicting damage and wounds on the image of Jews and Israelis around the world.
This is why our group – 'Students Against Antisemitism Online' was created. A group of young, professional and passionate students who spend hours every month working on various websites, social networks, blogs, Q&A websites and much more trying to spread positive materials and the other side of the story, alongside shutting down and getting rid of Antisemitic users online. These are our two main strategies – to make sure that mainstream websites, FB groups, blogs etc. will have a presence that contradicts Antisemitic claims as well as making sure that Antisemitism will be shut down and thrown off the cyber-map.
In this somewhat war of attrition it's hard to tell winners from losers. It's hard to know if you inflicted any damage on your invisible 'enemy', or if sometimes you are shooting your cyber-bullets on useless targets. But one thing is for sure – the very presence of young Jewish voices online, dedicating hours and hours every month is extremely important. The next neo-Nazi or KKK member will not be recruited in a dark basement in a god forsaken town in Europe or the US. He or she will be recruited after watching an inflammatory video on Youtube, reading a biased and Antisemitic article on Wikipedia or joining a Facebook groups delivering Antisemitic slur 24/7. This is why our presence is so important. This is why even if this war of attrition can't be won, and we are outnumbered by thousands of Antisemitic activists from all around the world we can't give up and continue with our activity. If us young people, who are native to the social media world are not going to do it – then who will?
This short introduction to the NUIS' 'Students Against Antisemitism Online' program will be followed by descriptions of our daily activity, the problems and struggles we face and sometimes also a 'call of action' for young Jewish students from all around the world to join our efforts and contribute a FB post, a small 'Like' or a positive comment. You can already start helping us by Liking our FB page:
For any questions, comments or ideas don't hesitate to email me at:
Students Against Antisemitism Online
March 10, 2013 | 5:26 am
Posted Michał Zajda
I was intrigued by the recent commotion regarding the alleged insults thrown at the Radwański sisters by tennis pseudo-fans in Israel. Obviously, we are not talking about real fans here, only plain „rebelious boors” of the sort that are beloved by the fatherly figure of the establishment of true Poles, Staruch, the star of a recent episode of Jan Pospieszalki’s talk show. But to the point. Today, that is the 1st of march, during Kontrwywiad on RMF FM, Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski informed the listeners that the Polish ambasaddor or his staff „contacted the Radwański sisters’ coach, who said that he did not hear anything and he is not asking for diplomatic intervention”.
But first thing’s first... On February 12, on my favorite website niezalezna.pl, we read as follows,
„During the match with Israel in Euro-African Region, Group I, the Radwański sister double from Poland was called out to by Israeli fans. We received informatoin that the tennis players were addressed as „Catholic bi....s!”. The media were silent about this, but we managed to get confirmation of this news from a member of the Polish tennis crew. There is even a discussion regarding this on Agnieszka Radwańska’s official Facebook page.”
And here is the confirmation of this information, „One ought to keep a certain form at the tennis courts, but their behavior was very, very rude”, Dawid Celt told Niezależna. Celt is a member of the Polish tennis crew, who played a Friday match against Israel. During the game, the Radwański sisters were insulted by the fans. Apart from offensive remarks, the court was also littered with paper planes. The Polish Tennis Association did not wish to comment the matter.
Celt did not want to fan the flame and did not comment the remarks made from the stands. „The fans did not behave appropriately for the venue and the significance of the event. They did not behave as tennis fans should, they disturbed the game, crying out. I can’t say what they were yelling”, Dawid Celt says.” – End of quote.
From that context it appears that it was all so offensive that Mr. Celt cannot say what it is they were yelling... or perhaps he just didn’t understand? But if he couldn’t understand, then that just means they weren’t yelling right – of course! The vigilant, independent, always oppositionist and unsuccessfully persecuted organs of the true Poles, have rapidly deduced that the regime-like, anti-Polish media, dominated by the Michnik-esque Judeo-communists have simply decided to stay silent. Basta!
I cannot comprehend, with my perhaps somewhat limited historian’s brain, how this trivial incident, which surely took place, could have become such a huge media event. I recommend visiting any football match in Poland and listening to what the „fans” are chanting in the stands... and thus comes the question. Doe the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs issue statements of protest? I am under the impression that we are dealing with some sort of manic psychosis, combined with an international coddling-deprivation syndrome.
But what made a great impression on me is the attitude of Agnieszka Radwańska herself, who commented in a very laconic, but meaningful way, on the behavior of part of the Israeli fans, who insulted the players by calling them „Catholic bi....s” – she said, that such behavior was sad and unfair. She is right of course! It is sad and offensive. But Agnieszka herself said this once, and then went on to her training, in order to promote Poland and herself with her quality of play. It should be noted, that during the tournament she defeated every opponent, got on the plane and returned to Poland. What more is there to say... Case closed.
The Polish team’s achievements and wins at the Federation Cup in Eliat became secondary for many, I believe; what was important is that „they’re offending us over there”...
Dear Readers – I am not denying the fact of a verbal assault against these innocent women, I do not think that Israeli hooligans are any better than Polish ones. I do, however, oppose the accompanying narration! Niezalezna.pl and similar such media ex cathedra, treat such hooligan antics as the official position of one ethnic group toward another. This is both sad and false.
Today, Poland remembers the day of „banished soldiers” – people abandoned by the system, marginalized and destroyed brutally by the communists. I won’t have it, for Staruch and other criminals, who chant „f...k the Jews” in the stands, to shield themselves with the banners and images of heroes, when such events take place today. In today’s Gazeta Wyborcza, I read the following words in an interview with Catholic University of Lublin professor, Dr. Rafał Wnuk, „The anti-communist message of the „banished soldiers” is an attractive banner, for radical communities to unite under. We can’t forget, however, the goal of this anti-communist mobilization in our country, where communism fell nearly a quarter of a century ago. Here lies the essence of this manipulation. Its aim is to portray the „banished soldiers” as a symbol of resistance against the current state of Poland, a country considered by some to be subordinate or involved with communism. I am very hopeful that this day of remembrance will not evolve in that direction.”
I do not refer to this holiday here without reason. I am guided by the idea of promoting the values connected with it, but I am also hurt by it being appropriated by these extremes, involved with criminal circles, which insult others and wipe their mouths with ideas of which they have no comprehension whatsoever.
Leaving this unpleasant topic, I will allow myself the support of a few quoted lines from My Żydzi polscy (We Polish Jews) by the unforgettable Julian Tuwim,
Jestem Polakiem, bo tak mi się podoba. To moja ściśle prywatna
sprawa, z której nikomu nie mam zamiaru zdawać relacji, ani
wyjaśniać jej, tłumaczyć, uzasadniać. Nie dzielę Polaków na
"rodowitych" i "nierodowitych", pozostawiając to rodowitym
i nierodowitym rasistom, rodzimym i nierodzimym hitlerowcom.
Dzielę Polaków, jak Żydów i jak inne narody, na mądrych i
głupich, uczciwych i złodziei, inteligentnych i tępych, intere-
sujących i nudnych, krzywdzonych i krzywdzących, gentelmanów
i nie-gentelmenów etc. …
I am Polish, because I like it that way. This is strictly my private matter, which I do not intend to relate, explain or justify to anyone. I do not group Poles into the „true born” and not, leaving it to true-born and not true-born racists, native and foreign-born Nazis. I separate Poles, same as Jews and other nations, into the smart and the dumb, honest and thieving, bright and dim, interesting and boring, harmed and harming, gentlemen and non-gentlemen etc. ...