Maxine Moore, an American Jew recently visiting Poland on a journalism assignment, met with some Polish (Christian) 17 year olds from intelligentsia (liberal, educated) families. She asked them what they knew, if anything, about Jews.
Maxine Moore: Have you ever seen a Jew?
Roger: Yes, on T.V. I saw Fiddler on the Roof. But Jews are all in Israel now.
What happened to the Jews?
Roger: They were killed in concentration camps by Germans, or they emigrated after the war. Did any Poles kill them?
Marta: I think yes, unfortunately.
Is Poland anti-Semitic today?
Marta: Yes, even though there are no Jews. From generation to generation it is passed down. To be a Jew is to be different. Anything peculiar is referred to as a ‘Jew.’ Polish people are closed to what is different; if you are different you are bad, smaller, worse, low-class.
I am grateful to be open to the differences I learned when I visited America. I am ashamed to be Polish and don’t want to be here anymore. I want my children to be proud.
Maciek: In our school there are many Jewish jokes which I don’t want to repeat. We were talking about the Warsaw ghetto uprising commemoration ceremony in school, and one girl said that if she had been someone who knew (back then) that there were still so many Jews left in the ghetto, she would have gotten a band of people together to kill them. She screamed that she hates Jews.
Did you ask her why she hates Jews?
Maciek: Yes. She answered, ‘I hate. I don’t know why I hate.’ I can’t talk to people like that. To hate Jews is a Polish fad, a European tradition. There is a difference in thinking, though, between us and our parents. I am sure my parents knew and heard about the concentration camps. In Poland during the war, we were the only country where helping Jews was punishable by death. My grandfather saw Poles killed for helping Jews. It left a lasting impression on him.
Marta: My grandparents lived in a poor village. Many Jews were in that village, friends of my grandparents. During the war many were killed, sent to concentration camps. My grandparents had a difficult time accepting this, and were deeply touched by it because they were friends. My grandparents were not anti-Semitic—there is no anti-Semitism in my family. I have a friend, though, who was in love with an English teacher. She found out he is a Jew and then she said, ‘I don’t want him.’
Maciek: If there is one Jew, he will pull in other Jews. Maybe this is not so good. Polish people pull for Poles. Jews pull for Jews. This isn’t their country. Jews are very capable, and everyone knows they are intelligent.
Susan: People are envious. There is a lot of anti-Semitism in the older generation. My grandmother blames the Jews for the economy, holes in the street and the ozone level, mom says, however, that we will miss Jews in our life, that my little brother will miss them on the playground. I want them here again, but it will never happen. Life was more colorful then—we didn’t have to love them, but we shouldn’t have killed them. They were our Jews.
Roger: I don’t like Jews. There is a Jewish boy 1 know. He is only nice when he wants something from you. Before the war, my grandfather was very rich. He lost all his money and the Jews wouldn’t help.
Did the Poles help?
Roger: No, but they didn’t have the money the Jews had. There is a saying, “Our house [the Poles]; Your street [the Jews].” A Jew only sees money; it’s the most important thing to him. Jews were prejudiced against the Polish people. Stash [a 10-year-old sibling listening in]: In my school the kids play a game, ‘Kill a Jew.’ You aim a knife at a rock. If it hits, a Jew is dead. 1 asked the children, ‘Do you know what a Jew is?’ They answered, ‘No.’
I don’t want to grow up here.
Maxine Moore is a writer who specializes in feminist, human rights and environmental issues.
Mrs. Slomovic: When a Survivor Teaches the Holocaust
Tikva Slomovic, 69, is a concentration camp survivor who has taught at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles for 33 years. Known as only “Mrs. Slomovic” to thousands of now-grown Beth Am alumni, she is powerfully remembered by students as the provider of their most serious early exposure to the Holocaust. Says LILITH Intern Justyn Lezin (a Slomovic product): “Whenever she could, Mrs. Slomovic would bring some aspect of the Holocaust into the curriculum. She would always preface these lessons by saying, ‘Now I’m going to talk about the Holocaust. This is always hard for me. I always ay.’ Then in very plain language she would tell us about her experiences, including her witnessing of the murders of her sister and her sister’s child.”
“I haven’t forgotten any of it,” Lezin continues. “Mrs. Slomovic would roll up her sleeve, and then talk about tattoos. Seeing this taught me that there were people walking around everywhere with scars under their clothing, visible and not. In interviewing Mrs. Slomovic for this article, I was reminded that creative teaching, though crucial, doesn’t hold a candle to what an actual survivor can transmit. I also realized—when Mrs. Slomovic mentioned to me on the phone that she was too afraid to ever see Schindler’s List—that each telling of her story (though she did it over and over to generations of us) took more of a toll on her than I could ever understand.”
Here is how Tikva Slomovic would teach Maxine Moore’s interview with Polish Christian teenagers:
“I would use this interview with Polish teenagers to teach American teenagers. I would have my students act out each part—becoming each of the Polish teens in the interview. I would talk about how anti- Semitism is still alive, and about how my experience of Poland was that the Catholic Church’s theology taught people to be anti-Semitic. Then we would discuss minorities in America—Blacks, Latinos. I would ask, ‘Is ‘looking down’ on someone—like many Polish Christians look down on Jews—a part of a larger, more dangerous problem?’
“When I teach the kids I always tell them, ‘You have a survivor here, a live person. Not just a story written down. Unfortunately, there aren’t many of us. Slowly there will be nobody to tell what they lived through. When we’re all dead, we’ll have an outpouring of Holocaust denial literature. When I talk about all of this I feel like crying,” she adds. “My whole body is excited, anxious.”
Eliezer Slomovic (a.k.a. Dr. Slomovic), a recently retired University of Judaism professor, is prodded by his wife to add his thoughts: “Along with teaching Maxine Moore’s interview, I would look at relevant passages from the Christian Scriptures. I would ask the students: How does dehumanization happen? How is it that someone who has never seen a Jew still knows that she or he hates them? Children are supposedly ‘tabula rasa’—I would ask the class, ‘Is this idea a fiction?'”