antisemitism,  Israel

On going “home” to Poland

In his Washington Post column, Richard Cohen writes about the Jews who took Helen Thomas’s infamous advice and went “home” to Poland after World War II.

I knew General George Patton was a reactionary, but I was unaware of his intense hatred of Jews.

In the Polish city of Kielce, on July 4, 1946 — more than a year after the end of the war — rumors of a Jewish ritual murder triggered a pogrom in which 42 Jewish Holocaust survivors were killed. The Kielce murders were not, by any means, the sole example of why Jews could not “go home.” When I visited the Polish city where my mother had been born, Ostroleka, I was told of a Jew who survived Auschwitz only to be murdered when he tried to reclaim his business. In much of Eastern Europe, Jews feared for their lives.

For that reason, those who had struck out for home soon returned to DP camps and the safety of — irony of ironies — Germany. Some of the camps were under the command of Gen. George S. Patton, a great man on the screen, a contemptible bigot in real life. In his diary, Patton confided what he thought of Jews. Others might “believe that the Displaced Person is a human being,” Patton wrote, but he knew “he is not.” In particular, he whispered to his diary, the Jews “are lower than animals.”

The Jews, Patton felt, had to be kept under armed guard, otherwise they would flee, “spread over the country like locusts,” and then have to be rounded up and some of them shot because they had “murdered and pillaged” innocent Germans. All of this is detailed by Allis and Ronald Radosh in their book about the founding of Israel, “A Safe Haven.”

For the surviving Jews of Eastern Europe, there was no going home — and no staying, either. Europe was hostile to them, not in the least appalled or sorry about what had just happened. Even the American military, in the person of the hideous Patton, seemed hostile. For most of the DPs, America was also out of the question. The United States, in the grip of feverish anti-communism and already unreceptive to immigrants, maintained a tight quota. When the Jewish DPs were polled, an overwhelming majority said they wanted to go to Palestine. They knew life would be tough there, but they would be among their own people — and relatively safe.

The Radoshes cite Branda Kalk, a Polish Jew who lost her husband to the Germans in 1942. Along with the rest of her family, she fled east to Russia, where they remained until the end of the war, when they returned to Poland. There, a pogrom wiped out what remained of her family. Kalk was shot in the eye.

“I want to go to Palestine,” Kalk told members of a U.N. investigating committee. “I know the conditions there. But where in the world is it good for the Jew? Sooner or later he is made to suffer. In Palestine, at least, the Jews fight together for their life and their country.”

Update: And there’s this from Jeffrey Goldberg:

The Jews, of course, are an ancient nation, a nation whose history took place in a sliver of land called Israel. Helen Thomas’s argument, if you can call it an argument, centers on the pernicious belief that Jews are strangers in a place called “Palestine.” Palestine, of course, is the name that was given by the Romans to the Land of Israel precisely in order to sever the connection between the Jews and their homeland. Helen Thomas, and people like her, are thus soldiers in a (Roman-inspired) war against history. This particular war is not as offensive to most people as the war against the memory of the Shoah, but it is rooted in the same grotesque motivation: To deny to Jews the truth of their own history.

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