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Open Letter to Glenn Beck: You Owe Poland an Apology

Dear Glenn Beck,

I was so honored by the three interviews you did with me during the course of my congressional campaigns against John Murtha in 2008 to 2010. I will always remember how deeply you complemented me when you closed your first interview.

I am writing with the hope  my words will carry some influence with you and the messages you send over the airwaves. I greatly respect your endeavors to constantly educate yourself and your listeners as well as your promotion of reconciliation between opposing factions.

My head almost exploded on September 29, when I heard you accuse the Poles of standing by and doing nothing about the Holocaust and even participating in it. In doing so, you endorsed nearly 75 years of combined Nazi and Soviet Communist propaganda which has continually sought to smear the Poles as ignorant anti-Semites who supported the Nazi atrocities and has served to poison Polish-Jewish and Polish-American relations since World War II. Your endorsement of this smear against America’s most loyal ally is just as devastating as John Murtha’s endorsement of Jihadi propaganda against the Haditha Marines.

You owe Poland and Poles a long and deeply felt apology. You have insulted the sacrifices of many, many brave Poles who never surrendered in the face of evil during World War II (there was no “Vichy” Poland). It was the Polish Home Army which informed the world of the atrocities being committed by the Nazis against the Jews. – Since you are far better man than John Murtha was, I am sure you will do the right thing when you learn the full truth.

For the last two years, I have been working on a book to find the ground truth and help heal the wounds which persist in Polish-Jewish relations. I am engaged in this endeavor as a friend of both Israel and Poland; as someone who sees both as critical allies in our current struggles with Islamic extremism and Post-Soviet Russian and Chinese aggression. I have long supported a strong and independent Israel and recognize it as our most critical ally in the Middle East.

On the historical side, Poland has been America’s most loyal ally going back to the days when Polish patriots Thaddeus Kosciusko and Kazimierz Pułaski served under George Washington in America’s War of Independence. On the personal side, my wife, Kasia, is from Poland. Her father was a regional leader in the Solidarity movement of the 80’s, and her grandfather survived Stalin’s Gulag while her grandmother was ethnically cleansed from her home in Eastern Poland, which is now part of Ukraine.

The history of the Holocaust in Poland and Ukraine is much more complicated than most people, including most historians, realize. The Holocaust cannot be separated from the Holodomor in Ukraine (which you have spoken about on your show and I have written about on my website www.williamrussell.net), nor the massacre of the 26,000 Polish officers, cadets, policemen, judges, and political leaders at Katyn and the deportation and starvation of nearly 1.6 million Poles to Stalin’s Gulags (1939-41), nor the continued war by the Soviets against the members of the Polish Home Army from 1944 to 1962.

Those people who accuse the Poles of doing nothing to help the Jews or of turning over Jews in a wholesale manner to the Nazis have little appreciation for the threat which the people of Nazi occupied territories faced when hiding Jews during the war. Perhaps the best illustration of the constant very real threat they lived with is presented in a fictional movie, Quinton Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds.” In one of the early scenes, the evil Colonel Landa threatens a French farmer’s family if he does not reveal the Jews he is hiding below the floor boards of his house. The penalty for hiding Jews in occupied Poland was death for the entire family, and every Polish family who hid Jews lived in absolute fear of being discovered.

 

In spite of the risks, many, many Poles hid hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Nazi’s during the war. Those who failed in hiding their Jewish friends died with them. This history is far too long to address in a single open letter. But there are two particular Poles who stand out against your statements on Poland. Their stories and their struggles against the Nazi’s remained buried until after the fall of communism in 1989.

The first was Irena Sendler.

Photo from wikipedia

She, and her network smuggled nearly 2500 infants out of the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw and placed them in Catholic homes to keep them alive during the war. This was all done at great risk to herself, the people in her network, and the families who took in the smuggled babies. Irena was eventually arrested by the Gestapo and tortured, and had her arms broken. Somehow, she survived the war and was able to recover the records (which she buried in jars in her garden) of most of the babies and their new families. The Soviets buried her story for many years, and it only came to light after Poland gained independence from communism in 1989. She was nominated for the Nobel Prize, but it was awarded to Al Gore for his work on Global Warming.

The other person of note, whose story truly reveals how complex this history is, was Witold Pilecki.

Photo from wikipedia

Pilecki was a cavalry officer who helped defeat the Soviet Red Army in Poland’s war to secure its new independence in 1920. At the beginning of WWII, Pilecki fought against the Germans. As the Soviet-Nazi alliance consolidated their control of Poland, he went underground and served with the Polish Home Army. As part of Jan Karski’s network, he volunteered to be captured in a Nazi round-up under the false name Tomasz Serafinski in 1940 and was imprisoned in Auschwitz for nearly three years.

Photo from wikipedia

While in Auschwitz, he helped organize the various resistance groups into a coherent movement. They smuggled a great deal of information out of the camps detailing the crimes being committed there, and alerted the Allies of the Nazi efforts to exterminate the Jews as early as 1941. He survived pneumonia. After 3 years he escaped and participated in the Warsaw Rising of 1944. Pilecki was captured during the fighting and spent the rest of the war in a prisoner-of-war camp. He joined the Polish II Corps in Italy in July of 1945.[1] On orders from General Anders, he returned to Poland and gather intelligence on the Soviet occupation. In May, 1947 Captain Pilecki was arrested by the Polish communist secret police (pol. UB – Urzad Bezpieczenstwa), and incarcerated at Warsaw’s infamous Mokotov Prison. Pilecki was tortured, interrogated, and executed following a trial at which he was given three death sentences. Pilecki was shot on May 25, 1948 and his body was never returned to his family. [2]

Photo from wikipedia

Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, said that Pilecki was “an example of inexplicable goodness at a time of inexplicable evil. There is ever-growing awareness of Poles helping Jews in the Holocaust, and how they paid with their lives, like Pilecki. We must honor these examples and follow them today in the parts of the world where there are horrors again.”[3]

Ironically, this hero, who sacrificed so much to expose the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust, was arrested, interrogated, tortured,  and sentenced by Jews.

[4] ** Pilecki’s executioner, Piotr Smietanski, whose picture was previously shown above,  is listed as having disappeared  after immigrating  to Israel in 1968 on both the Polish Greatness and Doomed Soldiers blogs. However, Marek Jan Chodakiewicz in researching his book After the Holocaust, found that Smietanski was of Polish Catholic decent and died of Tuberculosis in the 1960s.

 

Sadly, Pilecki’s treatment was not unique. It was all too common for the Soldiers of the Home Army who were systematically arrested, tortured, imprisoned and/or murdered by the UB from 1945 to 1962. They were frequently accused of Nazi collaboration.

There are those who would argue that the Jewish members of the UB who perpetrated these crimes against the members of the Polish Home Army were only there in reaction to Polish anti-Semitic atrocities during the war. This is simply not true.

The majority of the Jewish members of the UB exposed by recent research and the opening of their records were long time members of the Communist Party before the war. Many started their careers as NKVD operatives in the 1920’s and actively supported the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939.[5] Among the activities Soviet operatives engaged in were partisan attacks on the rear areas of the Polish Army in support of the Red Army which began on day the Soviets invaded Poland[6] and a general welcoming of Soviets by the Jewish communities. They also formed pro-Soviet Jewish militias who assisted the Soviets in the arrests and deportations of 1.6 million Polish citizens to Stalin’s Gulags. They targeted politicians, judges, lawyers, doctors, Catholic priests, and teachers.[7] My wife’s grandfather, a school teacher, was among those arrested and deported with the help of such militias.

What developed out to this complicated history with all of its twists and turns, were two clichés about the Polish and Jewish peoples and which have been played upon over time to the benefit of Soviet and post- Soviet Russia. The first is the “anti-Semitic Pole,” and the other is the “communist Jew.” These clichés were developed by both the Soviets and the Nazis in order to manipulate peoples with propaganda messages and to meet their political and administrative needs. They used a common communist technique of co-opting the wavering political support of an individual or family to the communist cause and applied it to the entire Polish and Jewish nations.

When the communists needed the political support of a peasant and his family against the land owners, they would often force the peasant to kill a landowner by threatening to kill the peasant’s family if he did not. The communists would then publicize how the peasants were killing the hated landowners in support of socialism. This forced the peasant into a permanent affiliation with communists because the peasant could not go back to the landowner for protection and the landowners now feared the peasant.[8] The Nationalist Socialists (Nazis) did this with the Poles and the proletarian socialists (Soviets) did this with the Jews.

The cliché of the anti-Semitic Poles who spontaneously participated in anti-Jewish pogroms against the Jews during World War II was created by the Nazis and then masterfully played upon my Stalin. Professor Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, who was a member of the National Holocaust Museum Board, details this in his masterful work The Massacre in Jedwabne (a massacre of Jews in Eastern Poland in which many were shot and others burned alive in a barn). He details the German program which would implicate the local Polish populations in the spontaneous purging of Bolshevik and Jewish opponents in which “orders given by the Germans would not be identifiable.”[9] This program of implication against the Poles, and to a lesser extent against Ukraine, was played on by Stalin to undermine public support for Poland among its allies in the West in the post war era. The play on the Polish implication in the atrocities was incorporated into the Stalinist propaganda program which promoted the world wide exposure of Nazi crimes in the Holocaust. They did this in order hide the Stalinist crimes of the Great Terror, the Holodomor, the Gulags, and the massacre of the Polish Officer corps at Katyn.

The success of the Soviet capitalization on, and replay of the Nazi propaganda program portraying Polish participation in the Holocaust has been seen in multiple permutations over the years. Most notable in recent years has been the New York Times and Washington Post’s laudatory reviews and promotions of Jan Gross’s book, Neighbors (which blames the Jedwabne massacre solely on a pogrom by local Poles). Although Jan Gross has been thoroughly discredited as a historian, his work has been touted as revealing the “realities” of Polish antisemitism. Neighbors was based almost solely on the testimony records from the Soviet show trials conducted in 1949. The show trials provided the Soviets the opportunity to eliminate the opposition leaders in Poland as Nazi collaborators, while allowing the Soviets portray themselves as the bulwark against Polish antisemitism. The trials also undermined popular support for the Poles in England and the United States while diverting attention away from Soviet war crimes. In addition, Gross did not include research of the German archives which would have pointed to the Nazi program of staged pogroms in Poland. Nevertheless, Gross’s premise that Poles were active perpetrators of the Holocaust continues to taint the public perception of Poland in the United States. The Soviet and Nazi lies which Gross repeated as if they were historical facts, continue to be repeated in various forms in so many forums that they have become accepted as the truth. Even popular radio hosts repeat them without knowing they have been sold a lie.

In modern days, the Jewish-communist cliché is one that, if used, will draw immediate charges of antisemitism. It is generally believed to have been created by the Nazis and only used by modern anti-Jewish extremists. However, it was created and promoted by the Soviets. It allowed them to recruit from the one ethnic group in the former Russian Empire who had no affiliations with the tsar, nor any other nationalist tendency. Yet, the Jewish communities offered a high proportion of literate, articulate, and educated people who could take over the administration, security apparatuses, and leadership of a largely uneducated peasant nation. The Soviets extended their recruitment program into the Eastern European countries they occupied, including Poland and Ukraine. This put a very public and prominent Jewish “face” on communism and communist crimes. It was a program which was so successful that the Soviets had Jewish officers and operatives change their names to Russian or Polish names (notice the name changes among Witold Pilecki’s tormentors above) for fear that communism would lose its legitimacy as a movement of the Russian (or Polish) people.

This happened in a number of ways and for a number of reasons. Jews figured prominently in the national level leadership of the communist movement in Russia (Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky, Lazar Kaganovich) and Poland (Bolesław Bierut, Poland’s first President under the Soviets) as well as thousands in the very public positions as speakers, academics, administrators, and enforcers supporting and defending the Revolution. The communists were also adamant in promoting the idea of eliminating all forms of ethnic and national discrimination. This message played very well, and drew many recruits in the Jewish communities of the Pale of Settlement.[10]

The Pale of Settlement was the area established by Catherine the Great to segregate Jews and prevent them from becoming too prominent in the fabric of Tsarist Russian society when she banished them from Moscow and St Petersburg. It encompassed a very large area including Ukraine, eastern Poland and Lithuania.[11]

It is also important to recognize the method and balancing act Stalin (himself an anti-Semite) engaged in using the Jews. After the revolution and Lenin’s death, Stalin continued growing the seeds of communism sewed by Lenin. He needed educated people who had no affiliation to the tsar or to any Russian aristocracy to run the bureaucracy and apparatuses of the Soviet state to consolidate his power. He needed a people set apart from all others who could enact his terror against Russians, or any other ethnic minorities, whose only affiliation for keeping themselves in power was with the party. Stalin needed an ethnic minority so small that it could easily be isolated and turned on if it became too powerful, or was no longer needed. (There is clear evidence Stalin was planning a massive purge of Jews with the Doctor’s Plot, but it was cancelled by his own death.) The recruiting grounds of the Jewish communities in the Pale of Settlement were perfect for this purpose.

In his book, The Jewish Century, Yuri Slezkine notes how Jews were so visible in the public face of the Soviet atrocity apparatus:

“Indeed, the Soviet secret police – the regime’s sacred center, known after 1934 as the NKVD – was on of the most Jewish of all Soviet institutions. In January 1937, on the eve of the Great Terror, the 111 top NKVD officials included 42 Jews, 35 Russians, 8 Latvians, and 26 others. Out of twenty NKVD directorates, twelve (60 percent, including State Security, Police, Labor Camps, and Resettlement [deportations]) were headed by officers who identified themselves as ethnic Jews. The most exclusive and sensitive of all NKVD agencies, the Main Directorate for State Security, consisted of ten departments: seven of them (Protection of Government Officials, Counterintelligence, Secret-Political, Special [surveillance in the army], Foreign Intelligence, Records, and Prisons) were run by immigrants from the former Pale of Settlement. Foreign service was an almost exclusively Jewish specialty (as was spying for the Soviet Union in Western Europe and especially the United States). The Gulag, or Main Labor Camp Administration, was headed by ethnic Jews from 1930, when it was formed, until late November 1938, the Great Terror was mostly over. “[12]

In their program of co-opting the Jewish communities in the Pale of Settlement, the Soviets drove a deep and infectious wedge into the weak point of ethnic frictions between the Jews and peoples of Eastern Europe. They put a Jewish face on communism not only for recruiting, but also to implement and take the blame for the atrocities of the Holodomor in Ukraine and on the atrocities committed against the Poles during the Soviet occupations of 1939-41 and after the war.

No one should ever deny the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, and their decedents, the bitterness and resentment they understandably feel for the Holocaust as well as various pogroms at various points throughout their history in the Pale. Extinguishing the smoldering embers of hostilities between the Jewish, Polish, and Ukrainian peoples requires forgiveness. The only way to begin to forgive the searing pain which persists after three generations is to recognize the ideologies of proletarian and nationalist socialism which ignited and then fanned the fires of hatred in the of the Bonfire of Atrocities that occurred in Eastern Europe during the war.

There is no denying the fact that many of the guards for the death and work facilities in the Nazi Concentration Camps were Ukrainian. They were not led to do so much out of centuries of anti-Semitic hatreds, but out of the immediate hatred that one would develop in his own lifetime from witnessing the slow execution of his family and people through starvation in the decade before the Holocaust. In the Holodomor, approximately 25% of the Ukrainian nation was starved to death on a grand scale through systematic Soviet theft of all the grain, to include the seed grain stores. The most visible leadership of the Soviet political and security apparatus during the Holodomor was Jewish. Although the vast majority of Jews were not communists, the vast majority of the public face of communism and its crimes in Holodomor was Jewish. Many of those leaders sought to protect and promote the welfare of their former Jewish communities in Ukraine, adding to the perception Jewish-communist ties as well as forcing the alliance of the Jewish communities in the Ukraine with their new Soviet masters out of fear of reprisals from Ukrainian majorities. The ideology that caused it was proletarian socialism.

Just as there was a very public Jewish face on the Holodomor in the Ukraine, there was also a very public Jewish presence in the suppression and oppression of Poland during the periods of Soviet occupation discussed earlier. That same oppression resulted in the NKVD executing many of the Poles held in the local jails in Poland as they fled the Nazis in 1941. Again, those actions were planned and justified by the ideologies of proletarian socialism.

 

 When the German Army drove the Russians out Poland in 1941 and began a program of pogroms across Poland to implicate local peoples in the destruction of the Jewish race, it was conceived, planned, and justified under the ideology of Nationalist Socialism.

For those Poles who did turn in Jews or seek to profit from their destruction, they probably justified their actions by the harm done to Poland by the proletarian socialists under the banner of communism.

Again, when the Soviets drove the Nazis out of Poland in 1944, they again justified their heavy hand of oppression in their own socialist ideologies over the socialist ideologies of their enemies. The peoples who suffered most were the Jews, the Poles, and the Ukrainians.

It is important for each of these three peoples to realize they need to forgive each other to see the good in each other; and if this is too much, to recognize that each is not the threat to their existence in this world.

Again, no one should deny justice to those who suffered during the war. However, just as the Jewish community does not want to be defined by Lazar Kaganovich, Jozef Goldberg, Natan Grunspan – Kikiel, or Fajga Mindla Danielak,  no one should insist that all Ukraine be defined by those who guarded the Nazi camps, nor that Poland be defined by those Poles who turned over Jews, capitalized on their tragedies, or even committed murders themselves.

The Jewish community needs to recognize that Poles make up the largest number (6,454) of Righteous Among the Nations recognized by Yad Vashem[13] and to forgive those Poles who fell far short in their righteousness. For those who continue to believe Polish anti-Semitism is just too strong to overcome, perhaps they can recognize that Jews lived and prospered in Poland for centuries before the war. While there was discrimination and occasional pogroms, the Poles never sought to destroy the entire Jewish race. Given there are those countries in this day and age who are seeking nuclear weapons while calling for the destruction of Israel and the eradication of the Jews, perhaps it is time for the Jan Grosses and Debbie Schlussels of the world to stop kicking Poland and recognize how great a need Jews and Israel have for Poland as an ally.

For anyone in America who is unaware of Poland’s contributions to America’s and Europe’s freedom, there is no other country which has contributed more or at a greater price than Poland.

It was the Polish Hussars under King Jan Sobieski, who stemmed the tide of Ottoman Islamic advances into Europe at the gates of Vienna, on September 11, 1683. It was the Polish military engineer, Thaddeus Kosciusko, who designed and built George Washington’s defenses at West Point and later saved Washington’s life in the Battle of Brandywine. The Polish Prince Kazimierz Pułaski organized Washington’s continental horsemen into an effective cavalry, and led them in battle before giving his life for America’s independence.

In addition to the contributions of Witold Pilecki and Irena Sendler in WWII, the Polish Army inflicted over 60,000 casualties on the German Wermacht, and at least as many casualties on the Soviets, during their initial invasions of Poland in 1939. The Poles never surrendered. The pilots of the fledgling Polish air force who escaped to England, formed the two highest scoring squadrons of the RAF during the Battle of Britain. The Carpathian Brigade, composed of Polish expats in the Middle East at the start of the war, helped thwart the advance of Rommel’s panzers toward Egypt in the first battle of Tobruk. Approximately 70,000 men and the remnants of their families who survived Stalin’s Gulags in Siberia, chose to leave the Soviet Union for the Middle East to form the Polish II Corps and took the mountain top at Monte Casino, Italy. It was the Polish Home Army, which continuously fought throughout the war, who provided the Allies with the ENIGMA code machine, giving the Allies access to the most vital German secret messages. These are just a few of Poland’s contributions.

More recently, the Poles supported America’s operations in Kosovo and Iraq. It was the Polish special forces (GROM) who seized Saddam’s oil rigs in the Persian Gulf.

Poles and Ukrainians also need to find a way to forgive. They need to recognize that the majority of Jews were not communists, and it was the non-communist Jews who suffered the most in the war. For those Poles who are too embittered after the years of Soviet domination: remember that 4000 Jews accompanied General Anders’ Army out of Russia and served bravely in the Polish II Corps. Both countries also need to recognize that American popular support for the Polish and Ukrainian people is vital, given the current war in Ukraine the lack of wisdom on the part of America’s current President in knowing who our country’s friends and enemies are. It is important to recognize that the perception of Polish anti-Semitism is played upon in the American and western media by those with socialist sympathies or who continue to hold on the wrongs of the past. This perception is used to undermine popular support for Ukraine and Poland in the US.

Hopefully, Glenn, you can recognize the wrong you have done to Poland with your comments. I also hope you recognize that Poland can, and will be a critical player in maintaining a free Europe. This will ultimately impact America’s strength and Israel’s existence. We all need each other and must stand united in our response to the threats to freedom in the world. Please apologize to Poland and continue your work towards reconciliation between Americans, and between the American, Jewish, Polish, and Ukrainian peoples.

Sincerely,

William T Russell

[1] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/Witold_Pilecki.html

[2] http://www.doomedsoldiers.com/volunteer-to-Auschwitz.html

[3] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/Witold_Pilecki.html

[4] http://polishgreatness.blogspot.com/2011/02/spy-week-famous-polish-spies-ministry.html

[5] http://www.doomedsoldiers.com/torture-methods-of-ub.html

[6] Strzembosz, Tomasz, Jedwabne 1941, THE IGNORED COLLABORATION, http://www.antyk.org.pl/ojczyzna/jedwabne/strzembosz.htm,Copyright (c) 2000 Fundacja Antyk. Wszelkie prawa zastrzeżone. Translated by Mariusz Wesolowski, , Jan 2, 2014, 10:44 AM

[7] Anders, Wladyslaw, Lt. General, An Army in Exile (The Story of the Second Polish Corps), The Battery Press, Nashville, Second Reprint Edition. 1949. Copy right Irena R Anders, pp.18-19, 68-69,

[8] The Black Book of Communism. pp.478-479.

[9] Chodakiewicz, Marek Jan, The Massacre at Jedwabne, July 10, 1941, Before, During, and After. East European Monographs, Boulder, 2004. Distributed by Columbia University Press, New York, 2005. P. 66.

[10] Yevgenia Albats, The State Within a State: The KGB and Its Hold on Russia — Past, Present, and Future (New York: Farrar Strauss Giroux, 1994), p 50.

[11] The Jewish Virtual Library. (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/pale.html)

 

[12] Slezkine, Yuri; The Jewish Century, Princeton University Press, 2004, Princeton, New Jersey, pp. 254-255.

[13] http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/statistics.asp

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