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My desire to fight

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Why anti-Semitism flourished in Poland
Jacek Kuroń Social activist
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Marek Edelman was telling me that when they were getting rid of the small ghetto, they were getting rid of the ghetto altogether but section by section, and the 'small' ghetto was the part that was beyond Leszno, later it was all of it, but before they reached that point it was still section by section. And it was on the sections that people were already turning up, people who had instructions from the Germans to move into those apartments. They would come and watch as the Jews took their possessions with them. If there was a bag on a wagon, they'd throw themselves in it and take it, fighting to get it, the Jews would fight back and then battles would flare up. But you didn't even need that much - it was enough to look at the Jewish children in the streets. And here, anti-Semitism wasn't... we know there were anti-Semites, people guided by ideological anti-Semitism, who participated in activites to help Jews. Żegota was set up by Kossak-Szucka who was quite obviously an anti-Semite. She began Żegota. So you didn't have to, you could be an anti-Semite and not be, whereas a peson who looked on and walked past this - a child was killed, he had a child as well. Whether he wanted to or not, he had to feel a connection with the child that was being killed. And he had to save himself from this somehow. So it was on this fertile ground, on this need, that the whole anti-Semitic propaganda landed. It was done very well, very well indeed because like I've already said, that poster with the Jew's face looking like a louse really made an impression on me. It was subconscious. There was a need here, to stay sane you had to tell yourself there was someone worse than you, I said that was why I had this double burden. One was this overwhelming sense that I'd been assigned to the 'master race', I'd been made into someone better. The other was helplessness. The first of these two was enough to drive a person crazy, so to stay sane, to live normally, people had to tell themselves that Jews were inferior. I think this mechanism, this social self-preservation is an in-built mechanism. I saw it in all kinds of occasions, for example, when the residents of Warsaw were forced to leave. Are they catching people? No, it's the residents of Warsaw. I saw that. The displaced, in Lwów when they brought the newcomers - no, it was only those that had been rounded up, as they were called, when the Russians were deporting them. Because of course this was overlaid by earlier anti-Semitism and undoubtedly, undoubtedly even for Lwów the attitude of the Jews, some of the Jews, but that's irrelevant because from the outside you see a Jew - towards the Soviet authorities. My father would come and tell us about a Jewish woman who came and was saying something, giving a fiery speech in praise of the Soviet authorities, my father said: she was proclaiming. Of course, of course this was true only of some of the Jews, but they were visible. And I think this was a very far-reaching mechanism, this psychological self-preservation. In this sense, anti-Semitism fell on fertile ground and that's why it resurfaced so strongly as soon as the war was over.

Marek Edelman mi opowiadał, że kiedy likwidowano Małe Getto – odcinkami getto w ogóle likwidowano, "Małe" to znaczy to za Lesznem, już później całe, ale jeszcze po drodze odcinkami – to na tych odcinkach, już przychodzili ludzie, którzy mieli skierowania od Niemców na te mieszkania. Oni przychodzili i patrzyli jak ci Żydzi wywożą te swoje dobra. Jakiś tam worek na wózku, rzucali się i brali, bili, to się bójki zaczynały, no to bili tych Żydów. Ale nie trzeba aż tyle, wystarczyło patrzeć na te dzieci żydowskie na ulicy. I tu antysemityzm nie... byli antysemici, jak wiadomo, ideowi antysemici, którzy brali udział w akcji pomocy Żydów. "Żegotę" zaczęła Kossak-Szucka, ewidentna antysemitka przecież. Zainicjowała akcję "Żegota". Więc to nie trzeba było, można było być antysemitą i nie być, natomiast człowiek, który na to patrzył, który obok tego przechodził – zabijano dziecko, on też miał dziecko. Jak by nie było, on musiał czuć wspólnotę z zabijanym dzieckiem. I musiał się od tego jakoś uratować. I tutaj na podatny grunt, na to zapotrzebowanie trafiała ta cała gigantyczna propaganda antysemicka. Znakomicie robiona, mówię znakomicie robiona, bo do mnie z tym wszystkim docierał, jak już o tym opowiadałem, ten Żyd z twarzą wszy. Właśnie poza świadomością. A tu było zapotrzebowanie, żeby nie oszaleć, trzeba było sobie powiedzieć: to jest ktoś gorszy. Ja powiedziałem, dlatego miałem takie dwa jakby... podwójnie na mnie ciążyło. Raz – to jest olbrzymie poczucie tego, że przypisano mnie do "rasy panów", uczyniono mnie lepszym. A po drugie – bezradności. Więc już to pierwsze, wystarczy żeby zwariować. No więc, żeby nie zwariować, żeby normalnie żyć, jakby trzeba było sobie powiedzieć, że Żyd jest gorszy. Myślę, że ten mechanizm, taki samo-ratunku społecznego to jest mechanizm wmontowany. Ja to widziałem przy różnych innych okazjach, przy warszawiakach na przykład wysiedlonych. Czy łapią ludzi – nie, warszawiaków. Widziałem to przecież. Wysiedlonych, we Lwowie kiedy wywożono przybyłych – nie to tylko tych, zbieżeńcy to się nazywało, kiedy ruscy wywozili. No bo oczywiście nakładało się na ten cały poprzedni antysemityzm i niewątpliwie... niewątpliwie nawet dla Lwowa to postawa Żydów – części Żydów, ale to nie ma znaczenia, z zewnątrz to się widzi Żyda – wobec władzy radzieckiej. Mój ojciec przychodził i opowiadał: przyszła Żydówka i mówiła tam coś, przemówienie płomienne na cześć władzy radzieckiej, mój ojciec mówił – wygłaszała. To oczywiście, oczywiście była część Żydów, ale widziano ich. I to myślę jest niesłychanie doniosły mechanizm, samoobrona psychiczna. W tym sensie ten antysemityzm trafiał na podatny grunt i dlatego z taką mocą on się odezwał zaraz po wojnie.

The late Polish activist, Jacek Kuroń (1934-2004), had an influential but turbulent political career, helping transform the political landscape of Poland. He was expelled from the communist party, arrested and incarcerated. He was also instrumental in setting up the Workers' Defence Committee (KOR) and later became a Minister of Labour and Social Policy.

Listeners: Marcel Łoziński Jacek Petrycki

Film director Marcel Łoziński was born in Paris in 1940. He graduated from the Film Directing Department of the National School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź in 1971. In 1994, he was nominated for an American Academy Award and a European Film Academy Award for the documentary, 89 mm from Europe. Since 1995, he has been a member of the American Academy of Motion Picture Art and Science awarding Oscars. He lectured at the FEMIS film school and the School of Polish Culture of Warsaw University. He ran documentary film workshops in Marseilles. Marcel Łoziński currently lectures at Andrzej Wajda’s Master School for Film Directors. He also runs the Dragon Forum, a European documentary film workshop.

Cinematographer Jacek Petrycki was born in Poznań, Poland in 1948. He has worked extensively in Poland and throughout the world. His credits include, for Agniezka Holland, Provincial Actors (1979), Europe, Europe (1990), Shot in the Heart (2001) and Julie Walking Home (2002), for Krysztof Kieslowski numerous short films including Camera Buff (1980) and No End (1985). Other credits include Journey to the Sun (1998), directed by Jesim Ustaoglu, which won the Golden Camera 300 award at the International Film Camera Festival, Shooters (2000) and The Valley (1999), both directed by Dan Reed, Unforgiving (1993) and Betrayed (1995) by Clive Gordon both of which won the BAFTA for best factual photography. Jacek Petrycki is also a teacher and a filmmaker.

Tags: Leszno, Żegota, Warsaw, Lwów, Marek Edelman, Zofia Kossak-Szucka

Duration: 3 minutes, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: 1987

Date story went live: 12 June 2008