I survived the Warsaw ghetto. Here are the lessons I’d like to pass on
September 8, 2018 8:57 AM   Subscribe

 
Sobering, and I’m still mulling it over. Thanks for posting this.
posted by holborne at 9:29 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]


Just to bring it home: if mass violence erupts in the US, a Trump voter might save your life and a good progressive might betray you. Don't lean too heavily on the "us vs. them" narrative we humans are fatally drawn to; every human contains multitudes and is a potential hero and a potential villain. Including you and me.
posted by languagehat at 9:54 AM on September 8 [68 favorites]


Now 93 years old and living in Tel Aviv, I have watched from afar in recent years as armchair patriots in my native Poland have sought to exploit and manipulate the memories and experiences of my generation. They may think they are promoting “national dignity” or instilling “pride” in today’s young people, but in reality they are threatening to raise future generations in darkness, ignorant of the war’s complexity and doomed to repeat the mistakes for which we paid such a high price.

Aronson is specifically referencing a Polish law that took effect earlier this year that initially making it a criminal (later revised to civil) offence to claim that Poland was somehow complicit in the establishment and operation of its death camps.

I spent the last few nights working my way through the 9 hours-plus of Claude Lanzmann's Shoah (I'm not going to recommend binge-watching it - because it's a lot to absorb emotionally, not to mention factually - but I'd been waiting months for the hold for the DVDs from the library and there was another hold on it, so I had to get it back this weekend), and to say that Aronson's concerns - based on the current situation in Poland - are pressing is to understate the case greatly.

Many Poles were absolutely complicit, either as bystanders or active participants in the operation of the death camps and the vast infrastructure and bureaucracy required to run them. To claim otherwise is an attempt to erase the objectively verifiable history - not only as a matter of extensive record-keeping, but also verifiable from the voluntary first-person testimonials of Polish participants themselves - of what happened.

But there were also people like Jan Karski. Here he is in his own words.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:43 AM on September 8 [24 favorites]


didn't hungary also pass a similar law recently?
posted by poffin boffin at 10:54 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]


Finally, do not ever imagine that your world cannot collapse, as ours did. This may seem the most obvious lesson to be passed down, but only because it is the most important.

There are so many people for whom this is not obvious. If you believe institutions and democracies are unsinkable, it's easy to be apathetic about current events, because your world view tells you this will all blow over and things will go back to normal. It is profoundly ironic that those who grew up believing the world to be inherently stable did so only because of the strong institutions put in place by the survivors of the last collapse, deeply scarred, like Aronson.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:00 AM on September 8 [31 favorites]


Aronson is definitely not referencing just that law, but the entire national Polish conversation around World War II since... at least 2005, when the Warsaw Uprising Museum opened. It's a cultural phenomenon, to the point when since 2005 Uprising means the 1944 Warsaw event unless otherwise specified. (We kind of specialise in uprisings. There have been dozens.)

In communist Poland, the Armia Krajowa and the 1944 Uprising were either not talked about or presented as reactionary madmen, because otherwise the Soviet army camping and watching Warsaw burn from the other side of the river would be the criminal neglect it was. So in independent Poland, it was one of the cornerstones of national pride that we never had a formal Nazi collaborator government and that Armia Krajowa and other underground state structures continued to operate until the Soviets finally rolled over them wholesale. In the 2000s, right-wingers started revering World War II fighters, especially the "Cursed Soldiers" (Żołnierze Wyklęci) who didn't stand down in 1945 but switched smoothly to fighting the Soviets and the communist apparatus they installed. All of a sudden cars are sporting the Kotwica, young men are wearing Warsaw Uprising t-shirts, and plays and movies are commissioned right and left.

A lot of it was making up for half a century of neglect of that era in official media - but it immediately got completely hagiographic, to the point each and every fighter had to be a saint with absolutely no faults except maybe impulsiveness. Cursed Soldiers are especially a right-winger dogwhistle, despite documented atrocities and common crimes. Aronson is completely right about those who idolise them being ignorant of complexity and just using the historical events as symbolic window-dressing. The right-wingers talk about respect for war heroes, but they boo everyone but right-wing politicians at Uprising celebrations. It's got to the point where if someone mentions being interested in the Uprising or has any Kotwica merchandise, I immediately change the subject despite being a history geek.

(The more extreme of these right wingers are at the same time outright Nazis, using the symbolism, quotes, Nazi salutes and all. Somehow their brains do not explode in cognitive dissonance.)
posted by I claim sanctuary at 11:16 AM on September 8 [22 favorites]




Ida
posted by robbyrobs at 11:52 AM on September 8 [4 favorites]


Just to bring it home: if mass violence erupts in the US, a Trump voter might save your life and a good progressive might betray you.

Further to languagehat's comment, I'm just going to link back to an FPP concerning the motivations of rescuers during the Rwandan genocide which makes a similar point, and the linked article is really worth a read IMHO.

Niyitegaka [a Hutu] told the soldiers that, whether in life or in death, she would remain with the Tutsis she had sheltered. Singing and chanting, she followed them onto the buses, which headed for the notorious Commune Rouge, a public cemetery that served as a killing field. There, alongside her Tutsi friends, Niyitegeka was slain by an assassin’s bullet.
posted by Rumple at 12:17 PM on September 8 [8 favorites]


I have been impressed by the Rwandan approach to Truth and Reconciliation
posted by infini at 12:37 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


...do not underestimate the destructive power of lies. When the war broke out in 1939, my family fled east and settled for a couple of years in Soviet-occupied Lwów (now Lviv in western Ukraine). The city was full of refugees, and rumours were swirling about mass deportations to gulags in Siberia and Kazakhstan. To calm the situation, a Soviet official gave a speech declaring that the rumours were false – nowadays they would be called “fake news” – and that anyone spreading them would be arrested. Two days later, the deportations to the gulags began, with thousands sent to their deaths.

Emphasis added. Challenge lies, support fact-checking, and especially, when gov't officials start saying, "that awful thing you heard is happening, is not happening," ask them if they'll support that claim - will they step down if they're lying? Will they agree to be prosecuted for fraud if they're wrong? Will they sign a contract stating they will pay a million dollars to the voters of their community if they're wrong?

There are very, very few checks on government lies, and even fewer on lies told on the campaign trail. Over and over, laws against lying to voters have been struck down as first amendment violations.

Watch out for lies. Fight them with truth, and fight them by teaching critical thinking.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:38 PM on September 8 [15 favorites]


"all politics is local"

All genocide is personal.
posted by sammyo at 12:39 PM on September 8 [7 favorites]




History repeats itself, but not so exactly as to be readily apparent if you're not looking for it. It can sneak up on you, and frequently does.

World War II more or less snuck up on a lot of people who should have known better, should have seen it coming, and had in fact seen another World War within their own lifetimes, fought in it, in some cases. Late 1939 through mid 1940 was referred to by many as the "Phoney War" — maybe not quite "fake news", but there seemed to be something not-quite-believable about it, if you read contemporary sources. People didn't seem to quite grasp the seriousness of what was happening; not even as a result of concerted propaganda (at least not in the UK, as far as I know) but just because of apathy and, perhaps, a mistaken belief that a great European land war couldn't happen again, after the Great War.

I think something like that could easily happen again. It is too easy to believe that we are unique and we have somehow surpassed the end of history, and therefore can ignore the warning signs. This time it's different. Which is likely to be true, in some sense, but a false sense of our own uniqueness can lead to blindness as well, a tendency to ignore the similarities while concentrating on the differences.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:41 PM on September 8 [7 favorites]


China Is Detaining Muslims in Vast Numbers. The Goal: ‘Transformation.’

Are their children with them?
posted by infini at 2:07 PM on September 8


My grandparents were born in the Warsaw ghetto.
The current wave of right wing nationalism sweeping the 'liberal' west scares the shit out of me.
posted by signal at 2:14 PM on September 8 [16 favorites]


Just to bring it home: if mass violence erupts in the US, a Trump voter might save your life and a good progressive might betray you.

I'm not sure where you get this from the original article. According to Aronson, "it was a German woman who saved my life by introducing me to the men who would recruit me into the Polish underground." He doesn't say anything about her being a Nazi.
posted by great_radio at 9:34 PM on September 8 [10 favorites]


China Is Detaining Muslims in Vast Numbers. The Goal: ‘Transformation.’

Are their children with them?
no. no they're not. Parents are taken to re-education camps while children are being put in state run orphanages to be programmed with the virtues of Chinese culture. (CW: the article above has instances of children being reunited but turning against their parents for holding on to their Uighur identity) To a different degree, it has strong parallels to the cultural erasure programs that the Chinese imposed on Tibet, as well.

I have to admit -- it felt weird parsing your question. I wasn't sure if you were expressing genuine concern over this news or trying to smugly score "America is Terrible" points but this may just be a side effect of reading too many megathreads on MeFi.
posted by bl1nk at 5:37 AM on September 9 [4 favorites]


virtues of Chinese culture

I wonder if it might not be better to say "Han culture" in this context. Equating Han with Chinese is exactly what the government would like you to think.
posted by Slothrup at 6:02 AM on September 9 [8 favorites]


> I'm not sure where you get this from the original article.

I'm not getting it from the original article, I'm getting it from my knowledge of humanity. I hope you're just engaging in automatic nitpicking, not disputing my point.
posted by languagehat at 7:56 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]


I wasn't sure if you were expressing genuine concern over this news or trying to smugly score "America is Terrible" points but this may just be a side effect of reading too many megathreads on MeFi.

probably both for the same exhausted reason. so much anti China kneejerk hate on the interwebz right now.
posted by infini at 12:14 PM on September 9


Your point appears to be #NotAllNazis.

If someone helps set an apartment building on fire and then decides to evacuate one family before it goes up in flames, to me, he's still just a fucking arsonist. To you he's a morally complicated hero/villain containing multitudes. The shades of grey on that one! Have you ever seen such shades of grey?

Suppose, you have three groups of people: one advocating genocide; the other advocating against; another that doesn't care either way. You (rightly!) anticipate that when the genocide actually gets under way, the three groups will be largely indistinguishable because surviving in a time of violence and lawlessness makes everyone terrible. And so you equate them. You equate the group who wants the violence with the group that doesn't! This is fucking moral bankruptcy.

Aronson is arguing against national chauvinism. Not all Germans and Poles are bad. Not all Israelis are good. And he's reminding us that Nazism makes people, even non-Nazis, even anti-Nazis, terrible. I don't know why you can't just let the article speak for itself instead of co-opting it to make a statement about how the Trumpist in your carpool is otherwise a really great guy.
posted by great_radio at 7:07 PM on September 9 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure why my response to your shitty comment got deleted while yours remained, but I'll try again. You are providing exactly the perspective that I am strongly arguing against, that some people are just plain evil and don't need to be treated as human. I am pointing out that for today's righteous progressives, that evil is the Trump voter, and you are confirming my point by saying yeah, they're evil, how dare you treat them as human! And no, he is not "reminding us that Nazism makes people, even non-Nazis, even anti-Nazis, terrible" (I don't know why you can't just let the article speak for itself), he is reminding us that people are people, not labels.
posted by languagehat at 5:29 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


I am pointing out that for today's righteous progressives, that evil is the Trump voter, and you are confirming my point by saying yeah, they're evil, how dare you treat them as human!

Why do we have to assume your point that a 'Trump voter' is going to save us? Are you assuming a middle class white guy here is needing the help, because Trump voters are having ample opportunities to save other people right now, and they aren't taking them.

And am I missing something? Are progressives the ones that are running people over and trampling rights? Your comments are erasing lots of things that are happening right now for some future where they get to be your local heroes, and useless slogans like "people are people, not labels" is not really helpful. Those labels are currently doing a lot of heavy lifting and only one side is not treating people as human. Oh California is kind of banning straws. I guess that's the same as keeping kids in cages.

The article also speaks against your lazy point with the following quotes:
"Confronting lies sometimes means confronting difficult truths about one’s self and one’s own country." and"I have watched from afar in recent years as armchair patriots in my native Poland have sought to exploit and manipulate the memories and experiences of my generation."

I mean sure they are manipulating history and telling lies now, but when the real trouble that they are creating comes they'll give you a glass of water if you are thirsty (and white)! Yay!
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:05 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]


I am pointing out that for today's righteous progressives, that evil is the Trump voter, and you are confirming my point by saying yeah, they're evil, how dare you treat them as human!

I'd amend the last bit to "Yeah, they're evil, how dare you treat them as NO DIFFERENT FROM GOOD PEOPLE!" I haven't seen anybody arguing that Trump voters should have their status as human stripped from them! That's just hyperbole.

I don't even understand the original comment about people containing multitudes, actually. In desperate times OR in regular times, if I were given the choice between trusting a Trump voter vs. a progressive, I'd trust the progressive every single time. The one and only piece of information I have says, "This one's evil in at least a few ways that the other is not." Why would we discount this information and treat the two choices as equivalent? I don't get it.

I fully understand the original writer's point: that sometimes a Nazi can surprise you by being a decent human underneath the label, and sometimes an anti-Nazi can surprise you by being evil in spite of their politics. Sure. That can happen. But I guess my point is that the word "surprise" is there for a reason. In general, Nazis are evil, and anti-Nazis, as far as we know -- given that all we know about them is that they are anti-Nazis, are good.
posted by MiraK at 11:00 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]


I don't even understand the original comment about people containing multitudes, actually.

It makes even less sense once you realize the article actually never refers to the German woman who introduced Aronson to the Polish underground as a Nazi or even a conservative, nor are the Polish quislings ever characterized as progressives. There were plenty of leftist Germans who opposed Nazis, quite militantly at times, and given that this person had connections with actual anti-fascists it seems far more likely that it was one of them than some random German.

As that relates to the article's greater point, it seems clear to me that Aronson is warning us to disregard labels when it comes to nationality, but to pay very close attention to ideology. Indeed, he goes out of his way to criticize those who believe and spread fake news, as well as those who choose to ignore or deny the callousness of bigotry and authoritarianism. I don't really get how someone could get from there to some facile "there are very fine people on both sides" nonsense, let alone conclude that we should somehow be worrying about mixing up who's a noble Nazi and who's a perfidious progressive.

Here in the real world, there are groups that have to make split-second decisions about who to trust with their lives, and the idea that they should just approach those decisions as if their potential saviors (or persecutors) are blank slates reeks of privilege. To insist that someone should just assume that any given Trump voter is as moral, trustworthy, and dependable as a progressive isn't just dangerous, it's deadly.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:40 AM on September 12 [3 favorites]


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