There is only one Holocaust

Saturday, June 19, 2010

We were glad to read Richard Cohen's June 8 op-ed column, "What Helen Thomas missed," setting the record straight on why Jews could not "go home" to Poland and elsewhere in Central Europe after World War II.

We were shocked, however, to see Cohen qualify the violence against the Jews in Poland at that time as "a mini-Holocaust." The Holocaust was a one-time-only, stand-alone event; it does not come in different sizes. It ended on V-E Day in 1945, with the end of the Nazi regime, which had made genocide against the Jews one of its main objectives.

To suggest otherwise, to refer to killings of Jews by Poles, Slovaks, Hungarians or Arabs after that date and outside the Nazi framework as a Holocaust, mini or not, unavoidably legitimizes the use of the term to refer to other mass killings. If Kielce and other postwar murders of Jews in Poland were a mini-Holocaust, then surely the recent mob violence in, say, Kyrgyzstan, was one as well. The term "Holocaust" would then become just another synonym of not only genocide but indeed mass murder.

It is particularly painful that the Poland of today, a strong ally of Israel that works closely with its Jewish community, should be referred to in the same way as Nazi Germany.

To call a postwar tragedy such as Kielce a mini-Holocaust is to ignore a crucial aspect, the role of the state. The Holocaust was not just 6 million murders; it was a systematic and organized state campaign, reflecting the policies adopted by the German Third Reich. Postwar murders of Jews in Poland reflected popular anti-Semitism, the corrupting impact of Nazi propaganda and action, and the general lawlessness of the country. The Polish military and police tried to suppress pogrom attempts, even if orders were not always followed, and after Kielce, the government allowed an armed Jewish militia to be set up for self-defense.

As the French writer Albert Camus said, "To misname things is to add to the misery of the world." We are afraid Cohen ran the risk of having done just that.

Michael Schudrich

and Piotr Kadlcik, Warsaw

Michael Schudrich is chief rabbi of Poland. Piotr Kadlcik is president of the Union of Jewish Communities of Poland.

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