At the beginning of World War II there were approximately 3 million Jews in Poland. Today there are fewer than 10,000. The grisly story of what happened to the other 2,990,000 is one of the most horrible chapters in remanaged to escape to the West or go into hiding in Poland, but the majority died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps.
Although tens of thousands of Polish Catholics, including substantial numbers of priests, were also executed by the Nazis in these same camps, the Holocaust was directed primarily at Jews not only in Poland but in all of Western Europe. The Nazis planned, with diabolical precision, to exterminate the Jewish people down to the youngest infant, and, tragically, came perilously close to doing so.
Many Westerners, Catholics included, seem incapable, even at this late date, of coping spiritually and psychologically with the Holocaust, and would prefer not even to think about it.
This kind of self-induced amnesia may help to explain in part why anti- Semitism of various kinds and in varying degrees is still alive, even in predominantly Christian nations.
One would have hoped, however, that in Poland at least, where Jews had suffered discrimination, at times even persecution, long before Hitler set out to exterminate them as a people, the few Jews who survived the Holocaust would be held in honor by their own government or at the very least would never again be the victims of anti-Semitism. Unfortunately things haven't worked out that way. More than once since the end of World War II, the ruling Communist Party in Poland has resorted to Nazi-style anti-Semitism for its own political purposes. It is now doing so again as part of its master plan to destroy the Solidarity labor movement in Poland and reinforce the party's centralized control over every aspect of Polish life and culture.
It has been reliably reported that anti- Semitic material, only thinly disguised, has been broadcast in Poland since martial law was imposed on Dec. 13. The state-controlled Warsaw radio and press have several times tried to discredit Solidarity by portraying some of its leading Jewish advisers as treasonous and morally corrupt. The American Jewish Committee has made a tape recording and translation of one such broadcast. Crudely anti-Semitic in content as well as tone, it reads like an updated replay of a typical Nazi broadcast.
It is also known that the official Polish news agency has featured anti-Semitic articles since martial law went into effect, again for the purpose of discrediting Solidarity.
According to unverified reports, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, head of the military junta in Poland, has said privately that he has issued "categorical orders" to ban such broadcasts and newspaper articles. Even if accurate, these reports are meaningless. The general should have spoken out against anti-Semitism publicly, not privately, if only to correct the record and to let the Polish people know exactly where he and the junta stand on this issue.
Abraham Brumberg, author of a forthcoming book on Solidarity, is skeptical about Jaruzelski's sincerity on other grounds as well. "I am skeptical," he said "because Jaruzelski has been prime minister since February. During this period, he countenanced the growth of an outright anti-Semitic organization and the use of anti-Semitic inuendos in the Polish press, especially the army newspaper. Had Jaruzelski opposed the use of anti- Semitism as a traditional scapegoat mechanism, he could have put an end to it a long time ago."
If Jaruzelski wants to prove that he is sincerely opposed to anti-Semitism, he must do what Lech Walesa, chairman of Solidarity, has done repeatedly in the public forum. To his credit, Walesa has strongly condemned any and all forms of anti-Semitism in the most explicit of terms. I might add, in this connection, that while attending Solidarity's first national congress in Gdansk last Fall, I got the clear impression that Walesa's uncompromising views on this issue are shared by the overwhelming majority of Solidarity's officers and members. Solidarity is proud of the fact that almost all Poland's 10,000 Jewish citizens are active members of the movement and many leading Jewish intellectuals have served as expert advisers to the organization.
Whatever may have happened in the past, anti-Semitism would not be a serious problem in Poland now were it not for the government's efforts to keep it alive for its own political purposes. So long as martial law remains in force, the Polish people can do very little in a public way to counteract the government's vicious attack on the Jews. It remains, then, for Christians in the United States and other free nations and for Catholics in particular (since Poland is a predominantly Catholic country) to speak out vigorously in defense of Polish Jews.
The Catholic members of Solidarity and their religiously unaffiliated Gentile colleagues are obviously in desperate need of support, but at least they have the advantage of being 10 million strong, whereas their Jewish fellow-citizens are a defenseless minority of less than 10,000. If we Christians in the West fail to come to their defense, they will be left completely at the mercy of their enemies in the Polish government. We dare not condemn them to such a dreadful fate, for, if we do, it will not be long before the number of Jews in Poland will reach the zero point.