On BBC News, amnesia passes for history, and the refugees are doomed

Young girl returning from the store with a pot of soup and a bottle of milk, Lodz

On BBC News today, Dariusz Rosiak from Polish National Radio concludes an interview with an afterthought, “You also have to understand that there is a cultural gap which is important and it has to be taken into consideration … Poland is a one-religion, one-ethnic country, and has been like that for the last 50 years. People, they have to understand the necessity to accept people of different color, of different creed, of different culture. You can’t expect them to be able to do it just like that.” And the interview ends.

For the last 50 years.

My father’s family came from Piotrków Trybunalski, near Łódź, and, apart from my father, they were all killed during the German occupation. My father, Charles Moshenberg, was born in 1926, in the midst of the Second Polish Republic, which ended with the September 1939 invasion of Poland. My own family’s history and that of Second Polish Republic haunt Rosiak’s comments as well as his historical amnesia.

When the Germans and their Soviet allies invaded Poland, the country was a patchwork of national minorities. While the 1921 Polish census listed 30.8 percent of the population as “national minorities”, the 1931 Polish census put that figure at 31.1 percent. During this period, Poland was also undergoing intense urbanization.

Who were the national minorities? Ukrainians, Jews, Belarusians, Germans followed by much smaller communities of Lithuanians, Czechs, Armenians, Russians, and Roma. Along with Jews, Poland also boasted, or not, an array of religions, from Roman Catholics to Greek Orthodox to Protestant.

By 1931, Poland had the second largest national Jewish population in the world: “At the time of the population census of December 9, 1931, there were about 3,136,000 Jews in Poland, i.e. 9.8% of the population, making them the second largest Jewish community in the world. In 1931 more than a fifth of all Jews lived in Poland.” At the time of the 1939 invasion, the number of Jews who claimed Polish as their first language was rising, as it had been for the past decade.

And then they were gone: the Jews, the Roma, the “national minorities”, the others, dead in the ghettoes and camps or fled.

Fairly quickly, Poland became used to the story of being one religion, one ethne. By letting the story stand, unquestioned, the BBC colluded in this myth making. Interwar Poland was not a model of diversity, but it was a thriving, growing multinational, multiethnic, multi-religious nation-State. The loss of that multi haunts more than Poland. Now more than ever, that history should be invoked. Rather than circulating naturalizing alibis for murderous inaction, open the doors to the refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, around the world.

 

 

(Photo Credit: Roman Vishniac Collection, International Center of Photography)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.