As world events vis-à-vis the Jewish people begin to look like flashbacks from Nazi Germany during the late 1930’s, it might be helpful to consider some prophetic lessons from history for our own day. Rachel and I recently traveled across Poland and dialogued with Polish believers (both Jewish and Gentile), searching for wisdom and insight about what happened during the era of World War Two.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said George Santayana (Reason in Common Sense, volume 1 in The Life of Reason, 1905). The experiences and sufferings that previous generations have endured can become building blocks and ladder steps for us as we confront similar challenges in our day. The Apostle Paul adds, “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:11-12).
A shelter from the storm
The soil of Poland is drenched with the bloodiest slaughter of Jewish people in human history. Yet nearly one thousand years ago Poland was seen as a land of opportunity and shelter for Jews who were being persecuted in what is now called France and Germany. Bloodthirsty mobs of Crusaders were murdering local European Jews even before they could cross the Mediterranean and attack Saladin’s Muslims. Mass annihilation of whole Jewish communities occurred, and stampeded a massive wave of Jewish refugees, who pushed their wagons and possessions to a more welcoming oasis in the territory of the Polish Kings Mieszko I, Boleslaw III and Kazimierz III.
A fascinating historical description of this process is found in Paul Kriwaczek’s excellent book “Yiddish Civilization” available at www.orionbooks.com.
Little by little the Jewish community in Poland grew, until by 1939 it had became the largest Jewish community in Europe, in the vicinity of 3,500,000 Jews. A telling anecdote from the 1500’s morphs the name of Poland (in Hebrew, Polin) into the Hebrew term “Po lan YAH” – “Here YHVH rested overnight”. But Poland was not always a safe and healthy refuge for Israel-in-exile, since ambivalent attitudes toward Polish Jews could turn violent at any moment. Nevertheless, the Abrahamic principle of Exodus 1:12a was amply manifested in Polish history, “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread…”
- God can bless and prosper His Jewish people even when circumstances surrounding them are fraught with difficulty or persecution.
The flowering of Yiddish language, culture and artistic expression occurred primarily on Polish soil. These riches of Yiddish culture (which most Western Jews appreciate in a romantic ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ way) were hammered out and fashioned beside the streams and meadows, on the roads and in the sewing-machine sweatshops of the country called Poland.
The Jewish people brought prosperity to Poland (see Jeremiah 29:7) through their gifts of hard work, the benefits of national literacy and a developed economic framework, as well as through their communal disapproval of drunkenness. Unfortunately their prosperity and success was not seen by Polish peasants and guildsmen as the blessing of God (see Deuteronomy 8:18), but as a threat to life and livelihood. This jealousy often led to violent attempts to expel Jews from villages, towns and regions. Sometimes it even led to pillage, riots and pogroms.
The Scriptures warn us of these works of the flesh, which are at the root demonically energized.
“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are …enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness… and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” (James 3:13-16).
- When God blesses the Jewish people, the heart of the nation where they sojourn is tested. As it is said, “God offends the mind to reveal the heart.” Pray that YHVH would share with you in deeper measure His own heart of love for the Jewish people (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Hosea 2:14-20; 11:3-4, 8).
Bitter milk from a poisoned well
Polish royalty and nobility appreciated the Jewish contribution to Poland’s development and flowering. But at the same time materialistic jealousy toward the Jewish people ran like a scarlet thread through Polish history, raising its ugly head from time to time in peasant riots and attacks by merchants and artisans on peaceful Jewish communities. Envy toward Jacob’s children fused with anti-Semitic Church teachings and distilled into a noxious brew – one which poisoned the well from which many Polish Catholics drank deeply.
As a result, the personal and historical experience of many Polish Jews was not always positive. One famous example is Israeli former Prime Minister Itzhak Shamir (born 1915 in Ruszczany, Poland) who once commented that Poles suck in anti-Semitism “with their mother’s milk! This is something that is deeply imbued in their tradition, their mentality. Like their loathing of Russia. The two things are not connected, of course. But that, too, is something very deep, like their hatred of the people of Israel. Today, though, there are elements (in Poland) that are cleansed of this anti-Semitism” (‘We can’t fight the whole world,’ David Landau interviews Shamir, Friday, September 8, 1989, Jerusalem Post).
It is true that some Polish hearts have been poisoned, but it is also true that not all Polish hearts have been poisoned. There is a godly remnant of Poles who love and cherish the Jewish people as dear to God and dear to Poland’s history (www.tesknie.com/index.php?id=50). We have met only a small portion of these beloved saints. Nevertheless, the poisoning of Christian wells of affection for the Jewish people has left a toxic stain which still influences many people in Poland today.
How do you solve a problem like Maria?
Driving across the Polish countryside recently, we saw a lot of anti-Semitic graffiti spray-painted on bus stops and public walls. Posters advertising Radio Maria (a Polish radio station described by the Council of Europe as “openly inciting to anti-Semitism for several years” and demonstrating “a lack of effective implementation of measures intended to prohibit anti-Semitic acts and statements” in Poland; www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/refworld/rwmain?docid=46efa2dfd) can be seen throughout the villages and towns, popping up like mushrooms after the rain. Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism, says that “the popular Torun-based Catholic nationalist radio station Radio Maryja [sic.] is the most influential source of anti-Semitic propaganda in Poland today” (www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw99-2000/poland.htm).
At the same time it should be noted that in July 2007 over 700 Polish Catholic intellectuals, journalists, priests and activists (as well as a former Prime Minister and a Foreign Minister) signed a public letter of protest condemning Radio Maria director Rev. Tadeusz Rydzyk’s anti-Semitic remarks.
Though Mary (in Hebrew Miriam) herself was a Jewish maiden greatly anointed by YHVH, it is ironic that some of those claiming to revere her heritage would stoop to curse Mary’s own Jewish people with such vehemence (Luke 1:54-55, 69-77).
- Polish anti-Semitism rests on a foundation which is based on the twisted use of the Jewish Scriptures (both Old and New Covenants). These theologies curse the Jewish people and teach Replacement theology, both of which have opened a wide door to Jew-hatred. Those who advocate for the establishment of an Islamist Palestinian state on land covenanted by YHVH to the Jewish people alone, make use of the same hermeneutics and are under the same judgment of God (Genesis 12:3; Jeremiah 30:16-17).
Polish Yad Vashem
In Europe during WWII, the highest number of people who risked their lives to rescue or save Jewish people were the citizens of Poland. Over 6,266 non-Jewish Poles have been awarded by Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem) the Righteous Among the Nations award (http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/about.asp; http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/statistics.asp), though the actual number of Poles involved was even higher.
The following is a detailed list of seven hundred non-Jewish Poles who were murdered by the Nazis for helping to rescue Jewish Poles (www.holocaustforgotten.com/list.htm). You can read more about such Poles in the following article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_Righteous_among_the_Nations).
- These men and women demonstrated courage and conviction at a time when to do so could easily cost one’s life. The call today to stand with the Jewish people will lead some of us to partake of the same cup as did these Polish heroes. Study their names and faces, and ask God for His heart and strength to stand and be victorious in the evil day.
PM Shamir notes, “There were also Poles who extended a hand to save Jews from the claws of extermination. . . . These people showed by their actions that even in an era of eclipse and bestial darkness, there are people who preserve the image of God” (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1991-05-21/news/9102150537_1_shamir-israel-nazi-genocide).
The Israeli poet Haim Hefer (born in Sosnowiec, Poland) dedicated a poem “The Righteous of the World” to those Poles who were prepared to sacrifice themselves, their families and their wealth to stand with the Jewish people:
I hear this title and it makes me think
about the people who saved me.
I ask and ask “Oh, my dear God,
Could I have done the same thing?”
In a sea of hate stood my home,
Could I shelter a foreign son in my home?
Would I be willing along with my family
constantly be threatened by certain evil?
Sleepless dark nights watching out for noise
Hearing footsteps of certain evil.
Would I be able to understand every sign,
Would I be ready for this, could I walk like this
Among those who would betray
Not one day, not one week, but so many years!
There a suspicious neighbor, there a look, and here a sound
For that one – warm – brotherly clasping of my hand…
Not having any pension – not having anything for this.
Because a person to person must be a people.
Because a people comes at this time through –
So I ask you and ask you once more –
Could I have done the same if I was in their place?
It was they who went to war every day.
It was they who made the world a place for me.
It was they, the pillars, the Righteous brother,
who this day this world is founded by.
For your courage, and for your warm extended hand
In front of you, the Righteous, I bow.
Obadiah and the Polish problem
Around 600 BC the prophet Obadiah brought a stinging rebuke against the Edomite Arabs who lived in what is today southern Jordan. He chastises the Edomites, because on the day that violence was done to “your brother Jacob, & you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth”. When “foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them. You should not have gloated over your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoiced over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor spoken so proudly in the day of their trouble. You should not have marched through the gates of My people in the day of their disaster, nor gloated over them in their calamity in the day of their disaster, nor seized their wealth in the day of their disaster. You should not have waited at the crossroads to cut down their fugitives, nor have handed over their survivors in the day of their trouble” (Obadiah 1:10-14).
In 1939 Jewish people made up 10% of Poland’s citizens. In some cities like Warsaw they were 30% of the population; in others they were 50%. When the Nazis marched Jews off to ghettos or forced them onto trucks or trains headed for death-camps, within 48 hours most of the homes and personal possessions left behind by the Jews had been seized by Polish non-Jewish citizens. The words of Obadiah cast a chilling shadow over this whole process.
After the war, when the few Jewish survivors straggled back to their ancient homesteads, they were usually threatened with death, and often were murdered by angry Poles who refused to return what had once belonged to those Jewish families.
The heart attitude of many of these Poles is reflected in the flat and chilling words of Polish Chief of State and First Marshall Jozef Pilsudski (commenting in 1918 on a recent pogrom against Jews in Lwow), “I must say that the Poles are not philo-Semites. That must be admitted. The Jews in Poland form a very large number and are a foreign body whom one would like to get rid of.” (Shores of Refuge: A Hundred Years of Jewish Emigration, by Ronald Sanders (Henry Holt, 1988).
Amazingly, even Poles who had saved Jewish lives often asked that their acts be kept secret, as they feared very real and murderous anti-Semitic reprisals by their Jew-hating neighbors. For two sobering historical analyses of these realities, see Jan T. Gross, Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland (2001, Penguin Books) and Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz (2006, Random House).
We were told on more than one occasion recently, that some Polish people are afraid of Jews because they fear that Jewish people will return to Poland and try to get back their family’s property. “A popular theme in nationalist anti-Semitic circles is that Jews are attempting to seize control of Polish assets through re-privatization claims” (www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw99-2000/poland.htm). The guilty conscience that some Poles validly have about this matter does not allow them much rest, and this “not yet atoned for” unease has been passed on to subsequent generations for the young people of Poland to deal with on their own.
- Fear of repossession by returning Jews is not the fundamental issue. The basic issue is a bad conscience based on benefitting from the Jewish people’s misfortune, from having seized the Jewish people’s wealth, and from having cooperated with the Nazis’ strategy. Indifference, robbery and hatred – these are serious issues that indicate that much work yet needs to be done among Poles to cleanse their country and restore it to a position of blessing and not of cursing the Jewish people.
Avoiding or accepting responsibility
In our recent discussions with Polish people, we saw certain repeated responses to the tragedy of mass murder that befell Poland’s Jews. This involved ascribing the main blame to other parties. It is certainly true that some of the historical facts behind these protestations are historically correct. Yet other aspects of this blame shifting hearken back to the first Adam’s complaint in Genesis 3:12, “The woman whom You gave to me – she gave me from the tree, and I ate.”
Polish people have suffered much in their history, and even sometimes see their suffering in mystically redemptive terms, calling Poland the “Christ of Europe” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ_of_Europe). The “suffering servant” concept (used here by Polish poet and philosopher Adam Bernard Mickiewicz) is taken from Isaiah 53, but the original biblical context in that text concerns the Davidic Messiah who suffers for the sins of His own Jewish people. To make use of the suffering servant analogy for Polish Gentiles while trying to sidestep questions regarding the slaughter of Polish Jews would be seen as a theological and exegetical travesty by Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Messianic Jews alike.
Poles rightly point out that it was the German Nazis and not the Poles who planned, built and ran the network of death camps in Poland. This is true, and it is important to remember that the instigators of this mass murder were not Poles.
Other Poles say that Polish anti-Semitism was merely a reaction to Jewish support of Communism (what is known as the Zydokomuna conspiracy charge, masterfully refuted by Gross in Fear, pp. 192-243). This charge (which is in itself anti-Semitic) is not borne out by the facts: Communism was itself anti-Semitic and actively involved in persecuting Polish Jews. As well, Jews were by and large both advocates of liberal democracy and proud Polish patriots. The linking of Jews to Communism in a supposedly “nefarious conspiracy” was actually a favorite Nazi tactic.
Blaming the Jews for anti-Semitism
Some Poles say that Polish anti-Semitism was merely a healthy Polish Gentile response to Jewish anti-Polish attitudes. A startling example of the latter is found in the words of Cardinal Jozef Glemp, Catholic Primate of Poland and Archbishop of Warsaw, while addressing a mass meeting of 100,000 at the Jasna Gora Monastery during the celebration of the Most Holy Virgin Mary of Czestochowa (the Matka Boska Czestochowska) on August 26, 1989.
In his homily the Primate accused Jews of complicity in inducing Polish peasants to drunkenness, of propagating Communism and of collaborating with Nazis. He accused Jews of spreading anti-Polish propaganda through the world’s mass media, rebuking the Jewish people in classic Hitlerian terms, “We have feelings toward the Jews, but today I would like to say, dear Jews, do not talk with us from a position of a people raised above all others, and do not dictate conditions & Do you, esteemed Jews, not see that your pronouncements & offend the feelings of all Poles, and our sovereignty, which has been achieved with such difficulty? Your power lies in the mass media that are easily at your disposal in many countries. Let them not serve to spread anti-Polish feeling” (Memory Offended: The Auschwitz Convent Controversy, C. Rittner and J. K. Roth, eds.; New York: Praeger, 1991; pp. 220-25, 245; http://archive.jta.org/article/1991/08/26/2874479/reaction-mixed-to-statement-of-regret-from-polish-cardinal).
In each of the above cases (Nazis, Communists or Jewish conspiracies) “the buck is passed” to others, to use American slang (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buck_passing). The Nazis are the ones chiefly responsible, or the Communists, or even the Jews themselves but the Poles are basically the true victims (in this distorted scenario). Though this may make for a seemingly plausible debating point, ultimately it is a less than courageous approach. And it only postpones the reckoning that must one day come at the footstool of YHVH’s throne of judgment (Matthew 25:40, 46).
- Human beings tend to blame others or even circumstances when confronted with moral failure and evil. To stand with Jewish people when they are persecuted will cost, even as it once cost a significant minority of Polish people. Pray to God that He will strengthen you to meet the challenges ahead with the courage of your convictions.
On July 4 1946 scores of Jewish Holocaust survivors in the Polish town of Kielce were slaughtered in an all-day pogrom instigated and carried out by local, average Poles (see Gross, Fear, pp. 81-166). We had the privilege of fellowshipping with and ministering at a local gathering of believers in that city. One of the pastors spoke very quietly and straightforwardly to us. He said that as Poles they do not primarily feel guilt for what the Nazis did to Poland’s Jewish people. In the immediate context it was the Nazis who were the prime movers.
But nevertheless, they as Poles feel responsible, because these atrocities happened in Poland (their own country) and “on their watch” – on the watch of the Polish people (see Ezekiel 33:1-9). Polish response should have been greater. Polish efforts to save Jews should have been much more activist in nature. Polish refusal to countenance anti-Semitism in the public square should have been much more forceful.
The pastor in Kielce added that Poles must avoid passing off responsibility, but must speak the truth regarding Polish Gentile indifference toward Jewish suffering, Poles benefitting from Jewish misfortune, and Poles harboring murderous anti-Semitism in their hearts.
It is true that the Nazis chose Poland for the majority of the death camps because so many Jews lived in Poland. They situated these camps close to main Jewish population centers. Yet the fact that these murders happened in Poland is not merely another sad side effect of Poles being a victimized people. The God who sees everything saw how centuries of Polish cursing of the Jews had fertilized Polish ground and had prepared Polish soil. Though the demonic seed which fathered the death-camps was Nazi in origin, the womb wherein it sprouted was Polish.
Healing comes after confession, repentance and forsaking of sin. The whole process requires and involves restitution.
Speaking as a member of the Jewish people, I can state that, until we as a nation confess and repent, the Jewish people will continue to deal with the fact that we have rejected the Davidic dynasty (1 Kings 12:16-19), the Jewish prophets (Jeremiah 7:25-26) and the Jewish Messiah (Matthew 23:37-39). It is part and parcel of our own Jewish history, and the Bible has made these facts internationally known.
Moving on to Germans and Austrians – they will have to deal with their anti-Semitic and Nazi past (and present) until confession and repentance engulfs and transforms these countries – when skinheads and anti-Semites no longer exist in German-speaking lands, and when German speakers rejoice in God’s heart for Israel, in the Jewish people’s gifts, calling and prophetic significance (see Romans 11:28-29).
In the same way, Poles will continue to carry the cross of their own national failings in this area until national confession and repentance overtake the Polish people; until they forsake evil anti-Semitic ways and enter into national restitution vis-à-vis the Jewish people.
- Even as Polish believers pray for and break the ground for a new day – for new streams of friendship and brotherhood between Jews and Gentiles in Yeshua, and between the Polish and Jewish people as well – let us add our prayers to theirs and petition God that this will come into blessed existence.
Brothers and sisters, these heavy thoughts and realities do not only have relevance for the Polish people. They apply to all the nations who are currently jostling to be first in the line-up to divide the land of Israel and the holy city of Jerusalem. They apply to the movements which are attempting to delegitimize and harm Israel as the state of the Jewish people. They apply to the leaders of these nations who are taking an active role in “throwing Mother Israel off the train.”
- Pray for the Polish people to enter into deeper repentance and to make their way into a God-pleasing path of connection with Israel and the Jewish people.
- Pray for Jewish people to receive a revelation of truth about those Polish citizens who stood with the Jewish people, and about the Polish believers who will stand with them in love when the going will again get tough.
- Pray for yourself, your community, your country and your leaders – that indifference, cold-heartedness and twisted understandings about the Jewish people, their land, their calling and their divine priority in the affairs of nations (Numbers 23:9; Psalms 148-149;Deuteronomy 32:7-10 etc.) will be transformed, corrected or removed.
Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do!
In Messiah Yeshua,
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