Letter from Bronisław Czarnocha
Monument to the Righteous:
En masse, “Old” Friends!
In happiness our ends!
— may the well-know poem from nearly 200 years ago be the keynote of my letter.
The Monument to the Righteous commemorates the heroism of the Polish Righteous. There is only one heroism and it cannot be divided. Is the heroism of a Polish peasant from Silesia, who gave half of my uncle’s family shelter any different from the heroism of well-known Edelman from the ghetto? If not, what are our reasons behind dividing something that is integral, as heroism is?
I will begin with something that I personally find painful. When after 32 two years of exile since March 1968 I returned to Poland, I noticed that many paintings on display in St. Florian’s Gate in Cracow featured the Jewish usurer figure. I took it as a sign of Polish anti-semitism. I think that the disagreement about the construction of the Monument to the Righteous in the area of the former ghetto is a sign of the same kind of spiritual shoddiness. The usurers from the paintings are nothing compared to this shoddiness! The disagreement about the Monument in such place will preserve the image of Jews as spiritual usurers, and will only contribute to a rise in anti-semitism! If one expresses gratitude, it needs to be wholehearted!
We come across opinions that raising the Monument in any place whatsoever will not replace what is acutely lacking – recognition of the deeds of the Righteous by the Polish society. Hence, I would remark that moving the Monument to the Righteous somewhere beyond the area of the former ghetto is similar to the attitude of the Polish society, a society that does not want to accept the righteousness of the Righteous, and refuses to accept that the Righteous were the best part of that society. The society does not respect them, and we – Jews – do not recognise their heroism sufficiently, we treat them in a different way than “our people”.
It seems that the Righteous have not been properly recognised not only by the Polish society, but also, to a significant degree, by the Polish-Jewish community.
The heart tells us to hold out an open hand without any conditions attached! It is us, the Polish Jews, that have to dare to allow the branch of reconciliation to grow here – in the place of one of the most extreme crimes in the world, perpetrated by Germans on the occupied Polish territory. This branch of reconciliation will create a new future, a future based on mutual recognition and respect for Polish and Jewish heroism.
I do not agree with the opinion that raising the Monument to the Righteous in a location different from the vicinity of the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes will not offend Poles who risked their lives to save Jews. On the contrary, I think that it is only a situation when the monuments are located close to one another that will offer a chance to combat the new wave of anti-semitism. Separating those two affairs will continue to push away those Poles who are holding out their hands to us but cannot wait to see a similar gesture from our side.
Some people fear that the solitary suffering of Jews will be veiled by a different narrative. Maybe this time this narrative will be truer because even if there were only a handful of the Righteous, it means that we were never really alone. Some people say that on both sides there were also the non-righteous: here Berman and Wolińska, there “szmalcownicy”, who blackmailed the hiding Jews or the Poles who offered Jews refuge. Thus, counting begins – how many of us betrayed them, how many of them betrayed us. Is it really the point? Let us not forget that God agreed to save Sodom if ten righteous could be found there. How many Righteous do we need in order not to ruin the beginning of the Polish-Jewish friendship? After all, there were many more than just ten of them! After all, even if there were only a handful of the Righteous, it means that we were never really alone.
Besides, honestly speaking, I’ve had enough of this Jewish solitude after 45 years of emigration and 18 years of official exile caused by March 1968. What I want is being together, community and dialogue. Do we, Polish Jews, really want to pursue the fragmentation of the society at a time when the entire world is bound for ethnic conflicts and wars? We do know the consequences!
I personally find it painful and hurtful that Polish heroism is separated from Jewish heroism. It hurts me and causes me pain not only metaphorically; as a Polish Jew, I’ve had enough of being torn into two components – the Polish and the Jewish. And it hurts me even more that Jews are among those who contribute to such situation.
Jew since generations and generations.