How to Start History on the Left Foot

By William Markiewicz

I was, I donít remember at which encounter, where there were many Poles and one Jew who challenged them. There was a Polish leader who was rather conciliatory. I had things to say but I donít like public/verbal debates. I prefer to write. Now at a distance, I feel I should have spoken. This is what I would have said to the Jewish speaker:

If we want to analyse facts, we must start, not from personal experience but with the flow of history. We live in a Darwinian universe where the snake devours the smaller and escapes from the bigger. The Jews were practically the only unarmed group that traversed a Europe composed of warrior nations. I think the Europeans could hardly understand those unarmed people Ė who would defend them, their wives and children? For them it could have seemed suspicious. They enclosed them in ghettoes and submitted them to pogroms.

I donít remember the circumstances when Jews entered Poland but they were unarmed. Perhaps the Gypsies were also unarmed but unlike the settled Jews they were wandering, appearing and disappearing. In Poland there were no ghettoes. As far as I know Jews were rather welcomed, I donít remember if invited by the powerful or if they applied to enter. One of the Polish - Jewish statutes declared what would happen to a Christian who killed, wounded or robbed a Jew. There was no single word about what would happen to a Jew who killed, wounded or robbed a Christian. Such a possibility was not even considered. I read in Polish sources that the first Jews came to Poland as slave merchants. Who in Poland would buy slaves? There were mentions of rich Muslims buying slaves. Muslim, and rich in Poland?! There were neighbouring warrior Tartar tribes, occasional mercenaries to the Polish kings, people with no conditions for keeping slaves.

I would like to make a parallel between the act of stepping with the left foot into history/diaspora and similar situations done by others with the right foot. The first is the well-known story of the Jews. The second one, less known, concerns a relatively small tribe of Druze who came to Lebanon, weíre not sure where from. The Druze didnít mix but established themselves strategically in the mountains, now called Djebbel Druze. They became respected co-citizens because they knew how to hold the wallet in one hand and sword in the other. As to the entrance of Jews into Poland, the beginnings were rather friendly. The Jews practically got autonomy regarding jurisdiction, etc. In my opinion, the Jews committed one great mistake: they did not try to form their own villages, settlements, but entered directly into regions already populated by the local Poles. I'm not sure if they chose or were assigned by power decision, where to settle Ė but can you imagine if into your habitation, town, street, there suddenly came a mass of total strangers, say Koreans. Would you be happy? Completely different language, customs... The locals might not have been happy with a sudden mass entrance of foreigners but the ordinary folk had no say in the decision. Later, things started to deteriorate. There were precise reasons, mostly concerning finances. I donít remember the details now. I remember that Jews considered the conditions impossible. The aristocracy lost interest in the Jews and the peasants, seeing the Jews without protection, confronted them with ďNow letís talkĒ and pogroms started. Jews saved themselves by escaping to the forests.

After one year a Papal Bull came from Italy, asking for an end to the pogroms. Probably it had not been delayed but travel from Italy to Poland must have been long in those times. The Jews came out of the forest and the situation was no longer favourable as before. In the villages, pubs owned by nobles started to spread and the Jews were placed in charge of the pubs. The nobles squeezed the peasants, encouraging great alcohol consumption and the Jews were to squeeze money from the peasants. And not only in the pubs but in other areas like forest management, etc. Of course, hatred against Jews could only grow.

If the first Jewish wrong step was to establish themselves in already settled regions instead of looking for settling places like the Druze had, the second great mistake was when the Jews asked for and obtained neutrality in Polish national conflicts. When you become part of a countryís population, you cannot claim neutrality. The Jewish-Polish hero Berek Joselewicz was excommunicated by the Rabbinate only because he went to fight for Poland. It is true that the Jews could not be drafted. It was the nobles who found people to fight under their banners. Of course Jews, not being Christians, could not be under the noblesí banner. But there were others who participated in Polish History like the Tartar Ordes hired by the kings to defend the borders against the Teutonic marauders. So the Jews could have done as the Tartars and formed their own units. During the Chmielnicki revolt Jews effectively formed units to fight but it was too late; the Polish = Jewish, Ukrainian -- Jewish hatred was too advanced. In the heat of the fight there were places where Poles and Ukrainians made secret pacts and turned against the Jews. Centuries later, the Polish poet Mickiewicz tried to form a Jewish legion from Turkey because Poland was partitioned in that period. But the Pope, Gabriel I believe, declared, ďI will not give benediction.Ē Mickiewicz was horrified and the Pope ordered the Swiss Guard to make him leave the Vatican. So the project disappeared. Poland between two wars drafted everybody but it didnít improve the relationship between Jews and Christians. Jews and the army tried to avoid each other as much as they could. Still, in Katyn, ten to fifteen percent of the massacred officers were Jews.

Today, in our time when Jews have practically disappeared from Europe, not only did anti-Semitism not disappear but seems to grow. The Jews have become sort of Zombies in the civil mentality. It is typical for Darwinian Universe that legends outgrow reality. Before World War 2 the Jews were very energetic communities. But they didnít know or didnít want to transform potential energy into kinetic energy. So they disappeared like a feather in the air.

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