Stanislaw Aronson is a legend of the Home Army and postwar underground. A hero of the fight for the independence of Israel. An advocate and propagator of commemorating Poles who saved Jews. In his book “The war will come tomorrow” he answers difficult questions about the common history of both nations.
Stanisław Aronson a.k.a. “Rysiek” is a Pole and a Jew who escaped from a transport to Treblinka, where his entire family was killed. He fought in the ranks of the Home Army in the Kedyw AK unit led by Jozef Rybicki. It was an elite underground unit dealing mainly with diversion and execution of death sentences on those sentenced by underground courts. He fought and was wounded in the Warsaw Uprising.
After the war he was arrested by the Security Office. He escaped further torture thanks to the help of a Jewish underground organization. First he was in the II Polish Corps in Bologna, and then he moved to Israel, where he fought in successive wars against the Arabs, eventually rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Israeli army.
In a frank interview with Michał Wójcik and Emil Marat, published as a book entitled ‘Wojna nadejdzie jutro. Żołnierz legendarnego Kedywu AKa ostrzega” (“A soldier of the legendary Kedyw Home Army warns”) answers the questions why the Polish underground state did not stand up for its Jewish citizens? Why is the myth of “the cursed soldiers” being created to the detriment of the wonderful tradition of the Home Army? Why is history being manipulated and divisions reinforced?
– Your world may collapse, just as mine once did,” warns Aronson. At the same time he believes that the most important thing is what unites people and if we do not let ourselves be deceived by history based on lies, we still have a chance for a Poland of free, thinking and good people for others. What does he have to say about Polish-Jewish relations?
Stanislaw Aronson: – Anti-Polish sentiment is the norm in Israel. Unfortunately. Maybe it will get better. People who came to Palestine from Poland in the 1930s and survived the war here also emigrated because of anti-Semitism. After all, Poland became an unpleasant country after the death of Pilsudski. It is hard for them to like Poland.
Then the war and the fact that Jews were exterminated in Poland, not only Polish Jews, but also those from Europe. Here, in Israel, nobody knew that Poles also died at the hands of Germans, that there was a fight, the Warsaw Uprising, resistance. Nobody talked about it.
On the other hand, it was common knowledge that almost all Polish Jews died! So how was it possible? Poland had no PR, even Walesa didn’t break it when he was in Israel in the 1990s. It was only President Chaim Herzog who loudly said that Poles were also victims, that they fought bravely on all fronts! When I mentioned the Poles fighting, my acquaintances knocked on their foreheads that it was some kind of fairy tale.
More: just after the war the surviving Jews from Poland were suspect here. They were also affected by this, let’s say, “anti-Polonism”: they survived, so maybe they somehow got along with the Germans? Maybe they were informers? Maybe they survived on money paid to Poles, and it’s not clear how they got that money? When I said that I had survived the war in Poland and had not been in a camp, they looked at me strangely. When I said I was in the Home Army, I heard: “Anti-Semite!”. And it didn’t go away, it didn’t get better.
Michał Wójcik, Emil Marat: Because there was no honest accounting on the Polish side? Now there is talk of the “post-war phase of the Holocaust” taking place in 1945 and 1946 in Poland.
– Well, yes. Some people were happy that a neighbor they didn’t like disappeared. And it was so “free”, he disappeared effortlessly, and when by chance he came back, he was not seen well, because he left the house, the quilt, the pots, the garden, the tenement or the store. Nobody wanted to see him, nobody cried for him.
– Almost. I know you can’t judge a whole society by the behavior of part of it. But it was the majority. Most Poles, as it turned out, treated Jews as temporary tenants in Poland. Not as compatriots. This was clear before, during and after the war. And this is sad. It is true that many Jews did not feel Polish at all, they did not feel any connection with Poland – this is also obvious and I do not deny it.
But is this an argument for anti-Semitism? Many Polish peasants in the Second Polish Republic, especially in the Kresy (Borderlands), also on average identified themselves with Poland.
– Then these peasants set fire to barns with Jews. But this could be an argument that this was not a Polish “specialty” but a human one: this was not done by Poles, because they were Poles, but by greedy, primitive people who coveted those quilts and cottages.
Someone built such a simple metaphor: you are walking down the road with your neighbor. And you are attacked by a bandit. This man, who is close to you, doesn’t help you, he just laughs or takes your shoes, because you don’t need them anymore. No wonder this friend seems worse to you than the bandit.
– I understand. And this discussion about what Poles could have done, whether they could have helped – it is not to be resolved. It is clear to me that they could have done no harm.
They did not take those shoes.
– Yes. But that’s what we said: it was mainly peasants who did it, dark, simple people.
Mr. Stanislaw, blackmailers in Warsaw sometimes wore cravats, helmets and herringbone overcoats.
– We should shoot them. Home Army should kill them en masse. Then they would not exist. And those peasants in the villages could be “disciplined” by the Home Army partisans. They did not lift a finger.
After all, they came from the same villages. In 1941, barns in Podlasie were set on fire by peasants who listened to sermons by fascist priests in churches, who belonged to fire departments imbued with national ideology, who were declared Polish national Catholics. In these areas National Democracy was strongest, ONR acted vigorously.
– No wonder they did not like Jews? And when they took over their property during the war, later they did not welcome Jews with open arms. Although at the beginning I was not very interested in this. I did not know about the most horrible things. I read Gross’s book “Neighbors” with my eyes open in horror. I did not believe it. Stach Likiernik never believed in Jedwabne.
In 1952 Mordechai Canin’s book “Through Ruins and Devastation” appeared in Tel Aviv. – a report on his travels through Polish-Jewish cities and towns just after the war. He described the nightmare of the “disappearance” of Polish Jews and the indifference, often meanness and criminal acts of their neighbors. Only recently this report came out in Polish.
– I have not read it, I am not familiar with it.
In many of Canin’s shocking texts collected in the book, such an image appears: Poles do not look Jews in the face, as if they were ashamed. Canin writes: “When you talk to Poles in Bialystok, they don’t look you in the eye. There is a thick wall between you and them, unbreakable, and you feel that they bear much of the blame for the Holocaust. And that they know it. They are ashamed, if they have even a little conscience. But you will not find conscience in everyone. Of course there were exceptions when Poles rescued Jews, but those exceptions in Białystok can be counted on the fingers of one hand, although most Poles here are workers.
– I disagree. Poles are not to blame for the Holocaust. Germans invented it. Although the majority of Polish society did not pass the test: it turned its head in the other direction, the fate of the Jews was not important to most Poles, and some saw an economic benefit in the Holocaust – such simple peasant calculus. My environment in Israel was not a “Holocaust” environment. But I know that before and during the war there was anti-Semitism. This cannot be denied. But I always stressed that not everyone was anti-Semitic. I defended Poland. I tried.