The strange and convoluted story of Jonny Daniels has been on the minds of many Polish Jews after he came to public attention by organizing a 2014 one-day fly-in of half of the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) plus other Israeli notables. No left leaning members and certainly no Arab members were present.
Now, the Forward’s Larry Cohler – Esse is reporting that Jonny Daniels is essentially flacking for Poland’s right-wing government’s attempt to create a case for more ethnic resentment by suggesting that everyone misunderstands the Poles.
As a frequent visitor and active observer of Polish life in the tiny reconstitution of the Jewish community, I am highly allergic to ethnic jingoism of all sorts including the Jewish variety. When it comes packaged as a Jew advising others to express their inner madness I am most concerned.
Open-hearted conversation is a difficult thing to achieve and it cannot be held hostage to commercial interests or fantasy history.
No doubt that Poles have a soft spot for feeling that they are the most unheralded candidate for God’s suffering servant. They have suffered and suffered. The unseemly competition for who-suffered-the-most is nurtured by ignorance and unseemly competition. The ignorance extends to both Poles and Jews reflecting on their respective, Polish and Jewish pasts. Subtlety in crafting the narratives of each group is rare.
The Irena Sendlers of Poland were discovered late and almost died in obscurity. Here one should not blame only Poles but also many Jews. Jews had their own reasons for not giving a full-throated expression of gratitude. Each situation was complex. Jonny Daniels claims to be celebrating the Righteous Gentiles among the Poles but only gives this powerful witness of humanity cursory effort. Daniels has no criteria for establishing and verifying claims. A public committee of Jews including Israelis associated with Yad VeShem work and Poles would be an important joint project. Let’s document and appreciate every Righteous Gentile in Poland.
Daniel’s attempt to honor courage cannot be a one-sided celebrating of Righteous Poles rescuing Jews during the Holocaust. It cannot be a cover the years of disdain and fear that rescuers lived under from their fellow Poles. After all, Polish society often whispered and claimed that the rescuers either gained financially from hiding Jews and even, endangered “us Poles” by harboring Jews.
I, for one, marvel at the documented stories because it frames for me the question of what I would do in similar circumstances. These Righteous Poles are an accusation in waiting for all of us.
The “no-shame-for-any-Pole-who-ever-lived” movement distorts history. Master historian Joanna Beata Michlic, the co-author of Bringing the Dark Past to Light: The Memory of the Holocaust to Light asserts that across Eastern Europe: ‘a quiet, sinister war’ was launched — almost at the exact moment that her book with Professor John-Paul Himke — against professional historians, institutions, and non- profit organizations that promote a nuanced image of a collective past revealing both glorious and shameful pages of national history.
Jonny Daniels is there to sooth the Poles with suggestions for more ethno-nationalism and populism by proposing suing for reparations from Germany — “just send an invoice to Angela Merkel.” There is here a strange echo of a common claim in Polish society that Jews received reparations
Jonny Daniel claims no interference from his campaign/company sponsors such as LOT airlines and numerous purveys of fantasy history that are so popular in so many circles. Daniel’s murky funding pattern suggests the techniques and approaches of other right-wing groups operating in Israel, Britain, and the United States.
The attempt to build in Poland or elsewhere an era of amity that ignores the complex history of Jewish – Polish relations is a fool’s errand.