Contested Memories: Poles and Jews during the Holocaust and Its Aftermath

By Joshua D. Zimmerman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Lwów, 1918
THE TRANSMUTATION OF A SYMBOL AND ITS
LEGACY IN THE HOLOCAUST
DAVID ENGEL

In May 1942, Tadeusz Kiersnowski arrived in Palestine on an official visit at the behest of the Polish National Council in London. His assignment was to study the situation of Gen. WŁadysŁaw Anders's Polish exile army, whose first evacuees from the Soviet Union had just begun to arrive in the country. But Kiersnowski, a nonparty (moderate PiŁsudskite) member of the Polish National Committee, who had been head of Wilno's Polish Committee under Lithuanian occupation and a prisoner of the Soviets from July 1940 to August 1941, also met with local Jewish leaders in Palestine, hoping, as he later reported, “to induce the Jews to undertake …the [political] defense of our eastern territories, threatened …by Russia.” 1 Suspecting, he explained, that Jews might greet his request reluctantly in light of the “unfavorable attitudes” they had experienced in Poland during the interwar years, he decided to stress to his interlocutors that the Jews themselves had created those attitudes, for on the eve of the establishment of the Polish Republic they had failed to support the Polish people's just claims to independence and territorial sovereignty: “The Polish nation will never forgive the Jews for the ‘neutrality’ they demonstrated with regard to Lwów in 1918. All Poles know that during the years 1918–1920 international Jewish influence was directed against us, especially with regard to the eastern territories. The Jews deny this, but it has become deeply embedded in the psyche of every intelligent Pole. That unpleasant memory of twenty years ago can be erased only through active present defense of our legitimate rights to those territories. …The Jews must rehabilitate themselves in the eyes of the Polish people through a declaration defending the interests of Poland.” 2

Other Polish political leaders also found merit in this approach. The following September, WŁadysŁaw Banaczyk, chairman of the National Council,

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