Jews and Poles before and during the Nazi holocaust: An interesting letter

October 1, 2023

In Letters To Finkelstein

I heard you today on the Useful Idiots podcast. Although we disagree politically, I have the utmost respect for you as an honest thinker. An academic who attempts to stake out moral positions to difficult questions. I am 50 years old. My father was born in Jaroslav, Poland to a family of 8. He went into hiding in 1940 and survived by living as a Christian on a farm in Gàc that was owned by a childless couple. Only one brother survived.
I have listened to many of your talks. When you speak of the Holocaust I feel an intimate connection because I too am a child of “survivors”. Not a survivor by your strict definition, my dad wasn’t in a camp or ghetto. But I am a child of the memory and trauma of our loss. My father’s relationship to food, his fear of money, his inability to connect and love openly, Passover Seders that always devolved—from Egypt into to Poland-stories of “Nazi bastards”. The past was never really past. It was current and quietly felt.
Recently he has begun opening up and is speaking about it. So much so that we have been giving talks to 8th graders in our community about his experiences. Nothing fancy, he isn’t an educated man. (He hasn’t made a business of it) But he tells a matter of fact story. An amazing tale of how his young life was nearly ended by neighbors, until it was saved by neighbors.
We have our disagreements about certain aspects of his story. I maintain that the farmer and his wife knew he was a Jew. He insists they didn’t. I am amazed other surviving relatives let him leave a shared hiding spot and allowed to to go look for work at farmer’s market as an 11 year old.  He thinks nothing of it. And he thinks all Poles are evil. I see it otherwise.
Sorry for being long winded, but it is this issue that prompted me to email you. Namely, How bad was Poland for Jews before the war? How bad was Ukraine? How bad can a location be that allows a population to grow? All growth needs some form of stability, a minimum of nourishment and space. Even algae can’t grow on a rapidly moving river. Algae grows on still ponds with nutrients. There is death and violence at the pond’s edge, but the middle is usually flourishing and dark green. Isn’t this the same as Poland? Something had to be beneficial there for 3MM to reside. A political and social system beset on extermination would never see such growth of a minority. Of course there were spikes of violence. But were Polish/Ukrainian Pogroms much different from pogroms against blacks in Tulsa or anywhere here around the same time? Poland had to be good enough. And aside from population growth didn’t Poland birth Hasidism? and love Huberman?
I have asked my dad, “Poland had 300 years to build Auchwitz, why didn’t they?”
That is my question to you.  I would love to know how you would answer that (or books that you recommend that have answered that)
The term Nazi is being tossed around a lot these days. You claimed, in passing on the Useful Idiots podcast, that some Ukrainians were “ideologically” aligned with the German Nazis. So the same question holds. There weren’t concentration camps in Ukraine, theirs was a “Holocaust of Bullets”. What, there weren’t enough bullets in Lvov in 1925? Let’s leave out the psychopathology that any war can unleash on its soldiers. Wouldn’t the common Ukrainian of fighting age be looking for a fight against Russia in 1940? Wouldn’t you or I look to join any cause that would deliver some justice to a Russia that starved my family? Is this how you think Ukrainians were “ideologically” aligned with the Nazis? If not, why didn’t they start sooner? And go larger?
I just realized how long this message is and that I have  taken far too much if your time. Would love to hear your thoughts or get some books on this idea.
All the best—