I taught Polish to small classes perhaps 20 times at Princeton, up to 2007, and am admittedly a fan of Poland. Here are some reactions to Jennifer Altmann’s nicely written and illustrated article on the Princeton students’ visit there (cover story, Sept. 19).
Polish violence against Jews is well documented. It is proper to remind us of it. Still, I find the notion of 15 well-fed Princeton undergraduates studying relatively minor Polish atrocities somewhat condescending. Poland underwent centuries of attacks by powerful neighbors, thrice losing its very identity. As Jan Gross points out, 2 (some say 3) million non-Jewish Poles also were slaughtered by the Nazi killers. Poland endured unspeakable suffering during the war and then 44 awful years of Soviet rule, which Americans and Israelis were thankfully spared.
I hope Professor Gross also told his students about the Katyn Forest massacre, in which 10,000 (some say 20,000) Polish officers were summarily shot by the Soviets, an atrocity long blamed on Germany. For now, though, let’s recognize that Poland has nearly 40 million residents, with only 10,000 Jews. Hitler’s extermination of its Jews tragically has deprived Poland of the talent and industry that its previously much larger Jewish population could have provided. But the deeds are done, and raking up the Holocaust again just stokes the anger many Jews still feel against Poland. Let’s cut this historically benighted nation some slack.