Another tack: The humanistic ardor of interwar Poland

The old predispositions hardly died out. The humanistic ardor of interwar Poland vibrantly lives on in today’s Europe. So does its insidious slyness.

Jewish storefronts in prewar Krakow: the mandatory name-sign decree was hardly innocuous (photo credit: JERUSALEM POST ARCHIVE)
Jewish storefronts in prewar Krakow: the mandatory name-sign decree was hardly innocuous
Poland made history on Monday morning, April 19, 1937. It taught the world how to implement a boycott without actually admitting that it’s doing anything of the sort.
Headliners of today’s European Union have learned the lesson well, even if few of the EU’s sanctimonious sermonizers can likely cite the source and inspiration for their very unoriginal charade.
The Polish non-boycott was no mean feat on the eve of WWII, when dark clouds of impending doom already gathered over the heads of European Jewry.
Given the bestial goings-on and the brutish anti-Jewish boycotts next-door in the Third Reich, Poland appeared positively refined by comparison – the soul of sophistication.
The Poles never sank as low as the crude and vulgar Germans. They didn’t adopt the practice of daubing storefronts with giant Jude inscriptions, smashing windows or sending out storm troopers to form scary picket lines, carry offensive signs in the formidable Teutonic tradition and warn off the super-race away from subhuman Jewish shopkeepers.
Instead, Poland’s Minister of Industry and Commence Antoni Roman issued an edict that looked impeccably non-discriminatory.
It ordered that all business signs boldly display the proprietor’s name, directly above any other incidental scrap information such as what was sold at the premises. Precise rules were stipulated regarding the size of the letters required.
What could possibly be wrong with that? The measure applied to everyone throughout the republic. Surely nothing could be more equitable. No single community or grouping was targeted.
Technically this was not an anti-Judaic decree. Quite the reverse: here was an exemplary act of public service born of the public-spirited conviction that the public was entitled to know the identity of each vendor everywhere.
No way could the Polish government be blamed for the fact that Jews – estimated (depending on the location) at between one-tenth to one-eighth of the population – on the whole had surnames that instantly betrayed their ethnic extraction.
Poland was already endemically anti-Semitic. From the early 1920s it had tolerated an unofficial numerus clausus geared to drastically reduce the number of Jewish students. It had also introduced innovations like the “Ghetto bench” – special seats in university lecture halls earmarked for despised and humiliated Jewish students. This started at the Lvov Polytechnic Institute on December 8, 1935 and quickly spread countrywide as the academic must-follow fad.
The National Democratic Party – notorious as Endek, its Polish acronym – zealously blamed Jews for the country’s economic woes. This even spilled over to America, where already in 1919 Polish- Americans and their assorted Slavic sympathizers declared a boycott of all Jewish enterprises in the US. They petitioned the American government, charging Jews with “importing racial conflicts” to the States and “condemning the insincere tactics of the Jewish imperialists.”
Quite obviously, Jewish imperialism isn’t contingent on Jewish territorial conquests and much-reviled “occupation.”
These boycotters, upholding their rights as Americans, emulated the old-country’s innate penchants. Strangulating grassroots Jewish subsistence was Poland’s time-tried recipe for ridding itself of poverty and backwardness.
In the Polish environment, suffused as it was with virulent anti-Semitism, the mandatory name-sign decree was hardly innocuous. If anything, it was a clever ruse which facilitated the identification of Jewish shops so that these could then be singled out and boycotted. Savvy buyers could be counted upon to draw the proper conclusions regarding establishments run by a Rubinstein or a Levin.
All the while, Poland – obliged pro forma by the Treaty of Versailles to treat its Jews fairly and likewise hoping not to tarnish its image in the League of Nations – could feign innocence: Boycott? What boycott? This isn’t esoteric nitpicking into an irrelevant past. The old predispositions hardly died out. The humanistic ardor of interwar Poland vibrantly lives on in today’s Europe.
So does its insidious slyness.
The EU, of which Poland is a member, exudes all the insincerity (to resort to gross understatement) which permeated Poland between the two world wars. Its faceless Brussels functionaries can, with just as much guile as their Polish predecessors, feign innocence and with just as much affectation ask: Boycott? What boycott? EU headliners react with the gruffest of righteous indignation to the very suggestion that they enable economic boycotts against the Jewish state. Their denials are vehement. How can any upstanding individual conceivably insinuate that the EU is anything but admirably civic- minded and justice seeking? Its ethical standards apply identically to all, don’t they? According to the gospel from Brussels, Israel bears the blame for the fact that the EU’s in-house red-tape entanglers must now diligently scrutinize postal codes and busy themselves with codifying detailed stringent guidelines obliging members states to clearly and prominently label all products manufactured by Jews in Judea and Samaria (including even negligible assembled components) .
The 28-nation bloc’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, had recently reported to Europe’s foreign ministers that such assiduous tasks are meticulously underway so that a set of guidelines might be “finalized in the near future.”
That means that it would take no more than a few more months before the new parameters had been fully outlined.
The European foreign ministers are chomping at the bit, eager to coerce the Jewish state to do their bidding, the consequences to the Jewish state be damned.
On the same day that they rushed headlong to approve the deal with Iran’s nuke-craving apocalyptic ayatollahs, they also reaffirmed their “commitment to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing EU legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlement products.” This is Brussels-babble for labeling settlement products.
The EU foreign ministers all unanimously and avidly backed the “hit-the- Jew-in-the-pocket” tactic. There wasn’t one saint in Sodom.
The contrast between the EU foreign ministers’ simultaneous attitudes to terror- sponsoring Iran and to the Middle East’s lone democracy couldn’t be more mind-blowing. As the EU paved the way for lifting sanctions off despotic Iran, it sought to tighten its pressure on liberal little Israel.
The European Council on Foreign Relations, an influential EU policy thinktank, argues that the EU is in breach of its own regulations and must get tougher on Israel’s beyond-the-Green-Line waywardness.
Labeling is merely a preliminary move and the Council advocates more painful measures, ones that would impact banking, loans and mortgages, academic degrees and plenty more.
But for now, the EU’s strangulation-regulations require the explicit and prominent labeling of all Jewish-made goods from beyond the Green Line as having originated from “the settlements.” The “settlement” pejorative in politically correct Newspeak applies to Jewish habitation in the cradle of Jewish nationhood, even in much of Jerusalem (where Jews had formed an overwhelming majority already in the early 19th century).
By enlightened European notions, much of the Jewish homeland must remain strictly judenrein – cleansed of Jews.
The 1949 Armistice Line has been elevated to the status of a hallowed international border beyond which all Jewish presence is strictly verboten - never mind that it was an inadvertent line of exhaustion colored in green on maps at the end of Israel’s War of Independence. That war was launched with blusterous genocidal ferocity on day-old Israel by seven synchronized invading Arab armies – just three-years post-Holocaust.
The current European vogue is to denounce any Jewish existence, activity or sign of life beyond that 1949 line as “illegal settlement.” That though, by European parlance, doesn’t amount to a boycott even of Jews who reside where Europe forbids them to. Neither is Europe out to boycott the Jewish state. Heaven forefend.
Europe actually loves Jews.
All Europe desires is to improve the behavior of the Jews and their state.
The EU high-mindedly strives to ensure legality according to strictures singularly stitched to Israel’s measure.
Foremost, stresses Brussels, Europe has no wish to promote boycott. What it does promote is just an exemplary act of public service born of the public-spirited conviction that the public is entitled to be warned off “settlement” imports.
Once these are designated as objectionable, savvy buyers could be counted upon to draw the proper conclusions and shun them. Get it? Rather than a boycott, the EU moves constitute the provision of indispensable consumer information – exactly as in prewar Poland.
It’s chillingly the same sham. The Polish government didn’t officially send thugs to Jewish shops just as organized Europe sends no thugs to supermarkets at its official behest to spy out made-in-Israel produce, toss it to the floor and trash it to the accompaniment of sonorous expletives.
Endek thugs did attack Jewish merchants but the government’s hands were clean. Today’s BDS thugs in some of the most civilized European urban centers attack emporiums selling any made-in-Israel wares (regardless from which side of the Green Line) but such hooliganism cannot be directly tied to the Brussels bureaucracy.
Its hands are as spotless as were Antoni Roman’s. Like him, the EU non-judgmentally urges that the buying public be given a fair choice. Informed consumers can presumably exercise their judgment and independently decide which items to avoid. Everything is quite on the up-and-up.
Big-heartedly, Europe even gives Israel a way out of the benevolent non-boycott, which is more than prewar Poland gave its unfortunate Jewish citizens.
With characteristic goodwill, Brussels makes Israel an offer not to be refused: Israel can avoid non-punishment by restarting peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. The onus is placed exclusively on Israel despite the fact that it was Mahmoud Abbas who broke off contact, ignored such “confidence-building” gestures as a freeze on Jewish construction in the “settlements” and the release of some of the most heinous of convicted mass-murderers.
Likewise, Brussels has developed convenient amnesia about the PA’s rebuff of egregious concessions offered by such past non-Likud prime ministers as Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert. As was in interwar Poland, the Jew is always guilty and challenged to prove otherwise.
Nothing will satisfy Europe apart from compressing Israel back into the 1949 confines, which would leave the insufferable Jewish empire no wider than 9-miles at its center. Europe’s pompous pontificators surely realize that this would put the life of each and every Israeli in grave danger but wouldn’t sate Arab appetites.
Those who today revive the humanistic ardor of interwar Poland must suspect that squeezing six million Jews into the lines Europe loves would eventually render the Jewish state too vulnerable to stay viable. Even an outspoken ultra-dove like Abba Eban pointedly ruled out a return to what he dubbed as the Auschwitz lines. Debunking the Bull, Sarah Honig’s book, was recently published by Gefen.