To the editors:
Mr. Hankelsman's letter in the Reader [February 1] serves as an example of how distortion of history and gross generalizations can be used to promote bigotry and prejudice.
In recalling the Chmielnicki pogroms, Mr. Hankelsman doesn't choose to mention that Chmielnicki was a cossack chieftain who led an uprising against Poland, ravaging the countryside and slaughtering thousands of Jews and Poles. In fact the rallying cry of the cossack insurgents was: "Jew-Pole-dog: all of one faith."
Mr. Hankelsman's charge that many Poles helped the Nazis in persecuting the Jews is particularly disturbing. "Many" implies a large segment of the population. This is simply not supported by historical evidence. Dr. Walter Laqueur, a noted historian from Tel Aviv University, writes in The Terrible Secret (Little, Brown and Co., 1980): "In Poland, unlike France and most West European countries, there were no political collaborators. The Germans would find an informant among the criminal classes, but not among the elements of which the underground was constituted" (p. 102). Elsewhere, discussing help which was given the Jews, Professor Laqueur states: "A comparsion with France would be by no means unfavourable for Poland" (p. 117).
Of course there were some people, dregs of society, who betrayed both the Jews and the resistance fighters. Every nation has its share of degenerates and criminals. During the Stalinist era, members of the Home Army who survived the Nazi occupation were tortured and murdered by the hundreds on orders of the Ministry of State Security, whose head, Jakub Berman, and many top functionaries were Jewish. No one in their right mind would consider prepetrators of these atrocities to be representative of Polish Jews. Yet this is exactly the parallel Mr. Hankelsman draws, blaming the whole Polish nation for the actions of a small minority.
Polish American Congress