February 6

"Bootsteps on the Camps"

From the world's media:

Polish President Andrzej Duda signed Poland's controversial new Holocaust bill late Tuesday ahead of it being assessed by the country's Constitutional Tribunal.

The law would make it illegal to accuse the nation of complicity in crimes committed by Nazi Germany, including the Holocaust.

The bill, which passed with 57 votes to 23 (with two abstentions) early Thursday morning, also bans the use of terms such as "Polish death camps" in relation to camps such as Auschwitz, which were located in Nazi-occupied Poland.

The legislation criminalizes any mention of Poles “being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich.” The harshest penalties are reserved for those who refer to Nazi-era concentration camps such as Auschwitz as “Polish death camps.”

Scenario 1

You are sitting on a bus minding your own business, and a man comes over to you and tells you to move, you can't sit here, there are rules about where you can sit, and you are breaking them. What do you do?

a) You move - this I call "passive complicity"

b) You take the man's advice and become the advocate to the other "rule-breakers", encouraging them to move as well, helping them to do so - this I call "collaboration in one's own victimhood".

c) You say "My name is Rosa Parks and I ain't moving" - this the whole world calls heroism, and quite rightly, because it is also the most personally dangerous.

Scenario 2

You are sitting in your stibl in Praszka, and a man in a black uniform with swastika armbands tells you to move, you are being deported to the Lodz Ghetto. What do you do?

a) You get on the train ("passive complicity")

b) You become a senior member of the Judenrat, like my great-great uncle Bernard Prasquier, and help out with the organisation and running of the ghetto ("collaboration in your own victimhood")

c) It’s Warsaw not Lodz, and you become a senior member of Lochamei ha Getaot, like my cousin YakubPraszkier, who died in the Uprising (the "Rosa Parks" option)

Always three options for the victims.

But what about the perpetrators?

Scenario 3

A gang of youths approaches you in the school playground, their leader making clear he wants your lunch.

Phase a: You give him your lunch. And the next day. And the next... ("passive complicity")

Phase b: By the fourth day he is telling you what he wants for lunch and you are getting your mother to shop accordingly, while spending what little pocket money you have on a secret second lunch which you eat in the toilet during lessons so that nobody will know ("collaborating in your own victimhood")

Phase c: The gang-leader no longer wants your lunch; he wants your obedience, and for you to do his dirty work for him. And the dirty work in question is that kid over there's lunch from now on, and you to ensure he gets it. So you go over to the kid, and you tell him to hand over his lunch, and he takes option 3, the Rosa Parks resistance-refusal option. But the gang are watching, so you slap him. He starts to run, so you trip him. You drag him upright and punch him, hard in the stomach. The gang are smiling approvingly. You take his lunch from him and head back to the gang, but in the moment of reaching into his bag everything changed: the gang has vanished, and what is standing there is the school Principal, the teacher on duty in the playground, and two student witnesses. They have the whole thing filmed on CCTV. The police and your parents are being summoned. Expect to be suspended, at the very least. You did what you did. Forced or unforced, you did what you did ("Polish death camps")

On March 26th 1963, the American world featherweight champion boxer Davey Moore died from injuries sustained in a fight. Bob Dylan lamented his death in a ballad, which I have borrowed to offer my own lament to the Polish President and Parliament:

Listen to Dylan signing "Who Killed Davey Moore" here
Or read his original lyric here
The full text of the original of "Cock Robin" can be found at the end of this blog

"Who Killed Six Million Jews - I guess it must have been Cock Robin"

Who Killed Six Million Jews?
Not I, says the ex-Nazi
Don’t point your finger at me
They made me join the Hitler Youth
That’s the Gott-in-Himmel truth
They made me learn to shoot a gun
They’d have shot me if I tried to run
It’s too bad what happened to the Jews
But me or them, I had to choose
It wasn’t me who had the Fall
You can’t blame me at all
Who Killed Six Million Jews?
I guess it must have been Cock Robin

Who Killed Six Million Jews?
Not us, say the Catholics
We only carry out Holy Writ
Easter Sunday, pogrom time
But this comes down from God on high
You killed Jesus, you must pay
That’s what the Holy Scriptures say
Get in your ghettoes, may you rot
You and Judas Iscariot
You’re the ones who had the Fall
So you can’t blame us at all
Who Killed Six Million Jews?
I guess it must have been Cock Robin

Who Killed Six Million Jews?
Not me, says the Parliamentarian
With his new-passed law code in his hand
You look at my country all askance
You forget about the Resistance
And there were Poles who rescued Jews -
Well not that many, that is true -
But in their name, our dignity
We’re decent Poles, we’re not Nazis
It wasn’t us who built the camps
Who set the fire in those eternal lamps
We’re doing this to heal our pain
And to redeem our good people’s name
It wasn’t us who made the Fall
You can’t blame us at all
Who Killed Six Million Jews?
I guess it must have been Cock Robin

Who Killed Six Million Jews?
Not us, says the President
Signing the Law of National Innocence
We were bullied just like you
This was what they made us do
Our pride, our honour, all of it, lost
Making us host the Holocaust
It wasn’t us who built the ramps
You can’t call them Polish Death Camps
Who Killed Six Million Jews?
I guess it must have been Cock Robin

Who Killed Six Million Jews?
Not me, says the retired camp chief
Whose questioning was rather brief
Who never went to Nuremburg
To get what surely he deserved
Just doing my job, you stupid fools
Obeying orders, following rules
And the dead in the camps weren’t only Jews
And we had heroes, martyrs too
The western front murdered my dad
And my brother died at Stalingrad
Who Killed Six Million Jews?
I guess it must have been Cock Robin

Who Killed Six Million Jews?
Not me? asks the man in the street
Ashamed of his grandparents’ defeat
Ashamed in the world to be a Pole
With all that trauma in his soul
I need redemption, I need cure
But this law’s not what I’m looking for
Let’s face up, let’s admit,
We chose to do the things we did
Passive complicity, that’s the phrase
And it can never be erased
Truth and Reconciliation - that’s our need
Accept the facts, make that our creed
Accept that what we did was wrong
Deal with it, and then move on
Who Killed Six Million Jews?
We did, that’s who. We did.

illustration courtesy of Carolyn Trant and Parvenu Press

"Who killed Cock Robin?" "I," said the Sparrow,
"With my bow and arrow, I killed Cock Robin."
"Who saw him die?" "I," said the Fly,
"With my little eye, I saw him die."
"Who caught his blood?" "I," said the Fish,
"With my little dish, I caught his blood."
"Who'll make the shroud?" "I," said the Beetle,
"With my thread and needle, I'll make the shroud."
"Who'll dig his grave?" "I," said the Owl,
"With my pick and shovel, I'll dig his grave."
"Who'll be the parson?" "I," said the Rook,
"With my little book, I'll be the parson."
"Who'll be the clerk?" "I," said the Lark,
"If it's not in the dark, I'll be the clerk."
"Who'll carry the link?" "I," said the Linnet,
"I'll fetch it in a minute, I'll carry the link."
"Who'll be chief mourner?" "I," said the Dove,
"I mourn for my love, I'll be chief mourner."
"Who'll carry the coffin?" "I," said the Kite,
"If it's not through the night, I'll carry the coffin."
"Who'll bear the pall? "We," said the Wren,
"Both the cock and the hen, we'll bear the pall."
"Who'll sing a psalm?" "I," said the Thrush,
"As she sat on a bush, I'll sing a psalm."
"Who'll toll the bell?" "I," said the bull,
"Because I can pull, I'll toll the bell."
All the birds of the air fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,
When they heard the bell toll for poor Cock Robin.

1 comment:

  1. Thursday June 28th 2016: 1am and unable to sleep (no change there), I opened Reuters on my i-Phone: headline "Polish U-turn on Holocaust law", and on the BBC, CNN, Russia Today, al-Jazeera, after which I stopped checking and just posted the BBC article to Facebook, with: "You see! If enough people put their heads above the parapet and shout 'it’s wrong!', you can make them change it. Proud to have been one of them." Now, with this, even more couldn't sleep!