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Where are all the Jews, anyway?

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The observant may notice whilst sightseeing in the Kazimierz district of Krakow that the Jewish population has, by and large, disappeared. ‘Aha!’, you might say, ‘I know what happened. The Holocaust.’ Yes, you would be partly correct. The majority of Polish Jews died during World War Two. But not all of them.
 
During the post-war years there were approximately 40,000 Polish Jews resident in this country. However, and here comes the information that you can’t find in tourist brochures or most Polish history books, they were deported to Israel in 1968 by the Polish government. Let me repeat that. The surviving Jews in Poland were expelled by Poles in 1968.
 
Not long ago, right? Of course, they may now be thanking their lucky stars for being deported to a country with sunshine, palm trees and nice beaches, but it can’t have seemed too amusing at the time. Today smirking minibus drivers take guileless tourists on memorial trips to Auschwitz, What the tourists don’t know is that only a few kilometres from Krakow city centre the street corner graffiti reads ‘Anty-Jude’ or ‘Jebac Zydow’, ‘Fuck the Jews’. It’s a little ironic that now Poles profit from the tourist interest in the ‘quaint, preserved Jewish quarter’, as my guidebook describes the Kazimierz.
 
I can’t help but notice because as a foreigner myself I am only too aware of the general hostility towards outsiders. Having had comparatively recent success in getting rid of disliked neighbours many Poles see themselves as going from strength to strength. You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist of course, and the obvious next step is to purge your society of Zionists. Of course, anyone could be a Zionist, the neighbour you don’t like who just bought a new car, (scratch when he’s not looking), or even your mother-in-law. Catholic radio here advises the population that foreigners are immoral. It could be true. I’ve read Playboy and... I enjoyed it. There, I said it. 
 
While I’m on the subject of putting the record straight I should also briefly mention the events of 1938. I’m thinking of the armed occupation of an area of one country by a neighbouring aggressor. No, it’s not the German occupation of Poland. It’s the Polish occupation of Teschen in Czechoslovakia in October 1938. Taking advantage of the unstable political situation in Europe the Poles took the opportunity to invade Czechoslovakia. But, as someone said to me recently, it was only a small invasion, not really worth remembering...until the next time. In 1968, Warsaw Pact, largely Polish, troops were back in Czechoslovakia, this time in Prague. You’ve just got to keep your eye on them, I suppose. I’m beginning to understand why the Chinese built such a big wall.
 
But, it’s a good method of altering history. If you don’t like something, just neglect to write it in the history books. As visitors to Wawel Castle will observe when perusing the historical timeline offered to tourists, there seem to have been no Mongols in Poland. Genghis Khan was probably a figure from fairytales and the whole subject is simply not worthy of comment. I know it’s not worthy of comment from personal experience. Try raising the subject of the Mongol invasions with a group of Poles and observe their reaction. The fact that Krakow was destroyed by a Mongol army in 1241 has been overlooked. An easy mistake to make! The question remains though, how did so many Poles come to have an Asiatic appearance? Genetic testing could provide the answer. It would be interesting to know how many of todays xenophobic population have genes which would betray Asiatic or Middle Eastern descent.
 
It’s odd that a country composed of such a mish-mash of cultures and identities should strive for a stereotype of perfection. Charles Darwin would be shocked to discover that the high point of evolution has been reached by a man in a bizarre Highland costume, clutching a can of lager in one hand and singing loudly out of tune. Not so different from Britain, really.
 
Peter Fairless
 
Peter Fairless is a foreigner in proud Poland.
Peter can be reached at fairless_peter@yahoo.com

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