This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Time-Distanced Nostalgia of Despised Exoticism

"One day he woke up in the night and he got the idea of rebuilding a wooden town in Bilgoraj -- with a synagogue in the centre of the market."
"[Kuzminski] is retired and he wants to do something more than just sitting in a chair. The main reason is to leave something for the next generations, to show how Bilgoraj looked before World War II, when Jews, Muslims, Russians and Poles were all mixed together and liked each other."
Kinga Staroniewska, co-ordinator, Bilgoraj XXI Foundation
In Bilgoraj, Poland they're putting finishing touches on this replica of the Wolpa Synagogue.
Credit:   Courtesy of the Bilgoraj XXI Foundation
"This is our history and it has to be remembered whether there are Jews in Bilgoraj or not."
"Without keeping the past in memory, we won't be able to make the future free of past horrors. History likes to repeat itself unless you work to change it."
Marcin Kotas, Warsaw resident, Facebook 

"Before the outbreak of World War II, there was a thriving social and cultural life of Jews in Poland. A well-developed Jewish press circulated newspapers in Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish. There were more than 30 dailies and more than 130 Jewish periodicals. More than fifty percent of all physicians and lawyers in private practice in Poland were Jewish because of the discriminatory laws against civil service. The Jewish population stood at 3.3 million, the second largest Jewish community in the world."
"BILGORAJ, small town in Lublin province, Poland. A Jewish community had been established there by the second half of the 17th century. Many of the Jews perished during the massacres of 1648–49. In 1765 Jewish poll-tax payers in Bilgoraj and the vicinity numbered 661. The Russian prohibition on Jewish settlement of the western border area (see *Russia ) halted the growth of the community until the restriction was rescinded in 1862. The Jewish population numbered 1,637 in 1841; 3,486 in 1897; 3,715 in 1921, and 4,596 in 1931. In interbellum Poland many Jews were employed in the horsehair-weaving industry. The brothers I.J. *Singer and I. Bashevis *Singer , Yiddish writers, were born in Bilgoraj. A Hebrew printing press was established there in 1909 and continued to publish numerous Hebrew and Yiddish books until the Holocaust."
"Holocaust Period It is estimated that over 5,000 Jews lived in Bilgoraj before the outbreak of World War II, constituting more than half the town's population. On Sept. 11, 1939, almost the whole Jewish quarter was set on fire in a heavy bombardment by the German air force. A few days later German troops entered the town and immediately organized anti-Jewish pogroms. On September 29 the German army withdrew, but the occupying Soviet army had to cede the town to the Germans a week later. About 20% of the town's Jewish population left for the Soviet Union together with the retreating Soviet troops. On June 25, 1940, a ghetto was established. In the course of 1941 and 1942 a number of deportations took place; on Nov. 2, 1942 almost all the remaining Jewish population was deported to *Belzec death camp. On Jan. 15, 1943, the last 27 survivors who had remained in hiding were shot. A group of young men organized a small partisan unit which operated in the surrounding forests. The Jewish community was not reestablished after the war."
[Stefan Krakowski]  Jewish Virtual Library

Blood libel slanders, angry peasants drunkenly stirred to violence against shtetl Jews and the regularity of feared Cossack-led pogroms. A fated time in history, of long duration and endless memory when most often neighbours lived side by side in uneasy appreciation of their differences, where Polish Jews lived in poverty alongside their Polish gentile neighbours, and those Jews who managed to acquire some wealth knew enough to shelter their altered status from view, avoiding accusations of having appropriated for themselves what should have been wealth of non-Jews.

Like Jews living anywhere in the world, as a people disentitled and exiled from their land of heritage and cultural-religious birth, the great diaspora saw a huge dispersal and efforts to integrate socially and culturally wherever haven was found, while remaining loyal to Judaism. The former engaged with in difficulty within indigenous populations viewing Jews as 'different' and alien, the latter eliciting contempt and derision, setting Jews aside from the mainstream; interlopers despite centuries of living where they were never accepted.

Poland was one such place. Jews thrived there in their small towns and villages, eking out a living for themselves as small tradesmen, doing their utmost to have good relations with their neighbours. Sometimes reciprocated, often not. After the Nazi occupation of Poland, 90% of the vast Polish Jewish population had been annihilated; approximately three million Polish Jews. Half of the six million European Jews whom the Holocaust had destroyed were Polish Jews.

With that great a population of Jews in the country where over a thousand years there were welcoming times for Jews and disastrously-dangerous times for Jewish life, it is little wonder that Poles, nostalgic for historical times past, including the presence of Jews in daily life, would like to memorialize that recent past. Official Poland renounced anti-Semitism. After the end of World War II, some Polish Jewish survivors attempting to return to their villages discovered their properties in the hands of their neighbours.

Some of the returnees were threatened, some of them were killed in fresh pogroms, and many determined their best course of action would be a long-delayed return to Palestine, which was then Jewish, not Arab. Only later did Arabs living in Palestine co-opt for themselves the identity of "Palestinians" as distinct from Palestinian Jews of history, past and recent. What current residents of Bilgoraj are preserving is the long-gone status of a majority-Jewish population of the town.

Some five thousand Jews had lived in Bilgoraj, representing over 60 percent of its population. Those who survived the war years were the 500 families who had left the town to flee for haven to the Soviet Union in advance of the Nazi occupation. All those who had remained in Bilgoraj were lost in the Holocaust. During the Nazi occupation the Jewish hospital, synagogue and school were all destroyed, with the stones from Jewish cemeteries hauled off to pave the streets with.

To honour the Tatar Muslims who once also lived in Bilgoraj, the retired Polish businessman who is the inspiration for the renewal of Jewish presence in the town, in the total absence of Jews themselves and funding the architectural restoration of the town's once-famous synagogue, plans are advanced to rebuild its mosque. Wooden homes have been built to replicate those that people once lived in before the war. One of which replicates the home of Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Yiddish Polish novelist and Nobel Laureate.

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