Our Shared History

Grzeg Chmielnik Syn. 2.jpg

It’s not only Jewish history or Polish history, no, it’s for us together.


My friend Grzegorz Jędrek who works at Brama Grodzka* in Lublin said this, paraphrasing the Brama Grodzka credo, in the Mission Video that some of you received in my last newsletter. How timely this sentiment is given the recent uproar regarding the proposed amendment to the Act of National Remembrance in Poland that would ban speech implying the Polish nation is complicit in crimes committed during World War II.


Brama Grodzka-Teatr NN, and all the other wonderful partners I have in Poland are dedicated to opening up lines of communication, not shutting them down. It is through education, dialogue and sometimes difficult conversations that understanding is built.


This has been a hard week. People have dug deeper into their trenches populated by like-minded associates. On Facebook groups I see many expressions of hatred towards Poland. Luckily there are defenders too; those who see that no country’s people can possible be just one thing. Anti-Polish stereotypes are not true across the board any more than anti-Jewish stereotypes were or are.


Sometimes, when I bring up the good work that my friends in Poland are doing to try and show that things are not black and white, people remind me of anti-Semitism, of szmalcowniks**, and of Jedwabne, the town where non-Jews rounded the Jews up into a barn and burned them alive during World War II. Yes, I know about these things. I am not a Pollyanna who thinks that all non-Jewish Poles were rescuers. Though Bridge To Poland chooses to focus on the light, I see the shadow and do not shy away from it. It is after all part of the conversation in the Jewish Polish landscape. And I am aware of the problem of the pendulum swinging in the direction of Nationalism. I live in America after all.


But I don’t believe that the answer to these truths is to close myself off in a little world surrounded by people who have had my experiences. Nor do I think that making laws limiting speech is the answer. Only by looking into each other’s eyes and respectfully discussing the hard questions will bridges be built. So let us remember:


It’s not only Jewish history or Polish history, no, it’s for us together.


*Brama Grodzka Teatr-NN is an organization in Lublin, Poland with whom Bridge To Poland works very closely. It’s Founder and Director, Tomek Pietrasiewicz and Deputy Director Witek Dąbrowski are partners and close personal friends. Brama Grodzka is an integral part of every Bridge To Poland trip. It’s where the hope and the healing lie.

**Szmalcowniks (pronounced Shmaltzovniks)—Those who denounced or blackmailed Jews during World War II.