Agnieszka Pufelska

Die ‘Judäo-Kommune’. Ein Feindbild in Polen. Das polnische Selbstverständnis im Schatten des Antisemitismus 1939-1948
[‘Zydokomuna’ (Judeao-communism as an image of the enemy in Poland. Polish self-understanding in the shadow of antisemitism 1939-1948]. Paderborn: Schöningh, 2007. 284 pp., 8 illus.

In her revised dissertation, Agnieszka Pufelska (Frankfurt/Oder) examines the role for Polish self-understanding and identity of the concept of zydokomuna (Judaeo-communism), the image of the Jewish communist as an enemy of Poland. The time frame here under focus is the decade of German and Soviet occupation of Poland from 1939 to 1948. In the study, consisting of three parts and 11 chapters, the author, a specialist on cultural studies, makes clear that she views the concept of zydokomuna as (1) a ‘counter-image to the Polish nation’ which had already crystallized before September 1939. She also regards the concept (2) as a ‘counter-image to the Polish war victims,’ as this relates to the years of war and occupation. And with an eye to the immediate postwar period, she sees in the concept (3) a ‘counter-image to Polish anti-communism and communism.’

The author stresses that the widespread animosity in Poland towards the Jews during this period played a decisive role in shaping the relation of the Poles to the Jews. The study thus also provides a critical encounter and debate with previous literature on the topic (see, for example, pp. 68ff., 87f., 94, 104, 129, 200, 250). To date by contrast, Polish historiography has been virtually unanimous in contesting this connection, instead downplaying Polish antisemitism in the years of occupation as a marginal phenomenon of little real import: research and publicists in Poland had previously pointed out that anti-Jewish views and actions among the rightist and nationalist Polish resistance groups sprang from a politically grounded desire for freedom, their rejection of communism and engagement in defending Polish independence. In this view, actions against Jews were to be seen as a kind of collateral damage. Moreover, Jews also bore some responsibility for this, since many of them had been communists, and an even greater number of them sympathized with the aims of Soviet policy and had acted to help make those aims a reality, to the detriment of the Poles.

Against the backdrop of the anti-Jewish ‘image of the enemy’ which was a dominant factor in the Polish relation to the Jews, Pufelska considers these other motives to be of secondary importance. In her study, she does not simply limit herself to describing the open animosity toward the Jews among the ranks of the nationalist right and the national-Catholic groupings. Rather, in her analysis of the standpoint of the Armia Krajowa, for example, she develops a new assessment of their statements, summing up the situation in 1943/44 (i.e. after the Nazi Judeocide in Poland) as follows:

    Jewish refugees, who were considered part of an ‘alien element’ and were lumped together with former German prisoners and diverse sorts of so-called ‘asocial elements,’ thus were no longer members of society. […] The future of the ethnic Poles and the success of their resistance depended on the exclusion of the Jewish refugees. One can see how the reduction of the fate of the Jewish refugees to their purported sympathy for communism helped contribute to the justification of their desolate situation, the ignoring of Jewish suffering and even to denying that the Jewish resistance had any honorable motives. They became communist enemies and alien elements. Not because they were alive but because they had survived, or tried to survive (130).

When Pufelska shows that anti-Jewish views provided a compass for the actions of the National Democrats and broad segments of the democratic center, linked to the AK, the Peasant parties and the successor organizations of the Sanacja should, I think, also be added to this list. She correctly stresses the important role of these views, after their ‘nationalistic’ turn, for the communists of the Polish Workers’ Party (PPR) that was established in 1942.

Pufelska concludes that a ‘self-constructed conception […] the notion that the Jews were especially susceptible to communism, had for decades fulfilled the function of a world view that created and anchored identity, providing “orientation” in the past and present for the Polish nation’ (251 ff.). The author repeatedly refers to the consequences in the politics of memory of a distorted history of Polish-Jewish relations that has remained unexamined over decades. Thus, she deplores the fact that ‘a memory of victimhood […] has supplanted historical remembrance, opening wide the door to myth-making and the instrumental manipulation of historiography.’ Pufelska argues that down to today, this leads to a situation where ‘historical science permits itself to be drawn into a politically oriented culture of memory, no longer asking itself the scientific questions that extend and point beyond this’ (247).

Pufelska’s study thus discusses anew the topic of the so-called ‘unequal victims,’ while making use of new materials. In the main, she utilizes two genres of source materials: relevant materials from organizations involved at the time, stored today in six Polish archives and in the Federal Archive in Berlin, along with publications of the official and illegal press. The author does not specifically explain why she has selected these sources and not others.

One basic criticism of this book is that the author attributes a far too narrow and confining importance to politics and ideology. As a result, religious, social and economic causes of antisemitism with a long previous history remain unexamined. There is also no attempt to explain why and how the political slogan zydokomuna was able to establish itself in Poland occupied by the Central Powers after the Bolshevik revolution in the Russian Empire. After all, at the time most Polish territory was de iure still part of Russia. There is unfortunately as yet no study on the genesis and history of this political and propagandistic catchphrase. We can see from the literature that already on 11 November 1917, the paper of the Peasants Party Piast, in a report from Russia, stated that there ‘a struggle for peace was taking place. So-called Bolsheviks, i.e., Jews of various socialist views,’ were fighting against the government of Kerensky, which had taken power in the February Revolution. Piast added that ‘these socialist Jews, known by the appellation “Bolsheviks”, are inciting the class struggle.’ In 1918/19, the Bolsheviks were considered in the press to be Russian communist revolutionaries who ‘with the help of Jews and Germans, had taken over power in Russia.’

The competition between the various nationalisms during the interwar period and the conflict between the efforts by the Warsaw governments for homogenization and the attempts by (part of) the Jewish minority in Poland to promote cultural and linguistic dissociation should have been given more attention in the framework of this study. Pufelska’s strict theoretical distinction between the Polish zydokomuna image of the enemy, postulated for the war years, on the one hand and the stereotype, the prejudicial figure of thought on the other (21, 104) remains methodologically unconvincing, especially since it was not until the war period that the prejudice against the Jews shifted into the overarching ‘image of the Jew as enemy.’ That image generally included all Jews everywhere, encompassing those in the English-speaking countries. Given the Polish communist propaganda anchored in the politics of history, its tactical opposition to antisemitism should have been addressed here.

In regard to the source materials utilized by the author, what is missing, aside from several influential organs of the underground press, is a pamphlet of 1940 widely discussed in the Polish underground: ‘Przyszla Polska – panstwem narodowym’ [The future Poland—a Polish national state]. It was claimed here, among other things, that the German occupiers treated the Jewish population better than the Poles. The demand was raised that in future Jews should be barred from Polish citizenship. In order to move them toward mass emigration after the war, it was suggested that they should ‘be exposed to correspondingly hard living conditions. Then by themselves they will try to find some other place in the world to go to.’ As far as is known, only a few papers oriented to Social Democracy (Wolnosc, WRN) expressed opposition to this view, while the rightwing Szaniec applauded the idea.

In this connection, it would have been useful to work out the specific features in Polish discourse on a special affinity of the Jews toward communism, with an eye to the international (or at least East European) dimension of the debate, as has already been done by Gabriele Eschenazi, Gabriele Nissim and André Gerrits.

It appears questionable that the author permits herself to make statements about the image of the enemy she here investigates in a period when this concept ‘still did not at all exist’ (25). How can this be some sort of phenomenon ‘hundreds of years old’ (14)? It should be noted that the Polish Communist Party (KPP) was known down to 1925 as the Communist Workers’ Party of Poland (KPRP, 48). Among other corrections: the Office for News and Propaganda (BIP) of the AK was not the ‘main military headquarters of the AK’ but rather the central office of the AK, located in Warsaw, which dealt with information and dissemination of news. Grodno at the time can hardly be termed a ‘small locality’ (79). Ethnic Poles who assisted Jews were not always sentenced to death after their discovery by the German authorities (187). Among the awkward linguistic turns in the study is the stilted and unwieldy translation of the concept zydokomuna, which does not do proper justice to the concept as a catchword. Better are the terms already present in the German literature, such as ‘Judenkommune’ (similar to ‘Judaeo-Communism’ in English). ‘Sielce’ refers to the Russian Sel’cy on the Oka (172), were the Army under the Polish communists’ control had its training camp in 1943/44. One of the illustrations (cartoons) in the book’s appendix (261) recently appeared in a journal.

Although Pufelska’s analysis is not fully convincing in methodological and argumentative terms, she highlights acute points of critique and raises important questions which Polish historiography of contemporary history in the coming years must address if it wishes to free itself from the burden of false legends and myths.

Klaus-Peter Friedrich, Marburg
Translated from the German by Bill Templer

1See on this also Agnieszka Pufelska, ‘“Judäo-Kommune” und “jüdischer Bolschewismus”. Zwei Feindbilder – ein Feind. Die Instrumentalisierung des polnischen Feindbildes von der “Judäo-Kommune” unter der deutschen Besatzung während des Zweiten Weltkriegs’, in: Silke Flegel and Frank Hoffmann, eds., Barrieren, die man durchschreiten kann, wenn man das Geschick dazu hat. Grenzmarken und Grenzgänge im Europa des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, Hamburg: Lit Verlag, 2006, pp. 103-128.

2See also Agnieszka Pufelska, ‘Das Feindbild “Judäo-Kommune” als Kraftquell für den polnischen Kampf gegen den Kommunismus. Zur Konstruktion des Jüdischen im Nachkriegspolen’, in: Klaus Hödl, ed., Der ‘virtuelle Jude’. Konstruktionen des Jüdischen, Innsbruck / Vienna: Studienverlag, 2005, pp. 41-52.

3See Yisrael Gutman and Shmuel Krakowski, Unequal Victims. Poles and Jews during World War Two, New York: Holocaust Library, 1986.

4Here another work should have been consulted: Michal Musielak, Nazizm w interpretacji polskiej mysli politycznej okresu miedzywojennego, Poznan: Wydawnictwo Poznanskie, 1997.

5In regard to religion, a work not considered here is Viktoria Pollmann, Untermieter im christlichen Haus. Die Kirche und die ‘jüdische Frage’ in Polen anhand der Bistumspresse der Metropolie Krakau 1926-1939, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2001.

6Such a derivation is also lacking in Pufelska’s article: ‘Die Konstruktion des Feindbildes der “Judäo-Kommune” im Polen der Zwischenkriegszeit’, in: Juliette Wedl et al., eds., Selbstbilder – Fremdbilder – Nationenbilder, Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2007, pp. 45-62.

7But see the approach in Klaus-Peter Friedrich: ‘Von der zydokomuna zur Lösung einer “jüdischen Frage” durch Auswanderung: Die politische Instrumentalisierung ethnischer und kultureller Differenzen in Polen 1917/18 bis 1939’, in: Dittmar Dahlmann and Anke Hilbrenner, eds., Zwischen großen Erwartungen und bösem Erwachen. Juden, Politik und Antisemitismus in Ost- und Südosteuropa 1918-1945, Paderborn: Schöningh 2007, pp. 53-77; on developments during the Polish-Soviet War, see also Stephanie Zloch: ‘Nationsbildung und Feinderklärung: “Jüdischer Bolschewismus” und der polnisch-sowjetische Krieg 1919/1920’, in: Jahrbuch des Simon-Dubnow-Instituts 4, 2005, pp. 279-302.

8Quoted in: Irena Kaminska-Szmaj: Judzi, zohydza, ze czci odziera. Jezyk propagandy politycznej w prasie 1919-1923, Wroclaw: Towarzystwo Przyjaciól Polonistyki Wroclawskiej, 1994, p. 149.

9Ibid., p. 152.

10See Klaus-Peter Friedrich: Der nationalsozialistische Judenmord und das polnisch-jüdische Verhältnis im Diskurs der polnischen Untergrundpresse (1942-1944), Marburg: Herder-Institut 2006, pp. 161-183.

11L. Podolski: Przyszla Polska – panstwem narodowym, n.p., n.d. [1940]. Behind the pseudonym L. Podolski was the anthropologist and politician Karol Stojanowski (1895-1947). He had broken in 1926 with Pilsudski’s camp and gravitated to the National Party (Stronnictwo Narodowe, SN). From 1935 on, he was on the district executive committee of the SN in Poznan. In 1941 he became editor of the underground paper Der nationalsozialistische Judenmord und das polnisch-jüdische Verhältnis im Diskurs der polnischen Untergrundpresse Panstwo Narodowe [The Polish National State].

12‘[…] jesli sie zydom stworzy w Polsce powojennej odpowiednio ciezkie warunki, to oni sami postaraja sie o miejsce dla siebie na swiecie.’

13See WRN 20 April-3 May 1941, pp. 4f.; Wolnosc, 17 May 1941, No. 26 (110); Wolnosc. WRN, 2, No. 15, October 1941; Szaniec, 16-31 May 1941, No.12 (61).

14See Gabriele Eschenazi and Gabriele Nissim: Ebrei invisibili. I sopravvissuti dell’Europa orientale dal comunismo a oggi, Milan: Mondadori 1995; André Gerrits, ‘Antisemitism and Anti-Communism: The Myth of “Judeo-Communism” in Eastern Europe’, in: East European Jewish Affairs 25 (1995), No. 1, pp. 49-72.

15Better are the terms already present in the German literature, such as ‘Judenkommune’ (similar to ‘Judeo-Communism’ in English).

16See Klaus-Peter Friedrich, ‘The Murder of the Jews by the Nazis as Perceived in the Polish Press’, 1942-1947, in: Yad Vashem Studies, No. 34 (2006), pp. 125-176 (ill. before p. 171).