Is an Anti-Semite Overseeing the Holocaust Museum?
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It's estimated that almost 3 million Jews living in Poland were killed by the Germans during World War II. But that wasn't the end of their ordeal. After the war, the murders of Jews continued, committed not by Germans, but by Polish nationalists who shot, stoned and beat them to death.
In Marek Jan Chodakiewicz's view, this killing of Jewish survivors returning to their homeland probably wasn't anti-Semitism. In his opinion, many Jews did things, such as collaborating with Soviet Communists who occupied eastern Poland at the start of the war, that provoked the violence. Chodakiewicz argues that Jews were more likely to kill Poles after World War II than vice versa.
These are not views shared widely outside of Chodakiewicz's native Poland, where much anger has been generated in recent years over scholarly dissections of Christian anti-Semitism. Many historians see these opinions as a minimizing of the Holocaust and, in particular, the violent anti-Semitism of many Polish Catholics.
Chodakiewicz (pronounced hod-a-KAY-vich) is no obscure ideologue writing on an Internet hate site, but a history professor and member of the oversight board of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., appointed by President George W. Bush in 2005. The museum has been visited by more than 28 million people since it opened in 1993. In June, long-time neo-Nazi James von Brunn shot and killed security guard Stephen T. Johns at the museum's entrance.
Chodakiewicz, a naturalized U.S. citizen, is a prominent voice in his native Poland. He is an ardent defender of his homeland who has repeatedly maintained that scholarly and other accounts of his countrymen killing Jews in anti-Semitic pogroms or massacres during and after the war are exaggerated or untrue. Sure, Jews were killed by Polish Christians, he says, but not usually out of ethnic hatred. The Jews were communists. The killers were bandits. Or they acted in self-defense or for other reasons. Much of what Chodakiewicz has written and said about the treatment of Jews by Poles has appeared in far-right Polish publications and has escaped notice in the United States. His term on the museum board is coming to an end in January, but his tenure at the highly regarded institution will be a feather in his academic cap for years to come.
Chodakiewicz, who describes himself as "a Christian conservative of Polish ancestry," has written favorably about Francisco Franco, the late anti-Communist dictator known for his brutal suppression of the Spanish left. He is an admirer of the late shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, an autocratic leader who criticized American Jews for "controlling" U.S. media and finance. He sees gay rights as a threat to society, has linked President Barack Obama to communists and domestic terrorists, and is a voluble critic of what he sees as Western "political correctness."
But it is Poles' killing of Jews during and after the war, and Poland's image as a result, that commands much of Chodakiewicz's attention. "You have to remember that in the West, the Holocaust is considered the worst crime in the modern history of the world," Chodakiewicz wrote this June in a conservative Polish newspaper, Rzeczpospolita ( The Republic ). Therefore, the accusation that Christian Polish peasants killed Jews "puts contemporary Poland in a terrible spot." Research on Polish-Jewish relations was left to post-communist historians and scholars who carelessly repeat theses heard in the West, Chodakiewicz complained. "In the best-case scenario, they dare to softly argue with the extreme Western opinions."
What's needed, he maintained, are more historians with the guts to buck what he claims is political correctness that stifles open discourse. "Many historians don't know a lot about the Polish-Jewish relations," he wrote. "Some others prefer to be silent in order not to be in any trouble, not to create any controversies or — God forbid! — accusations of anti-Semitism."