Friday, February 25, 2011

Jozef Retinger on the "Jewish Question" in Poland 1941

Source: Why We Watched by Theodore S Hamerow page 58-59

Comment: Jozef Retinger was an influential figure in mid 20th century Europe and one of the people who held bring about the European Common Market (see wikipedia ).  Hamerow half quotes and half summarises his views on the "Jewish question" which he rightly sees as representative of a powerful strand of elite thinking at the time.

[Peaceful separation would be mutually advantageous]  This was the view expressed in 1941 by Jozef Retinger, personal secretary to the leader of the Polish government in exile in London, Wladyslaw Sikorski.  Poland had by then been occupied for two years by the armies of the Third Reich.  The Jewish minority had been pauperized and ghettoized; indeed, the initiation of a program of mass extermination was only a few months away.  But in a book dealing with Poland's tragic situation, Retinger remained preoccupied with the problems that his nation had faced before the war and that it would surely have to face again afterward.  Among the most important of these problems was "the largest agglomeration of Jews in Europe."  But not only in Europe: Poland had the highest percentage of Jewish inhabitants of any country in the world.  And that was bound to lead to serious ethnic frictions and hostilities.  "The three and a half million Jews concentrated in Poland give the greater part of the towns and cities a specific character owing to the radically different social structure and powerful separatism of the Jewish inabitants."
Retinger was no racist, no rabid anti-Semite.  He was a typical contrist politician who disapproved not only of the virulent xenophobia of the Polish right-wing extremists.  Yet he, like most moderate statesmen in Eastern Europe, sill believed that there were too many Jews in his country, that most of them were and always would be unassimilable, and that their role in economic life was excessive and detrimental.  "In countries which have a preponderance of agricultural population, the concentration of two-thirds of the Jewish population within the cities and Jewish ownership of two-thirds of trade and one-fourth of industry and handicrafts cannot but lead to perturbations in the economic structure of the State."  And worst of those perturbations was that "the natural explansion of the Gentile population has been inhibited and stopped."

What was to be done?  Retinger had a ready answer, the same as most of the East European political leaders before the war  "The only solution for this burning question is that offered by emigration."  There had in fact been the beginning of a mass exodus of Polsih Jews in the second half of the nineteenth century.  But the economic crises of the interwar period had led everywhere to a closing of the gates to emigrants from the succession states.  And now "the Polish Republic, the Polish nation, and the Jewish community in Poland" had to think of some way to solve the problem.  "New fields for emigration must be found and the necessary capital funds must be mobilised."  The "Jewish question" had ceased to be of importance only to Poland.  "It has assumed an international chracter," Retinger insisted, "and requires the collaboration not only of Jewish circles but also of those countries which still dispose of areas available for immigrant settlement."

No nation could deal with this problem alone; any solution would have to depend on the collaboration of all the nations of Europe - indeed, of the world.  That solution, whatever its nature, was bound to affect profoundly not only the Jews but also all the other nationalities of Eastern Europe: the Poles, Romanians, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Lithuanians, and Latvians.  All of them were waiting anxiously for an answer.

pages 62-63
In September 1936, Colonel Jozef Beck, the minister for foreign affairs in Warsaw, raised the question of Jewish emigration before the League of Nations, demanding that facilities be provided for the annual departure of between 80,000 and 100,000 Jews from Poland.  In response to such demands, a commission was sent the following spring to investigate the possibility of Jewish migration to Madagascar, which was widely regarded as a suitable site for the resettlement of European Jewry, in part because it was so far from Europe.  When the plan was finally abandoned early in 1938, Polish diplomacy began to consider alternatives, some of them rather surprising.  In the fall of that same Year, Jozef Lipski, Warsaw's ambassador to Germany, reported a conversation in which Hitler had said that "he has in mind an idea of settling the Jewish problem by way of emigration to the colonies in accordance with an understanding with Poland, Hungary, and possibly also Rumania."  Lipski's reply was jocular but certainly not dismissive.  "I told him that if he finds such a solution, we will erect .... a beautiful monument [to him] in Warsaw."  There was no reason that even diplomatic opponents should not work together to solve a serious common problem.
Toward the end of 1938, Political Information, the organ of the Polish foreign office, criticized "certain governments" because, though having the means for solving the "Jewish problem," they underestimated its importance.  Those governments should help promote Jewish emigraion from countries like Poland instead of forcing them "to resort to drastic measures."  The Polish ambassador in London, Count Edward Raczynski, was more explicit.  "If nothing was done for the Polish Jews," he warned the British foreign office, "the Polish Government would inevitably be forced to adopt the same kind of policy as the German Government, and indeed to draw closer to that Government in its general policy."  Only the outbreak of war nine months later freed the statesmen in Warsaw fromt he need to decide whether to carry out that threat.

No comments:

Post a Comment