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[Page 38 - English]

We, Polish Jews…

(My, Zydzi Polscy)

by Julian Tuwim


To my Mother in Poland
or to her beloved Shadow

[Editor's note: The ellipsis dots that appear throughout this piece appear also in the translation published in An Eternal Light: Brody, in Memoriam.]

…And immediately I can hear the question: “What do you mean – WE?” The question I grant you is natural enough. Jews to whom I am wont to explain that I am a Pole have asked it. So will the Poles, to the overwhelming majority of whom, I am and shall remain a Jew. Here is my answer to both.

I am a Pole because I want to be. It's nobody's business but my own. I certainly have not the slightest intention of rendering account, explaining, or justifying it to anyone. I do not divide Poles into pure-stock Poles and alien-stock Poles. I leave such classification to pure and alien-stock advocates of racialism, to domestic and foreign Nazis. I divide Poles just as I divide Jews and all other nations into the intelligent and the fools, the honest and the dishonest, the brilliant and the dull-witted, the exploited and the exploiters, gentlemen and cads. I also divide Poles into Fascists and anti-Fascists. Neither of these groups is, of course, homogeneous; each shimmers with a variety of hues and shades. But a dividing line certainly does exist, and soon will become quite apparent. Shades may remain, but the color of the dividing line itself will both brighten and deepen to a marked degree.

I can say that in the realm of politics I divide Poles into anti-Semites and anti-Fascists. For Fascism means always anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is the international language of Fascism.

 

2

If, however, it comes to explaining my nationality, or rather my sense of national belonging, then I am a Pole for the most simple, almost primitive reasons. Mostly rational, partly irrational, but devoid of any “mystical” flourishes. To be a Pole is neither an honor nor a glory nor a privilege. It is like breathing. I have not yet met a man who is proud of breathing.

I am a Pole because it was in Poland that I was born and bred, that I grew up and learned; because it was in Poland that I was happy and unhappy; because from exile it is to Poland that I want to return, even though I were promised the joys of paradise elsewhere.

A Pole – because, due to some tender prejudice which I am unable to justify by any logic or reason, I desire after death to be absorbed and dissolved into Polish soil and none other.

A Pole – because I have been told so in Polish in my own paternal home, because since infancy I have been nurtured in the Polish tongue; because my mother taught me Polish songs and Polish rhymes; because when poetry first seized me, it was in Polish words that it burst forth; because what in my life became paramount – poetical creation – would be unthinkable in any other tongue no matter how fluent I might become in it.

A Pole – because it was in Polish that I confessed to the quiverings of my first love, and in Polish that I babbled of its bliss and storm.

A Pole – also because the birch and willow are closer to my heart than palms and citrus trees, and Mickiewicz and Chopin dearer than Shakespeare and Beethoven. Dearer for reasons which again I'd be at a loss to explain.

A Pole – because I have taken over from the Poles quite a few of their national faults. A Pole – because my hatred of Polish Fascists is greater than my hatred of Fascists of other nationalities. And I consider that particular point as a strong mark of my nationality.

Above all, a Pole – because I want to be.

 

3

“All right,” someone will say, “granted you are a Pole. But in that case, why 'we JEWS'?” To which I answer: BECAUSE OF BLOOD. “Then racialism again?” No, not racialism at all. Quite the contrary.

There are two kinds of blood: that inside of veins, and that which spurts from them. The first is the sap of the body, and as such comes under the realm of physiologists. Whoever attributes to this blood any other than biological characteristics and powers will, in consequence, as we have seen, turn towns into smoking ruins, will slaughter millions of people, and at last, as we shall yet see, bring carnage upon his own kin.

The other kind of blood is the same blood but spilled by this gang-leader of international Fascism to testify to the triumph of his gore over mine, the blood of millions of murdered innocents, a blood not hidden in arteries but revealed to the world. Never since the dawn of mankind has there been such a flood of martyr blood, and the blood of Jews (not Jewish blood, mind you) flows in widest and deepest streams. Already its blackening rivulets are flowing together into a tempestuous river. AND IT IS IN THIS NEW JORDAN THAT I BEG TO RECEIVE THE BAPTISM OF BAPTISMS: THE BLOODY, BURNING, MARTYRED BROTHERHOOD OF JEWS.

Take me, my brethren, into that glorious bond of Innocently Shed Blood. To that community, to that church I want to belong from now on.

Let that high rank – the rank of the Jew Doloris Causa – be bestowed upon a Polish poet by the nation which produced him. Not for my merit, for I can claim none in your eyes. I will consider it a promotion and the highest award for those few Polish poems which may survive me and will be connected with the memory of my name – the name of a Polish Jew.

 

4

Upon the armbands which you wore in the ghetto the star of David was painted. I believe in a future Poland in which that star of your armbands will become the highest order bestowed upon the bravest among Polish officers and soldiers. They will wear it proudly upon their breast next to the old Virtuti Militari. There also will be a Cross of the Ghetto – a deeply symbolic name. There will be the Order of the Yellow Patch, denoting more merit than many a present tinsel. And there shall be in Warsaw and in every other Polish city some fragment of the ghetto left standing and preserved in its present form in all its horror of ruin and destruction. We shall surround that monument to the ignominy of our foes and to the glory of our tortured heroes with chains wrought from captured Hitler's guns, and every day we shall twine fresh live flowers into its iron links, so that the memory of the massacred people shall remain forever fresh in the minds of the generations to come, and also as a sign of our undying sorrow for them.

Thus a new monument will be added to the national shrine.

There we will lead our children, and tell them of the most monstrous martyrdom of people known to the history of mankind. And in the center of this monument, its tragedy enhanced by the rebuilt magnificence of the surrounding city, there will burn an eternal fire. Passersby will uncover their heads before it.

And those who are Christians will cross themselves.

Thus it will be with pride, mournful pride, that we shall count ourselves of that glorious rank which will outshine all others – the rank of the Polish Jew, we who by miracle or by chance have remained alive. With pride? Let us rather say: with contrition and gnawing shame. For it was bestowed upon us for the sake of your torment, your glory, Redeemers!

…And so perhaps I should not say “we Polish Jews,” but “we ghosts, we shadows of our slaughtered brethren, the Polish Jews.”…

 

5

We Polish Jews …We, everliving, who have perished in the ghettos and camps, and we ghosts who, from across seas and oceans, will some day return to the homeland and haunt the ruins in our unscarred bodies and our wretched, presumably spared souls.

We, the truth of the graves, and we, the illusion of living; we, millions of corpses and we, a few, perhaps a score of thousands of quasi non-corpses; we, that boundless brotherly tomb; we, a Jewish burial ground such as was never seen before and will never be seen again.

We, suffocated in gas-chambers and turned into soap – a soap that will not wash clean the stains of our blood nor the stigma of the sin the world has perpetrated upon us.

We, whose brains spattered upon the walls of our miserable dwellings and the walls under which we were stood for mass execution solely because we were Jews.

We, the Golgotha upon which an endless forest of crosses could be raised. We, who two thousand years ago gave humanity a Son of Man slaughtered by the Roman Empire, and this one innocent death was enough to make Him God. What religion will arise from millions of deaths, tortures, degradations and arms stretched wide in the last agony of despair?

We Abies, we Kikes, We Sheenies [translator's note: the original here consists of a string of names and nicknames for Jews which were common in Polish] whose names and nick-names will some day exceed in dignity those of Achilles, Boleslaus the Brave, and Richard Coeur-de-Lion.

We, once more in the catacombs, in the manholes under Warsaw pavements, splashing in the stink of sewers to the surprise of our companions – the rats.

We, rifle in hand upon barricades, amidst the ruins of our homes bombed from the sky above; we – soldiers of honor and freedom.

“Kike, go and fight!” [Translator's note: In the original: “Jojne, idz na wojne!” – “Jonah, go to war!” – a well-known Polish rhyme which mocks the Jews for their lack of military aptitude.] He did, Gentlemen, and laid down his life for Poland.

We, who made a fortress of every threshold while house after house crashed about us.

We, Polish Jews growing wild in forests, feeding our terrified children on roots and grass; we crawling, crouching, bedraggled and unkempt, armed with an antique shotgun obtained by some miraculous feat of begging and bribing.

“Have you heard the one about the Jewish game-keeper? It's a riot. The Jew fired; and by golly if he didn't wet his pants from fright! Ha! Ha!”

We, Jobs, we Niobes, mourning the loss of hundreds of thousands of our Jewish Urszulkas. [Translator's note: Urszulka – the daughter of the famous Polish poet Jan Kochanowski (1530-1584) who died in her youth. Her father's collection of elegies upon her death Treny (1580 – “Dirges”) is very famous in the literary and cultural traditions of Poland. In the original English translation, “Jewish Urszulkas” was rendered as “little ones”.

We, deep pits of broken, crushed bones and twisted, welted bodies.

We – the scream of pain! A scream so shrill that the most distant ages shall hear it. We – the Lament, the Howl, we – the Choir chanting a sepulchral El Male Rachamim whose echo will be passed from one century to the next.

We – history's most glorious heap of bloody manure with which we have fertilized the Polish soil so that the bread of freedom may be sweeter for those who will survive us.

We, the macabre remnants, we – the last of the Mohicans, the pitiful survivors of slaughter whom some new Barnum may well exhibit throughout the world, proclaiming upon multicolored billboards: “Super Show! The biggest sensation of the World! Genuine Polish Jews. Alive!” We, the Chamber of Horrors, Schreckenskammer, Chambre des Tortures! “Nervous persons better leave the audience!”

We, who sit and weep upon the shores of distant rivers, as once we sat on the banks of the rivers of Babylon. All over the world does Rachel bewail her children, and they are no more. On the banks of the Hudson, of the Thames, of the Euphrates and the Nile, of the Ganges and Jordan we wander, scattered and forlorn, crying: “Vistula! Vistula! Vistula! Mother of ours! Grey Vistula turned rosy not with the rosiness of dawn but that of blood!”

We, who will not even find the graves of our mothers and children, so deep are the layers, so widely spread all over the country in one huge burial ground. There will be no one sacred plot upon which to lay our flowers; but even as a sower sows grain so shall we fling them in a wide gesture. And one, maybe, will find the spot.

We, Polish Jews …We, the legend dripping with tears and blood. A legend, perhaps, fit only to be told in Biblical verses: “graven with an iron pen and read in the rock forever” (Job 19. 24). We – the Apocalyptical stage of history. We – Jeremiah's Lamentations:

…“The young and the old lie on the ground in the streets: my virgins and my young men are fallen by the sword; thou hast slain them in the day of thine anger; thou hast killed, and not pitied.”…

…“They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me. Waters flowed over my head, then I said, I am cut off! …I called upon thy name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon …O Lord, thou hast seen my wrong: Judge thou my cause …Render unto them a recompense, O Lord, according to the work of their hands! Give them sorrow of heart, thy curse unto them. Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the Lord!” (Jeremiah, 25. 14; Lamentations, 3. 55-66).

* * *

A huge and still growing ghost-skeleton looms over Europe. From his empty eyesockets blazes the fire of dangerous wrath, and his fingers are clutched in a bony fist. It is He – our Leader, our Dictator who shall dictate our rights and our demands.

Translated by Mrs. R. Langer, first published in Free World, New York, July 1944.

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