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Yoram Sheftel: Polish anti-Semitism or Jewish hate?
"We had to dredge pearls of wisdom from that bed of clichés." Yoram Sheftel
In the excerpts below, John Demjanjuk's Israeli defense attorney, Yoram Sheftel, accuses a Polish professor of anti-Semitism, but mentions only two sins that the Polish professor committed in Sheftel's presence the sin of praising the Polish people, and the sin of claiming that Poles helped Jews during the Holocaust.  Sheftel has the Polish professor claiming that most Poles helped Jews, but correcting for possible exaggeration on Sheftel's part, it might be more reasonable to suppose that the Polish professor actually claimed no more than that many Poles helped Jews.

However, it might be hard for some readers to agree with Yoram Sheftel diagnosing this Polish professor as suffering from the mental illness of anti-Semitism.  Rather, some readers might see nothing wrong with a Polish professor praising the Polish people, or indeed with anybody praising the Polish people; and some readers might recognize that many Poles did indeed help Jews, as for example the Polish villagers who sheltered the family of Jerzy Kosinski during the war.  If this Polish professor did evince as much anti-Semitism as Yoram Sheftel claims, then at least we must notice that Yoram Sheftel is curiously inept in demonstrating it to his readers.

But that is not all.  Yoram Sheftel next recites a number of things that he said to this same Polish professor in reply: (1) That the Poles are more anti-Semitic than any other people; (2) that Hitler placed his death camps in Poland because of this Polish anti-Semitism; (3) that only the Catholic church could equal the Polish people in their anti-Semitism; (4) that the idea of Christian conscience was laughable; (5) that German atrocities resulted from the synergistic action of Nazism together with Christianity; and (6) that Catholicism amounted to a "bed of clichés."

Yoram Sheftel describes his encounter with the Polish professor boldly and confidently, with no awareness that everything he says is ignorant and foolish.  Had the Polish professor talked about Jews and Judaism the way Sheftel talks about Poles and Christianity, one might agree that the professor was indeed anti-Semitic.  However, Sheftel does not describe the Polish professor doing any such thing.  The only prejudice and bigotry that Sheftel succeeds in bringing to the reader's attention is his own.

Specifically: (1) Sheftel does not provide us with any evidence that Poles are any more or less anti-Semitic than anyone else, and I have never heard of such evidence.  Furthermore, it would be well for anyone applying the label "anti-Semitic" to indicate whether he means anything more by it than that the target has in some way made himself displeasing to a Jew.  (2) As the Polish people played no role in the Nazi camps, then Hitler's placing the camps in Poland could not have had anything to do with Polish anti-Semitism.  (3) The Christianity that I experienced in my youth never made the slightest allusion to Jews or to Judaism or to Israel, positive or negative, except insofar as some Biblical characters were alluded to.  (4) Sheftel's hypothesis that Christians lack consciences is one that would require some grounding in fact before it could be believed, which Sheftel omits to provide.  (6) Sheftel neglects to indicate whether he believes that all religions are a "bed of clichés," or only Christianity.

To demonstrate the error of Sheftel's identifying Christianity with Nazism, it may suffice to point out that the indictment of the first International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg includes the following charge:

The Nazi conspirators, by promoting beliefs and practices incompatible with Christian teaching, sought to subvert the influence of the Churches over the people and, in particular, over the youth of Germany.  They avowed their aim to eliminate the Christian Churches in Germany and sought to substitute therefor Nazi institutions and Nazi beliefs, and pursued a programme of persecution of priests, clergy and members of monastic orders whom they deemed opposed to their purposes, and confiscated church property.

Thus, as the Nazis viewed Christianity as an obstacle that had to be swept aside before they were able to advance their goals, it might seem to some paradoxical and perplexing and calling for explanation that Sheftel prefers to portray Christianity as an ally of Nazism.

Sheftel's hostility toward Christianity would be somewhat easier to understand if he were able to point to numerous instances of Jewish rabbis risking their lives and the lives of other Jews by hiding Poles or Ukrainians on synagogue property in comparison to which the single instance of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky of Lviv hiding Jews on church property seemed insubstantial.  In fact, however, the magnitude of Andrey Sheptytsky's heroism is nowhere in history reciprocated from the Jewish side.

Of particular relevance to the Ukrainian Archive is the question of what quality of defense Yoram Sheftel was able to provide John Demjanjuk given that Sheftel is capable of such irrational thinking, given that he has such a weak grounding in history, and given his profound hatred of Slavs Poles mainly in the excerpts below with Ukrainians secondary, but Ukrainians as well in other parts of his book.


On 2 March 1990 Nishnic arrived in Israel, and a week later we took a direct flight to Warsaw.  There we immediately contacted an elderly professor, a former editor of various Catholic journals, who was to serve as our interpreter.  We soon discovered that the man was an out-and-out anti-Semite.  The next day we set out with the professor in a dilapidated Polish-made cab to the village of Volka Okgrolnik, about sixty miles from Warsaw.  This was the very route taken, with horrific suffering, by the half-million Jews from the Warsaw ghetto who were sent to Treblinka.  They were packed into cattle trucks without food or water, and tormented endlessly by Ukrainian guards whose job was to shoot anyone who tried to escape the death that awaited them at journey's end.

These thoughts stayed with me throughout our drive.  I fell into a profound gloom, only worsened by the idiocy being spouted by the anti-Semitic professor.  He held forth in praise of the Polish people, most of whom he argued had come to the help of the Jews during the Holocaust.  These lies aroused my argumentative instincts, and I repaid him with interest.  'It was not for nothing that the Nazis built their death camps in Poland,' I told him.  'They did it because there is no other nation so riddled with anti-Semitism as the Poles.  Only your church's hatred of the Jews can compete with the people's.'  (Yoram Sheftel, The Demjanjuk Affair: The Rise and Fall of a Show-Trial, Victor Gollancz, London, p. 290)

Along the way I asked the priest to emphasize to Maria [Dudek] that her Christian conscience required her to agree to testify, since she could save a fellow Christian from being mistakenly hanged.  I chuckled to myself at the use I made of the term 'Christian conscience.'  After all, just half a mile from where I stood a death camp had operated, product of the combination of Nazi regime and the anti-Semitism that Christianity, with its so-called conscience, had fostered for the first 1,900 years of its existence.  But what else could I do?  We needed this elderly provincial Polish priest, so we had to dredge pearls of wisdom from that bed of clichés, the laws of the church he represented.  (Yoram Sheftel, The Demjanjuk Affair: The Rise and Fall of a Show-Trial, Victor Gollancz, London, p. 292)


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