Irish prosecutor looks at the Shoah

Born in 1960. Irish Catholic, wife, five children.
Graduate of College of William and Mary, second oldest institution of higher education after Harvard. PhD in law at Chicago Law School. He was involved as a prosecutor in the now legendary investigation against the Gambino family.

When in 2006 wiretapping of American citizens by the NSA was disclosed, he threatened to step down from the position of Deputy Attorney General unless the case was investigated. Rumour has it that on the desk in his study he keeps a framed copy of the FBI request to wiretap Martin Luther King – “as a reminder of the bureau’s capacity to do wrong.”


His speech at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington provoked enormous controversy in Poland. Listening to the statements of some politicians, one gets the impression that they would gladly see Polish Navy forces landing in Manhattan and laying siege there.

However, has the FBI director – one of the most important people in the Obama administration – really consciously accused Poles and Hungarians of responsibility for the Holocaust?

One thing is beyond any doubt – Director Comey does not know much about the Holocaust. And he could really use some of that knowledge.

In his speech, he asked the question: how was it possible that people like him, people who went to church and gave to charity, who were loving husbands and fathers, could do something like that? The only thing he can think of is a form of collective madness that others followed. This – in my opinion – is the most serious of his mistakes.

The concept of a nation that followed a handful of lunatics was wildly criticised and contested in Germany back in the seventies. They expressed that view explicitly – we are responsible as a nation. Do contemporary Germans think alike – well, that is different matter.

Next, Comey’s vision of the Holocaust starts resembling “a promising case”, as some investigators might say. Murderers of Germany, and after that – accomplices of Poland, Hungary and many other countries.

True, mentioning the Shoah, Germans, Hungarians and Poles in the same breath, and then referring to “many others” in that rather vaguely worded sentence could provoke some negative reactions. But were they proportional to the magnitude of Comey’s mistake?

Poles are not responsible for the Holocaust. Just as Poland is not an anti-Semitic country.
But just as we did indeed have (and still do) anti-Semites in Poland, there were also those who, in the prosecutorial sense, became “accomplices” – even though they did not kill any Jew personally. Their involvement in the killing earned them benefits such as a litre of spirit, some sugar, or, in the worst case, the clothes of the murdered victims.

There were others, actively involved; the Arrow Cross Party in Hungary, Hlinkova Garda in Slovakia, The Ustaše, Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union (šauliai), the Iron Guard, or the Pétain police. There was even the Polish “blue” police, we now know quite a lot about the role they played on the peripheries of the Shoah. And, in my opinion, it is irrelevant that they did not have a mandate to operate from Polish government, unlike in Hungary, Slovakia and France.

In fact, it is worse – the former State Police, whose task was to protect the citizens against lawlessness, spontaneously took to hunting Jews – fellow citizens. And not just the Jews. The Ulma family, Righteous Among the Nations whose fate is often mentioned, were betrayed and given to the Germans by none other than a “blue” policeman.
“Please accept as a fact that the overwhelming majority of the country is anti-Semitic […]. The only difference is the tactical conduct […]. Anti-Semitism is now a widespread attitude.”

This is not an excerpt from Comey’s speech. These are the words of General Grot-Rowecki. How do we respond to them today?

It is true that the Director could use one more visit to the Holocaust Museum. A study trip to Poland would probably not hurt him, either. But let us think for a moment – perhaps before we begin to fill the gaps in the education of others, we should take a look at our own history.

Sine ira et studio (without anger and without fondness).

I will conclude with a poem.
One that has accompanied me for a long time – and not many have, I am ashamed to admit. It was written by Zuzanna Ginczanka (Gincburg). She wrote these lines before her death. Betrayed and given to the Germans by the landlady with whom she was staying. One of those “accomplices of Poland”.

Non omnis moriar. My grand estate—
Tablecloth meadows, invincible wardrobe castles,
Acres of bedsheets, finely woven linens,
And dresses, colorful dresses—will survive me.
I leave no heirs.
So let your hands rummage through Jewish things,
You, Chomin’s wife from Lvov, you mother of a volksdeutscher.
May these things be useful to you and yours,
For, dear ones, I leave no name, no song.
I am thinking of you, as you, when the Schupo came,
Thought of me, in fact reminded them about me.
So let my friends break out holiday goblets,
Celebrate my wake and their wealth:
Kilims and tapestries, bowls, candlesticks.
Let them drink all night and at daybreak
Begin their search for gemstones and gold
In sofas, mattresses, blankets and rugs.
Oh how the work will burn in their hands!
Clumps of horsehair, bunches of sea hay,
Clouds of fresh down from pillows and quilts,
Glued on by my blood, will turn their arms into wings,
Transfigure the birds of prey into angels.

translated from the Polish by Nancy Kassell and Anita Safran