In Poland Again
I had long hesitated to return for a visit to Poland, though it is the land of my birth and that of my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. In fact, my Polish-Jewish lineage probably extends as far back as the 16th or 17th century, before the acquisition by Poland’s Jews of family names. Naturally my information about this earlier period is very sketchy. What I do know for sure is that both my mother’s and my father’s families were neither wealthy nor destitute. They owned small stores and village mills and ran pubs for Polish landowners; my father had a modest lumberyard. Nor did either branch of my family produce any illustrious rabbis. Ordinary devout Jews, they were faithful followers of the Galician hasidic rebbe of Belz.
I left Poland at the age of sixteen, in 1946, a year after the end of the war (but before the Communists had taken over), and only several weeks after the July 4 pogrom in Kielce in which 42 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust were murdered. As time went on, my Polish remained fluent, and I became a teacher of Slavic literatures. I thus had good professional grounds for a return visit, but never made one, partly because of specifically Jewish qualms, and partly for political reasons. For decades I had been periodically attacked in the Soviet press (and occasionally also in Eastern Europe) as a “reactionary warmonger” whose “pseudo-scholarly” writings—to say nothing of broadcasts over the Voice of America and Radio Liberty—were a “quasi-academic dimension of nefarious activities of the CIA and the Pentagon.” I even had an unofficial “biographer” in Moscow who systematically recorded my evil activities.
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