Another of the issues which I’ve come to realize Gentile readers may see much differently than Jewish readers, thanks to certain well-meaning comments from critique partners, is the whole issue of many Shoah survivors’ fear, paranoia, avoidance, hatred, etc., towards the German people, and, to at least an equal degree, the Polish and Hungarian collaborators and bystanders.
First off, a recurring theme in many survivors’ memoirs, interviews, and testimonies is a fear, hatred, paranoia, etc., of Germany and all things German. We’re not talking about people who lived among ordinary Germans and therefore understood not everyone was a Nazi or silent collaborator. We’re talking about people whose first and only experience with the German language and German people was in ghettoes and camps. They associated that with terror, fear, and Death.
Perhaps decades later, some of them might’ve developed a more nuanced, complex understanding, but in the immediate aftermath of the war, it doesn’t make a lick of sense for the typical non-German survivor to have any positive things to say about the German people. At most, they might wish more Germans had been like the precious few righteous souls they encountered, like a political prisoner who befriended them, or someone who provided shelter after an escape.
Many survivors have also said they hold no ill will towards the younger generations. They’re innocents. It’s the older Germans they remain fearful and suspicious of. Many refused to return to Germany, buy German products, or live near German immigrants.
Many Polish survivors have mentioned never really considering Poland their homeland. According to the 1931 census, 79% of Polish Jews reported Yiddish was their first language. Only 12% spoke Polish as their first language, and the remaining 8% spoke Hebrew. While a growing number of young, modern, upwardly-mobile people (esp. in the big cities) had begun using Polish names and speaking the native language, a vast majority still spoke only Yiddish, had shtetl names (like Feige, Moishe, Avrumie, Gitl, and Shternie), wore pre-modern clothes, and essentially didn’t do anything to blend into the wider society.
I’m truly sorry Yiddish has become a dying language, but it really didn’t do people any favors to keep using Yiddish exclusively and ignoring the language of their host countries. However, I understand why so many people shunned learning Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, and Lithuanian. Interfaith relations weren’t exactly good, and there were so many barriers standing in the way of higher education, jobs, housing, etc.
More than a few people returned to Poland after the liberation, and remained there for the rest of their lives, but many more got the hell out of there. They were greeted with suspicion, annoyance, and hostility, like how dare they survive or return. The most famous example of continuing postwar anti-Semitism was a pogrom in Kielce in 1946. More information on this topic can be found in Jan T. Gross’s excellent book Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz. Typically, far-right Polish historical revisionists attack all his books as Polonophobic lies, when all he’s doing is reporting established facts. History, like science, only cares about the truth, not your delicate feelings and nationalist pride.
Keep in mind, I like Polish literature, culture, history, cuisine, and language! There’s nothing Polonophobic about owning up to the less than positive aspects of Polish history. It doesn’t negate how many Poles have been honored as Righteous Among the Nations, nor does it assume every single Pole throughout history was an anti-Semite.
The situation was similar yet different in Hungary. Due to the 19th century policy of Magyarization, very few Hungarian Jews spoke Yiddish by the time of WWII, and there were only a small number of officially-approved Magyarized versions of Hebrew names. Hungarian Jews spoke Hungarian, had Hungarian names, went to public schools, dressed in Hungarian clothes, had good relationships with their Gentile neighbors, you name it. They considered themselves fully-integrated parts of society. It was therefore a huge shock when these lifelong friends and neighbors turned on them so swiftly after the Nazi invasion in March 1944.
Ghettoization took place in April and May, and from mid-May to early July, 437,402 people were deported from the countryside. Budapest was relatively safer, though many Budapestis died in the ghetto or were murdered by the Arrow Cross. The Hungarian gendarmes, NOT the Nazis, were the ones who enacted anti-Semitic laws, forced people into ghettoes, and carried out deportation. The Nazis only took control when the trains reached Košice, Slovakia.
Many people came home to hostility, avoidance, denial, and dismissal. Strangers were living in their houses, and many people refused to give back their belongings. Some people were lucky enough to regain possessions, and even to find their old homes abandoned, but that wasn’t most people’s experience. Many survivors also reported their former friends and neighbors lining the streets and cheering as they were marched to the train stations.
This wasn’t a world of “Kumbaya.” This bitterness, anger, fear, hostility, and suspicion were more than justified. There’s a reason many people could never forgive and forget. It wasn’t so simple as telling a survivor, “Well, many Germans were anti-Nazi” or “Not all Poles and Hungarians were anti-Semites.”