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Do Polish Kids Hate Jews?

A student survey about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising reflects the country’s new nuanced approach to the past

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A high-school student holds pictures of vestiges of Jewish monuments on Nov. 2, 2011, in Konskie. Volunteers from the Forum for Dialogue Among Nations hold meetings and workshops aimed at discovering the lost Jewish heritage. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images)

During the week of April 19, 2013, the Institute for Public Opinion Research (Instytut Badania Opinii Homo Homini) in Poland released the results from a survey administered to 1,250 Polish middle-school students. The survey focused on students’ “historical understanding” about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, a striking moment of resistance staged by Polish Jews against their Nazi occupiers 70 years ago.

The survey results, which were released amidst a commemorative week in Poland that involved the opening of the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, conferences, memorials, and TV programs about the uprising and other aspects of the Jewish experience in Poland during World War II, have been reported in the Jewish and Polish media and also in the New York Times. What followed has been a public outcry over what seems like a return to the days of Polish anti-Semitism in a country where only a handful of Jews now live.

The report states, in no uncertain terms, that Polish student “historical understanding [about the uprising] is weak.” Specifically, 44 percent of Polish students surveyed believe that Poles and Jews suffered equally during the war. An equal number said they would be disappointed if a Jewish neighbor moved next door—and 60 percent would be disappointed if they found out their significant other were Jewish. In addition, students ranked the Warsaw Ghetto uprising as “only” the seventh most important in a long list of Polish uprisings, a finding that survey analysts believed demonstrated that Polish students did not value the contribution of the Ghetto uprising to Warsaw history.

At first glance this seems awful. But the truth is that asking high-school students to rank relative degrees of historical suffering in a period they know very little about is hardly a good gauge of anti-Semitism. Nor do the personal preferences of high-school students about Jewish neighbors or sexual partners seem to be all that relevant, in a country that is overwhelmingly Catholic and where Jews are largely an abstraction. Second, and this seems worth underscoring: In a nation that is 99 percent Catholic, where Jewish history was swept under the rug for decades, Polish youth placed the Warsaw Ghetto uprising among the top 10 most “momentous events” (doniosle wydarzenie) in Polish history.

Among the findings brushed over by the authors of this survey were that 55 percent of these same children identified the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising by name. In addition, 70 percent of them chose the correct date of the uprising. These two findings signal yet another triumph of Polish student understanding about the Jewish experience in the face of obfuscation, anti-Semitism, and misrepresentation of the Jewish experience in textbooks and family stories. (In this context, it seems fair to wonder how many American or Israeli high-school students would respond correctly to either question.)

I make these points for an important set of reasons. First, while adults are quick to jump to conclusions about the youth of today, all too often it is the adults who are asking the wrong questions. Children today are historicized in many ways; they get their information about the past in the same ways they get their information about popular culture: through the Internet, films, and Facebook. In my own research with 200 Polish students across the nation, I find overwhelmingly that students want to—but are struggling to—understand the Jewish experience during World War II in the face of resistant parents or misrepresentations in the media. The more questions I ask of these Polish young people the more consistently they demonstrate baseline knowledge about the Jews, however flawed, and the more consistently do they demonstrate a curiosity about the Jewish past.

Historical understanding is a nuanced approach to a past event that must involve an entire community’s willingness to participate in that past. It is not Polish children who don’t understand the past; it is Polish society that must rise up to meet their curiosity.


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Pole says:

And the same goes for Jews, when it comes to Poland. Ignorance is not a one way road.

    meirmoses says:

    Many Jews do know about the suffering of the Poles – and the many righteous Poles as well – but it touches on the deeply, deeply uncomfortable relationship between Jews and Poles before during and immediately after the war until the final political purges of the political and academic echelon of Jews (“Zionists’) from Poland in the late 60s. If Poles suffered – and that they did – then the Jews bore the brunt from from both sides. They were caught like rats in a trap. Between Communism and Nazism, between love of Poland and their suffering at the hands of their neighbours.

      Pole says:

      Yes that’s right. Jews faced many Polish criminals during the war. Today we have 90.000 Poles in custody and back then it was all much worse. German occupation was an anarchic “survival of the fittest” period, and Jews were the “weakest”. But nevertheless one mustn’t forget the big picture. Holocaust was not about being killed by a Polish anti semite. It was part of

        meirmoses says:

        Agreed – there is a lot of misinformation. For example: Many Israelis are convinced the Dutch were good during the war – but this is not really true. They confuse the Dutch and the Danes. If you ever go to Yad Vashem you will see that by far the most of the ‘righteous gentiles’ are Polish.

          disqus_Pb5yBxXpB8 says:

          Duuuuh. The vast majority of Jews lived among the Poles. I would certainly hope that the righteous gentiles were at least proportionate to their friends’ and neighbors’ numbers.

          4trooth says:

          You forget that Poles were also targeted for annihilation and they faced a penalty of immediate death for helping Jews in any way, while in other countries the penalty was fine or imprisonment. (Duuuuh.) Also the numbers of righteous does not match the actual numbers that helped save Jews. Often the saved Jews had no idea of who and how many were involved in helping the helpers. In addition research on this in Poland was thwarted as the Communists had no intentions of allowing positive things to be revealed about the non Communist underground. Irena Sendler was persecuted by the Communist authorities as a member of the Polish underground, as were Mr. Bartoszewski and countless others. Witold Pilecki was actually executed by the Communists, as were countless others.

Ewa Wierzynska says:

You make excellent points Magdalena. As to the Polish society rising up to meet the educational needs of the youth, I wish, I knew how that can be accomplished, except for those of us who believe in education, to keep trying. I would like to think that The Jan Karski Unfinished Mission program ( that I have been running for the last two years from the Polish History Museum is also making a difference. Karski’s powerful and nuanced but never didactic testimony possesses an unusual power to open young Polish and non-Polish minds.,7340,L-3342999,00.html

We mustn’t forget that some of greatest murderers of modern times were Jewish

And us, the Jews? An Israeli student finishes high school without ever hearing the name “Genrikh Yagoda,” the greatest Jewish murderer of the 20th Century, the GPU’s deputy commander and the founder and commander of the NKVD. Yagoda diligently implemented Stalin’s collectivization orders and is responsible for the deaths of at least 10 million people. His Jewish deputies established and managed the Gulag system. After Stalin no longer viewed him favorably, Yagoda was demoted and executed, and was replaced as chief hangman in 1936 by Yezhov, the “bloodthirsty dwarf.”

    Saw this cock roach on the street yesterday. I was going to step on it but then I thought, kill this creature and a guy like Daniel Galloti lives. It doesn’t seem fair.

    meirmoses says:

    Again with this bullshit. This is the kind of rubbish neo-nazis love to spout. These Soviet brutes – let’s call them murderers – might have been born as Jews but their actions were not motivated by the fact that they were Jews or inspired by Judaism. They were Stalinist Communists who rejected their religion and their background – do you not understand this? They happily sent Jews, Whites, Poles, ‘Agitators’ – anyone – to their deaths. Their philosophy was Stalinism, not Judaism.

    It can be also said about Poles and any other nations like Russians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Ukrainians, Romanians, Slovakians, Croatians, Serbians, Belgians, Frenchmen, and many others. There is even one Austian mass murderer who is too often overlooked by the Austrians. So what? Does it help? What is your agenda here? So maybe you will tell us what was Feliks Dzierżyński doing in his life?

    Bei Gezunt says:

    I don’t even know I am replying to such an obvious troll, but by your argument, all Christians should be held collectively accountable for the crimes of Stalin, which is not only offensive, but also absurd.

      4trooth says:

      I think the point Gallotti is making is that Jews, just like EVERYBODY ELSE, had murderers amongst them, and if they are to point fingers at others they should acknowledge their own faults. Hypocrisy is a fault, as well.

4trooth says:

The tone of this article is still one-sided as the same accusations can be made against Jewish youth who show no respect at the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising commemorations, Marches of the living, etc. which has been documented in the press. While in Poland soccer hooligans (who fight with POLISH police and each other, who are comparable to low life gang members in other countries, and commit crimes such as destruction of POLISH property and assaults at and after games) engage in anti-Semitic behaviour, in Israel it is TENNIS FANS, in addition to soccer fans who engage in anti Polish behaviour. This is due to the misinformation regarding the Holocaust taught in Israel and Jewish schools around the world and in the amateurish and biased western media. Please see articles on comments in Israel when an Israeli soccer player considered playing for Poland, or when the Polish tennis team with Agnieszka Radwanska played the Israeli team in Israel. See the movie shtetl and observe the behavour of the Israeli students therein towards the Polish individual involved in saving Jewish tombstones. How many Poles live in Israel? The emphasis on anti-Semitism without Jews in Poland is hypocritical. What about anti Polish hatred in Israel, which has no Poles.
In regards to the survey, the questions and interpretations of the answers are ridiculous. 3 million Polish Jews and 3 million ethnic Poles and 3 million other Jews perished in WW II at the hands of the German Nazis. The interpretation that the belief of Poles that their suffering was equal or close to the suffering of the Jews is rooted in anti-Semitism is silly. People simply feel their own pain more than they feel the pain of others. That is human nature and applies to Jews who quite openly display an astounding lack of knowledge of the suffering of the Polish people. I would not attack Jews for being more sensitive to their own suffering, as some well known Jews, such as Alan Dershowitz, attack Poles for being more sensitive to their suffering. For mothers and fathers, it is no consolation that their children who were murdered were only part of a group of 3 million, and not six million. Both numbers are huge and unimaginable. All too often, Jewish leaders, as Dershowitz, to name just one, approach the suffering in WW II as a numbers game, and not a human tragedy of hellish proportions for millions of HUMAN BEINGS.

    meirmoses says:

    Israel has many Poles – though they no longer carry Polish passports. The last major wave of Poles arrived in the late 60s as a result of the nationalist/communist purge of ‘Jewish/Zionist’ academics, politicians and soldiers under Gomulka. These people – and of course the survivors of the war – basically knew that Poland was a deeply anti-semitic society. This is simply a fact. Are all Poles anti-semites? No. I know many, many great Polish people – some of whom have married Jews. But the fact is that Polish society disliked and marginalised its Jewish population – and this was not forgotten.

      Pole says:

      The Polish society did not “dislike and marginalise” Jews. That’s not true. Jews were Polish guests for centuries, and their culture flourished thx to Poland and its society. Problems started when Poland lost it’s independence in 1795. Russia and Prussia began to “divide et impera”. Poles became slaves in their own former lands and Jews weren’t sure what to do. Some Jews tried to fight for Polish independece together with Poles and some Jews started to give crap about Poland and preferred this Just imagine a Polish minority in Israel which gives crap about Israeli independence or even fights against it….

        Michael_Rabens says:

        There’s the whole problem in a nutshell: “Jews were Polish guests for centuries.” Too many Poles felt (and still feel) that the Jews who lived there for centuries were merely guests in THEIR country, not legitimate citizens. And it was not only the Poles who felt this way in Europe …

          Pole says:

          Because this is how Jews WANTED TO BE treated by Poles. Jews usually did not want to assimilate and become “Poles”. Jews mostly wanted to be left alone in their communities and Poles respected it. Poles did not force them to anything (Germans for example forced Jews to wear German surnames). Treating Jews like guests was a sign of tolerance not anti semitism and it resulted in a great unspoilt Jewish culture. One should also not forget that many Jews fled to Poland in the 18-19th century from Russia. It is all very complicated.

          Michael_Rabens says:

          How about neighbors? Neighbors who were there by right, and not by sufferance? Neighbors who were not automatically presumed to be legally inferior, just because they were different? Neighbors who were not excluded by laws of “non tolerandis judaeis” granted to the Polish cities (like Warsaw) in the Renaissance, etc., etc. … Neighbors who were treated as equals – that’s not the way it was; that’s the way it should have been. Tolerance for “guests” implies a superior group deigning to grant something to their inferiors – that’s fine for pre-modern mindsets, but not for today’s.

          Pole says:

          Neighbors sounds good.

          And BTW, let’s not overstate the inequality between Jews and Christians. Jews were usually the middle class. They worked for Polish nobility and were usually far superior than (Ukrainian, Polish, Belarsuuia, Lithuanian) peasants.

          Michael_Rabens says:

          And by the way, let’s not generalize about relative socio-economic conditions over a period of several centuries. You yourself said the situation is complex. My point is that “tolerance” is not the automatic virtue it is sometimes assumed to be, and “guests” are inherently viewed as temporary, not permanent, members of the community. And, alas, neighbors do not always have neighborly relations …

          Pole says:


          disqus_Pb5yBxXpB8 says:

          get a grip. Your optimistic view is a bit skewed. Most Jews were peasants.

          Pole says:

          It’s too complex to explain, sorry…..

          4trooth says:

          Jews were certainly not treated any worse than Christian peasants and I would have to verify this, but, I don’t believe it is true that most Jews were peasants. Christian peasants were indentured slaves to the Christian nobility, Jews were not. Most Jews were administrators, merchants or craftsmen and positioned higher than the peasants. Can you tell me where you got your information? No need to tell Poles to get a grip.

          Actually, most German-sounding surnames were derived from Yiddish, which is a Germanic language spoken by Jews in Eastern Europe. However, especially in the 18th/19th Century, with the rise of the State as a political rather than the ethnic entity, Jews certainly did want to be Poles, as shown by the rise of Jewish Polish nationalists like Berek Joselewicz (of “Jak Berek pod Kockiem” fame).

          Pole says:

          No they weren’t derived from Yiddish. That’s a myth. After 1795 when Poland lost its independence Germans and Austrians forced Polish Jews to wear (german sounding) surnames. And you are absolutely right, many Jews wanted to assimilate. Many were great Polish patriots

          disqus_Pb5yBxXpB8 says:

          How about “citizen”? Everyone maintains his own family culture, not just Jews. While Jewish traditions may seem more extreme than some other, more mainstream cultural activities, I’m sure that there were other groups equally as reclusive in some fashion. The Jews didn’t completely tuck themselves away. They were involved in commerce, in education, and no doubt in other activities which permitted interactions. How else would so many Polish Jews speak fluent Polish (like my grandparents)?

          There are very powerful & convincing experiments showing that humans have evolved to demonstrate strong loyalties to groups with which they identify – “us”. The use of the term “guest” really does smack of condescension and ultimately is a source of demarcating “us” against “them” which is the source of a tremendous amount of bias.

          4trooth says:

          The word “guest” in Polish does not imply inferiority. There is a Polish saying “Gosc w domu, Bog w domu” which translates into “a guest in the home is like having God in the home.”

          4trooth says:

          Poles were also not legitimate citizens in their “occupied” country for centuries. You ignore the fact that Poles were repressed, and were even prohibited from speaking their own language at times under their occupiers. When Poland was it’s own country, Poland compared more favorably than other countries in how the Jews were treated, and Jews were certainly not treated any worse than their own christian peasants and I would have to verify this, but, I don’t believe it is true that most Jews were peasants, as one of the posters writes. Christian peasants were indentured slaves to the nobility, Jews were not. Most Jews were administrators, merchants or craftsmen and positioned higher than the peasants.

      4trooth says:

      I am making a distinction between ethnic Poles and Polish Jews while you are referring to Polish citizens. There are very FEW ethnic Poles in Israel, yet there is a discernible anti Polish undercurrent that is discernible in these posts and in Israel. I disagree with your assessment of Poland as a deeply anti-Semitic country. Poland is no more anti-Semitic as Israel is anti Polish. Poland is no more anti-Semitic as all other countries including the US. In fact, I believe you are expressing anti Polish bigotry with such a generalized statement which is NOT factual and you would have a hard time proving. The polls given are poorly written and poorly interpreted and are far from proving anything as fact. How many Poles do you actually KNOW, besides the ones you consider great? what percent of the overall population do they actually constitute? Stop with the accusations that in and of themselves generate only negativity.

Haim Beliak says:

Warm appreciation for Ms. Gross’ precision in raising the right questions pertaining to the flawed study from the Institute for Public Opinion Research. Ms Gross provides nuanced and contextualized understanding of the results while questioning the meaninglessness of some of the questions. Some Polish young people are indeed struggling to understand the facts of their history and the Jewish minority that once inhabited Poland. Jews are in such small numbers in current Poland that they are a mere abstraction.
Thoughtful readers of the survey results will ask for parallel in depth knowledge about Poles and Polish history from Jewish youth visiting Poland. The anticipated ignorance may reach similar levels for Israeli/Jewish youth.

The survey should be used to address the field of educational challenges that Polish and Israeli/Jewish youth face in trying to understand the past.

In fact, normally you build teaching museums such as the Museum of the History of Polish Jews to address problems and educate a new generation. You fund programs like Brama (Gate) Grotzke in Lublin and Forum for Dialogue Among the Nations to train teachers and prepare seminars for a new audience.

disqus_Pb5yBxXpB8 says:

No matter how you dress it up, there is still tremendous impulse in the Polish culture to malign Jews. My wife & daughter were in Poland recently for a wedding. As they were strolling down the street, they stopped at a peddler’s cart to view his wares. He had lovely antisemitic cartoon postcards prominently on display, unselfconsciously selling what his customers wanted to purchase.

Conversely, when I met my Polish mother-in-law (here in the US), I asked her if she happened to know the town where my family is from. She waxed wildly enthusiastic, informing me that it was right next to her home town, that as a little girl the Catholic kids of her village often played with the Jews of my family’s. While there is some value to observing overall cultural values, there is a lot to be said for individual contributions to attitudes of tolerance & inclusiveness. I wish I knew how to make the better values more contagious.

    Pole says:

    “Antisemitic cartoon postcards” ? That’s not allowed in Poland.

      Erik says:

      Wow, Jews get upset over the most stupidest things such as cartoon postcards? Get a grip!

    4trooth says:

    There is still a tremendous impulse in the Jewish culture to malign Poles. Anything Poles do or say is perceived as anti-Semitic, even when it is innocent. Individual instances of kindness towards Jews is treated as an exception to the rule,while true instances of anti-Semitism is extended as characteristic of every Pole that ever existed. Let us also not forget the instances of false accusations, or “mistakes” such as the misquote in the January 2005 Jerusalem Post article by David Horovitz “Our Own Worst Enemy”several years ago where a sentence in a January 10, 2005 Guardian article “out of the 6,500 SS members who worked at Auschwitz and survived the war only 750 were ever put on trial and most of them were prosecuted BY THE POLES, was misquoted as “out of the 6,500 SS guards who worked at Auschwitz and survived the war only 750 were ever put on trial and most of them were POLES.” There was never a correction! There were NO Polish SS guards at Auschwitz! The Polish Catholic heroine Irena Sendler, maiden name Krzyzanowska, who, as a member of the Polish underground, and with the help of the Polish Catholic church, saved 2,500 Jewish children, is now being described on Jewish blogs as “German”. The Holocaust Museum in Washington DC did not list the Polish victims amongst the victims of Auschwitz for years, although the Poles were the second largest group, and to this day Mr. Rothmann, the last I checked relatively recently, of the Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles, still refuses to list the symbol worn by the Polish inmates at Auschwitz, although all the others are listed. A Ms Fanya Heller in a 2005 NY Jewish Week article “Poles should not seen as victims of the German Nazis” wrote that Poles eagerly gave up their Jewish neighbors in the town of Skala to the Germans although her earlier memoirs spoke of the Ukrainians doing this, while Poles were depicted in these earlier memoirs as actually helping Jews. Debbie Schlussel, a relatively mainstream US journalist of Jewish background, on her blog, has actually accused Poles, not Germans, of killing the six million Jews during the Holocaust, with no mention of the 3 million ethnic Poles killed by the Germans. The bottom line is -it does not matter what Poles do, or did. German concentration camps are still being called “Polish” in Jewish publications although this is offensively misleading. There are Jews who hate Poles and will diminish Polish suffering and heroism, and falsely accuse Poles of perpetrating crimes committed by members of other groups. Then there will be other Jews who hate Poles because they were fed false information. This has to be looked at seriously by Jews, because most Poles are very well aware of this false portrayal of Poles during WW II. You don’t think this has anything to do with the results of some of the surveys?

Erik says:

Really, I think Jews should leave Poland while they can.. They should also be sent out of Ukraine. We don’t need them and they don’t need us. They continue to blame the holocaust on us Ukrainians, and Poles also get the blame. While I praise the late Kaczynski for his work, it is the Jews themselves that still think we are responsible for the holocaust – This alone brings about anti-semitic hatred because the Jews start it.

Researcher says:

I’ve been reading a lot of articles interpreting the results of the Institute for Public Opinion Research’s survey but, for the life of me, I cannot find the actual survey. Does anyone know/have a link to where this survey data is published?

hmmmm only ignorant and without knowlege of history some ( brainless Poles) do like and accept what jews did to Poland and Poles espacially when the soviets came to Poland jews were laughing at my grandads face saying that ”ur precious Poland lost forever” with a jewish smile on his face :S why they were so happy that those who risked their lives to protect human being (jews not human for me) are know taken over the communists which were jewsih revolt i hate jews coz i know history of my country i only gave one example for intrested poeple read book like judeo-polonia or who did rusification in Poland .

I lived in Poland for a long time. Dated several Polish men. I am in my mid-20s. The issue of my Jewish heritage did come up and I was surprised it did not seem to bother any of the Polish men I dated. Some of them even claimed they had Jewish heritage. Though, I think this is romanticism on their part. On the other hand, I have dated various other groups in Europe, Scandinavian, German and Swiss and while I would not describe their reactions to my revealed Jewish heritage as anti-Semitic, I did get a sense that many of them felt uncomfortable about my background once they knew of it.

I must say, as a Jew, I do think it is extremely unfair the way Poles have been betrayed. Yes, there were anti-Semitic Poles, but there are also plenty of other anti-Semites (ones in my own country) U.S.A. and yet these people are never really focused on. It is usually the Poles and the Ukrainians we all seem to be on a witch hunt. I too, used to have my own prejudices against the Poles until I went to live amongst them. I never experienced an incident of anti-Semitism once.

To say Polish Society was anti-Semitic is rather ignorant. But, whatever. To deny there was no anti-Semitism in Poland whatsoever is also rather ignorant.

Anti-Semitism has occurred in every country where large Jewish populations have lived. That is just a fact of being Jewish, unfortunately.

However, in history, Poland and the Poles actually treated the Jews very fairly compared to other countries.

Why did so many Jews from France and Germany flee to Poland during the Middle Ages? Because the Polish king welcomed them. They lived and flourished in Poland for 1000 years.

So many Polish-American Jews are ignorant of their history. Most things which encompass Ashkenazi culture can be traced to Poland and was developed in Poland. The idea of naming your child after a deceased relative comes from the Poles.

There is even legend and strong evidence that Poland had a Jewish queen, Esterka. Look her up.

The Jews did serve in the Polish army during the 18th-century when they fought against the Russians and Prussians.

I don’t have enough room, but I can go on and on about the patriotic Polish Jews and their contributions to Polish culture the last 1,000 years and the contribution Polish culture gave to European Jewish culture.

It is very sad to see some Jews who hold such hatred, animosity and outright prejudice against Poles. It is also hurtful to see Poles make nasty comments about Jews.

And the saddest thing is that this division only seems to have happened during WWII and during the Holocaust.

Isn’t it interesting that the German people are rarely ever held accountable for these crimes? I have gotten the attitude from many historians and from Jews themselves that the Germans were a civilized people who were forced into Nazism, while the Poles on the other hand, well they are just downright evil. How is that fair?

When we had an Israeli prime-minister proudly saying Poles drink anti-Semitism from their mother’s milk, how do you expect Polish people to respond? I would be afraid that such sentiments from Jews would make people anti-Semitic.

Would he suggest my best friend who is half ethnically Polish (on her mother’s side) and half ethnically Jewish on her father’s side drank anti-Semitism from her mother’s milk? Such statements are offensive and embarrassing.

This article was thoughtful and I praise Ms. Gross.

The comments of many have been encouraging that both sides do not hold the stereotypical prejudices. But I think prejudices from modern American Jews must be addressed.

and I am sorry, I meant to write “portrayed” in my first paragraph. Silly me.

I do understand why jews rank ghetto uprising as the most important event during the WWII but I do not understand why you feel upset that poles rank warsaw uprising, the brave actions of Pilecki and the masscare in Katyń higher. Are Jewish teenagers taught in schools about Poland and its struggle against two totalitarian systems? Do you teach them about communism and how it destroyed Poland and other countries behind iron curtain? Or do you only focus on the suffering of jewish people?


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Do Polish Kids Hate Jews?

A student survey about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising reflects the country’s new nuanced approach to the past

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