Maspeth, NY…. To observe the 78th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland that started World War ll on September l, 1939, New York’s Polish American community (Polonia) will be participating in a solemn memorial mass on Sunday, September 3.
The mass is scheduled for 11:00 a.m. at Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church, 61-21 56th Road in Maspeth.
A section of 56th Road bordering the church had its name changed to “St. Pope John Paul II Way” in 2014 largely through the efforts of the Polish American-Jewish American Dialog Committee of Queens, N.Y. The Downstate N.Y. Division of the Polish American Congress was the organization representing the Polish side of the dialog.
Although September 1, 1939 is the official date the war began, Hitler and the German High Command— Heinrich Himmler, particularly—hatched a plot to shift the blame for starting the war off Germany and to dump it on Poland.
They called it “Operation Himmler.” It began the last days of August with a series of incidents along the border with the most notorious one being a faked attack on a German radio station on the German side.
A group of German prisoners from a German jail were set free and forced to dress up in Polish Army uniforms. They were transported to the radio station and all were shot dead by Himmler’s men. Photos were taken of the bodies wearing Polish uniforms with the explanation the action was a move by the Polish Government to go to war.
The German invasion of Poland that followed was claimed merely to be a defensive response to protect German citizens against a Polish invasion of Germany.
This attempt to convince everyone the innocent German people were threatened by their Polish neighbors on the other side of the border had only limited success. But it did encourage the Germans to keep trying to blame Poland for war crimes Poles never committed. Israel’s Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem honors more Polish individuals as “Righteous” than from any other country in German-occupied Europe. More Poles were killed for rescuing Jews than anyone else.
Despite this honor bestowed on Poland by Israel in gratitude for the risks Poles took to rescue Jews from German murderers, Germans are not giving up on their attempts to blame something evil on the Polish people
The Holy Cross commemoration will also pay tribute to Waclaw Kolodziejek, one of the first prisoners put into Auschwitz after it opened in 1940. From 1940 to 1942, the majority of prisoners in Auschwitz were Polish Catholics like him. Jewish prisoners came in large numbers after the Germans designed “The Final Solution.,”
Kolodziejek,having emigrated to the U.S. after the war was over, would have been able to celebrate his 95th birthday last January if he had been able to live another two weeks. Maybe the medical experiments German doctors in Auschwitz performed on him limited his years. His resistance to them was so strong at the time they were performed, the doctors named him “Hard as stone.” Regardless, he was a Polish patriot who did everything he could to be truthful in telling his Holocaust experience.
When the war was finally over, Polish survivors like Kolodziejek had no home country to go back to because Poland was now taken over by a Communist regime loyal only to Soviet Russia. The Communists had already murdered so many Polish Catholics during the war, it was likely the survivors would suffer the same fate if they returned .
Kolodziejek and many others decided to emigrate to the U.S. A large number chose New York as a desirable place to resettle. It was an excellent choice for them because Polish values and ideals are very much like those of America.
The Downstate N.Y. Division of the Polish American Congress attracted many of them as members. Their voice in the organization has given all Americans a more comprehensive perspective on the magnitude of the Holocaust.It also offered a lesson how hatred directed against one specific group defies containment and quickly can flame out and engulf someone else.
But the life experience of these survivors has also allowed them to detect how an insidious anti-Polish and anti-Catholic prejudice prevailing in the Entertainment Industry has subordinated truth and accuracy in its search to make Holocaust stories more entertaining
Will Rogers once commented, “All I know is what I read in the papers.” Regrettably, most people would be reluctant to admit. “All I know about the Holocaust is what I see in a theater or on TV.”
Michael Preisler, an Auschwitz survivor and a founder of the Polish American Congress Holocaust Documentation Committee, served as president of the Downstate N.Y.Division for several years. He passed away in 2014. He found it difficult to ignore the continual stream of Holocaust misinformation the Entertainment Industry produced in the postwar years.
“Nowhere else is Holocaust history as distorted and as misrepresented as it is about Poland,” he observed at the time
Frank Milewski is the New York City Division President of the Polish American CongressCommenting Policy
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