Polish Yoke

My mother hated racists and Poles. It was natural for her to hate Poles, because according to her they were all racists. My father, who was not a Pole and therefore, according to my mother, not a racist, did not hate Poles any more than he hated others. True, if they came up in conversation he immediately said, "They, they were the worst, the biggest anti-Semites," but he would say exactly the same about the Croatians, the Serbs, the Ukrainians and the Hungarians, and he didn't mince words about the Russians and the French, either. Another difference between the non-racism of my mother and the non-racism of my father was that my mother, the "salt of the earth," in her description, was referring only to Jewish Poles, meaning new immigrants from Poland. Whereas my father, who was from Central Europe, was referring only to goyim; he accepted Jews of all origins.

There were understandable reasons for my father's loathing of non-Jews from Eastern and Central Europe. Although he never visited Poland, some of his siblings, his mother, a very large number of his nieces and nephews and an endless number of relatives generically called "cousins" perished there, in Auschwitz, Majdanek and Treblinka. Others, from the Hungarian side of his family, experienced on their own flesh the history of Hungarian anti-Semitism, and all his life my father, who was born in 1917, was afraid that his striking tallness and that of his family could be attributed to some Ukrainian pogrom in a previous generation.

My mother never met a Polish non-Jews in her life, and her opinions about Israeli Poles she knew were based, like all healthy racism, on crude generalizations. In vain I would bring up as counter-evidence the names of such distinguished Poles as Frederic Chopin and Arthur Rubinstein. Like a martial artist, my mother utilized my momentum to deliver a crushing blow. Definitely distinguished people, she would say, but the fact is that the distinguished Poles did not immigrate here.

I always suspected that her deep-rooted abhorrence of everything she perceived as Polish - glass cases filled with pitchifkes (just as she herself had), puffed-up hairdos held in place by spray (ditto), hypocrisy disguised as politeness (ditto, if not much more than that), and treating the "What will people say" approach as a supreme value (ditto, ditto) - stemmed from a certain lack of self-acceptance.

"You're the pot that calls the kettle black," I would say to her, and rattle off the highly Polish aspects of her motherhood. To which she would retort with holy wrath: "To say I am a Polish type? Really! I am domineering? I, who when you were three let you choose by yourself very unpractical shoes of black patent leather with decorative white bows?! I, who my whole life have tried to help you be happy in your way - I am Polish?! Alright, I suppose I deserve to have you talk to me like this, I suppose I really was the worst mother in the world, a bad, neglectful mother who didn't buy you a piano before she bought furniture for the living room. I only hope that when you have children you will be a much better mother than me, really!"

My mother has been resting for nine years in a grave on which I never danced, and not a day goes by without my thinking about her several times, such as at every moment when I do not feel absolutely happy (because my mother really deserved for her daughter to be happy), and especially when my children tell me (me!!) that I am a Polish mother just like all mothers. Sometimes I take offense and in a blatantly non-Polish way I make every effort to have my children to note the forces I muster to hide my feelings of hurt - which, by the way, is very justified.

"True," I tell my children, "I am Polish, just like all mothers. Because to be a mother is a Polish thing. When you become parents you will see it happening to your wives, and your children will tell you that you are Polish. Then, maybe you will understand me at last. I only hope it won't be too late for me."