Jewish revenge in post-WWII Europe
It was sometime in the 1990s, at a conference, when I met a film director with whom I became friendly, especially when he told me he had been a fighter in the Warsaw Ghetto.
In his vigorous 70s, Moshe Mizrahi detailed for me some of the experiences he had undergone fighting the Nazis during the all-out valiant battle in the Ghetto uprising.
Mizrahi later invited me to his home in the "five towns." He introduced me to his maid, a woman with a discernible Polish or Hungarian accent. She had been, she revealed without any sign of reluctance or regret, a qualified doctor in Europe during the war. The director, whose name took some effort to recall, told me his conscientious housekeeper preferred working as a domestic in the United States to working in post-war Europe as a physician, with all the privations, widespread poverty, and rancor. Plus low wages, absence of benefits, shortages.
Walking me around his home, Mizrahi remarked in an aside that she made more money, and had more comfort, as a domestic in the U.S. than as a physician in post-WWII Europe.
Among other recollections, the director told me that after the war, he, and others who had survived the life-and-death fight against the Nazi juggernaut, roamed at will through towns and outlying areas of war-torn former Nazi strongholds. He told me in undramatized terms that he had entered homes at will, taking whatever he saw that he wanted, with quiescent and obviously terrified inhabitants not muttering a peep when he came through, he plainly furious on whatever revenge he could wrest from the burghers.
They all, he said, plaintively claimed, "We had nothing to do with it! We had nothing to do with killing the Jews. We were just living here, quietly, when the Nazis did whatever they did." They willingly gave whatever was taken by the still-breathing Jews who came into their homes.
Director Moshe elaborated without inflection: "If they had protested, we would have knifed and killed them without remorse." The people in Germany, Poland, Austria who were subject to these lost, homeless but resilient vestiges of the millions who had been rounded up, enslaved in camps, incinerated, tortured, and experimented upon for the length of WWII were all too aware that the roving Jews had whatever weapons they could scrounge from dead soldiers and others, and the director repeated that he would have killed any resisters without regret.
Because, at this point, Mizrahi knew I wrote film reviews, he screened for me his film, War and Love (1985), one that featured a young Kyra Sedgwick, whom I identified to him as a definite "future star." I was struck by the honesty and sophistication of her performance, which seemed above the others in the cast. It turned out that my assessment of her acting prowess was correct. She has appeared in dozens of films since and featured as Brenda Lee Johnson in the long-run TV series The Closer (2005–2012).
I lost contact with the Director Mizrahi but have never forgotten his powerful recollections of how the fearsome anti-Jewish haters were swiftly reduced to timid acquiescents in the face of their undeniable, blatant guilt.
In the moment, they were splattered with the blood of innocent Jews, Roma, other "undesirables," though later, this guilt was moderated by the gall of cowardly denial characterizing the professions of so many war criminals.
Image via Libreshot.