GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY
DEFINITIONAL UNCERTAINTY:
BANALIZATION VERSUS MORALIZATION IN THE TERM “COLLABORATION”
HIST 606: COL...
McBride, 1
Since its conceptual emergence out of World War II, historians have struggled with the
use of the term “collabo...
McBride, 2
massacre may have been internal Polish anti-Semitism. Jan Gross suggests this possibility with
the comment that...
McBride, 3
Professor Stzembosz, the possibility that the massacre was considered revenge for Jewish
“treason” problematize...
McBride, 4
In contrast to Jedwabne, the concept of “collaboration” in the Łódź ghetto is problematic
for fully separate re...
McBride, 5
counterfactual is applied to the Jedwabne massacre, it remains a distinct possibility that the Poles
would kill...
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Definitional Uncertainty: Banalization versus Moralization in the term “Collaboration"

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Since its conceptual emergence out of World War II, historians have struggled with the
use of the term “collaboration.” Ben Cion Pinchuk writes that “the use of the term
‘collaboration’ in research is problematic at best and misleading at worst” largely due to its
strong association with negative moral judgment and treason.1 This paper seeks to examine how
historians have conceptually used the term “collaboration” when writing about the Jedwabne
massacre and the history of the Łód
ź ghetto. This paper argues that Pinchuk is correct in his
assessment of the problematic nature of the term “collaboration.” Due to the emotionalism
inherent in the term, definitions of collaboration have varied in order to selectively cast judgment
on certain parties, highlighting an underlying battle between banalization and moralization.

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Definitional Uncertainty: Banalization versus Moralization in the term “Collaboration"

  1. 1. GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY DEFINITIONAL UNCERTAINTY: BANALIZATION VERSUS MORALIZATION IN THE TERM “COLLABORATION” HIST 606: COLLABORATION IN WWII DR. AVIEL ROSHWALD BY SEAN P. MCBRIDE WASHINGTON, DC 24 FEBRUARY 2010 AD MAIOREM DEI GLORIAM
  2. 2. McBride, 1 Since its conceptual emergence out of World War II, historians have struggled with the use of the term “collaboration.” Ben Cion Pinchuk writes that “the use of the term ‘collaboration’ in research is problematic at best and misleading at worst” largely due to its strong association with negative moral judgment and treason.1 This paper seeks to examine how historians have conceptually used the term “collaboration” when writing about the Jedwabne massacre and the history of the Łódź ghetto. This paper argues that Pinchuk is correct in his assessment of the problematic nature of the term “collaboration.” Due to the emotionalism inherent in the term, definitions of collaboration have varied in order to selectively cast judgment on certain parties, highlighting an underlying battle between banalization and moralization. Much of historians’ difficulty with the term collaboration derives from its loose conceptual framework. Due to the term’s emotional association with treason, a universal definition of collaboration has been especially difficult to establish. Numerous authors have attempted to create more meaningful conceptual distinctions, such as through the thematic contrast of collaboration versus collaborationism or collaboration versus accommodation, but no single usage has become commonly accepted. Further complicating the matter is the injection of “resistance” into debates over collaboration. From the perspective of a victorious resistor or an investigator with what Pinchuk calls “unwarranted moral superiority,” even passive acceptance of “enemy” authority seems to bleed over into resistance.2 Both of these problematic perspectives are present in the historiographical debate over the classification of the Poles in the Jedwabne massacre and Rumkowski in the Łódź ghetto as “collaborators.” Treatment of the Polish massacre of Jewish neighbors in Jedwabne under the framework of collaboration is problematic due to the possibility that the primary causal factors of the 1 Polonsky and Michlic, eds., The Neighbors Respond, 216. 2 Ibid.
  3. 3. McBride, 2 massacre may have been internal Polish anti-Semitism. Jan Gross suggests this possibility with the comment that “one should not deny the reality of autonomous dynamic in the relationship between Poles and Jews within the constraints imposed by the occupiers.” By considering anti- Semitism an “autonomous dynamic,” Gross offers the possibility of the Jedwabne massacre standing as something the Poles “did not have to do but nevertheless did.”3 Judging by certain perceptions of Polish anti-Semitic nature, such an explanation seems plausible. Antony Polonsky and Joanna Michlic note that many Jewish scholars consider Poland “perhaps even uniquely anti-Semitic,” largely due to the Polish regime’s “bitter and increasingly successful war against the Jewish population" in the interwar period.4 Even Rabbi Baker, who otherwise takes an idyllic view of Jewish life in Jedwabne, notes the negative role that religious anti-Semitism from the Catholic Church had on Polish-Jewish relations.5 Given this organic Polish anti-Semitism, many Polish scholars view Jewish collaboration with the Soviets as an explanatory factor in the Jedwabne massacre. For example, Professor Strzembosz charged that “the Jewish population… participated en masse in… armed collaboration” with the Soviets in “revolt against the Polish state.”6 Regardless of the success of Jan Gross, Pinchuk, and others in demonstrating that collaboration was far from a purely Jewish affair, it is logical that Poles would perceive the Jews as close collaborators of the Soviets. Given the Polish stereotype of communism being a Jewish ideology, the Soviet regime’s unprecedented decision to put Jews into positions of authority in Poland likely shaped the Pole’s memory of Soviet occupation in a powerful way. Accepting that a large segment of Poles in Jedwabne perceived their Jewish neighbors as traitors to the Polish state along the lines of 3 Jan Gross, Neighbors, xix. 4 Polonsky and Michlic, eds., The Neighbors Respond, 211. 5 Ibid, 164. 6 Ibid, 99.
  4. 4. McBride, 3 Professor Stzembosz, the possibility that the massacre was considered revenge for Jewish “treason” problematizes the characterization of the Jedwabne Poles as German collaborators. This distinction hinges on the level of German incitement of anti-Jewish violence. If the German contribution to the massacre was solely indirect through the destruction of Soviet authority Eastern Poland, then the Jedwabne massacre fits Gross’s characterization as an “autonomous dynamic,” something that “they did not have to do but nevertheless did.”7 If the Germans did not prominently figure into the internal calculus of Polish decisions to murder Jews, then how could the massacre be collaboration? If the Germans did not play a key role in inciting or leading the massacre, how could this be a collaborative effort between Germans and Poles? Unfortunately, the level of German involvement in the massacre remains unknown. Numerous eyewitnesses indeed claimed to have seen uniformed Germans in Jedwabne on the day of the massacre, but their incoherence suggests that eyewitnesses inflated the German presence in order to cast off blame. Indeed, much of the scholarship that has emphasized the German role in Jedwabne seems to have done so as a means of exculpating the Poles from responsibility for the massacre. Based off this logic, the Polish prosecutor responsible for the case assigned the German responsibility sensu largo and the Jedwabne Poles sensu stricto.8 Similarly, Archbishop Henryk Muszynski provocatively assigned Germany the role of Jewish king David from the Books of Samuel, stating that “David’s intention was the kill Uriah, but he used someone else to do it.”9 Ultimately, definitive proof of the German role at Jedwabne does not exist, but Polish anti-Semitism, the perception of Jewish “collaboration” with the Soviets, and the extremely violent actions of Poles at Jedwabne suggests that accusations of German incitement may be a “red herring” against Polish anti-Semitism’s role in the massacre. 7 Jan Gross, Neighbors, xix. 8 Polonsky and Michlic, eds., The Neighbors Respond, 134. 9 Ibid, 156.
  5. 5. McBride, 4 In contrast to Jedwabne, the concept of “collaboration” in the Łódź ghetto is problematic for fully separate reasons. Specifically, this classification revolves around whether Mordechai Rumkowski, Jewish Elder of the Łódź ghetto, can accurately be considered a “collaborator.” Reasoning that total submission to German wishes offered the best hope for survival of at least a portion of the Jewish community, Rumkowski attempted to make the Łódź ghetto economically indispensable to the German war economy, even willfully selecting Jews for deportation to extermination facilities.10 In contrast to the Poles of Jedwabne, Rumkowski’s actions can only be understood as a conscious decision to support German demands, eliminating any suspicion that he acted out of a parallel set of personal motives. Unlike the Poles, Rumkowski had no convergence of interest with the Germans. He did not share in the National Socialist ideology, and, outside of German coercion, he never would have knowingly assisted in the murder of Polish Jewry. He undoubtedly felt remorse for participation in the killing of his fellow Jews, but he considered the willful sacrifice of the weak and less productive a means of ensuring the survival of at least some of the Jewish community. Gordon Horwitz argues against the classification of Rumkowski as a collaborator, writing that “compliance under circumstances of extreme coercion is not the same as collaboration.”11 Under this logic, Rumkowski can only be considered a collaborator if he would have been willing to serve German interests outside German coercion, thereby assuming that collaboration requires ideological convergence between two parties towards a specified end state. Because the Nazi leadership desired the destruction of the Jews and Rumkowski did not, this ideological convergence did not exist in Łódź. Rumkowski complied with German wishes, but he was not a collaborator because he would have acted differently absent German coercion. When this 10 Gordon Horwitz, Ghettostadt, 314. 11 Ibid, 317.
  6. 6. McBride, 5 counterfactual is applied to the Jedwabne massacre, it remains a distinct possibility that the Poles would kill their Jewish neighbors absent German coercion. Indeed, German coercion seems not to have been present. This would logically suggest that Horwitz would classify Jedwabne as collaboration. However, by emphasizing ideological congruence as the primary indicator of collaboration, Horwitz’s definition directly conflicts with Gross’s suggestion that the massacre represented “autonomous dynamics in the relationships between Poles and Jews.” In contrast, when Gross’s statements are applied to Rumkowski, it is clear that Rumkowski enjoyed few “autonomous dynamics,” highlighting that his actions were irrefutably based on the decision to support German wishes. These conflicting frameworks clearly support Ben Cion Pinchuk’s assertion that “the use of the term ‘collaboration’ in research is problematic at best and misleading at worst.” It is mistaken to attempt to extrapolate a complete definition of “collaboration” from either Jan Gross or Gordon Horwitz because neither author attempted such a difficult feat. Ultimately, Gross’s purpose was to shift blame for the massacre to the Poles, while Horwitz’s purpose was to exculpate Rumkowski. Due to the conceptual flexibility of “collaboration,” both authors accomplished their purpose, albeit in conflicting ways. The effect is to make the concept of collaboration both problematic and misleading. Is collaboration predicated on ideological convergence towards a shared end or a conscious decision to foster the interests of another party, even as personal cost? Or is it both? Jedwabne and Łódź demonstrate that these definitional issues are unsettled, largely because scholars are hesitant to strip “collaboration” of its judgmental overtones. Doing so would result in collaboration as originally conceived by Pétain, meaning simply cooperation or zusammenarbeiten. Such conceptual banalization remains unacceptable for the study of the Holocaust, an event that cannot be studied absent moralization.

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