So here’s what Donald Trump said, and didn’t say or do, in Warsaw Thursday:
According to the transcript of his remarks in front of the Warsaw Uprising Monument in Krasinski Square, Trump’s speech included the following:
“In 1920, in the Miracle of Vistula, Poland stopped the Soviet army bent on European conquest. Then, 19 years later in 1939, you were invaded yet again, this time by Nazi Germany from the west and the Soviet Union from the east. That’s trouble. That’s tough.
“Under a double occupation the Polish people endured evils beyond description: the Katyn forest massacre, the occupations, the Holocaust, the Warsaw Ghetto and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the destruction of this beautiful capital city, and the deaths of nearly one in five Polish people. A vibrant Jewish population—the largest in Europe—was reduced to almost nothing after the Nazis systematically murdered millions of Poland’s Jewish citizens, along with countless others, during that brutal occupation.”
Later in his speech he recalled the heroism of the Polish resistance during the Warsaw Uprising.
“In August of 1944, Jerusalem Avenue was one of the main roads running east and west through this city, just as it is today. Control of that road was crucially important to both sides in the battle for Warsaw. The German military wanted it as their most direct route to move troops and to form a very strong front. And for the Polish home army, the ability to pass north and south across that street was critical to keep the center of the city and the uprising itself from being split apart and destroyed.
“Every night the Poles put up sandbags amid machine-gun fire -- and it was horrendous fire -- to protect a narrow passage across Jerusalem Avenue. Every day, the enemy forces knocked them down, again and again and again.
Then the Poles dug a trench. Finally, they built a barricade.
“And the brave Polish fighters began to flow across Jerusalem Avenue.
“That narrow passageway, just a few feet wide, was the fragile link that kept the uprising alive. Between its walls, a constant stream of citizens and freedom fighters made their perilous—just perilous—sprints. They ran across that street, they ran through that street, they ran under that street, all to defend the city.
“The far side was several yards away, recalled one young Polish woman ... That mortality and that life was so important to her. In fact, she said the mortally dangerous sector of the street was soaked in blood.
“It was the blood of messengers, liaison girls and couriers. Nazi snipers shot at anybody who crossed; anybody who crossed, they were being shot at. Their soldiers burned every building on the street and they used the Poles as human shields for their tanks in their effort to capture Jerusalem Avenue.
“The enemy never ceased its relentless assault on that small outpost of civilization. And the Poles never ceased its defense. The Jerusalem Avenue passage required constant protection, repair and reinforcement.
But the will of its defenders did not waver even in the face of death.
“And to the last days of the uprising, the fragile crossing never, ever failed.
“It was never, ever forgotten. It was kept open by the Polish people.
“The memories of those who perished in the Warsaw Uprising cry out across the decades. And few are clearer than the memories of those who died to build and defend the Jerusalem Avenue crossing.”
All very appropriate. But as the Associated Press reported Thursday morning, “Poland’s Jewish community is expressing deep ‘regret’ that President Donald Trump has not scheduled a visit to a memorial honoring those who fought and died in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising during his short visit to Warsaw.
“The community issued a statement late Wednesday noting that all U.S. presidents and vice-presidents visiting Warsaw since 1989 had visited the monument, a tribute to the Jews who took up arms against all odds against the Nazi Germans in the Warsaw ghetto.
“The statement said that, to the Jews of Poland, ‘this gesture meant recognition, solidarity and hope.’
“It added: ‘We deeply regret that President Donald Trump, though speaking in public barely a mile away from the monument, chose to break with that laudable tradition, alongside so many other ones.’”
It seems that even when Trump tries to act presidential and respectful he winds up dissing Jews. (Here’s a wacky notion: Could Trump have thought that Jerusalem Avenue provided Jewish cover for his failure to visit the Warsaw Ghetto memorial? Given his penchant for crazy ideas, I could be right.)
Too many times he or his minions disrespect anything of Jewish heritage or symbolism. Compared to previous presidents, when he visited Israel he made a short, perfunctory pilgrimage to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem. The note he left there was short and perfunctory compared to previous presidents. Prior to his visit to Jerusalem an aide tangled with Israeli representatives saying the Western Wall was not Israel’s. Barack Obama hosted Passover seder meals at the White House. Trump did not. Trump leaked Israeli intelligence information to Russia. During a press conference he was disrespectful of an Israeli reporter and an obviously Jewish reporter who wanted to know how his administration would counter rising anti-Semitism.
Trump extolled the 150,000 Poles who died in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 but didn’t mention by number the near 400,000 victims of the Warsaw ghetto or their heroic struggle against Nazi SS troops from mid-April to mid-May 1943 when some 7,000 perished and another 50,000 were sent to extermination camps.
For Trump, everything and anything Jewish seems to be an afterthought. Yes, his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner visited the Warsaw Ghetto memorial, but they are not the leader of the free world (who seems to be trying to transfer that honor to Angela Merkel of Germany or Emmanuel Macron of France or Justin Trudeau of Canada or anybody with a sense of history and sound judgment).
Perhaps I’m being too tough on The Donald? Some might think I’m making too much of these slights. But when you’re a member of a minority, no matter how high a profile that minority enjoys, I believe you have a right to be sensitive. Here’s a headline (and article link) from an analysis by Ofer Aderet in Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, of Trump’s Warsaw visit: “By Sidestepping Jewish Victims of Holocaust, Trump Helps Polish Government Rewrite History” (http://www.haaretz.com/world-news/europe/.premium-1.800025).
That history recalls how the Polish Underground during World War II did not support the Warsaw ghetto uprising. That history recalls virulent anti-Semitism in Poland before and after the war, including pogroms against the survivors of Nazi genocide after the war ended.
To quote an often-used Trump commentary, “Sad!