Posted on June 15, 2016 at 1:56 pm
BY CAROLYN YEAGER
I’m afraid the ability to accurately remember events from childhood is impaired in every adult, but more so as the years go by. In my previous article, I wrote about Andrew Reid’s investigation into the fraudulent claims presented for 15 years in public schools by Mr. Joseph Hirt. No one had thought to question Mr. Hirt’s claims, even though some were quite bizarre. Not until history teacher Reid showed up for one of Hirt’s talks, that is. Reid was so troubled by what he heard and saw that he began searching on the Internet for information about Hirt’s claims. He even contacted a number of people, including Hirt family members, and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum archive department.
On the very first page of his report, Reid thought it was important to affirm he was not a Holocaust denier and mentioned (seemingly as proof) his long friendship with a certain Richard Stashevsky. He wrote:
“I was first hired as a teacher by a Polish-American administrator who had survived the Holocaust camp at Bergen-Belsen, who had the scars both physically and emotionally, and who I admired.”
He linked to an article about a talk Richard Stashevsky gave to students at a Christian school in December 2007. I read the article and, in the same way Andrew Reid reacted to Joseph Hirt’s talk, I knew some things Richard Stashevsky said “just weren’t right.” In spite of my positive impression of Reid’s good intentions, I feel the need to deconstruct this talk by his friend and mentor, R. Stashevsky.
First, let me say I don’t question that this is how Mr. Stashevsky remembers his early years, or thinks he remembers them (except for a couple of details where I believe he is creating atrocity propaganda that he never witnessed). It’s known that as the memory of life events fades, we fill in with things we have heard, thought, read, and watched in the intervening years. And this is even more true if we lived through a period of historical importance of which much has been written and spoken, including Hollywood movies and history books on all levels of competence and motivation.
Thus, a man who was only 3 years old in 1939 when dramatic changes occurred in the society around him is not a first-hand source of what actually happened, but someone who was told about it later. We all have flashes of memory of certain moments that made a deeper impression on us, certain scenes, but they are more to do with how we felt about what was happening. Richard Stashevsky was between the age of 3 and 9 when he underwent these experiences. Born in 1936 in Warsaw, he certainly lived through war and destructive times, but his knowledge of the larger picture and “why” things happened as they did was non-existent. He filled it in later in life and, as we are all prone, not necessarily correctly or without prejudice.
So let’s look at Stashevsky’s words as recorded by Jan Holst.
“You can’t find many people around who went through what I went through,” he told the Algoma Christian School students in Kent City. He has prepared a slide presentation with a collection of photos from the difficult era.
A collection of historical photos. Naturally they are selected to show what he wants to show, not to accurately reflect solely what he himself experienced, or his family experienced. It’s a combination amateur history lesson plus personal testimony. The two get blurred because if you believe his testimony, you will believe his history too. You see the disparity in that he combines “what he went through” and “photos from the period” … not photos restricted to his immediate environment.
And he shared with them how amazing his mere survival is.
“Seven different times, I should have been killed, but God had purpose for my life,” he said.
This is so typical of bible-believers and holocaust survivors, who want to turn their personal story into something miraculous. When you hear this, be warned that you’re about to hear a “story,” a bit of fiction, not an honest “just the facts, ma’am” telling . What does “I should have been killed” mean? Is it a way of signally that survival was the exception, not the norm? Which is not true, by the way. Is it to to make his experience during this time seem more dangerous than it was? It is subjective and the listener has no way to judge it.
Stashevsky was only three years of age, when the Blitzkrieg, or lighting war, hit Warsaw, where the young family lived. “In our life before we were a middle class family,” he said. “My father worked in finance department in the Polish government. But the bombing of Warsaw changed everything.”
He calls it a Blitzkrieg but we need to remember that it was the Poles who wanted a war with Germany; Poland had instigated it. It just didn’t turn out the way they had fantasized about it. This is a good time to remind you of the British War-Guarantee to Poland, dated March 31, 1939, which promised that in any war with Germany, even if Poland starts it, Britain would come in.
“Britain gave Poland carte blanche in its dealings with Germany. Poland intensified its persecutions of the German minority. Abductions became common, speaking German in public was proscribed, German associations and newspapers were suppressed, the German consul in Krakow was murdered. This guarantee from Britain nullified the Munich agreement of Sept. 1938 for Britain and Germany to work closely together to avoid war; also the 1934 German-Polish Declaration of non-aggression.” [How Britain initiated Both World Wars, Nicholas Kollerstrom, 2016, p 75]
In addition, Poland was full of war talk. Its President Edward Rydz-Smigly was quoted in the Daily Mail for August 6, 1939, when in Britain, “Poland wants war with Germany and Germany will not be able to avoid it even if she wants to.” This exactly described the situation at the time.
Poland was the first to mobilize. So Warsaw was not victimized, not at all. If Stashevsky’s father was employed by the government in Warsaw, he knew all this and was probably on board with it.
Injured during the onslaught of German bombs, Stashevsky’s mother carried him to the hospital across a bridge, which seconds later blew apart. Eventually the young mother and son, with no knowledge of what happened to the man of the house, found a home in a small apartment.
His father was probably commandeered by the Polish military (or joined up) as a officer immediately or within the first few days. The invasion began on Sept. 1st but the Germans didn’t reach Warsaw until Sept. 8. However, the Poles successfully repelled the attack, the city was put under a siege that lasted until Sept. 28 when the Polish garrison capitulated. … so we’re talking about a month before Warsaw was fully occupied. He doesn’t say what happened to his father.
For the next five years Warsaw, Poland remained under German occupation, requiring what Stashevsky told ACS students was “forced allegiance.” He showed pictures of people saluting Hitler, with tears running down their cheeks. “They had no choice, if they didn’t raise their arm, they would be shot,” he said.
For 5 years he and his mother lived safely in Warsaw. What does a child of 3 up to 8 years know about “forced allegiance?” This is something he read about much later in Polish history books, I suppose. I would like to see the pictures he showed the students of “people (doesn’t specify Poles) saluting Hitler with tears running down their cheeks.” Could it have been this famous photograph of a German woman in the Sudetenland who was overcome with happiness and broke down in tears as German troops marched into her city? I feel sure it was this picture. See this page. This photo has been mislabeled on many WWII sites to say the woman is crying in misery ’cause Hitler is coming to town – but it’s just the opposite.
There is also film of German women crying with happiness while saluting German troops as they enter Austria or the Sudentenland. Maybe he showed them stills from these films.
I’m not sure if the Nazi salute was even supposed to be used by Poles; I can’t find anything on it. But Stashevsky is very wrong when he says “if they didn’t raise their arms they would be shot.” Hardly. No one was ever shot for this reason, nor were Poles just shot down in the street as he implies. This tells me that Stashevsky is not above spicing up his story with contemptible lies.
Children listened intently as he relayed stories from an eight year old boy’s perspective about the Polish uprising, which after six weeks was squelched by the Germans.
This brings us to 1944 and the Warsaw uprising, which began on August 1st. Richard and his mother were living and surviving in Warsaw for five years and would have continued except for their own Polish Resistance Army that, against the advice of just about everybody, brought the peace to an end. In the next two months , the Germans lost 8000 soldiers killed and 9000 wounded putting down the uprising, so they understandably felt no love toward the Poles when they finally did so on Oct. 2nd, 1944.
When the Polish people were rounded up at gunpoint and marched to the boxcars for transportation to concentration camps, Stashevsky choked out his words about what he called the “separation gate.”
Nowhere have I found anyone else mention a “separation gate.” This must be something Stashevsky coined himself to make his story more dramatic. Here is what Wikipedia says about the fate of the Warsaw Poles after the uprising:
“The entire civilian population of Warsaw was expelled from the city and sent to a transit camp Durchgangslager 121 in Pruszków. Out of 350,000–550,000 civilians who passed through the camp, 90,000 were sent to labour camps in the Third Reich, 60,000 were shipped to concentration camps (including Ravensbrück, Auschwitz, and Mauthausen, among others), while the rest [by far the most -cy] were transported to various locations in the General Government [former Polish territory -cy] and released.”
Not really so bad after what they had cost Germany. No one ever thinks of that. The Germans treated the Poles much better than the Poles will ever admit. And that is why Stashevsky needed to embellish his story even more with another little piece of fiction.
“When the family before us was called up, the German soldiers pointed the mother to one car, the father to another…”
He then told how the fussy youngest child clung to her father’s leg, crying and how the soldiers “wasted her.”
This is unconscionable to accuse a German soldier of shooting dead a child like that. Things like that did NOT happen. Naturally he has no evidence, not even a witness, but impressionable young kids will take his word for it. Shame, shame, shame on this retired teacher and school administrator. In the first place, families were not normally separated, and German guards were forbidden to harm prisoners. To prevent it, the death penalty was enforced if they did. Again, why was it always others who were treated so badly, never him or his mother? This is true of most surlievors, by the way, who almost always tell us what they observed done to others because they cannot offer the details necessary to prove it happened to them.
Perhaps the soldiers were still distracted by the commotion, but “somehow when it was our turn, she grabbed my hand and no one stopped us. To my knowledge we were the only ones, who weren’t separated,” he said.
Sure, they were the only ones … to his knowledge at the age of 8 years. The reason stories like this are fabricated is because the first rule for most Poles, just like most Jews, is to make the “Nazis” out to be monsters. They think they have to, but more and more people are knowing they are not and were not.
Richard and his mother must have been among the 90,000 Poles sent to camps in the Reich, for they ended up at Bergen-Belsen in northern Germany which had been a hospital-and-health-recovery camp as well as an exchange camp for VIP prisoners whom the Reich wanted to use for swapping. But now it was receiving the overflow from the east.
Pictures and stories about conditions at Belsen were and are graphic, but Stashevsky spared nothing sharing the horrors with the school children.
Of course he didn’t — that’s the whole point, isn’t it. The graphic pictures he showed to 6th graders would have illustrated the extreme conditions in the camp due to the heavy Allied bombing that destroyed the fresh water system and incoming food and medical supplies in the final months. There are no terrible pictures of him though, are there? Obviously, his own time there was relatively uneventful. Not everyone living at Belsen contacted typhus or dysentery and underwent such horrific suffering at the end. Even at Belsen, many prisoners remained fit and healthy until the camp was voluntarily turned over to the British. These healthy prisoners can be seen in films that were made at the time.
The liberation came only months later, but the mother and son spent another two years waiting for their chance to leave the camp, where the thousands of prisoners were kept.
The British entered Belsen on April 15, 1945 at the request of the SS because of the above-mentioned conditions. Richard Stashevsky had been there only a few months, and after he and his mother were freed, they remained there because they wanted to go to the United States. They were not forced to stay in the camp, but they would not have wanted to return to Poland which was now under Soviet-communist control. They were being much better cared for by the British and West Germans.
I would never say that Richard Stashevsky was not a victim of the war and that his early life was very negatively impacted, but so it was equally for hundreds of millions of others on both sides. His story really comes down to being born at a time and place where war broke out, and of early-on being a member of the losing side. While life was tough, it was not impossible, and that is why he never spoke about it until he was retired and close to 70 years old. Like so many others.