I learned the other day that my current family history subject, Ezriel Kornmehl, had volunteered to serve in the Polish-Bolshevik War in 1921, and that he is listed in the Polish Officer’s Year Book (as Esriel Kornmehl) for 1923 and 1924.
I dutifully set out this morning to look into the details of his military service and to find out what exactly the Polish-Bolshevik war was — which I did, under the name Polish-Soviet War.
And then I realized that I didn’t particularly care which conflict Ezriel had volunteered for.
What I really wanted to write about was Ezriel ‘s misplaced loyalty to the Polish government.
Instead of concentrating on his practice immediately after finishing medical school in Vienna in 1918, he joined the army when he returned to Poland. And whether because he was well educated or because he was a good soldier, he was made an officer.
Yet less than two decades later he was forced to escape Jaslo, where he had lived and treated the townspeople as a doctor, lest he be shot in the woods or sent to be murdered in Belzec. This was the town’s way of saying “Thank you for your service.”
My grandfather, Hermann Rosenbaum, also fought for his country, in his case for Austria-Hungary in World War I. That didn’t prevent the Austrians from sending him to a concentration camp.
Thank you for your service, too.
Yes, Poland had been occupied by Nazi Germany when the worst things happened, but that nation’s history of complicit antisemitism is well documented. Sadly. Don’t even get me started on Austria’s enthusiastic embrace of the Nazis (Update: I tackle the topic a little later in the post Auf Wiedersehen, Pt. 2).
I try to conduct research dispassionately, to focus on my relatives’ day-to-day lives as they unfolded in order to portray them as they saw themselves — in this case as enthusiastic patriots. But sometimes it’s impossible not to let what I know about the future interfere with this process.
Today was one of those days. I couldn’t let go of the notion that, while Ezriel and my grandfather and many other good Jewish citizens fought for their countries in good faith, their countries had neither the will nor the fortitude to fight for their good Jewish citizens in return.