By HAROLD N1COLSON
IAM not among those who arc instinctively attracted by the Slav mind ; I prefer Latins and Teutons. Admitting, as one must, the immense virtues of the Slav temperament, their capacity for self- sacrifice and their great imaginative gifts, it is eLsconcerting to the Western European to observe their lack of outline, their unhappy propensity to excess. What to us would be a brisk Sunday walk along the fields becomes for them some mystical pilgrimage across endless steppes, endured in a deliberate mood either of misery or happiness ; always are they lashed into a whirlwind by a sigh. A passing idea for them is apt to expand suddenly into a whole philo- sophic concept ; a stirring of pleasurable affection becomes in their wide hearts a deep and often torturing passion ; their chuckles turn into loud bursts of wild laughter, their sighs into torments of un- utterable misery. For those who do not care for these processes of exaggeration, the discomfort of boredom is embittered by feelings of remorse. I am well aware that I ought to like the Slays very much indeed ; that to be disconcerted by their uncontrolled imagina- tive powers is to display a smug preference for the easier emotions ; that to be dismayed by those vast horizons is to disclose a bungalow type of mind ; and that it is a proof of intellectual or emotional cowardice to be alienated by passions which, although often motive- less and generally volatile, are wholly sincere. Thus while bored by the Slays I am ashamed of being bored.
* * * * My attitude towards the Poles, for instance, is liable to become an irritated attitude. I sympathise sincerely with century-long sufferings, and I desire above most things to see a prosperous and independent Poland established after the war. Their heroism is amazing, and their physical courage inspires the greatest respect. Their charm (which I fully recognise) is based upon something more than physical good looks, excellent manners, and the delightful intonations which they lend to the English language. It is based upon a curious fusion' of sensibility and strength, of the soft and the hard. Some of the wittiest men that I have met, some of the most charming women, have been Poles. Their .patriotism, which has been tempered by centuries of suffering and oppression, is a lesson to all of us ; it is no mere static sense of self-satisfaction ; it has about it nothing of arrogance or aggressiveness ; it is an inspira- tion and a faith. Their conduct during this war, their astounding powers of endurance and recovery, have rightly earned the admira- tion of the world. Yet much as I respeet the Poles in theory, I do not in practice feel attracted by their obstinacy and unreasonable- ness. They have about them a regrettable lack of generosity ; many of their actions in the past have been unhelpful actions ; nor can I forget that in 1938 they rifled the pocket's of Czechoslovakia when she lay stunned and bleeding on the ground.
* * * It was not, therefore, any deep pro-Polish sentiment that induced me to regret the debate which took place last week upon the treatment Of racial or religious minorities in the Polish army. I do not question Mr. Driberg's motives in raising this matter on the adjournment, in spite of the fact that on the previous day he had received from Mr. Eden the most satisfactory assurances that could in the circumstances be expected. Mr. Driberg had actually seen the Jewish deserters from the Polish army, and had been stung to generous emotion by their resentment and their fear. Nor can it be denied that the facts of the case are most disconcerting. For some months past it had been known that the Jewish and Orthodox soldiers in the,Polish army in this country were being subjected to petty tyranny which at times amounted to persecution. It was not only the Jews that were being derided, scorned and ill-treated, but also those Poles who were of Ukrainian or White Russian origin, and who belonged to the Orthodox faith. Reports of this ill-treatment reached the ears of the British Government, who, with great tact Ind discretion, brought the matter to the notice of the Polish High Command. The latter appointed a Committee of Investigation, and as a result the
most stringent orders were issued in February last enjoining upon all ranks in the Polish army a cessation of all anti-semitic or anti- orthodox activities. These instructions appear to have put an en:1 to all overt persecution, but at the same time to have increased the friction and ill-feeling which existed. The Polish N.C.O.s, accord- ing to Mr. Driberig(and there is every reason to credit the evidence he obtained) addressed their Jewish soldiers as follows :—" We cannot do anything in this country, because Churchill, as we all know, is in the . pay of the Jews ; but you wait until we get you on the Continent of Europe ; the moment we get you on the second front, then every Pole has two bullets—the first fOr a Jew and the second for a German." Alarmed by these menaces, zoo Jewish soldiers deserted from the Polish army, and threw themselves upon the mercy of the British authorities. An arrangement was come to under which these deserters were incorporated in a British unit. Other desertions followed, not only among the Jews, but also among the Orthodox. These later arrivals have been arrested, and will. it seems, be returned to their units. It was on their behalf that Mr.
Driberg raised the matter on the adjournment • * * * *
His speech, which was courageous, moderate and admirably phrased, left the House in a mood of embarrassed uneasiness. Captain Alan Graham, who stated that much of his information had been derived from the Polish Ministry of War, did not improve matters by implying that the Polish Jews were not nice Jews but nasty Jews—a statement which was wholly irrelevant to the issue involved. The House agreed with Miss Rathbone that it was impossible, through the medium' of committees, army irstructions, or orders of the day, to .deal with a problem which was essentially a psychological problem. It was felt, on the one hand, that the , public discussion of such incidents might encourage other soldiers in other foreign armies to fling themselves upon the mercy of the British authorities. It was felt, on the other hand, that if racial and religious minorities were, in fact, being ill-treated upon British soil, it was the duty of Parliament, however delicate might be the considerations involved; to give public expression to -their grievances. And, above all, it was felt that to criticise, even by implication, the Polish authorities, on the eve of the Second Front, and after they had passed through a period of terrible discouragement, was to do - something inimical to the interest of the United Nations as a whole. These conflicting feelings were largely solved by the fortitude and frankness of Mr. Richard Law's reply. He assured the House that the Government were conscious of the feeling which had been aroused, and that they were doing their best to resolve the problem. He made it clear that the former transference of 200 Polish soldiers to British units could not be regarded as a precedent. He paid a tribute to the intelligence and spirit of co-operation with which the Polish military authorities had themselves grappled with the problem And he pointed out that if deserters from Allied armies were allowed to escape to London, and to advertise their grievances in the British House of Commons, all discipline would inevitably be destroyed.
* * * *
As I have said at the outset of this article, I am not among those who are so overwhelmed by the charm of the Slays that the" believe that the Poles must always be right. Yet I regret deeply that at this moment, 'and after the many injustices which they have borne with' patience, they should have been exposed to this additional affront. But I do not agree with those who consider that the debate di a permanent harm ; foreigners are often irritated by our habit of washing dirty linen in public ; but it is a habit which makes for cleanliness,-'and one on which much of our influence is based. No Pole who was present during the debate could have felt that there was any hostility in the criticisms made ; he would have felt only that it is vital for his Government-to be as unassailable in %mill things as they are in great.