Guest columnist Jon Zagaja is a high school teacher in Ontario.
In recent months, stewards of Canada’s Covid 19 response began directing their attention at those intransigent Eastern Europeans who in disproportionate numbers seem incapable of apprehending the manifold benefits of experimental MRNA vaccinations. This past October, thirty-six percent of the staff of Copernicus Lodge in Toronto’s Polish district of Roncesvalles were laid off due to refusal to get vaccinated, a trend across provinces this fall which prompted the University of Toronto’s infectious disease expert Dr. Isaac Bogoch to tweet that “tailored outreach to Eastern Europeans living in Canada would be helpful.”
His patronizing comments, shared mere weeks after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called unvaccinated Canadians “racists” and “misogynists” on Quebec television, projected a sage and paternalistic concern for a seemingly unwashed segment of the Canadian population, but percolating beneath this veneer of tolerance was the same dark arrogance and authoritarianism that is rearing its ugly head around the globe.
The term “tailored outreach” has become a favourite euphemism for Covid camps, vaccine mandates, travel restrictions, fines, and punitive taxes being planned or already implemented in the world’s once-great democracies, where countless human rights, paid for in blood by heroic ancestors, have been tumbling like dominoes.
A cursory glance at the New York Times Global Vaccination Tracker for January 13, 2022, reveals that the percentage of fully vaccinated citizens in Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Czech Republic, and Latvia is 32, 28, 41, 56, 62, 53, 63, and 67 respectively.
Apart from pinpointing for Justin Trudeau where the motherlode of racists and misogynists on the European continent congregate and reassuring his acolytes that Canada, with a vaccination rate hovering around 80%, has a comparatively small cohort of these Neanderthals within its borders, a curious observer might what ask what is it about the thousand years of lived experience in these nations that makes their citizenries reluctant to reflexively endorse their government’s Covid response?
Could Canadians’ blind faith in peace, order and good government, and penchant for compliance and obedience, signal a still youthful nation’s naiveté and weakness, rather than enlightenment? Has the simple fact that the Canadian governments have typically not pulled citizens from their bed into waiting vans in the middle of the night, or crushed protestors in the streets with tanks, or built concentration camps with barb wire for political dissenters, or worse – has this enchanted history made Canadians soft, ill-prepared and oblivious to signs that their leaders may be morphing into tyrants?
In our country, government actuaries, blissfully immune to the possibility that history may pronounce the two-year response to Covid by western governments a cacophony of missteps, miscalculations, and outright malice, have latched on to indigenous, black, and Eastern European Canadians as the scapegoats du jour needed to assuage the anxieties of a compliant and histrionic majority too paralyzed with fear, and mistrustful of their vaunted full vaccination status, to reclaim their lives.
When unvaccinated dark-skinned or heavily accented Slavic Canadians start receiving their tailored outreach from government minders – a ride to a Covid isolation camp, a fine for trying to board a plane to visit a loved, a punitive head tax for Covid-related hospital costs incurred by the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike – each will doubtlessly have a lucid explanation for taking a pass on an experimental Covid vaccine for whose known side effects no sanctimonious politician, bureaucrat or pharmaceutical executive is prepared to assume one iota of liability.
For my part, should the newest generation of odious brown shirts deign to listen, I will take the opportunity to detail my family’s persecution in Nazi-occupied Poland during WWII, and in particular to the quiet but perilous work of sabotage by my Uncle Joe.
When I first met him at his Ealing Common flat in London, England, in June of 1988, his mannerisms making morning toast or preparing afternoon tea had a precision and rhythm likely forged during years working as a meticulous bookkeeper in the municipal office of Wojnicz, Poland, a small village near the family home not far from Krakow. I was not aware until that meeting of the depth of his involvement in the wartime resistance movement. As was common with most partisans after the war, Jozef Zagaja kept details of his former life obscure.
He revealed that while my father WÅadysÅwa’s platoon was blowing up rail lines to stymie train cars supplying Hitler’s invasion to the east and destroying German munitions depots, he spent the days at his desk meticulously reconciling balance sheets, recording taxes, and updating the village’s financial ledgers.
But that wasn’t all he did.
Later in the evening, under the cloak of darkness, Jozef returned to the office to perform the most dangerous clerical work of his young life: forging fraudulent identity documents called the Kennkarta. Creating these cards was a highly subversive act punished by the German invaders with summary execution.
Introduced in Germany in 1938, and instituted in Nazi-occupied Poland in June 1941 by German lawyer Hans Frank who headed the new government, the Kennkarta was a thin piece of cardboard paper, measuring twelve inches by six when unfolded. A mandatory identification document under the Third Reich, one’s ethnicity determined the colour of the Kennkarta issued. Poles’ received grey cards, Jews had yellow ones, Russian and Ukrainian cards were blue. Letters on the Kennkarta – Z for Romas – denoted a range of ethnicities. Fingerprinted after receiving them, Poles with a certain parentage and ethnicity were also obligated to declare themselves members of the Aryan race.
By the end of the war, hundreds of thousands of forged Kennkartas were circulating in occupied Poland due to sophisticated forgery operations headed by freedom-loving Poles like my Uncle Joe.
Whether used to create new papers for vulnerable resistance fighters on the Gestapo’s liquidation list, help hunted Jews establish new identities as Polish Catholics, or simply gain access to countless privileges reserved for those collaborating with the new ruling elite, fake identity passports became a powerful tool for helping the oppressed regain a small measure of life, liberty, and dignity in a darkly fallen world.
In a poem found in the appendix of a war journal he kept, my father detailed the heroic actions of a brave young patriot with the pseudonym Krystyna who was captured in October of 1942 during a routine check of identification papers by the Gestapo when attempting to board a train in Krakow. A daring member of my father’s courier cell, she secretly distributed seditious Kennkartas, newspapers, and leaflets from the Home Army’s underground press in Krakow to help lift morale during the occupation.
Shackled in her cell and pressed to reveal her leader, after thirty-eight hours of torture at the hands of her interrogators, in the twentieth year of her life, Krystyna delivered her last breath. Not once during her horrific persecution did she reveal my father’s identity or betray any of the highly sought couriers and counterfeiters in his underground network. With fierce courage, loyalty to her fighters, and unshakable faith in a free nation, she sacrificed her life so my father could live, and my sisters and I, and our children too.
Affirming the primacy of the free exchange of ideas in an open society, trusting observable conduct and speech when making judgments about people instead of assigning retributive guilt to the living for their ancestors’ sins, tenaciously guarding hard-won freedoms of speech, movement and worship even during a pandemic – these ideas framed many discussions around our dinner table. Having witnessed unimaginable violence in his homeland, his deepest hope was that by providing a new beginning for his children on Canadian soil, we would never personally face the heart-rending experiences he carried within him.
For many Canadians of Eastern European heritage, legitimate questions surrounding the origins of the pandemic, vaccine efficacy, side effects, and natural immunity have, like the current array of Health Canada approved experimental inoculations, quickly faded in the face of an alarming assault on civil liberties. They are shocked that an underground press is flourishing to help fired academics and medical professionals pose their questions and share their vaccine concerns.
They are stunned by Justin Trudeau’s dogmatic claims that countenancing unvaccinated citizens to sit down in a coffee shop or restaurant will swell ICUs when data from around the world shows the fully vaccinated are transmitting Covid and visiting emergency wards in ever-increasing numbers.
They watch in horror, as Trudeau, Macron and their ilk, through their venomous demonization of the unvaccinated, become grotesque caricatures of the most vulgar leaders in modern history, strategizing and ruminating, as in a new whimsical parlour game, what new indignity they bestow on the unvaccinated to elicit an even bigger roar from the delirious mob in the coliseum.
Vilified by neighbours, lectured by coworkers, and shamed by the mainstream media in a manner never before experienced since making this country home, countless Canadians of Eastern European descent watch in dismay as the fabric of the country they love is irreparably torn.
Like canaries in the proverbial coal mine, attuned to ordeals much more perilous than those facing the world today, they retain a firm conviction that Canadians possess the character to craft a response to the Covid 19 outbreak without destroying their nation’s soul.
Guest columnist Jon Zagaja is a high school teacher in Ontario.