Wednesday, 15 March 2023

Revealing Coiney Confusion over the "Applicability of a Country's Export Legislation to Any Americans"

I sometimes forgot how seriously dysfunctional some US ancient coin collectors can be, really. Over on a numismatic forum, the members are taking exception to me writing about the Beale/Roma Numismatics case and looking over their shoulder at what they are writing about it. So one of them comes out with something that happened some 15 years ago that I had forgotten, but apparently he cannot let go.  Phil Davis (Mentor, Benefactor), 'Interesting thread on reddit about Roma Numismatics and the apparent arrest of Richard Beale' posted March 9 2023 decided to drag it up again, apparently in order to 'discredit' me in the eyes of like-minded coiney forum members. 

He starts off by quoting what another forum member had said about looking over my shoulder here, and then launches into his grudge from the past:
On 3/9/2023 at 7:04 AM, DonnaML said: Note also that Paul Barford -- no friend of the collecting community, to put it mildly! -- has apparently been reading this thread: see
Once upon a time, I engaged fairly intensely with Barford over a period of months; I think I made his blog by name: "noted coin-fondler Phil Davis..." Something like that. I wrote him off completely and forever when he trashed a group of teenage American Jewish girls on a "heritage" trip to Poland, who encountered an antique Torah scroll gathering dust in a Polish junk store. Understandably appalled, they pooled their funds, purchased the scroll and brought it home for display in their temple. A bittersweet feel-good story for most of us, but unbelievably, Barford went on and on about this "crime" against the Polish national heritage. A new low, even for him. He truly is one of the worst people in the world.
Mr Davis of course is not telling it quite right. This whole matter is discussed in a post here from 6th May 2009 and concerns the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester (The Leffell School), a private school in New York ("preparing the next generation of leaders to live thoughtful, values-based Jewish lives in the ever-evolving modern world"). Not very much thoughtful or value based in the story told (PACHI Wednesday, 6 May 2009, 'A Torah from Warsaw, Would it be Too Much Just to Ask Before “Adopting” it?' - based on an old story from the New York Times of 2007).  First of all, we were not discussing a "group of teenage American Jewish girls" as such, gender was not one of the issues. Not that it matters. However it is the case that this was no "junk shop" and no "gathering dust" was involved, but they were in a well-known antiques and collectables shop, slap-bang in the middle of the most touristy area of Warsaw's Old Town. I know it very well. It sells all kinds of things including Judaica (both real and fake). If anything was in there for any length of time enough to get dusty, it was due to the rip-off prices they are also infamous for. One other thing, however, that is still there.... is the big notice in the front explaining Polish export laws to anyone it might concern. You walk past it going in.

The question is not where these visitors to my country got the funds from, but how the scroll left the country - it was described by Mr Davis at the time, I recall a big winter coat was involved. However Phil Davis wants to represent what that party of visitors did, in actual fact that's what we call "smuggling", pure and simple. As for the notion these "heritage tourists" who were guests of my country "[took] it home for display (sic) in their temple" (sic), Mr Davis has it all wrong. Home is where that scroll was made and used and that's not somewhere across the Atlantic, but here in Poland. This country lost so much of the Jewish heritage in the Second World War to the Nazis and later to the Soviet-puppet government of the 1940s-1980s, without some entitled colonialist American tourists thinking they can now just walk in and help themselves to what they fancy to "display" back home like some trophy from Darkest Africa. There is an export procedure to follow, hiding artefacts under big coats are not part of it. 

Davis comes over here as a US-based coiney that thinks US tourists showing disrespect for the laws of the countries they visit and stealing stuff are mere trifles, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is the "one of the worst people in the world". It seems that there are other coineys who think the same. So we find DonnaML (Grand Master, Benefactor) joining in and adding her thoughts on the incident I described in my 2009 post (March 9 2023)
"[...] How repulsive. What a moron. Polish national heritage my Jewish foot. Suddenly Jewish Poles were just "Poles" after everything that happened, and their stolen possessions have to remain in Poland? He actually lives in Warsaw; maybe he should pull his head out of his rear end and learn some real history, not propaganda from the unfortunate current Polish government. He probably collects those ubiquitous "lucky Jew" dolls so popular there".
Eh? It is unclear to me whether DonnaML had first actually read with her own eyes the text that Davis mentions (it would be difficult as no link was given by the coiney). She seems to have an odd view of the events of 1939-45 in this part of Europe. It may have escaped this person's attention but "what happened there" was due to the fact the country she's talking about was no longer sovereign, but occupied by the Nazis. Perhaps she too believes in the "Polish concentration Camps" slur that Americans seem to find so attractive  as a xenophobic 'anti-Polak' rhetorical device. If so, she is rather the one that needs to "learn some real history, not propaganda from [wherever she'd be getting this Anti-Polish smear campaign from]".* What's this next bit about?
Suddenly Jewish Poles were just "Poles" after everything that happened, and their stolen possessions have to remain in Poland? 
Jewish Poles or Polish Jews? In the case of the native pre-1939 inhabitants of the Republic of Poland, their citizenship - quite obviously - was Polish. There was no time they "became just Poles" if they were born and lived here, that is who they were. DonnaML blithely claims that that any property (like this scroll) still in the Republic of Poland today must be "stolen" (and therefore these tourists taking it is the second wrong that in her eyes makes a "right"), but cites no proof of that in this or any other case. There actually is a Jewish community in Poland today, a group of people that actually own private property of their own - I doubt they'd much appreciate DonnaML intimating that whatever is "Jewish" and "in Poland" must be stolen from Holocaust victims. I also suspect the shopkeeper who sold the item will not be too happy either (he is still in business). 

But yes, cultural property in Poland that falls into the groups defined by the current legislation, whether or not it was sold, found or inherited, can only leave Poland legally by following the proper procedures relating to that specific situation, and that was the case in 2007 and 2009. That is the law here, whether judgemental foreigners like Phil Davis and DonnaML agree or approve (funnily enough, nobody's going to ask them for their approval, Poland is a sovereign country).   

I really do not understand their logic. Is not Chinese pottery used by nineteenth Chinese workers on the railways found on sites on state owned land in the western USA protected by US law as cultural property? What about a lost nineteenth century Chinese amulet or religious artefact dropped in the same circumstances, even if it relates to foreign religious beliefs?  And what if it was a nineteenth century Jewish amulet? The position of these two on what "should apply" in my country, contradicts the reasoning behind the way their own US system works (which is enshrined in US legislation).  What do they think makes American travellers exempt from the law here? 

This is not about sweet Jewish girls, it is about about respecting a country's laws. It is also about a US institution, School or Synagogue agreeing to display stolen goods. Like all countries in Europe, Poland has laws. There are laws about a lot of things, property, driving, drinking, sexual relations with minors and animals, propagating fascism, prostitution, sale and use of narcotics, and smuggling of cultural property etc., etc.. It may upset or even surprise Mr Davis and Ms Donna ML, but while they are on Polish territory, those laws apply to even Jewish girls from America, whatever they think of them, and whatever laws apply to them back home or in any other country. If they come here, they are obliged to obey our laws while here, even if they are from 'exceptionalist' America.

I really do not care what the laws are in the USA about respect to the flag. Let's imagine however that it is against the law in the US to take the Stars and Stripes to the bathroom and wipe your arse with it (it might be an illegal act even in the country priding itself on "freedom of [even offensive] speech" like the US). Let us imagine that a group of Polish teenagers come as tourists, on a "heritage" tour to America (let them be girls, let them be sweet curly-haired girls of Jewish and Romany heritage, why not?) and after a night out clubbing they decide to defecate in Central Park and then wipe their naked butts clean with the Stars and Stripes and wave the soiled flag around in full view. Well, they are Polish, they've never had to swear an oath of allegiance to the US flag, for them its a coloured piece of cloth. They might even see it as a symbol of US imperialism and a racist state with rampant social equality. Phil Davis and DonnaML apparently think that they should be allowed to wander off home unchastised for such disrespect "because US law does not apply to them while they are on US territory as Polish tourists". Yes?
In light of this discussion, it is also quite symptomatic that since  I wrote the original text, these organised "Jewish heritage" tours to Poland have been suspended for the past two years, precisely because of the disrespectful behaviour of the participants of a number of past trips (both the kids, but also organizers). This spoils it all for those visitors of Jewish heritage who genuinely want to use the experience of visiting sites here in the process of learning and reflection, rather than as backdrops for the toxic behaviour that has reportedly been going on during some of these excursions. The good news is that these tours may be starting up again, if the organizers can provide some guarantee that the excesses of past years will be prevented in future. I think that requires a rethinking of the attitudes of these visitors to the values of the host country - and that will include not stealing from it. 

* [Poland by the way is a democracy, its current government may have its opponents, but Poland in no more "unfortunate" than a country that chose Donald Trump and family, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss]. Also for the record, DonnaML is confused about the figures (her "dolls"), which are not "lucky", she's confusing them with the pictures. I "collect" neither, what a strange idea.

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