Sunday, December 1, 2019

Funny Bieganskis in "Last Christmas" 2019

As you can see from the review, below, I very much liked "Last Christmas." But I was totally aware of the stereotyping going on.

"Last Christmas" is a funny, heartwarming, ultimately profound movie. It's being marketed as a romantic comedy but it's more of a dramedy. There are funny lines throughout, but "Last Christmas" deals with some tough issues, and towards the end it sends a beautiful message.

Emma Thompson co-wrote the script. Thompson previously won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for "Sense and Sensibility." "Last Christmas" traffics in unflattering stereotypes of Eastern Europeans and it tries to hard to be politically correct, but its wit, warmth, and the chemistry of its stars, Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, won me over.

The movie opens in the former Yugoslavia, in an Orthodox church, of all places. Petra (Emma Thompson) is watching her daughter Katrina sing a George Michael song.

Fast forward decades later, and move to London. Kate (Emilia Clarke) is an unlikeable mess. She works as an elf / clerk in a year-round Christmas store run by Santa (Michelle Yeoh). Kate is homeless and couch surfs, sleeping with friends and one-night stands. She dresses in clothes that are a little bit slob and a little bit tramp. She's hard to like.

One day she looks out the window of her Christmas store and sees Tom (Henry Golding.) He's a very nice guy. Charming, handsome, and kind. Kate is suspicious.

Eventually Kate and Tom get close enough that Kate confesses her dark secret to him. She had been ill for a long time. Her mother seemed to enjoy too much having a chronically ill daughter, so Kate had to move out of the house. A year earlier, Kate had had a heart transplant, and she hasn't felt like herself since. Tom encourages Kate to get her life together.

Kate returns to her natal family, now living in London. Petra, Kate's mother, is a stereotypical Eastern European. She is always sad, she sings mournful songs, she uses outlandish curses – "I will nail you to my p----" – and she refers to a dessert brought by a gay guest as "lesbian pudding."

The TV broadcasts coverage of Brexit protests and Petra bemoans that people dislike her because she is an immigrant. But she is a bigot herself, albeit a comical one. "I blame the Poles," she says, about current anti-immigrant sentiment in the UK. All this is played for laughs. Otherwise, the movie bends over backward to be politically correct. Four relationships are highlighted in the film, and all four are biracial, and one is a lesbian couple. The one group this politically correct film recognizes it is okay to make fun of is Eastern Europeans. Even so, I loved the movie.

There are no spoilers in this review, so I can't tell you how the movie handles Kate's transformation, from a total mess at the beginning of the film, to someone we can take to heart at the end, but I found the plot device to be quite poignant, and I left the theater with tears rolling down my face. The critics who have given this film a low score need to have their credentials revoked and their minds and hearts opened. Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding have terrific chemistry, and I'd love to see them reunite in a more traditional romantic comedy.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Poland, Land of Xenophobia and Conspiracy Theories: WNYC's Brooke Gladstone

Brooke Gladstone Source
Leah Feder Source
Picture illustrating WNYC's story Source

WNYC is the NPR affiliate in New York City. "On the Media" is a show on WNYC. 

WNYC is hyper liberal. White skin is bad. All black people in America are suffering horribly under the boot of racism. 

A few years back, WNYC broadcast "Q Is a Boy," that argued that a little girl from a broken home was actually a boy and anyone who said otherwise was an evil transphobe. 

On Flag Day, Arun Venugopal broadcast an attack on the American flag

It's not at all surprising that WNYC would broadcast an episode of "On the Media" that depicts Poles as uniquely hateful and irrational. 

Brooke Gladstone and Leah Feder entitle their episode "We Need to Talk about Poland." They take their title from a book about a child mass killer, "We Need to Talk about Kevin." Poland = Kevin. Childish and irrationally murderous. 

The music sets the mood. The broadcast begins with bizarre, Bohunkiana, accordion music. Then there is klezmer in the background. 

I've lived in Poland and spent plenty of time with Poles. I've never heard that kind of accordion music in Poland. You can hear the piece, "Taniec Kikimory," by OldNova, here

Poland is so exotic, so in the past. 

Fourteen minutes into the broadcast. Jan Tomasz Gross' book Neighbors and the Jedwabne massacre are invoked. Poles are too weak and venal to acknowledge that Poles have done bad things. You know the drill. 

Poles choose to imagine that Poles fought against the Nazis. This is a romantic Polish fantasy. 

Poles choose to imagine that Poles rescued Jews during the Holocaust. 

Anyone working on the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype needs to remember a few things. 

Thing one: stereotyping is often not about lies. It's often about twisting of truths. 

Thing two: you don't attack your enemy's weakness. You attack your enemy's strengths. 

"On the Media" is sure to highlight and emphasize the Jedwabne massacre. 

It's a fact. That massacre happened. Poles did do horrible things. 

It's also a fact that Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and Bernard Madoff are all Jews. Want to stereotype Jews? Just emphasize these bad men's Jewish identity. And twist any facts that might cause your audience *not* to conclude that all Jews are bad men. 

"On the Media" attacks WW II era Poland's strengths. Poland was the only country under Nazi occupation that began a resistance group, Zegota, whose only purpose was to help Jews. "On the Media" does not mention Zegota, unless I missed it. 

Poland was the only occupied country where Poles, their families, neighbors, and friends were all murdered for any help offered to any Jew, including something so simple as a glass of water. And yet Poles make up the largest number of Righteous Non-Jews at Yad Vashem. 

"On the Media" does not mention that. 

But "On the Media" does not lie just by exclusion. It lies even more cleverly. It quotes a bizarre quote, one I've never heard, that Poles rescued a statistically impossible number of Jews. Clearly this number is made up by extremists. 

So. If you mention that Poles rescued Jews, "On the Media" implies, you are a crazy extremist. "On the Media" renders any talk of Poles rescuing Jews suspect. 

Clever, no? 

There is much discussion about the controversy over the Museum of the Second World War. Pawel Machcewicz, whose name Lean Feder repeatedly mispronounces, is quoted at length. 

Feder compares Polish efforts to educate the public about Polish resistance to the Nazis to Japanese refusal to confront war crimes against the Chinese. 

Poles = Jedwabne

Poles = a child mass killer, the incarnation of evil 

Poles = Japanese who committed mass war crimes against the Chinese and  others. 

Anne Applebaum alleges that Law and Justice "creates threats" like "Syrian refugees" and Law and justice "invented" stories of Muslims killing Christians. Well, I'm happy to learn that Muslims never kill Christians. The fatal stabbings and fake suicide vest on London Bridge yesterday were no doubt all part of a dispute over parking. 

Thank you, WNYC! 

Feder preaches on. "Poland is not unique" and Poland faces no threats. 

WNYC, the station that insists that gay and black and Muslim Americans writhe perpetually under the boot of oppressive American fascists, tells us that Poland is not unique and Poland faces no threats. 

WNYC calls on Fareed Zakaria, a Muslim from India, who lectures us about how Poland typifies the new threat to democracy. 

Leah says that is "value in reclaiming the Communist past." 

I don't have a problem with any of the facts presented here. I'm not a supporter of Law and Justice. I do support gay rights. I do think abortion has to be legal. I do not support the interweaving of Church and state. I reject conspiracy theories. I acknowledge that Poles have done bad things, including at Jedwabne.

What I'm objecting to here is this.

WNYC doesn't broadcast representational material about Poles or Poland. I listen to WNYC and NPR all day every day. I know.

This show is all about the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype. Poles are scary. Fareed Zakaria will explain to you why. And if you ask why the son of a Muslim scholar from India has a right to judge Poland, while not critiquing the Hindu caste system or gender apartheid in Islam, you are an Islamophobe.

If you'd like to hear that narrative, click here

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Poland First to Fight: Posters

There were large posters arrayed in front of the meeting room at the Poland First to Fight Conference. Here are photos of those posters. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Poland First to Fight: Memorable Presentations

Stacey Fitzgerald and Ravensbruck survivor
photo credit: Roby Robinson, Inc., Remember Ravensbruck, LLC

Memorable presentations from the "Poland First to Fight" conference.

Stacey Fitzgerald is a beautiful, elegant Southern belle who is not at all Polish. She is working on a film about the "rabbits" of Ravensbruck, Polish women who suffered under Nazi medical experimentation.

I chatted extensively with Stacey and I greatly enjoyed it. She was both knowledgeable and eager to learn more.

You can watch a preview of Stacey's work here

Christoph Schwarz is German. He has a limited English vocabulary and limited grasp of English grammar. Even so, his was one of the more memorable presentations. He spoke with profound sincerity, earnestness, and urgency. He spoke about Polish children kidnapped to Germany to be Aryanized. If they were failed at that, they were sent to concentration camps to be killed.

An article that mentions Christoph's work is here and a review of an exhibition he put together is here

Prof. Kazimierz Braun gave a moving presentation about Polish theater and its role in resistance to the Nazis. Actors, actresses, all were active in the fight.

Kenneth K. Koskodan, author of No Greater Ally: The Untold Story of Poland’s Forces in World War II spoke on how little known Poland's resistance to Nazism is.

Marcin Makowski gave a thought-provoking presentation on how computer games misrepresent WW II history.

Tim Holden used his mellifluous voice to bring home to us the poignant story of his Polish father's experiences in WW II. You can watch an interview with Tim here. Tim's graphic novel, Airdogs, has only one Amazon review. C'mon, Polonia, buy and review Tim's book! Here

Anu Radha screened her film, A Little Poland in India, about a Maharaja who invited Polish refugee children to live on his lands in India during WW II. The film is beautifully made and quite poignant. You can watch the entire film here

In the Footsteps of Slaughter of Wola is Grzegorz Kutermankiewicz grim documentary about a Nazi massacre of Warsaw residents. Survivors recount what it was like, as a child, to be a victim of a massacre, to lie among dead and dying bodies, and to live with such memories. You can watch the entire documentary here

Prof. Jan Stanisław Ciechanowski spoke on the contribution of the Polish Intelligence Service to the Allied Victory over Germany in World War Two.

After the conference, I was chatting with a person who has a PhD. This person didn't see the point of the conference. Poland was rapidly defeated by the Germans. Period. Nothing left to talk about.

I mentioned some of the contributions that Poland made to the war effort. Enigma, the V-2 rocket, Jan Karski, Polish airmen in the Battle of Britain, Monte Cassino. My interlocutor, though well-educated, was astounded.

Author and Prof. Sean McMeekin gave a very lively presentation on the Allies' efforts to make Stalin happy.

Alberto Trujillo talked about The Perception of Poland in the Second World War in the Spanish Speaking World.

Prof. Mieczyslaw Biskupski talked about Woodrow Wilson and FDR and their contemptuous, dismissive attitudes towards Poland.


There were many more presentations. All had value. It was a great conference.

Thank you again to the folks whose donations made this trip possible for me:

Alex  Bensky
Cynthia Chastain-Tong
Kathy Cherwinski-Long
Otto Gross
Halina Koralewski
Bartosz Michalski
Polish Girl
Danuta Reah
Charles Romeo
Liron Rubin
Teresa Rybkowska Klatka
Daria Sockey
Gene Sokolowski
Alexandra Tesluk-Gibson
Kimberly Wachtel
Dr. Edward "Rusty" Walker
Terry Winkler-Romeo
Karen A. Wyle
Joshua Zoppi 

Britain's Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis: Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, re: Anti-Semitism, Is Unfit to Serve

Jeremy Corbyn, Rabbi Mirvin. Source: Jerusalem Post 

Britain's Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, said that Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn is unfit to serve because of how he, Corbyn, handles anti-Semitism. You can read Rabbi Mirvis' editorial in the Times here

In his editorial, Mirvis acknowledges that the Chief Rabbi must stay away from politics. But Corbyn's apparent friendliness to anti-Semitism caused him to change his mind. 

Rabbi Mirvis wrote:

"The Jewish community has watched with incredulity as supporters of the Labour leadership have hounded parliamentarians, members and even staff out of the party for challenging anti-Jewish racism. Even as they received threats, the response of the Labour leadership was utterly inadequate. We have endured quibbling and prevarication over whether the party should adopt the most widely accepted definition of antisemitism. Now we await the outcome of a formal investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into whether discrimination by the party against Jews has become an institutional problem.

The claims that the party is "doing everything" it reasonably can to tackle anti-Jewish racism and that it has "investigated every single case", are a mendacious fiction. According to the Jewish Labour Movement, there are at least 130 outstanding cases before the party, some dating back years, and thousands more have been reported but remain unresolved. The party leadership have never understood that their failure is not just one of procedure, which can be remedied with additional staff or new processes. It is a failure to see this as a human problem rather than a political one. It is a failure of culture. It is a failure of leadership. A new poison - sanctioned from the top - has taken root in the Labour Party."

You can read New York Times coverage of Rabbi Mirvis' column here

Monday, November 25, 2019

Reception of My Talk at the Poland, First to Fight Conference

Reception of My Talk

I have no fear of public speaking, rather, I fear not being allowed to speak publicly. I love working on Polish-Jewish relations and I love talking about this work to people.

It's not easy to talk about because it's meta. That is, I talk about talk.

Other presenters talked about facts: what happened after the Warsaw Uprising, the fate of Polish refugee children in India, Woodrow Wilson's, Winston Churchill's, and FDR's contemptuous attitudes towards Poles, efforts to placate Joseph Stalin, how many Poles rescued Jews, the contributions of the Polish underground to the Allied cause.

I talk about how people talk and think about facts.

It's a challenge to convey that mindset to audiences, but I had to do it quickly, because I, like the other speakers, had only twenty minutes to get my point across.

It's also not easy to talk about my work because positions are so set-in-cement. That's why I do the work I do. Too many people hear facts through the filter of the Brute Polak stereotype.

I told the audience this, and I told them that the best I could do would be to present the beginning of a talk, and to invite them to view the entire talk on YouTube, here.

One audience member sent me a nice note. "The message you presented really resonated, and received the most applause I’ve heard during the three-day gathering." A few people approached me to give me a hug or a kiss and a pat on the back. Very nice.

DC Tourism

The conference was so jam-packed with events that I did not have time to visit the DC sights I would have liked to visit.

I did walk to the Capitol building as the impeachment hearings were taking place. I did not see any impeachment-related activity. I walked to the White House and encountered a couple of citizens taking selfies of themselves making obscene gestures directed at Trump. After waiting for them to finish I did the same. Gene and I walked past the Washington Monument and the WW II memorial to the Lincoln Memorial.

Gene mentioned that the coat that Thomas Jefferson is wearing in the Jefferson Memorial statue was given to him by Tadeusz Kosciuszko.

Statue of Casimir Pulaski in a DC park

Photos from Polish Embassy Party

Route of Travel

The standard way to drive from Paterson to DC is via 95 south. It's a heavily trafficked route, flat and monotonous. Terry called it a "conveyer belt" and she's exactly right. There are also many tolls. I didn't add up how much I was spending on tolls but one online estimate is $30.

This is the route I took to DC. I experienced white-line-fever. It's the shortest route, though, at 232 miles, taking an estimated four hours.

Terry recommended a route through Pennsylvania, via Gettysburg, Harrisburg, and Hershey, and that's what I took on the way back. That route is 293 miles, many more than the 95 route, but it is less trafficked, with no tolls, and more diverse countryside. I found myself looking at hills and farms and roadside signs asking me about my relationship to Jesus. I preferred that route and I didn't experience the extra mileage.

Thank you again to the folks whose donations made this trip possible for me:

Alex  Bensky
Cynthia Chastain-Tong
Kathy Cherwinski-Long
Otto Gross
Halina Koralewski
Bartosz Michalski
Polish Girl
Danuta Reah
Charles Romeo
Liron Rubin
Teresa Rybkowska Klatka
Daria Sockey
Gene Sokolowski
Alexandra Tesluk-Gibson
Kimberly Wachtel
Dr. Edward "Rusty" Walker
Terry Winkler-Romeo
Karen A. Wyle
Joshua Zoppi

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Polish American Politician Denounced as a Nazi by Far Right Group

Polish-American Rep. Tom Malinowski was denounced by a far-right group who accused him of being not really American and being a Nazi because he is of Polish immigrant stock. Full story here

Video below