Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jan Tomasz Gross. As Polish as Pierogi.

Jan Tomasz Gross

Pierogi.

I received an email asking me what I think of Jan Tomasz Gross.

Gross is, of course, the author of "Neighbors," about the massacre in of Jews by Poles in Jedwabne, German-occupied Poland, in 1941, and "Fear," about the pogrom in Kielce, Poland, in 1946. "Neighbors" and "Fear" received a huge amount of attention in the American press and on college campuses. These did what Gross did not: they used the tragedies to label all Poles as bestial monsters unlike anyone else on planet earth. I cover this ground thoroughly in my book "Bieganski."

I've never met Prof. Gross, and I'm not privy to any intimate details about him. Everything I know about him I know from the public record, available to anyone.

First, Gross was born a Pole.

And I must pause to comment.

People like to compliment me, or, alternately, to insult me, by referring to me as a Pole. Some of those same people would never refer to Jan Tomasz Gross as a Pole.

Funny, isn't it?

I was born in the US of a Slovak-born mother. In many ways I am a typical American. I listen to Bruce Springsteen and drink coca-cola and wear jeans. Thanksgiving, not Wigilia, was the biggest holiday in my childhood home. I had to study Polish as a foreign language, and I speak it poorly, not at all as well as I speak French or other foreign languages I've spoken. And, as for the "Catholic" part of "Polish Catholic" – don't get me started. Look at any opinion poll of how American Catholics feel about the church sex abuse crisis, women priests, teachings on homosexuality, and church attendance, and you will find me.

To the identity politicians, though, I am, for better or for worse (never is this information neutral), a Pole.

Though Jan Tomasz Gross was born in Warsaw, and speaks Polish as a first language, many identity politicians, again, for better or for worse, insist on identifying Gross as a "Jew," and not as a Pole.

Those identity politicians who love Jews and hate Poles compliment Gross by labeling him a Jew. Only a Jew, they insist, is smart enough to write reliably about Polish-Jewish relations. Only a Jew, they insist, is ethical enough. Only a Jew is compassionate enough to care about the victims of Jedwabne or Kielce. Only a Jew could educate Poles about how bestial they are.

This is all pretty absurd, given Gross' Polish identity. But stuff like this was published in mainstream American newspapers; stuff like this was clung to by the anti-Polonists in the Ivory Tower. Gross is good because Gross is a Jew, not a Pole.

On the other side of the identity politics divide you have those who wish to insult Gross by calling him a Jew. Only a Jew, they insist, would attempt to cash in on Poland's darkest hour by selling books about those tragic days. Only a Jew, they insist, would wreak this vengeance on Poland. Only a Jew would be so crafty as to try to pull the wool over the reader's eyes as Gross does.

All this identity politics is trash. The ethical, aware person will reject it.

In any case, those who wish to insult or compliment Gross by labeling him a Jew or a Pole can't get around the fact that he was born in Warsaw to a Polish mother and a Polish-Jewish father. Gross' father, like Pilsudski, was a member of the PPS. Gross' mother was a member of the Home Army, the AK, the underground, anti-Nazi resistance movement. Gross' mother risked her life by defying Nazi edicts and aided his father in surviving the war. Can we please just all agree that Jan Tomasz Gross is as Polish as pierogi?

Gross participated in rebelling against the Soviet-supported, Communist regime in Poland in 1968. Gross was jailed by that regime for five months. I admire a man who serves time as part of an effort to make Poland free. I wonder how many of Gross' detractors have served time as he has.

In exile in America, where focus on Poland would not have earned him many points, Gross published a well-received book frequently cited by Poles who want to communicate how horrific Soviet crimes in Poland were: "Revolution from Abroad: The Soviet Conquest of Poland's Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia." This was no quickie, fly-by-night book. Gross' research involved twenty thousand documents.

Here's what Library Journal, April 15, 1988, says about "Revolution":

"A well-written and carefully documented study. Gross examines surviving depositions and surveys collected by Polish authorities in the wake of the Soviet occupation of the western Ukraine and western Belorussia, 1939-41. Through the miseries of the common people he presents, Gross reveals the means by which the Soviets assumed power. The topics analyzed are dictated by the documents: conquest, elections, socialization, prisons, and deportations. The themes which emerge are twofold: the substitution of the rule of law for that of individuals and the destructive power of totalitarianism through wasted human talent. Highly recommended."

Here's a snip from Prof. Anna M. Cienciala's review in "The American Historical Review":

"The first scholarly account and analysis, in English, of the Communist revolution in Soviet-occupied eastern Poland." Cienciala points about that Gross shows that the Soviets killed more people during this time period than Germans killed in German-occupied Poland. Cienciala concludes by calling the book "detailed and fascinating." "His book should be read by all students of Soviety history, sociology, and government."

Excerpts from a laudatory New York Times review by Thomas Swick, published on June 12, 1988:

"Controlling over 50 percent of Poland's territory, the Soviet Union deported approximately half a million civilians between 1939 and 1941. It also established a policy of spoliation - of land, property, cities, lives - that was so complete it caused the Poles to assume the foreign presence was only temporary. For if the Russians meant to stay, they reasoned, why would they be destroying everything? Through extensive research - including the discovery of handwritten accounts by ordinary people who experienced the occupation - Jan T. Gross has given us an invaluable portrait of that time…There is no chapter without its horrors … The exhuming of so much valuable information would be enough to recommend this book, but Mr. Gross adds to his gripping account a masterly analysis of the nature and workings of the totalitarian state."

In short, Jan Tomasz Gross, in rebelling against the Soviet-supported Communist regime in Poland, in serving time, and in devoting himself, in exile, to writing books that introduce the English-speaking world to Poland's crucifixion under the Soviets, fully deserved the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland which was bestowed on him.

After Gross published "Neighbors" and "Fear," many attacked Gross. To me, this looks like "kill the messenger" syndrome. The message upset many: Poles committed atrocities. Many Poles confronted this troubling news head-on. I quote two such Poles in "Bieganski." Here's one: Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska, Polish journalist and diplomat. "Neighbors is a book which had to be written … If I want to have a moral right to justified pride in [Polish] rescuers, then I must admit to a sense of shame over [Polish] killers."

To me, it's that simple. People who share my ethnic background have done bad things. People who share my ethnic background have done good things. If I want to be proud of the heroes, I must also come to terms with the killers.

I can't emphasize enough: I'm talking here about Gross' books, not about press response to them. I address the press response in "Bieganski."

Gross' critics tend to advance the following complaints:

* Gross is a sociologist, not an historian, so his history can't be trusted.

Gross was a sociologist when he wrote "Revolution from Abroad." Did anyone mount that protest against that book?

And can anyone give a reason why Gross' training as a sociologist renders "Neighbors" or "Fear" flawed?

* Gross wrote these books for financial gain.

Academics don't make a lot of money from books. Gross had no way of knowing that these books would become front page news. There is a flood of Holocaust material out there; some very good books get very little attention. This comment is a baseless attempt to impugn Gross' honor; as such, it merely reflects badly on the speaker.

* Gross shows outrage when writing of massacres of Jews.

I find this argument particularly hard to read. Gross' outrage is entirely appropriate. Anyone who isn't outraged by what transpired in Jedwabne and Kielce is incapable of the kind of humanity necessary to produce worthy history.

* Gross was wrong in this or that particular.

Yes, Gross got some details wrong. It is to be hoped that any follow-up printings of "Neighbors" correct errors.

* Gross attributes actions to Poles when German Nazis or Russian Soviets were really the guilty parties.

The massacre at Jedwabne occurred under German Nazi occupation. The pogrom in Kielce occurred under Russian Soviet occupation. Many argue that Germans and Russians are guilty, not Poles. While it is important never to forget the occupying powers and their impact, testimonies, including from Poles, locate agency in Poles.

***

FWIW, my Amazon review of "Fear" can be read here.

***

I admire Jan Tomasz Gross. I admire the courage to speak unpopular truths. I admire the courage to go on when one is insulted for speaking unpopular truths.

30 comments:

  1. I admire people who use their knowledge to advance healing, and peace. And from what I see, (I admit I have only read numerous reviews of his work), Gross has an ax to grind. There is enough guilt to go around for all...including the Jews. But, my goal is to promote healing and peace, not hatred.

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  2. Hi, Anonymous. Thank you for reading and commenting.

    I, too, admire those who use knowledge to promote healing and peace.

    Isn't part of that process identifying sites of infection, sites that need to be cleansed?

    I often faced harsh criticism when I was working on "Bieganski." There is a lot of ugly stuff in that book. People said to me, "Why bring up all this ugly stuff?"

    I replied, "Sunshine is the best disinfectant."

    Didn't JT Gross do something similar? Shine light on areas that needed to be exposed, and cleaned?

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  3. Conformer with a causeNovember 5, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    I was interested to read some of Gunnar Paulsson's ( a historian for whom I have far more respect than Jan Gross) comments on "Fear"

    "Criticisms of Fear: (1) he acts like he discovered all this, whereas it has all been known for a long time. His argument debunking the Zydokomuna myth recycles Krystyna Kersten's book, Polacy-Zydzi-Komunizm (1990, I think) - and he doesn't give her any credit. The part on Kielce recycles Bozena Szaynok's book (1999 I think). He gives her a nod, but that's all. Frank discussion of Polish-Jewish issues and criticisms of Polish behaviour - well, you could go back to Czeslaw Milosa's poems Campo di Fiori and Biedny Chrzescianin patrzy na ghetto, both 1944."

    and further

    "With Fear, Gross has gone completely overboard. Apart from stealing from colleagues without giving them due (or sometimes any) credit, he generalizes outrageously without citing much quantitative evidence. I have two basic criticisms of the book: (1) you can't draw proper conclusions about anything on the basis of only one type of evidence, and (2) although he wraps himself in the mantle of Chris Browning by describing the perpetrators in Jedwabne as "ordinary men", he actually follows in the footsteps of Goldhagen, reading them as "ordinary Poles". In other words, where Browning drew general human conclusions, Goldhagen and Gross get stuck at the national level, attributing the events they describe (in both cases outrageously selective) to national peculiarities instead of human nature. Now there is a large literature on mass violence, often involving people who know each other and have lived side by side peacefully for ages - in my book, I cite a review essay by the South African social psychologist Don Foster that gives a good overview and discusses the various theories that have been proposed. None of them involve national characteristics."

    and onwards

    "Gross's central contentions in Fear - that Poles were plagued with guilt over having taken over "ex-Jewish" property and feared reprisals, and that in taking over Jewish property they were being complicit with the Nazis, I think are more baloney. Poles also came into "ex-German" property in the West after the war, and Ukrainians came into "ex-Polish" property. For that matter, Israelis came into "ex-Arab" property in 1948 (and Arabs in cities from which Jewish refugees had fled also came into "ex-Jewish" property. When the Germans had emptied a Shtetl and hauled away all the Jews, the Polish population descended on the Jewish property like vultures - perfectly true. Not nice, not pleasant. But whom were they actually robbing? Jews working in the Werterfassung in the Warsaw ghetto, reclaiming Jewish property for the Reich, engaged in "szaber", which Ringleblum translated as "robbing the robbers". My mother survived Auschwitz by working in the "Canada" commando at Birkenau, sorting the property of the Hungarian Jews, and "organizing" whatever she could. So as far as the Poles were concerned, it was the Germans, not the Jews, whom they were relieving of "ex-Jewish" property."

    I know Paulsson gets upset with what he calls "selective quoting" (what type of quoting isn't selective I wonder?) from his book and other work but I hope he does not mind my cut and paste job here.

    At any rate don't go too overboard with your praising of Jan Gross...

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  4. I appreciate Conformist with a Cause's words, but he/she is not responding to anything I wrote.

    I didn't say that Jan Tomasz Gross is a saint or a model of perfection. I said that he's Polish. I said that I admire his courage. I said that the press treatment of his work must be understood as separate from his work itself, and that he is not responsible for that press treatment. Those are my main points, none of which Conformist with a Cause addressed.

    Is Gross flawed? Yes, of course. We're all flawed.

    Is he the antichrist, as some Amazon posters depict him, or, as a recent email to me identified him, "the number 1 person doing damage to the poles" (sic)?

    No.

    Conformist with a Cause's complains that Gross does not credit previous scholars. That's a serious complaint, and I'd like to see any reply Gross has offered to it. It's especially serious given that professionals in the media and amateur reviewers on Amazon insisted that only Gross, a Jew, could teach those essentially stupid and racist Poles about their debased nature.

    Again, Conformist with a Cause apparently did not read my comments before responding to them. I include a link to my Amazon review, which addresses that important point thus:

    Two misconceptions stand out. One is the insistence that a Polish national essence is responsible for the crime at Kielce. Gross himself attempts to fend off this kind of essentializing with his opening quote about the genocide in Rwanda. Events like these have happened before, far distant from Poland; they will happen again. We must develop a cross-cultural paradigm for understanding, one that is not hostage to the accumulation of chips in an ethnic grudge match.

    The other misconception is the insistence that Gross alone has "forced" Poles from their "denial." Again, in this understanding, Poles are essentially incapable of conscience, and require a Jewish author to be pilloried for their crimes. This stereotype is all the more believable because many readers are unfamiliar with Poland, and don't speak Polish.

    First, Warsaw-born Gross is as Polish as any Catholic. In any case, even if one rejects his identity on the racist grounds that a Jew can't also be a Pole, non-Jewish Poles, as well as Jewish ones, have been writing about Polish guilt for Polish crimes against Jews. Steinlauf's "Bondage to the Dead" offers a good summary of works by authors like Jan Blonski, Jerzy Ficowski, and Czeslaw Milosz. Many of these writings have not made a splash in the West in the way that Gross' have, but they have ignited self-examination in Poland. Gross quotes one of these works at length: Marcel Lozinski's 1988 film "Witnesses."

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  5. My Polish friend's parents were in a a Nazi slave labor camp. He's wounded and is concerned among other things, about the damage that Jan Gross my be causing to Polish children. He says that he is a small minority of people who are full of hatred and cannot be won over with kindness. And, that he is only given any type of public airing of his views because of an extremist minority that does have influence on the media. If this is the case, he must be confronted and exposed in every legal way possible by Poles and all people of good-will

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  6. Hi, anonymous. Thank you for your comment.

    I appreciate your concern for goodwill for Poles.

    Here's my approach, fwiw:

    One can act from hate or fear, and strive to damage or destroy.

    One can act from love, and strive to support and encourage and cultivate.

    If you take the first approach, you may choose to hate and fear Jan Tomasz Gross, or any other person you identify as an enemy.

    If you take the second approach and act from love, you will strive to support and encourage that which you love and value.

    I prefer the second approach.

    Rather than trying to damage or destroy Gross or anyone else, I prefer to support that which I value.

    I'll give you an example.

    When I was chronically ill, with no income of any kind, I bought a newly published book about Polish American matters, by a Polish American author, and I told as many people as possible about the book, and I gave the book a very positive online review.

    That's a true story.

    I used what little power I had to support a Pole.

    I regularly receive emails from people who are angry at this or that critic of Poland.

    I ask them if they have bought "Bieganski," or told other people to buy it. No, they say, they don't like buying new books. Too expensive.

    I think that that approach has not helped us.

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  7. Hi,
    I do believe Polish did wrong things during the war but they did much more good to help Jewish to survive (despite of death penalty imposed by Nazis). The pity is that Americans know little about the war in Europe. They think that "concentration camps were Polish" as the American press uses this expression (despite a lot of protests against it).
    I am Polish, but I have been living in Germany for 4 years. Germans do not feel any guilt of what happened during the war. They say: they were Nazis not Germans... I understand it and I do not think they should feel any "common responsibility".
    But the effect of Mr Gross's books can be that within few years Polish will need to apologise for Holocaust!
    Mr Gross's books hurt me, my country and my family. This topic must bring him money or fame as he continues writing the same stories that can only partly be supported by history. He states strong opinions against Polish nation and is creating the Anti-Polish atmosphere in the USA, Canada and Europe. Germans are very happy to hear it.
    Kind regards

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  8. Anonymous, I wish you had signed your post. I personally dislike anonymous internet posts, and appreciate the courage and integrity required to post signed posts.

    In any case, I disagree with you. Jan Tomasz Gross is not the problem.

    The problem is Poles and Polonia.

    Poles and Polish Americans (Polish-British, Polish-Australians, etc) do not significantly unite and act significantly.

    I've been working on these issues for years. I have one Polish ally -- John Guzlowski. He is the only one who answers my emails, supports my work, talks about the issues at hand. As far as I know, he is the only one who cares.

    Others? What are Poles and Polish Americans doing?

    Have *any* Polish Americans bought, read, reviewed, shared, AND promoted "Bieganski," the only scholarly book devoted to negative stereotyping of Poles? I'm unaware of any.

    Your blaming Jan Tomasz Gross is just plain silly, and you should stop it immediately and put your energy into working for worthy causes.

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  9. Hello again,
    I would like to respond shortly to your comment.
    I have not read your book, but I can promise you I will get and read one. I agree that lack of integrity of Polish emigration in many countries may be one of the problems. I do not know what exactly Polish Americans do (or do not do) for (against) the stereotypes of Pole that upsets you so much, but I believe I will learn about it in your book. However, not buying, reading or reviewing your book does not mean they do not care!

    I see negative stereotypes of Pole growing around and Mr Gross's books do not help to change this stereotype into positive one. And unfortunately his books are read in the USA and Poland.
    I have shared my opinion and I think my energy has been allocated well because my comment means that the topic matters to me, even if opinion is different than yours.

    If you go one day to Halifax, NS in Canada, please visit PIER 21 museum and attend the 30 min multimedia presentation about emigrants displayed there. I am very curious about your opinion on Polish emigrant presented there. I am not an expert on emigration or history, so I will be glad to hear what you say about it.

    Kind regards and do not give up!
    Malgorzata

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  10. Hello, Malgorzata. Thank you for writing.

    I'm glad you will get a hold of my book and read it. I know it's expensive, but if you may be able to find a copy at a library, or through interlibrary loan.

    Regarding Prof. Gross -- I wonder what you think of the fact that he resisted the Soviet regime, and served time in jail for that. To me, that is heroic.

    Also, I wonder if you have thought about his earlier work, "Revolution from Abroad," that brought to light the horrible Soviet invasion and occupation. Again, I find his work heroic.

    Also, the Kielce pogrom really did happen. We have to come to terms with it, do we not?

    I see Gross' work of publishing on important matters as heroic, not as a bad thing, but as a good thing.

    No? Please tell me what I'm getting wrong. I will listen to your reply and take it seriously.

    Now you have me very curious about the mulitmedia display on Polish immigration. I travel very little, so I will try to learn something about this display from the web.

    Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku!

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  11. Hi,I am of opinion that J.T.Gross's writing now is not the same as it was when he came as an immigrant to the USA.His book about terrible fate of Polish children on ex-Polish territory (kresy)under Soviet power seems to be evidently more traditional in relation both to the language and methods.In spite of their scientific values such books are seldom bestsellers nowdays.It may happened that some American editors have suggested Mr.Gross to change his style in order to get publicity.To use more emotional words, to choose the most drastic and extreme facts from very diverse social life in post-war Poland.
    And J.T.Gross became a famous writer, his books about Polish - Jewish relations are widely known
    and are printed in thousands copies both in USA and Poland.He and his publishers must be now very satisfied. I would be not surprised, if they have already ordered a sequel to his last book "Golden Harvest".Critical opinions expressed in scientific circles are less and less important; commercial success is decisive.

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  12. Hello, anonymous, and thank you for posting. I really do wish people would not post anonymously. I prefer posts with names.

    In any case, you may be right.

    If you are right, what is the best thing for Poles and those concerned about the truth to do?

    We have at least two options. We can obsess on Jan Tomasz Gross, and post negative posts about him on the internet.

    Or, we can unite, support each other, and advance our own story.

    Buy Polish books and DVDs, including mine, John Guzlowski's, Mishael Porembski's, and those published by Aquila Polonica.

    Read them. Post reviews on Amazon. Form committees and present your case in school districts, on university campuses, and in the press.

    It is much better that we light our own lamps than try to blow out others', including JT Gross'.

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  13. Hello Danusha,
    I would also like to wish you happy New Year!
    As promised I have ordered Bieganski. Money spent on books is always spent well, so I am not worried about these expenses.
    I would like to apologize in advance for my lengthy response (2 or 3 parts) and possible language mistakes. Please give me credits as I am not the native English speaker. Additionally, please treat my comments as my personal opinion, even if I use sometimes “we” and “us” (=Poles) instead of “I”. I am neither a historian, nor an emigration or social study specialist. I am a Pole who cares and would like to share opinion.

    I was thinking about JT Gross and his books. I was also trying to follow the discussion that takes place in Poland now. You also made me to re-think again the issue and partly review my opinion.

    I have never diminished Mr. Gross service to Poland. I know little about the life (only what is publicly accessible). He was one of these courageous people that fought against communism in my country, but emigrated from Poland shortly after he was released from jail. For years he has supplied America with Polish history and helped to expand knowledge about Poland there. He was awarded one of the highest civil orders of Poland for his role in the improvement of relations between Poland and USA. And we, Poles, are grateful for it.
    This is one of the reasons why I cannot understand why he changed his approach? We would rather expect him to feel responsibility and continue being “ambassador” of Poland. Is it really only because his professional interests have changed? Or is there something else behind? There have been few theories developed which sound more or less believable, but I do not know the true answer.

    I do not deny the Kielce Pogrom or Jedwabne took place. They did happen, but not everything Mr. Gross wrote seems to be pure truth. His interpretations and conclusions are biased and there are some historical mistruths there. There were at least a few historians that critically referred to Mr. Gross books. Their articles or books are available in Poland. I do not know how many of them have been ever published in the USA. In fact, some of these publications are quite biased too…

    But I agree with you - his work is heroic. I was thinking about it last two weeks and I got to the conclusion that he, in fact, IS heroic. First, writing about the things that most would like to forget, or call not existing, is brave, especially when it brings hate of fellow countrymen. It is heroic to be “messenger of bad news”. Secondly, I also found something else positive in his books. He makes us (Poles) thinking. He revises the overall myth of being the bravest nation in the world ( and the most “in trouble”) and to our romantic believe that we have “mission” between the nations that makes us special and only good (even if we really are ;-)) This is the way Poles in Poland are brought up. We have learnt in the school only that part of history that makes as heroes, never being taught about negative parts (e.g. relations with Ukraine, Czech Republic). We were always victims, never aggressors. This view was supported by movies, historical literature, teachers, historians, politicians and fiction books too. I agree, we should also learn about the adverse part of our history. I only wish Mr. Gross had avoided oversimplification and blaming the whole nation for these terrible acts he described. The controversy around his books makes them easy saleable. It may look like “it does not matter what people say, it is good they talk”.

    to be continued...

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  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  15. HI,
    Part 2 of my comment is missing.
    Should I post it again?
    M.

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  16. Malgorzata, I'm sorry. If you like you can post it again, or I can look for it.

    I also apologize for a delayed response. Busy weekend!

    Thank you.

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  17. Hi, Malgorzata, I just looked under the comments tab and I see no comments awaiting, so part two is, indeed, missing.

    Can you please resend it and I will post it?

    Thank you.

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  18. here you are - part 2

    Now I would like to say why his work is not a good thing.
    It is one issue to make us, Poles, reviewing our knowledge about history, but the other thing it is blaming all Poles in front of the world, to others that often do not know much about our history. His books give the strong impression that Poland generally supported Holocaust, Poles are Anti-Semites and you cannot expect anything good from Poles. I do not say we should keep truth hidden in Poland, but let’s think who reads his books in America and Poland. I would estimate that max 10 % of readers are historians, and other highly educated people interested in the topic. These people will resist the hatred towards Polish as their overall knowledge about Polish history is good enough. Another part of readers will be those that already have negative opinion about Poles, built in the past, so they will read the books to support their view. They will follow the overall impressions created in the books; they will never read any articles that disclose some discrepancies or clarify the possible reasons of these acts (but not justify). There are plenty tensions between Jews and Poles. We have to work it through, not bringing new ones.

    The last group of readers will be Poles who are angry that someone is blaming Poland again. And here I would like to talk a bit more about “the guilt”. Poles are generally “oversensitive” about themselves. We are easily offended people, especially when it relates to our history. We think we “got cheated” by Western World a few times so they have no right to judge us. Plus - we have inferiority complex. But on the other hand, we are humble people and are often willing to apologize to avoid conflicts, but it does not mean we admit to be guilty.
    BUT we DO care what the world says about us. We DO feel bad about Kielce and Jedwabne. But we DO NOT want to take any collective responsibility imposed on us.
    I watched yesterday (via internet) the TVP show “Tomasz Lisa na żywo“ dated on January 3, which was dedicated to JT Gross’s and his last book Golden Harvest. Tomasz Lis interviewed JT Gross and Mrs. Grudzinska-Gross. The authors claim their publications are useful, because they open the possibility to discuss the issue and “work out” this history. They said that the discussion about Jewish-Polish relations was very much appreciated in the Jewish communities in the USA and, in fact, Poland is the only country that currently takes the effort to discuss it. They also attempt “to soften” the books’ anti-Polish context saying that acts of aggressions against neighbors are human weakness and happened in many war or post-war local societies (post- Yugoslavia, Ruanda) or that Poles did not behaved worse than other nations. I appreciate it. They also believe the books do not create anti-polish opinions and that since the discussion began, the NY Jewish communities’ opinion about Poles has even improved. I personally cannot believe this could be the case, but I agree the open and honest discussion is always useful. But are his books sufficiently objective to give the impulse for such a discussion??

    In my opinion his books enhance the stereotype of Pole as Anti-Semite. When I read or hear statements that Poles have to finally confront their deep Anti-Semitism, I know the author of this comment has never been to Poland and probably does not even know any Poles. I have no idea where they currently see Anti-Semitism in Poland. But I can assume they drew the conclusions from Mr. Gross’s books. This is why I think they bring more harm than good. Especially, when we are trying to work out our relations with the world again.

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  19. Malgorzata, great, thank you. I look forward to reading and responding, hopefully later today.

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  20. Dear Malgorzata,

    Thank you so much for ordering my book. I am touched and honored. I look forward to learning your opinion.

    I admire the intelligence and passion in your posts. I hope you will continue to read and contribute to this blog. I wish I knew more about you.

    Of course one should disregard any mistakes you make in English. After all, you do me the honor of speaking to me in English. My Polish is very weak.

    You ask why Prof. Gross' approach has changed. I wonder if you have directed this question to him? He might respond.

    I ask: has his approach really changed? He has continued to write scholarly books about important events.

    You say that there are factual errors in Gross' writings. Yes, there are discrepancies between what Gross reported in his books and what was later discovered. I hope that changes will be incorporated into revisions of his work.

    You ask if comments on Gross' work are known in the US. No, they are not. In the US, the Brute Polak image dominates. We, Poles, have done nothing to counter that. I have worked very hard, for the most part, without support from my fellow Poles or Polonians. John Guzlowski stands out as a very supportive person.

    Otherwise, though, there is no organization, no lobbying, no effective thrust to change what is taught in schools and universities, little to no funding for people like me working on these matters.

    We've got to change that. Until we do, the Brute Polak stereotype will dominate.

    You talk about the image of Poles as brave victims who have a mission.

    There is much truth to that image. I've lived internationally and studied the histories of many countries, and Poles really ARE exceptional. Americans are exceptional, too, as are the English, and the Jews. Many nations have special histories and special gifts for mankind. The Dalai Lama is Tibetan Buddhism's gift to the world. Mahatma Gandhi made India's gifts available to the world. Etc.

    Poles should never forget figures like Irena Sendler and Jan Karski.

    Poles as brave victims with a mission for the world? The fact is, many Poles were just that. Not all, of course, but many. We don't do anyone any good by forgetting our best.

    Malgorzata, what you wrote, below, really gave me pause:

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  21. "Now I would like to say why his work is bad thing. It is one thing to make us, Poles, reviewing our knowledge about history, but another thing it is blaming all Poles in front of the world, to others that do not know much about our history. His books give the strong impression that Poland generally supported Holocaust, Poles are Anti-Semites and you cannot expect anything good from Poles. I do not say we should keep truth hidden in Poland, but let’s think who reads his books in America and Poland. I would estimate that max 10 % of readers are historians, and other highly educated people interested in the topic. These people will resist the hatred towards Polish as their overall knowledge about Polish history is good enough. Another part of readers will be those that already have negative opinion about Poles, built in the past, so they will read the books to support their view. They will follow the overall impressions created in the books; they will never read any articles that disclose some discrepancies or clarify the possible reasons of these acts (but not justify). There are plenty tensions between Jews and Poles. We have to work it through, not bringing new ones… In my opinion his books enhance the stereotype of Pole as Anti-Semite. When I read or hear statements that Poles have to finally confront their deep Anti-Semitism, I know the author of this comment has never been to Poland and probably does not even know any Poles. I have no idea where they currently see Anti-Semitism in Poland. But I can assume they drew the conclusions from Mr. Gross’s books. This is why I think they bring more harm than good. Especially, when we are trying to work out our relations with the world again."

    My friend, I think you are exactly correct.

    You've given me an idea.

    I'm going to e-mail Prof. Gross, whom I've never met, and invite him to read and do what he can to promote my book. I'll post that e-mail here.

    jtgross@princeton.edu

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  22. Okay, here's the blog post about the email to Prof. Gross: http://bieganski-the-blog.blogspot.com/2011/01/open-letter-to-jan-tomasz-gross.html

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  23. I think it is good idea to invite Mr. Gross to read Biegansky and review it. I am glad I inspired you, but I think there is no need for a reason to ask him (extract from my post or “rectifying damages”). Why not just a favor between teachers, authors, Poles (by birth or heart) that share the same passion, job, interests?
    Mr. Gross has already answered many questions related to “possible damages” in Poland. He does not think it is the case. In fact, he cannot be responsible for who reads his books. Also Polish court rejected (as I remember) some charges against him. As you noticed, my post refers to emotions (and subconsciousness?) that cannot be measured, but this is how stereotypes are built-in in the society and stay long, isn’t it?
    I was thinking if I would like Mr. Gross to stop writing... And I think I do not. I only wish he put a bit more objectivity and double checks in his publications. Or maybe – add some deeper background of the stories he described, which would help to balance out Anti-Polish meanings.
    Some Poles (in Poland) react very aggressively but do nothing. Some do not care at all. And some do care and act. Currently there are some “spam actions” against this publisher in Poland, but I do not think it is the effective way to protest. I think, if the book has been already published anywhere in the world (I am talking about Golden Harvest), it is good, it will be published in Poland. It will give Poles a chance to read it in Polish and build own opinion.
    You also inspired me. As soon as I have read Bieganski, I will send e-mail with my review to Polish Publisher of Mr. Gross’s books – Wydawnictwo Znak. Maybe they would also like to “rectify damages” ;-)

    What refers to Poles as brave victims… I am a person that will never stop being grateful to all these people who served my country. I will never forget. I am the one that has Polish flag spread on the wall in my German apartment. I am the one that buys books, movies and albums about Poland as gifts for all my foreign friends. They might be tired of it ;-) but I will continue as long as such books, movies etc. are available (also thanks to people like you!). I am a person that has tears in eyes when hears Polish anthem and also thinks Poles are “special”. I just do not want to take “this uniqueness” as granted. There is work to be done.
    Is it pathetic? I hope not.

    Please let me know by e-mail if you are interested in Pier 21 show. They have finished yearly inventory count, so I could order it and make it delivered to you first.
    Thank you and best regards,
    M.

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  24. Hi, Malgorzata. Thank you for offering your thoughts again. I will email you about the Pier 21 show.

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  25. meny of polish people death because they wont save jews...
    about 50% treE in Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority is Sacrifice polish people who deat help jews...thousands of polish cooperate with german who kills jews... but more then 2000000 lost live becouse they fight with nazi... I DONT KNOW WHAY Jan Tomasz Gross... HATE POLISH PEOPLE SO MUCH... HI IS ANTIPOLISH NAZI OR SOMETHING LIKE THIS...

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    Replies
    1. Pierogi may not be Polish. Ukrainians claim it as their own, and that we took it from them.

      In any case, Gross' ancestry is irrelevant. This half-Pole/half-Jew thinks entirely like an anti-Polish Jew. He is not simply wrong on some facts: He shows a reckless disregard for facts.

      Jan T. Gross is, at best, a divisive factor in Polish-Jewish relations. There is nothing courageous about attacking Poles. Poles have no means of fighting back.

      I have just reviewed Gross' most recent Pole-bashing work, GOLDEN HARVEST. To read my review, please click on my name in this posting.

      Delete
  26. Off topic or maybe not.. I have been travelling all over Central Europe on bike. 5 month/9000 Km. Also mountaineering/climbing/skiing/ice climbing. Lived and worked as craftsman in East Germany. My impression is there are huge differences between Central Europeans. The most kindly people was in Slovenia and Czech Republic. The most brutal in everydaylife situations was Croatian and then people in Poland. (like it or not..) In my home country Denmark we have a lot of workers from Poland. They have no good reputation. I have the impression they like to see them self as some sort of innocent victims and being as aggressive as many second generation immigrants from the Middle East. On a Mountain Chalet in Slovak Tatra i was hit very hard in my back. (I've trained boxing & martial art, making me familiar with sudden pain..) I turned around very upset and ready for anything, until I realised the one hitting me so stupidly was a man with whom I had spoken friendly and openminded up in the mountains! Now smiling and showing how satisfying it was to meet up again! -Guess which nationality..?! He's teenager daughter looked quite embarrassed. Another situation in a Polish chalet; a schoolteacher simply kicked his student in the back while being unsatisfied with a minor issue.
    You have personal and on a larger scale issues to deal with in Poland. Start working with your own responsibility and stop blaming others for your hard time and tough history.
    I still do travel a lot (sailor) and to be honest I still don't find much in Polish everyday character to be impressed of.
    You should talk about and accept these issues from WWII. Lots of Jews were killed while they weren't accepted and had a great(..er) sense of making business. (Greed and envy are strong feelings..) An honest shipsofficer and an established merchant (both from Poland) separately told me about this topic.
    Czech people have an admirable attitude with lots of humour. Generally stoic and relaxed working their way through hard times. I wish Poland could learn of them ..

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  27. Lars, your post appears at the link, below. there are responses which I hope you will read:

    http://bieganski-the-blog.blogspot.com/2012/08/from-lars-poles-need-to-shape-up.html

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  28. Gosha/Malgorzata. Thanks 4 posting int€rr€sting opinions. T. Gross hat€s Pol€s,I C it. H€ must b€ a bitt€r man, I f€€l sorry for him Gr€€tings 2 both of U, Asha

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  29. When reading the discussion here I get the impression that Poles are the devils impersonated. As I already have seen the expression Polish concentration camps in the Swedish media, I wouldn't be surprised if Poles were declared to be responsible for the Holocaust any time soon.

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