Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Brute Polak Stereotype on Display at Pier 21: Canada's Immigration Museum

From the Pier 21 Homepage Source

Bieganski, the Brute Polak stereotype, is everywhere in Western culture. It is in pulp paperback bestsellers. It is in pious, self-righteous Holocaust books written by Presbyterian elders and published by university presses. It is in mainstream movies.

Thanks to Malgorzata, a reader of this blog, I now know that Bieganski, the brute Polak, is also featured in a film shown at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Pier 21 has been compared to Ellis Island, the United States' historic point of disembarkation for many immigrants. The film is shown to visitors to the museum. The film teaches the viewer about brute Poles, and reaffirms any prejudice they may already have.

The brute Polak stereotype exists for at least two vital reasons.

One is this. We need to come to terms with the Holocaust. It is incredibly challenging to admit that humans exactly like us could commit such atrocities. The Bieganski stereotype offers an easy out: it wasn't people just like us who committed the Holocaust. It was these very, very bad, very, very different people: Poles. As long as you hate and quarantine Poles, all is well.

Too, the Bieganski stereotype reassures its users in the same way that white supremacy reassured white supremacists. You are better than someone else, a group of people so debased and without merit, you can feel comfortable putting them down: The Poles.

I'm saying "Poles," here, but other Bohunks – Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Slovaks, Serbs, etc. – work just as well.

The Bieganski Stereotype on Display at Pier 21: Canada's Immigration Museum.

Malgorzata, after reading my blog, alerted me to a video presentation at Pier 21, Canada's Immigration Museum. Malgorzata sent me the DVD of the video.

"Oceans of Hope / Oceans D'Espoir" is a 26 minute long film. One may view it in English or French. It was made in 1999, with concept and direction by Michel Lemieux. It was funded by the Charles and Andrea Bronfman charities, the Province of Nova Scotia, and the Harrison McCain Foundation.

It offers to "take viewers on an emotional journey through Pier 21's past. Relive history form the late 1920s to the early 1970s when Pier 21 was Canada's front door to one million immigrants. Experience the desperate days when Pier 21 handled nearly 500,000 troops bound for Europe during World War II…featuring captivating vignettes depicting the long exhausting voyages, desire for distant homelands, and hope for a better future."

In short, this is a wholesome, educational film. In fact, "Oceans of Hope" is lovely film, with high production values, including an original score, scripted scenes performed by convincing actors, and authentic costumes. The film has genuine heart. I teared up several times. How could I not? It tells the classic story of immigration and the self-sacrifice of young soldiers who gave their lives in the fight against fascism.

And that's just the thing. The Bieganski stereotype is so all-pervasive, so universally sanctioned, it is entirely acceptable in a wholesome, educational film produced by a team which very clearly wanted to do the right thing.

"Oceans of Hope" consists of several brief vignettes dramatizing the arrival of immigrants to Canada. One depicts a young solider and amputee returning from fighting during World War II. A former pier 21 officer guides the viewer through the vignettes, while he reminisces about his forty-year service among immigrants. There are also montages of vintage photographs of immigrants and soldiers.

The first vignette features Ukrainian peasant immigrants. Jolly, accordion, oompah music plays on the soundtrack. The Ukranian peasant father sports a very large belly, thrusting out of his ill-fitting clothing. I've done a fair amount of reading on Ukrainian immigrants to Canada for a bibliography. The Ukrainians I read about, and saw in archival photos, indeed, my own peasant relatives in Eastern Europe, looked nothing like this fat clown. They were impoverished, hungry, and hard, from uninterrupted manual labor. Apparently these jolly and none-too-bright Ukrainians left Europe on a whim, for an adventure. "Oceans of Hope" never mentions any misfortunes that may have driven Ukrainian peasants out of their own homes. In fact, Ukrainians were driven out of their homes by the relentless hunger and oppression of serfdom. Galicia is a notorious site of poverty and famine. To put it simply – in a series of famines between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, millions of Ukrainians starved to death. "Oceans of Hope" never so much as alludes to any of this. Ukrainians must just like ocean voyages.

That vignette closes. Hitler is shown in profile. A soldier's vignette begins. It is very moving. Jean, a French Canadian, describes service in World War II. Next a group of War Brides, chatting while standing on line, provide comic, and romantic, relief.

The next vignette communicates very clearly that this immigrant is unique. She, unlike Ukrainians, unlike war brides, had a sad reason to leave home. There is a still photo of the barbed wire surrounding a concentration camp, and then one of people holding their hands over their heads. Very sad violin music plays. Anita, maybe 17, in red shirt and striped brown skirt, is seated at a desk, across from a middle-aged woman with a sweater tossed over her shoulders.

"The Jewish Immigrant Aid Society will make sure you will have whatever else you need," the woman declares. "A caring family will take you into their home." This is not a paraphrase – it's the actual dialogue.

Anita shakes her head. "Another home," she repeats, bitterly. "I've been to so many homes. In Poland – " there you have it. The antagonist is established: Poland. "My parents smuggled me out of the ghetto, into a Christian home … so that I could be safe?" she says with rising inflection. The implication is that the Christian home offered no safety.

"They sent me from place to place. I could not go to school, play with other children, anything like that." The girl pauses. The violin music grows louder and sadder. "Everyday I lived in fear. They told me, to be a Jew is to be dead…In Christian homes" a still shot of suffering children is shown "I learned how to be the perfect child. Because otherwise they would report me to the authorities. They said I was a danger to their families. I heard them talking about the way they were rounding up Jews." A still shot of a roundup is shown. No distinction is made between the "they" talking – Christian Poles who had taken in a Jewish child – and "they" – the group doing the rounding up. "like cattle. I never dared ask about my real parents. I was scared. Scared that they would tell me that they were dead. I wanted to be with them so much." More photos are shown of Jews suffering during the Holocaust. The music rises. "I'll never see my mother or my father again."

"I'm so sorry," the woman says. She rises. "But this isn't POLAND!" she announces, firmly, and triumphantly. She crosses the table to Anita. She stands behind Anita, in a supportive pose. "In Montreal, you will be with people who want to HELP you." The emphasis on the word "help" contrasts "people in Montreal" with the Christian Poles about whom Anita has been speaking. The woman rubs Anita's shoulders. "There are no police to take you away in the night. You'll be able to laugh and cry without fear."

Anita smiles for the first time. She turns her head upwards. "I want to believe in the kindness of people." The music loses its lachrymose quality.

I had to watch this vignette twice to reaffirm for myself what I noticed on first viewing, but couldn't really believe: this Pier 21 educational film never mentions the word "Nazi." It never mentions the word "Germany." It never mentions the word "occupation." It doesn't mention the word "war."

Poland. That's all it needs for a setting. Poland, that eternal, ahistorical, unmotivated, Iago of nations, Poland, destroyer of Jews. And "Christian." That word was enough, too.


  1. Thanks for the post. There are so many Poles in Canada. They should do something about this film. I'll send a note to several that I know.

  2. Dear John, Dear Danusha,

    Thank you for the posts! I thought I perhaps misunderstood the movie when I was in this museum last year. Thank you Danusha for describing the show in so detailed way.
    It is exactly it!
    I left Pier 21 with tears in my eyes. This show made me mad for weeks. Or it rather made me sad...
    Canadians! Poles! Please do not let this show be displayed anymore.

    Thank you

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. John and Malgorzata, thank you for reading and commenting.

    John, I am glad you have contacts who might be able to take significant action in relation to this travesty.

    Malgorzata, thank you for bringing this film to our attention.

  5. Michal, thanks for your thoughtful note.

    I will politely disagree about Bieganski being a twentieth century phenom. Forgive me, but have you read the book / do you plan to read it?

    "Bieganski" advances the argument that this stereotype is not so easy to get rid of, because it is doing a lot of important cultural work for those who rely on it. And there is no sign that that work will evaporate any time soon.

    That important cultural work is not just "disrespecting Poles." This is about much, much more than that. It's about a civilizational struggle, about rewriting history, to recast the Holocaust, not as the work of Nazis inspired by, and citing, science and neo-paganism as their guides, but as the work of Polish Catholic peasants.

    Mind -- I'm not saying that Polish Catholic peasants did not do bad things during the Holocaust and after. I'm saying that the bad things they've done have been placed center stage, and Hitler and Himmler's constant citing of evolutionary struggle and blood and race are de-emphasized, if mentioned at all.

    My students, and even educated ,professional adults, constantly tell me that the Holocaust was something "Christianity" did to Jews.

    I like to ask my students what the Nazis did with handicapped people. They give me blank stares. This part of history is going down the memory hole. That's not a good thing for anyone -- this isn't just about Polish people's thin skins.

    I look forward to hearing your reaction after you've read the book.

  6. Hi Goszka,

    and thank you for your excellent book...

    An information about your book titled "Obrzydliwy stereotyp Polaka propagowany przez elity w USA" was published in Polish.

    You may see it here:,obrzydliwy-stereotyp-polaka-propagowany-przez-elity-w-usa

  7. Andy, thanks. For the record, my last name is G o s k a. Thank you.

    Mihal: "Good v. evil"? That's you, not me. "Fighting for the good name of the church"? You, not me.

    Mihal, was it you – or was it someone else – who posted here insisting that Jan Tomasz Gross had made a certain statement about Poles, and invited me to watch a youtube video, and I watched the youtube video and Gross had said no such thing on it?

    I respect interlocutors who listen carefully and don't create straw man arguments.

    Now, to points in your post I can address:

    "out of the realm of professional academic history"

    Two points:

    1.) I'm not an historian. "Bieganski" is not a history book.

    2.) It is entirely within the purview of scholarly works on stereotypes to address the reasons stereotypes exist, including political reasons. This has always been so.

    No one talks about misogynist stereotypes without talking about why those stereotypes exist and how they are applied in the real world.

    Read any given work on stereotypes of African Americans and you will read about those stereotypes' application in the real world.

    A new, and very, very well reviewed book on stereotypes of Jews, Anthony Julius' "Trials of the Diaspora," leads to this climax: "Don't criticize Israel; if you do, you are an anti-Semite, descendent of those bastards in the Middle Ages who spread blood libel." You may agree with that point or disagree with that point, but that is the point, and the book was published by Oxford University Press and given ecstatic reviews by Philip Roth and Harold Bloom.

    In short, Mihal, your comment not only assigns positions to me that neither I nor my book take, you also incorrectly assess what constitutes academic discourse.

    I understand that you have not read the book, but your not having read it limits your ability to discuss it.

  8. "maybe you could clarify what you meant by 'civilizational struggle'"


    In fact ... I'll write a book clarifying that point ... and the book will be available on Amazon ...

    Michal, if you don't want to buy the book, perhaps you can get it at the library?

    Not giving you a hard time. Just a suggestion. The topic seems to interest you, and you will see exactly what I have to say on it in the book itself. I can't reproduce the book in an internet post.

    Points I can address in an internet post, I'm happy to address. But this is a big one, and it takes the whole book.

  9. PS: Apologies if I've misspelled your name. I do know a Mihal and so I may have spelled your name as Mihal rather than Michal.

  10. I am responding to what you've written on this blog. In nearly every post you say "buy the book". It's not available in the library here. Even if I had ordered it last week, it wouldn't be here for a while yet. Patience, friend!

    You clearly don't have a problem discussing with other people one your blog who haven't read your book. I make it clear that I'm responding to your blog and not your book. While I can understand that it might wear you out to repeat yourself, it comes across as a good way not to answer a straightforward question.

    I spell my name a few different ways, with or without diacriticals, so I don't mind your mispellings. Honestly, I have some disagreement with you on certain points, though I'm not even sure how much, but I think your writing is valuable and I regret that we're getting a little hostile. I would like to clarify, for what it's worth, that when I said that you're very near the borders of acceptable academic discourse, I meant that with a great deal of respect.


  11. Michal:

    "it comes across as a good way not to answer a straightforward question."

    If you want to conclude that, that's okay with me. OTOH, I've published an entire book addressing the question, so I don't see how I can be accused of ducking the question when I've attempted to answer it at length.

    Of course I discuss some matters on the blog.

    Example: I receive a fair amount of email saying, for example, "JT Gross is not Polish."

    It's easy to address a point like that on a blog. I don't address it in the book. It's not important to the book.

    But the reasons for the invention of this stereotype and its deployment are much more complex than "JT Gross is not really Polish."

    One point can be adequately covered in a blog post, another cannot.

    Finally, for me, in my value system, it is of utmost importance, in this discussion, not to misstate others' points, and not to attempt to summarize the points of others whose works I have not yet read -- for whatever reason.

  12. Dear Americans, Canadians, Poles - readers of this blog,
    I would like to inform you that I have sent the letter to Board of Directors of Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. Some of my friends watched the movie too, and are going to complain. If we do not get any satisfactory response, I am going to “move the Earth” until the movie disappears from the museum’s display.

    If you do not believe what is described here, you can order the movie “Oceans of Hope” under the following e-mail address: or by phone at (902) 425-7770 ext. 227.
    Unfortunately, this 24- minute show costs 29,95 $ + sales tax + shipping costs. The Customer Guarantee says: “should anything you order from the Pier 21 Museum Gift Shop not meet your expectations, it can be returned for replacement or a refund”.

    If you do believe what Danusha described, please send the letter of complaint to Board of Directors addressed to the Office Manager Sylvie Lagacé:
    Please join me. Please do not call me naive. We can change it. I know we can!
    Thank you,

  13. "I am going to “move the Earth” until the movie disappears from the museum’s display."

    Yay, Gosia! I love to read this! I love your determination and your action.

    I'm going to send my own email as soon as I finish this post.

  14. "I am going to “move the Earth” until the movie disappears from the museum’s display."

    Yay, Gosia! I love to read this! I love your determination and your action.

    I'm going to send my own email as soon as I finish this post.

  15. As I have said on the Facebook site, the Canadian Polish Congress was made aware of this and we are initiating a letter writing campaign by our member organizations and branches. It is a shame that a country who fought so hard against an evil oppressor (or two), lost everything, and yet helped the West win and retain freedom, gets so little recognition of its role and even gets malicious misinformation printed/filmed about it!

  16. For those interested, as of 7/24/11, a search of WorldCat, the OCLC catalog of international library holdings, there are 94 copies of Dr. Goska's book in libraries and museums on the planet, only *maybe* one of these in a general non academic library. 3 electronic copies are in universities in what looks like German institutions.

    My attempt to get a local, non academic library to acquire "Bieganski", led to being told it was not consistent with their collections policy, or something like that. This is a not small city, and has many Polonians.

    Other groups seem to get their materials bought with public funds.

    Occasionally, libraries will put on shows about attempts at censoring library acquistions, mostly focused on public complaints regarding libraries' acquisitions of "controversial" books, and making much of libraries as great defenders of intellectual freedom. Such chest beating distracts from the more real, significant, and hidden censorship imposed by libraries not buying certain books, and publishers not publishing them.
    Thus the tendency here is to bury "Bieganski" in the enclaves of the elites, probably most of whom will read it as a response to threat, rather than an education in shared humanity.


  17. When Polish Americans buy "Bieganski" and ask for it at their local libraries it will succeed. So far, that has not happened. Polonia needs to look to itself on this matter.

  18. Yeah. "Polonia needs to look to itself on this matter" -- and everyone else gets public funding and freebies for their cultural capital, but your advice to the Polaks is they have to look to themselves, while in reality they are already always funding everyone else's?
    If THEY get the libraries to buy THEIR stuff for them, WHY NOT US? Our taxes, their books. Our books, our own wallets. This is the stuff of which cultural genocide is made. Disappearance, erasure. I'd like a little better for my kids than that. Maybe even - - a little equality.

    Are you sure you want to be part of validating as normal or acceptable THEM keep on keeping on with their usual version of sharing ---- What's yours is mine, and what's mine is mine?

    Your book, an excellent one, is highly pricey. Twice as expensive as most books of similar size (but meaty though). I bought a copy myself. Well, two copies, and downloaded one for free. Especially in this economy, it's priced out of range of most working class Polonians -- a steep price for taking a chance on who knows what, unread? Fewer bucks, you look to be sure to get more bang for the buck, especially if you have a family, or are paying your own way through the U. But you know that of course, I know.

    My experience, noted in a previous post, shows that your hope that "when Polish Americans ... ask for it at their local libraries it will succeed" is not supported by data. I asked. It "wasn't consistent with their collections policy".
    Add to that the data from WorldCat. None of this supports your view that when they ask for it, the library will buy it. Sorry. Perhaps I have less faith in the intelligentsia than you do.


  19. Dear Readers,
    I would like to share with you the response from the museum to Dr Jan Czekajewski's letter from July 2008. As you can read, despite of promises, the Museum DID NOTHING to amend the movie. The movie is as it was. It blames Polish Christians for Nazis crimes. There is no explanation and historical context in the movie itself and - contrary to the response from the museum - the exhibition does not give any sufficient background of the war context in Poland either. This movie is watched by children and adults and is on sale in the Museums shop. Nothing has changed…

    see below posts

  20. Dr Jan Czekajewski
    July 26, 2008
    Dear Dr Czekajewski,
    I have reviewed your message regarding our multimedia presentation, "Oceans of Hope", and hope my response will address your concerns. "Oceans of Hope" is a presentation that uses sample narratives to sketch an impression of the scope of heritage related to Pier 21 as a National Historic Site of Canada. The episodes are interpretive, composite accounts, drawn from many sources, including personal memoirs and recollections. The resulting narratives in the film are evocative, even emotional. The story of a young Jewish girl from Poland, orphaned by the violence of the Nazis, is difficult to hear. It is a reminder of a time of organized and massive brutality, of the de-humanization of entire groups of people. Dealing with that era is hard for any of us who have empathy for the past - and many of us have personal connections with those who suffered through this period, and so can feel the deep hurt as it still extends into the present. The story that has provoked your concern is based on a large body of evidence which clearly indicates that both rescued children and their rescuers lived in a climate of fear and oppression. You correctly cite the threat of death against the many heroic people who chose to attempt to shelter Jews and others from persecution by the Nazis in your letter. Sir Martin Gilbert, in his recent popular history of the Holocaust, Never Again, wrote of the Jewish Hidden Children, "All of those in hiding had to make daily efforts to hide the fact that they were Jewish. One slip could mean betrayal, arrest and deportation." This was an abiding reality, and so the rescued person, especially if a hidden child, was often sternly instructed to do nothing to endanger themselves or their rescuers. This was not unkind or overly harsh. This was a reasonable precaution taken by the rescuers, people who extended the vital gift of life instead of death, while endangering themselves. The exhibit, "Life in the Shadows", of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, describes the environment as follows: "Theirs was a life in shadows, where a careless remark, a denunciation, or the murmurings of inquisitive neighbours could lead to discovery and death." Many personal memoirs from the war years reveal the conflicted nature of the act of rescuing a victim from the Nazis - of hiding a Jewish child, for example. Sofia Dochmacka Bain was a young Polish girl during the Second World War. Her account, a unique part of Pier 21's own story collection, includes a description of how her family risked their lives to help save a Jewish man in wartime Poland: "The Gestapo arrived to search for Jews. My sister was at home at this time and managed to place the rug over the cellar entrance, with the dog and her puppies. Here is a 12 year old girl, telling them, 'she hated the Jews, and if they were here, she would give them to the Gestapo.' They searched the house, but somehow avoided the dog area, and finally gave up and left. When my mother returned, my sister told her to leave with me. She was worried the Gestapo would come back for her. My mother left and hid out with me the night, watching for a van to arrive at the house. None did, and we finally went home." Pier 21 is a museum of living history. We operate by gathering and sharing the stories of our immigrants. We feel a responsibility to gather all kinds of stories - not just those that celebrate success in Canada, but also those that look honestly at every manner of difficulty faced by immigrants, from discrimination in Canada to the horrors of the Holocaust in Europe, from famine and poverty abroad to the barriers of language and culture when they finally arrive. To do anything less would be a profound disservice to the immigrants whose heritage we are privileged to share. It would be dishonest to our histories.

  21. ....continued

    As a museum, we offer our visitors a tour and an introduction to the film, "Oceans of Hope", both of which give specific context for the content of the film. We know our audience will have access to that information, and in particular that they will understand the effect of the German and Russian occupations during and after the Second World War. We also discuss the history of Jewish war orphans directly in the museum, where a large photo of some of the orphans is featured at the very entrance of the display. It is a panel that provokes discussion of the broad topic, including Canada's own anti-Semitic practices in the years before the war. Our guides deal with this challenging subject, the content of the segment of the film which has provoked your concern, as a regular and detailed part of their tour. If one proceeds from the museum to the Research Centre, our archival holdings include stories and interviews, such as that of Bains quoted above, that expand on the lived experience of those in occupied countries, including rescuing families, Holocaust survivors, and more. All of these resources foster in our visitors an accurate historical understanding of that segment of the film in the context of Nazi German occupation, and not as crimes perpetrated by an independent Poland. Beyond these specific educational aspects of the museum, which prepare our audience to view the experience of a Jewish war orphan from Poland in context, we do feel confident that the background knowledge of our visitors on the war is sufficient that they will understand the episode to be derived from the immense suffering of Jewish victims under the Nazi-perpetrated Holocaust, and that they would not associate it first with Polish agency or responsibility. This distinction is underscored by one historical item shown in "Oceans of Hope" during the segments on the Second World War: a newspaper headline that clearly indicates that Poland had been invaded and occupied - and therefore had fallen under Nazi authority. We are always grateful for feedback and will take suggestions into consideration. I am pleased to say that as a result of consultation with members of the Research and Education Advisory Committee of our Board of Directors pursuant to your comments, we are looking into adding a more detailed introduction to the presentation that would provide even more supporting information. We do hope that you and your wife will be able to visit us again so that you can experience this addition to the film together with the museum tour and the related archival holdings.

    My thanks for your letter,
    Steven Schwinghamer
    Research Co-ordinator, Pier 21

  22. this is a response from Dr Czekajewski

    July 27, 2008
    Mr. Steven Schwinghamer
    Research Co-ordinator
    Pier 21 Museum Halifax, Canada.

    Dear Mr Steven Schwinghamer
    Thank you for responding to my letter with promising news, that Museum Pier 21 will revise insulting to Christian Poles and Poland segment in Multimedia Presentation "Ocean of Hope" depicting "composite history" of an immigrant Jewish girl, who was tormented by her Christian saviors and apparently developed hate and fear of Poland. If Museum Pier 21 fails to do that you will damage its reputation as historical authority for convenience of some biased anti-Polish agenda. I have to repeat that my personal impressions from viewing this presentation could be biased by my own war experiences, but my much younger wife, born in America, who has never seen Poland before she met me, had similar to mine impression. We both left Museum with an impression, that this sly and insulting portraying of Christian Poles was not just accidental, but intentional. It is troubling that your Museum allowed this to happen in spite of Museum's vast knowledge of real history, to which you refer in your letter. Your explanation that Museum assumes that the visitors have prior knowledge of history of the World War II is not convincing. Young people who should learn about history of their emigrant grand parents are already from the third generation after the war. They know nothing or very little about War, Germans, Holocaust and especially Poland's role in this terrible war. To this generation you have obligation to be truthful and not biased. You should do it for your own good and conscience. In your letter to me you refer to authority of British historian and testimonies of immigrants from Poland available in your archives. This effort was completely unnecessary, as I have seen Holocaust with my own eyes ( I am 74 years old) and I have a close friend, now a Professor at Michigan Technological University, who lived through this period with "adopted" Jewish "cousin girl" saved by his mother. His story you can find on Internet at the address: I may also suggest that when redoing this segment on emigrant child from Poland you could give credit to brave Catholic priests who provided false birth and baptism certificates to Jewish children to save their lives. In addition you could also offer a story of blond Polish, Catholic boy with blue eyes, who was torn from the arms of Polish peasants and send to Germany to supplement the Arian Master Race. More than 200,000 Polish children were captured in only one region of Zamosc and sent to Germany. After the war thousands of these Polish Catholic "arian" children could not find their own parents who were either lost or killed. Some may have come to Canada as orphans. After all, numerically, 50% of Poland WW II causalities were Catholics. They deserve some respect and attention too.
    Sincerely yours,
    Jan Czekajewski, Ph.D.
    PS Because my original letter to the Pier 21 Museum on this subject found wide interest in Polish, Canadian and US media, I take liberty of sending your letter and my reply to all interested parties.

  23. Poster, thank you for posting Pier 21's letter by Steven Schwinghamer. It is shameless obfuscation -- in plain English -- BS. Steven Schwinghamer never addresses the pertinent points. Of course Jewish people suffered and died during the Holocaust. Of course people lived in fear. What has that got to do with Pier 21's film that rewrites history, that never so much as mentions the words "German" or "Nazi" or "Gestapo"? That rather repeats as the main antagonist of the Holocaust: "Polish Christian"? That, further, turns Slavic peasant immigrants into clowns? Shame, shame, shame.

  24. Update:
    We received a copy of the response from the Canadian Immigration Museum in Halifax (Pier 21 ) to the Polish Embassy in Ottawa.
    It is a shame that the Museum responded to the Embassy with the standard template, adding only 1 paragraph about Canadian soldier’s episode, claiming this is an introduction to the war context. I have watched his movie hundred times. These episodes are in time order (soldier 1942, Polish episode 1947), but there is nothing that would connect these episodes directly (and there is one other episode between these two). In addition, there is a difference when talking about war: a soldier fighting against enemy and a Jewish girl suffering in Poland without the context of Nazi’s extermination policy against Jews, what ghettos were for etc. This episode IS MEANT to dishonour Polish people. In the dialog: "they” are Polish Christians who hid the girl and also those who "rounded up Jews like cattle” and said "to be a Jew is to be dead". Without any differentiations! The words “authorities” or “police” are used instead of “Gestapo” or “Germans” – just in order to associate all the atrocities to Poland and Polish people. Apart from it, there is a lot of other disturbing content in the movie e.g. appraising Canada at the expense of Poland at the end of the episode.

    The portal Blogmedia24 received the following letter from the Embassy, quoting the Museum’s response.
    Szanowni Państwo,
    W odpowiedzi na poniższą korespondencję informuję, że w wyniku naszej interwencji, w dniu 7 września br. otrzymaliśmy odpowiedź z Muzeum Imigracji w Halifaxie.
    Zgodnie z uzyskaną informacją, w najbliższym czasie mają być prowadzone prace nad nową ekspozycją stałą w muzeum. Prace te, zgodnie z zapewnieniami, mają być prowadzone we współpracy ze społecznościami, których wystawa będzie dotyczyć.
    W załączeniu przesyłam scan pisma otrzymanego z muzeum w tej sprawie.
    Z poważaniem,
    Andrzej Fąfara

    First Secretary
    Embassy of the Republic of Poland
    443 Daly Avenue
    Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6H3

    The movie has been on display since 2003. Mr Fafara did not properly translate the response. The Museum did not say “in nearest time= w najblizszym czasie”, but “in the next few years”. This makes a huge difference, especially taking into account similar responses received by individuals in 2008. Till now - nothing has changed.

    I understand that the Museum’s response was accepted by the Embassy and no steps will follow. I hope I am wrong though.
    We will send a response letter to the Embassy. Soon, after elections in Poland, we will prepare an official petition to the Ministry of Foreign affairs and Prime Minister and we will continue fighting against this libel. We will not give up.

    We need Canadians to complain to Honourable James Moore (Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages) who supervises the Museum. There should be no place for such “theatre show” in the national museum. The exhibition in the museum should educate visitors and present the “general portrait of the time”.

    I would also like to ask someone from Canada (KPK?) to request the copy of Nova Scotia Human Right Commission’s assessment of “Oceans of Hope” (2003). My request remains unanswered. This commission is not meant to asses historical facts. We need Canadians to appeal against the assessment or submit it to the Canadian Human Right Commission or any other official bodies for re-assessment.

    I am sending this letter to all of you, who supported the action so far, asking not to give up, to send your individual letter of complaint to Museum, to MPs – Wladyslaw Lizon and Ted Opitz, to Embassy and wherever you feel appropriate.

    I will be informing you about the progress and further actions.
    And, if we do not succeed soon, I hope to see you all in front of Pier 21 in spring 2012.


  25. I comment on this in a new blog post posted today, September 30.

  26. The Polish Embassy in Ottawa will take further actions:

  27. In Polish:
    Oto fragment artykułu, który ukazał się w „Głosie Polskim” w Kanadzie”

    Podczas wystąpień i wspólnej dyskusji, największą znajomością „spraw polskich” i interesów Polaków, zamieszkałych w Kanadzie, wykazał się ze „strony rządowej” minister Jason Kenney, który przypomniał nasze wysiłki w celu zniesienia wiz dla Polaków, „walkę” polskich kombatantów o zrównanie ich praw z weteranami kanadyjskimi, wspomniał o inicjatywie budowy pomnika ofiar komunizmu na Wzgórzu Parlamentarnym, podkreślał doniosłość wizyt Papieża Jana Pawła II w Kanadzie, mówił o konieczności usunięcia filmu, prezentowanego w Muzeum w Halifaksie, gdzie sugeruje się odbiorcom, iż to Polacy byli oprawcami Żydów w czasie II wojny światowej, a nie Niemcy, obiecał, że będzie reagował na wciąż pojawiające się w mainstreamowych mediach kanadyjskich, urągające nam Polakom określenie „Polish concentration camps” (tu zwrócił się do posła Teda Opitza, który ostatnio w tej sprawie interweniował na forum kanadyjskiego parlamentu).

  28. I hope you enjoy being here I look forward to seeing your posts :)

  29. Small success?

    Those who have joined our protest and have recently sent a letter of complaint to the Museum, are receiving the following answer:

    Extract from the letter received on December 22, 2011:

    “ (…) Since receiving your letter and those of others with similar concerns, The Museum has contacted the technology firm that helps maintain the multimedia presentation to look at the possibility of adding to or altering the presentation. Through working with a technician, we were able to add a line of text to provide more context to the Displaced Person vignette. The following line now appears next to the 1947 date that introduces that vignette: “After Germany’s wartime occupation of Poland (…)”.

    We take it as a sign that the Museum has finally heard our voice. However, after we had analyzed the movie in details, we decided to continue our protest. It is a disgrace of Canadian national museum to present to its visitors the theater play, which is not a documentary, but amalgams of memoirs and experiences, which (supported by manipulative language and phrases) offend Poles and Christians.

  30. I feel sorry for people not understanding this museum is for the displaced people who lost everything in Europe and found home in Canada. Pier 21, is a Museum we are proud of. My Mother and I found home.
    However, we cannot dismiss the stories that are the true experiences of people who survived. Many other more horror stories will never appear.
    But let's face the truth.
    We have seen ourselves how people behaved towards the Jews before, during, and after the war. Yes, many many helped,and many died for their heroic efforts to save them. My family is one of them.
    Let's not belittle Pier 21, it was and is home of soldiers going to war, coming back from war liberting places like Poland and such, a little respect, and not so much wounded pride.

    Thank you.

  31. Sofia Dochmacka BainMarch 6, 2012 at 8:51 PM

    Pier 21 is Canada's Museum who has opened their hearts and Country to let the displaced and downtrodden people have a life.

    Just because someone didn't like a story that was written by a girl who happened to be Jewish, it is her story.

    Why don't you find another subject, for instance, what did the Russians do for Poland before and after, i.e. Stalin, then Hitler, then Stalin. When the Russian soldiers stood on the other side of the river and watched the Germans kill as many Poles as possible.

    But its easier to pick on Pier 21. Get real, life isn't all lilly white, keep praying that it doesn't get worse - we should be glad to be living free and away from what was World War II.
    I don't even know where my families bones are in the blood shed of Poland, and never having a family. My Mother and I found our home, and the first place was the warm welcome at Pier 21.

    Sofia Dochmacka-Bain

  32. Dear Ms Sofia Dochmacka-Bain,
    I would like to express my highest respect for you and your family. I am grateful for what you and your family have done.

  33. If I understand right, the last 2 comments rather accuse us of fighting against the concept of this museum and of ignoring its importance. It is not true. We fight against the movie Oceans of Hope and ignorance of Museum's staff and management. We fight because we think Pier 21 as the national museum should present stories in objective way, with historical context. This Canadian Crown Corporation is responsible for educating people and should be objective and professional.

    We have rights to express our critics.

    I wish other people could watch this movie and then share their opinion and join discussion.

    Canadians did not liberate Poland. The episode about the Canadian soldier shows a big newspaper headline “CANADA DECLARES”, while this time it was only Sitzkrieg. In the same time the Polish episode with Jewish suffering did not even mention there was a war and did not explain why the Jewish girl had to hide, why she moved from home to home, why she was to be a ”good girl”, why and what “police” and “authorities” she was scared of. All blame is on Polish Christians. Is this objective way to present history?
    The multimedia theater play (amalgams of not defined memoirs) contributes well to strengthen anti-Polish sentiment and stereotypes. Why is such anti-Polonism acceptable? Is it consistent with the Museum’s mission and mandate? The national museum is a place for documentaries, not theater shows. The Museum has no right to praise Canada at the expense of Poland. We lost enough and we fought enough to get a little respect, or at least - to get unbiased and true media coverage. Why not make a historical movie, where they could explain the DPs’ experiences and point out who is to blame for DPs’ tragedy. Poland and Poles were not perfect, but presenting half of true – makes it a lie.
    There are a few memoirs at Pier 21 archives about bad treatment of orphans by their new Canadian families after they arrived in Canada. You can find examples of shameful actions in each country. EACH – including the USA and Canada. Have anybody heard about ship St. Louis? There were countries whose government cooperated with Nazi Germany in its policy against Jews. Poland never did. Why then singling out Polish Christians? Why does the movie blame the whole religion and one nationality? Is this what the national museum is to teach?
    I am sure thousands of DPs are grateful to Canada for finding new home, but on the other hand, thousands who left loved Poland and still love it. Millions who suffered stayed in Poland. The movie portrayed Poland as “just a terrible place”, while Canada is the land of “safe heaven”. Dialog in the movie contrasts these two countries. Why? Was Germany a better place? France? Romania?
    This is what our critics is about.

  34. I did not respond to Sofia Dochmacka-Bain's comment because it is barely coherent.

    What does this mean: "But its easier to pick on Pier 21. Get real, life isn't all lilly white, keep praying that it doesn't get worse - we should be glad to be living free and away from what was World War II."

    Really, I see no coherent point in that diatribe to address.

    How does one respond to "Get real"?

    Um, I am real.

    How does one respond to "we should be glad to be living free"?

    Uh, yes, I am quite glad to be living free.

    How do we respond to the charge that we are "picking on Pier 21"?

    Has Pier 21 suffered any ill effects from our protest? No. None. So? What do we respond to?

    I also did not respond to Ms Bain's post because of this false and ugly smear: "Just because someone didn't like a story that was written by a girl who happened to be Jewish."

    Had Ms. Bain actually read the blog post she is responding to, she would see that no one has objected to "Oceans of Hope" because it depicts a Jewish character.

    No one. Not one person. Not even close.

    Ms. Bain never even read the post she is responding to. She has not even glanced at "Bieganski" -- a book that has been endorsed by rabbis, by the Jewish son of a Holocaust survivor, and well reviewed in a Jewish scholarly journal. Ms. Bain has not read other posts on this blog, including at least two entitled "Stop Blaming the Jews," and one of which was written by my close friend and supporter, Don Freidkin, a Jewish American filmmaker.

    I have no respect for Ms. Bain's post. If she wants a reply from me, she should post a coherent and honest message.

    I understand that writing is difficult for some people. I understand that Ms. Bain is a senior citizen whose family did great things during WW II. I respect what Ms. Bain's relatives did.

    I don't respect lying, especially about something as important as the Bieganski stereotype, which is as revisionist as the lie that the Holocaust never happened.

  35. mt, you wrote:

    "The multimedia theater play contributes well to strengthen anti-Polish sentiment and stereotypes. Why is such anti-Polonism acceptable?"

    fwiw, I don't care much at this point about "anti-Polonism."

    I'm not a chauvinist. I don't think that Poland is the best country in the world.

    My concern is the Bieganski stereotype.

    The Bieganski stereotype is very much not the same thing as "anti-Polonism."

    The Bieganski stereotype is a very big lie that affects everyone, not just Poles or Polish Americans.

    It is used to rewrite immigration history, WW II history, and Holocaust history.

    The focus on anti-Polonism is narrow and is mostly for chauvinists.

    The focus on the Bieganski stereotype is much larger, and concerns all decent, right-minded people.

    I encourage committed Polonians to get beyond a narrow, chauvinist focus on "anti-Polonism" and to educate themselves, to prepare themselves intellectually to talk about, the Bieganski stereotype.


Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
These themes include the false and damaging stereotype of Poles as brutes who are uniquely hateful and responsible for atrocity, and this stereotype's use in distorting WW II history and all accounts of atrocity.
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