Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"American Poles Deserve Considerable Blame"

"Poles in America conspicuously abandoned the loyalty to the Polish cause that had distinguished their parents' generation...American Poles deserve considerable blame for their failure to defend their nationality's reputation more devotedly."

M.B.B. Biskupski from "Conclusion," "Hollywood's War with Poland 1939-1945."

I'll be back soon with a review of Biskupski's book, one every Polish American should purchase, read, review on Amazon, and support in every way.

I'll disagree with one feature of Biskupski's quote, above. American Poles don't deserve blame for failing to "defend their nationality's reputation devotedly." That makes the problem sound like one of chauvinism.

Rather, Poles -- not just American Poles but Poles in Poland as well -- deserve blame for allowing a key nation to be misrepresented on the world stage. 

As both "Bieganski" and Biskupski make clear, that failure has allowed World War II and Holocaust history to be rewritten.

But, but, Polish Americans say, "I wrote a letter to the New York Times when it used the phrase, 'Polish Concentration Camps'!"

Sorry. That is not what is called for. 

What is called for?

People who care about this matter need to unite, support each other, organize, and act strategically.

People who care about this matter need to *purchase* both "Bieganski" and Biskupski's book. Too many Polish Americans protest against spending money on books -- I've received an embarrassing and depressing number of such complaints. People who wish to make an impact on culture and scholarship need to become part of culture and scholarship, and one way to do that is to financially support publishers who publish books whose message the purchaser supports. Simply put, the Polonians who complain to me about purchasing books are telling publishers, loud and clear, "Don't publish books on Polish topics because we won't reward you for doing so." 

Read the books. Review them on Amazon. It is a tragic reflection of Polonia's refusal to prepare itself intellectually to discuss negative stereotyping of Poles that Biskupski's book has only one serious review on Amazon. 

Invite these books' authors to speak at organized events. 

And, as Saul Alinksy says, name the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it. The target is not the phrase "Polish concentration camps" or Polak jokes or Borat. These are all merely manifestations of a deeply rooted problem, one Polonians are not ready even to begin to address until they arm themselves intellectually with "Bieganski" and Biskupski. 

After that, school curricula, hiring practices, journalism, and popular culture must be effectively and relentlessly targeted until there is change.

There are enough Polish Americans to accomplish this. There is enough money. All that is lacking is will. That's where the "blame" that Biskupski talks about comes in. We could do this. But we aren't even talking about doing this. We tell ourselves that writing one letter to the NYT about the phrase "Polish concentration camps" is enough. It's a good thing to do. An honorable thing to do. 

It is not enough, though. 

The longest journey does indeed begin with a single step. Let that step be in the right direction. Toward significant action, rather than just window dressing that we engage in order to tell ourselves that we are really doing something -- patting oneself on the back for writing the easily dismissed random letter to this or that publication that uses the phrase "Polish concentration camps" is just such a wrong direction.

Let our steps take us in the right direction, that of passing on history accurately to the next generation. 


  1. Yep, and thanks for the book tip. Nemo

  2. Out of 224 Worldcat listings of libraries holding Hollywood's War, only 4-8 or so are public, the rest are academic. I wonder if his book is shunned by the oh so multiculturally sensitive public libraries as much as yours is?

    Does the book actually limit the period of investigation to 1939-1945? Why not 1945-2011? Wouldn't limiting it to 1945 serve to cover up the media's campaign of cultural genocide from 1945 through the present? In other words, treat the cultural genocide as something from the past, rather than an ongoing process, and thus hide from view the current purveyors of Slavophobia?


  3. Nemo, yes, the book is limited by the timeframe in the title. As to the answers to your "why" questions, Prof. Biskupski can best answer them. Why not drop him a line? He is at Central Connecticut State University.

  4. I just received a very articulate, gracious note taking me to task for criticizing others' initiatives, including the "Polish concentration camp" initiative.

    The note's author was so gracious and articulate I could only agree with her.

    I do salute people who write letters about the phrase "Polish concentration camps."

    What troubles me is people who say that once that is done, nothing more need be done -- and that very thing has been said to me twice in the past three months, once by an average Polish American, and the second time by a Polish American scholar who helps fashion goals and agendas.

    I sincerely apologize if my post appeared to criticize or belittle the "Polish concentration camp" initiative. What I'm saying, rather, is that that initiative is not enough, and to tell ourselves that it is enough is mistaken.

    I will amend the blog post to reflect this.

  5. Danusha, I think most Americans don't read or buy enough books. This first struck me when I was looking to buy a house. Most had no books in them. I have a full room, plus walls in several other rooms, and even bookcases in the hallways. It is necessary to address the stereotypes and distortions whenever they are encountered. I have been doing that all my life, as did my mother.

  6. Anonymous:

    The day I received my copy of "Bieganski" from the publisher, my building's custodian had to perform some repair in my apartment.

    I showed the book to him, mentioned its publication.

    He is a Spanish speaker. He is a custodian. He reached into his pocket for his wallet. He was going to buy the book from me.

    Not because he is interested in the topic. He is not. He doesn't read in English, I would have to guess.

    He just wanted to help me celebrate.

    I thanked him enthusiastically but told him that he didn't need to buy the book to help me celebrate, that his verbal congratulations were enough.

    I sent out hundreds of emails to various friends, colleagues, scholars.

    A consistent pattern emerged. A good chunk of announcement recipients told me, clearly, that they don't buy books, and that they wanted me to give them a free copy of the book.

    The pattern: Polish Americans were most represented in the chunk of those who asked for a free copy.

    I have encountered this again and again.

    My experience is not just anecdotal. Look at Amazon. Excellent books by and about Poles have few Amazon reviews, and/or are out of print. Just one example: "Samaritans" by Wladyslaw Bartoszewski. It's a great book by and about Polish rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust. It's a vivid, important, page turner. It's on a topic we all acknowledge needs to be better known and more discussed. It's out of print. It has -- what -- one? two? Amazon reviews?

    When I was working on this book, my fellow authors who write about Polish issues told me that publishers told them that "Polish Americans don't buy books," and, therefore, publishers are not rewarded, and, therefore, are reluctant to publish on Polish matters.

    Anonymous, if you have data to prove otherwise, please produce it. Thank you.

  7. And, I report none of this to castigate anyone.

    Rather, I report this as something we need to work on.

    If Polish Americans want to address this matter, one of many things they need to do is to buy books pertinent to the matter at hand.

    BTW, the most recent requests I received for free copies of Bieganski -- three of them -- all came in in the past two weeks. Two requests for a free copy came from Pol-Am institutions, one came from a Pol-Am scholar fully employed at a university, one who is committed to the fight against stereotyping.

    I do not receive such requests from other institutions or scholars, and I am shocked and depressed by them. I hear other Polish American authors, or authors who write about Polish matters, talking about this issue, and our talk behind the scenes will not help to address the problem.

    The solution is simple. Polish Americans need to support pertinent scholarship. That can begin today.

  8. Nemo, . . . . As to the answers to your "why" questions, Prof. Biskupski can best answer them. Why not drop him a line? He is at Central Connecticut State University.

    Dr Goska,
    I was kind of hoping to get your take on it, since you are generally willing to share your views on many things.

    Sorry about the book issues you are facing. I bought your book twice, once as dissertation, once as published book. Would you comment on the differences between these copies, if any?

    If I had to guess, I would guess that Polonian reluctance to buy books is related to a long and negative experience with book writers usually being a source of something negative toward working class Polonians.

    Slavophobe jokes, after all, were a minor industry for publishing in the 60s and 70s.

    And if it comes from academia, the likelihood that someone could exist long in academia without being affected by the Slavophobe miasma there is low. Thus, Polonians might not buy without first seeing a copy.

    I usually preview a library copy before I ever buy most books, except at yard sales. This helps keep me from supporting the elites, their agendas, and their spokespersons.


  9. What an interesting discussion !

    It recalls an observation I made awhile ago.

    While it is very easy to find good books on other groups in public libraries, or at yard sales, or online, finding books on Poland and Polonia is less easy, and more expensive too. I suspect that this is because publishers only give Polish books short runs of probably a few thousand at most. This results in few copies being out there in the secondary market, and if they are, they are expensive BECAUSE there are few of them, and so then they aren't bought, and so then it seems that no one wants such books. I ran into this trying to find an affordable copy of "The Polish Peasant".

    How nice it would be to be one of those groups that is much written and talked about, and so have cheaper and more accessible books about one's own experience ! Cheaper in the first place because print runs are large, making publishing THIER books cheaper; and cheaper in the second place, on the used/secondary market, because so many people bought them in the first place.

    I think part of the problem is that publishing is often populated by Slavophobes, so only Slav-negative works get published for the most part, and Slav-positive works get published in small enough numbers to be mostly irrelevant. Because of the preponderance of Slav-negative works published, anything about Slavs is likely to Slav negative, if only on a statistical basis. One gets tired of looking for needles in haystacks, and thus this produces less book buying.

    Then there is the Slavophobe nature of public library acquisitions, who, even though there are many, many more of them than academic libraries, account for such a miniscule proportion of holdings of books such as yours and Prof. Biskupski's. This results in smaller print runs salable too.

    Then throw in that even Slav-positive works will be published in short runs, resulting in higher prices, and it is obvious that Slavs in general have many hurdles that make it unproductive and often expensive for them to be big purchasers of books.

    They rarely see themselves, and their reality mirrored by the academy or publishing, and so have learned to not spend money in that direction.

    Then there is the problem that Slav-positive works originating from the academy are often forced to make disavowals, pledges of harmlessness, and bend over backward to be fair to everyone else. In itself, there is nothing wrong in that, but it then de facto produces, and becomes part of, the already problematic and oppressive reality that Slavophobia is OK, and even encouraged, but everyone else, no matter how they behave, should always be protected against hearing things about themselves that aren't nice. And those who would buck that trend are not likely to survive long in academia, assuming that they hadn't already been vetted and screened out before that. I think a lot of Polonians know this, and act/buy accordingly.

    It would be healthier to skip the ahimsa pledges, just as an experiment in equality.


  10. These discussions are really good. Dr. Goska thanks for a great forum.

    Nemo, your observations are astute as well regarding Slavic centric books and their availability. Look at the unjustified criticism that even a main stream, non-Slavic origin, historian like Norman Davies has faced when he deviated from the template on "bad Poland". Then go fully off the reservation, with a Bieganski, etc. and any Orthodox Liberal librarian or bookseller knows how to hide it or just not stock it at all.

    I must say I have not read Dr. Goska's books as I only recently discovered the blog and my compact lifestyle in Asia makes having a lot of paper books difficult. I have a lot of books in storage in the US where I used to frequent any book venue from an Antykwariat to a yard sale. I have three original hardbound copies of Karski's book, in English, found in various places, as evidence of those days...

    I try to keep fresh on contemporary events in Poland, through friends and reading the wide range of local press available on line.

    I replied to the blog yesterday regarding a current trend in Poland of a resurgence of high profile people and even street names, etc. with links to the PRL days. Yesterday it was about the Marxist, Mr. Bauman, but it is more than that. I sometimes try to think it is a good and inevitable sign of a return to normalcy in Poland after so many years of torment but it’s hard for me to forgive as well. I appreciate the large percentage of Poles whose steadfast loyalty to national and cultural ideals don't allow for a statute of limitations on the past misdeeds or outright crimes of the PZPR and its hangers-on, but, in the end some softening is inevitable. Gotta move on without forgetting it I suppose. However it is distressing to hear some of these rehabilitated old PRL Marxists still spouting anti-Polish "internationalist" views or to see streets named after Soviet occupation events and supporters. Inevitable but distasteful and one hopes that these people never have their way again.

    Off topic, but is anyone here a fan of Marek Hłasko? A tragic story, but his wit and insight hit the core of the PRL and beyond. One of my favorite quotes was his take on Polanski's "Knife in the Water" from a contemporary Polish perspective. In Hłasko's mind he said the first thing he thought about was "where did the guy get the car" and later, "why does it still have windshield wipers after leaving it parked?" One of his short stories, "Kancik, czyli wszystko się zmieniło" is on Youtube as an excellent short film. Anyone with an aversion to stubborn barbers will love it and the setting is realistic PRL. Of course Hłasko also did screenplays for some serious films in the late 1950’s era, like Pętla and others.

    Sorry I was wandering, but I look forward to Danusha's next post!! I will arrange to get Bieganski in the US, too. Until then, its the Blog!


  11. I would agree that there are far more Slavophobe that Slavophilic books out there. I think this is the result of years of Antislavic propaganda. Bieganski is a good book, but I also appreciate those by Norman Davies, Timothy Snyder and Timothy Garton Ash. I think much of this has to do with Poland being attacked from both the Anticommunist side during the Cold War and the proSoviet side.
    Certainly there was some bias even before WWII, largely due to the poorly educated peasants who constituted a large part of the early waves of immigration to America. Many people didn't bother to get to know them and realize that while they may have lacked formal education, they often were quite intelligent. My grandmother had 2 years of formal education, yet quickly caught onto calculus when my father was studying it and ended up helping him with it.
    I think addressing the stereotyping head on is important, though I think we must also deal with the effects, and correct misconceptions when they occur.

  12. MB, thanks for mentioning Marek Hlasko. His work was recommended to me years ago by a Polish friend and I have yet to get around to reading it. I love what you say about his reaction to "Knife in the Water."

  13. Hello Margaret,
    Yes, education sometimes coincides with intelligence, and sometimes just means highly schooled. The quartermaster system for WW2 came about when the officer (Col I think) assigned to re-design it watched this Polish American supply sergeant, hung around, and started asking him questions. He liked the sgt's method so well, that he had the rest of the team come in and follow this sgt around. His methods were adopted as the basis for the WW2 quartermaster system.
    The Col tried to get the Polam sergeant to go to office candidate school, but the sgt declined. The Col. said the sergeant was one of the smartest men he'd ever met. But I think the sgt declined "advancement" probably because while he could handle the job, he couldn't handle the culture that came with the job (my guess). A lot of that going around.


  14. As I have not read “Bieganski” I apologize if I am re-covering ground, but has the topic of political orientation been addressed with regard to promulgation of anti-Polish views? I am most specifically thinking about the modern, post-WWII era when the distinctions were most clear.
    A huge core of Polish “anti-Semitic” propaganda was created around the events of the 1943 Ghetto Uprising. Given the prominence given this event in the US, in the form of monuments, public education curriculums and so forth, this single event has effectively created a big chunk of Bieganski mentality. The rationale for the creation of the misinformation was pure politics: Communist Polish Jews were in a small minority of those who participated in the Ghetto Uprising but with the Soviet occupation of Poland their story was made to become ‘fact”. The Bieganski template was set: the “bad” anti-Soviet AK did not help the Polish Jews because, of course, Poles are anti-Semitic. And of course, none of it is true. The Home Army provided most of the arms used in the Ghetto, not by the tiny and weak Communist ZOB, but by other fighting Jewish organizations whose numbers were more three times greater than the Communist element and who fought under Polish and Zionist flags, not the red banners of the famed “ZOB” its equally Post War famed leader, Marek Edelman. But it all fit, both with Leftist sentiments prevalent among American Jews and with the Bieganski template. This one is very difficult to fight too. Marek Edelman softened his views in later life but died in 2009. Any campaign to correct the history of the Ghetto Uprising has to happen with the cooperation of U.S. Polish and Jewish elements but with the last living leader of the Uprising dead, it is difficult to approach the issue.

  15. MB -- no need to apologize. You've brought up pertinent material.

    short answer: my own book, "Bieganski," argues that the Brute Polak stereotype has many, not just one, cause.

    Biskupski's book is more monocausal. it's all about the Communist party. I have written my review and I'm waiting to post it on another blog before I post it on mine. It will provide more details about Biskupski's thesis v. mine.

    Some bad news: Tygodnik Powszechny is reporting that the Polish publisher of Biskupski's book provided it with an anti-semitic introduction. This is horrible. Biskupski's book is NOT anti-semitic. I'm so troubled by this.

  16. As I think about this very interesting discussion, it seems to me that Dr. Goska's claim that Polonia does not buy enough books de facto lays blame on Polonia for what is really the Slavophobe trends of the "intelligentsia" academic media establishment.

    The issue of public libraries is particularly pertinent. Now of course authors and intellectuals think highly of their work, and want us to buy their books. But we are not their mothers, and so won't automatically run out and do that , and part with the green, at least without some forethought. This is not about Dr. Goska's book per se. I bought it twice at full price, and was glad to do so.

    But it is about her book in that the data shows that she (and Biskupski) are shut out of the public library market. (Public libraries often make much noise about how they resist censorship by the way, ignoring the more important censorship methods that precede library acquisitions. Consider that next time they want a donation.)

    I am recalling that public libraries are an increasingly important part of the market for serious books, as her is. I have yet to see Bieganski at a yard sale.

    And the importance of public library acquisitions probably extends beyond their share of the market, as the availability of a work in the public library is a stimulus for future patron purchases of the same book they found in the library. Thus public libraries probably act as a de facto advertising arm of the publishing industry, and marketing amplifier.

    Libraries in a way are a marketing agent for books then later bought by the general public. Keep a book out of the public library, and many people who might have bought it, will never even get the chance to see it, and then buy it. Thus, if you don't get bought by the public library, only a very small slice of the reading public will ever see your work. And then few will buy it, and then it will convince publishers that no one wants books like that. Catch 22. Self fulfilling prophecy.

    The proper solution is not simply to tell the Polaks to buy more books. (Though I am a great fan of books, and buy more than my family likes me to, and well --- how can you have too many books?.)
    The proper solution is to lean on public libraries to stop the de facto Slavophobia, and buy books that reflect our experience as they do buy so gushingly for the experience of others.

    Try it sometime. Ask your public library to buy Dr. Goska's book. Watch 'em wheedle, hem, haw, make up stories, talk about their budgets -- well, they do buy SOME peoples' books, right? Watch the great litany of excuses, while they always have money (YOURS) for their darlings.

    Maybe you could even report the results here. Don't just write a letter of supplication to various perpetrators (who will probably just ignore you).
    Ask them to perform, do their job even, and practice equality (much talked about in their circles). If they don't, report it here if you can. If they buy the book, great. If not, then look at their holdings of other groups books, and ask what gives. Then spread the word.

    I am not in any way attempting to promote Dr. Goska's book, do not get a commission, etc. It is a great book, and also an important way to test the multicultural establishment for its ability to be real.


  17. Thanks Danusha. I think its best to wait and see the actual words in the Biskupski book preface: T.P. is tendentious (read, "honest to its reader's point of view"), like most all Polish newspapers. I am looking forward to your review of Biskupski and will also check in other Polish sources. In general it seems logical that in the modern world Politics (Communism, PZPR in Poland, Soviets, etc.) did have a huge impact and this is afterall our living world. The Post WWII world. Right? The Brute Polak (anti PRL) was just one more tool in the Marxist lexicon. I too sure hope the preface is not really anti-Semitic. That would be terrible.

  18. Hey thanks MB,
    You raise an interesting point. You have a hard time getting Dr. Goska's book in Asia. And my experience is that the public librarians get in the way as well.
    If her book had been available as an E-book, you could have had a copy, and anyone could have had a copy, and it would be affordable, and instead we/she have this situation where it looks like maybe it will be buried in academic libraries. Did no one offer her E-pub? Were publishers really unaware of that option? Or did they do the same old same old as a way of finessing how to bury it? I know about such things as Epub, after all, and I am not a publishing type.

    Maybe once they stop printing she has the rights revert to her, and she can try an Epub option, and it will get a greater circulation. I hear Amazon works with self-publishers.

    It is not the cover that makes her book good, so Epub means no losses there. I am not into smelling the pages of most books, so no loss there. Why not Epub? No border barriers that way. Lesser dollar barrier that way. Rapid dissemination that way. No, let's find a way to make it less accessible. What if the hoi polloi start reading it, and start asking questions?


  19. "The Brute Polak (anti PRL) was just one more tool in the Marxist lexicon". I don't think so. Do you know what Marxism is? Tell us what, in your view, is the difference between Marxism and Communism.

  20. Mr. R raises a valid point. I meant to say "the Brute Polak who was anti-PRL."
    Otherwise I suppose, in my haste, I was thinking about Mr. Bauman and Marek Edelman and linking their views with the not necessarily practical philosophy of Marxism, as opposed to its functional political manifestation, Communism. Perhaps I was going too soft on the two gentlemen or interpreting too much. Not all Communists are scholars of Marx.

  21. As I ponder the book buying / book publishing problems here, I am recalling that Charles (Hank) Bukowski's poetry was first published and popular in Europe, before it was popular in the US. I sort of recall there may a few other Polish American works that first made their impact in Europe, and not the US -- memory fails me at the moment thoug. I wonder if the publishing world is less Slavophobic in Europe, than in the US?


  22. MB, I am wondering what it is about Marek Edelman and Zygmund Bauman that is such a problem for you. Edelman was a communist but not much of a party man. He certainly was a Marxist in aspects of his outlook, for example, "class" for him was a better definer of common interests than "nation". He had it in for the ZZW and championed the role of the ZOB (as pointed out). However, I think he was also a great humanitarian and as far as I can tell never wrote off all Poles as antisemites for he always blamed the Germans as the culprits.

    I've read several of Bauman's books as he is a most original thinker. I haven't seen anything by him that champions the PRL, which doesn't surprise me as he was a victim of one the PRL's most notorious episodes ie the so called anti-Zionist campaign of 1968 which led to his expulsion from Poland.


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.
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