Friday, November 25, 2011

Possible Causes for The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision

"Tangled Roots" by Eli Van Zoeren. Source.

Possible Causes for The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision.

This post is part of a three part series.

Part One: TheCrisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision.

Part Two: Possible Causes for The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision.

Part Three: There's Hope! What You Can Do aboutThe Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision.


Possible Causes for The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision.

Foreign powers attempted political, biological and cultural genocides against Poles and Poland for two hundred years.

Poland's own social structure: aristocrats on the top, Jews occupying the Middleman Minority position, and peasants on the bottom, created an oppressive model of power which echoes today.

Most post-colonial nations are the neighbors of other post-colonial nations in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. They developed a discourse that championed their own populations. They produced authors like Frantz Fanon. Fanon told colonized people to stop looking at themselves through the eyes of people who colonized them.

Poles' neighbors are their colonizers. Without realizing it, too many Poles adopted the worldview of the colonizer and the oppressor.

What is the psycho-social legacy of Poland's history, and how does it affect Polonia's failure to respond to Bieganski, the Brute Polak stereotype?


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

She was blonde, beautiful, poised. She was sitting on a bus in an ancient, foreign city. She was not Polish or Polish-American.

I asked her why she had come to Krakow, when she could have taken her vacation anywhere: the South of France, the Caribbean, the pyramids…

She told me. "I've been a nurse in a metropolitan hospital for twenty years. As you can imagine, I've dealt with patients from every ethnic group. I've been next to them at their worst moments: their own deaths, the death of loved ones, finding out that they have major disease. In nursing school, I learned the universal language. Touch. I've touched them, stroked their backs, to calm them, to make them feel connected and warm. And you can feel it – their muscles relaxing, their breathing becoming more regular. Except with one group of people. When I touch them, they tense up. I can feel them preparing for fight or flight. The Poles. For a long time, I've wanted to come here to find out exactly what kind of history could produce such a people."


I was talking to a successful scholar and author, a woman I knew to be Irish-American. I'd known her for ten years.

In the course of one afternoon's conversation, she revealed that she had Polish ancestry and culture in her home, something she'd always kept hidden. In fact, her Polish grandfather played a prominent role in the historic 1936-37 Flint, Michigan, sit-down strike.

Why didn't she own and celebrate her Polish identity?

Her grandfather, she reported, had abused alcohol and was physically violent to her mother.

My friend had no idea of Polish history. She had no idea what her grandfather faced in the Old Country. She just saw him as a violent drunk, wrote him off, and forgot him.

I wish Polonia had educated her. Not with cardboard cut-outs of Kosciuszko on a white horse, or rosy-cheeked peasants dancing a mazurka. With an honest, rich picture of all the forces that forged her Polish peasant grandfather: what sparked in him a passion for justice for the common worker; what steeled him with the determination to make history; what made him brave enough to face off with his social betters, and what crippled him such that he was a flawed parent to his own children.


Mishael Porembski's Emmy-Award winning 2000 film, "Burning Questions," records her own effort to understand her own Polish-born father, a man who "wasn't altogether happy." For those wanting to understand the impact of trauma on Polish parents or grandparents, Porembski's film is a good place to start.

Christina Pacosz's essay "A Great Deal of Doing" is another good resource. "A Great Deal of Doing" details the riot that drove Polish immigrants out of a Missouri town. Pacosz's Polish father was one of the victims of this riot. Christina, an American-born woman, grew up with the trauma that this riot caused her Polish father.

John Guzlowski depicts his Polish mother, Tekla, beating his father, Jan, and his sister, Danuta.

Guzlowski places Tekla Hanczarek Guzlowska's domestic violence in the context of Tekla's own history of trauma. Tekla was horribly traumatized by invading Nazis and Ukrainians. That had an impact on her, a complex impact that she wrestled with all her life.


I've already posted about Polish self-hatred, here.

In Poland, summer, 2011, I heard again and again, from Poles: "Bieganski is no stereotype. Poles really are slobs, bigots, and pigs. Especially the peasants. Especially the workers. I'm not like that, but most Poles are."

People who experience self-hatred will find it difficult to support other members of their group.

Self-hatred is the result of seeing oneself through the eyes on one's oppressor. Polonian organizations often respond to the Brute Polak stereotype by insisting that only recognized heroes like Kosciuszko and Curie have value. Polonians often respond to the Brute Polak stereotype by quarantining peasants and working class Poles, their history and culture.

When they do so, they unwittingly and inadvertently express self-hatred. They are seeing themselves through the eyes of those who have contempt for them. They are saying, "Yes, you bigots are correct. Polish peasants and Polish workers are not worth any positive attention."

Social Atomization

"Divide and Conquer" was policy for every one of Poland's occupiers for the past two hundred years. Russia, Germany, and Austria conquered and controlled Poles by turning Christians against Jews, Catholics against Orthodox, believers against atheists, peasants against aristocrats, flatlanders against highlanders, workers against university students, Poles against Lemkos, urbanites against rural people, and neighbor against neighbor.

Jakub Szela was a Polish peasant who had been cheated and whipped by his Polish lord. Austria, the colonizing power in Poland, encouraged Szela to lead an uprising that killed over a thousand Polish nobles. Austrians paid Polish peasants money for every decapitated Polish noble head. So many peasants brought in so many heads that Austrians lowered the price for a head to salt.

During WW II, Szmalcowniks did not betray only Jews to the Nazis. They betrayed their fellow Poles. Stefan Grot-Rowecki, the first commander of the Home Army, was betrayed by Polish traitors.

Lustration provided an opportunity for Poles to turn on each other. Other opportunities: gay rights, concepts of Catholicism, concepts of nation.

In November 2011, one of my Polish-American facebook friends posted a painting a Poles sharpening sabers. Under the painting he placed this caption: "Polish nobles sharpening weapons against domestic traitors." He went on to say that he was ready for "war" with his fellow Poles.

The result of divide-and-conquer was social atomization: society was divided up into tiny parts. Few trusted, or worked well with, anyone else. People trusted and cooperated with their own families, if that.

Nowadays, in America, when Polonians refuse to unite, they give excuses like this one: "I wrote a letter on my own" to protest this or that Bieganski-Brute-Polak incident.

Sustained, effective action requires community. Polonians who are atomized from their fellow Polonians choose to write individual letters rather than unite in groups because they find uniting with their fellow Polonians and acting in a disciplined, mutually supporting manner too difficult. This may be the legacy of divide-and-conquer policies.

In November, 2011, a Facebook poster posted this image with a caption about Polish Nobles sharpening blades to kill domestic enemies. 
An artist's depiction of the Szela uprising. Note Austrian colonizers purchasing Polish nobles' heads from Polish peasant sellers.  Source.

Siege Mentality and Displaced Aggression

My American students are familiar with Jews as victims of Nazism. My students often don't know that the Nazis persecuted any other group. My students often conclude from this, and are encouraged by Christophobic professors to conclude from this, that Nazism was a Christian phenomenon.

One day in class I was addressing this misconception. I mentioned that Nazis had enslaved Polish Catholics during World War Two.

Most of my students got the point – the Nazis didn't persecute only Jews.

One student reacted with outrage. "I am from Poland! My grandparents lived through World War Two! The Nazis never enslaved Poles! What you are saying is not true!"

After class, I emailed documentation to this student. The Nazis did, indeed, persecute and enslave Polish Catholics.

The student responded. He said that he had known all along that I was telling the truth.

His complaint: By saying that Nazis had enslaved Poles, I made Poles look bad. He accused me of "degrading" Poles.

Siege mentality interprets every touch as an assault, every word as an insult, every stimulus as an attack.

Siege mentality turns every potential ally into an enemy, every conversation into a fight.

Displaced aggression is a related phenomenon. From Wikipedia: "aggression may be displaced onto people with little or no connection with what is causing anger. Displacement can act in a chain-reaction, with people unwittingly becoming both victims and perpetrators of displacement. For example, a man is angry with his boss, but he cannot express this so he hits his wife. The wife hits one of the children, possibly disguising this as punishment."


George Foster's Limited Good

George Foster's Limited Good is one of the key insights to understanding the Polish penchant for sabotaging other Poles. It is also a key insight for understanding Polish-Jewish relations.

George Foster was a twentieth-century American anthropologist. He did fieldwork among peasants in Tzintzuntzan, Mexico.

Foster wrote,

"Broad areas of peasant behavior are patterned in such fashion as to suggest that peasants view their social, economic, and natural universes—their total environment—as one in which all of the desired things in life such as land, wealth, health, friendship and love, manliness and honor, respect and status, power and influence, security and safety, exist in finite quantity and are always in short supply.

Not only do these and all other good things exist in finite and limited quantities, but in addition, there is no way directly within peasant power to increase the available quantities. It is as if the obvious fact of land shortage in a densely populated area applied to all other desired things: not enough to go around."

Here's an example of limited good at work:

I lived in a small, remote village in Africa. One peasant, a respected, well-beloved, senior man, adopted advanced agricultural techniques. His farm produced much larger yields than his neighbors' farms.

His neighbors burned his farm to the ground.


Limited Good. There is only so much good in the world. If my next-door-neighbor's farm produces more manioc, my farm will produce less manioc.

Does this concept apply to modern, educated Poles, who are no longer peasants?


I had just published a work about Poles.

A Polish-American scholar made false and libelous charges against my work and me.

This astounded me – We were Polish-Americans, working in the same field. We were on the same team. He should support me, and I should support him. We could proceed to victory with each other's support.

But no. Why? This man had also just published a work about Poles – one with a theme similar to mine. In fact, he quoted me (without a citation – a big no-no in scholarship.)

The concept of limited good: if my publication did well, there would not be enough "good" left over for this scholar's publication. For his publication to advance, he had to downgrade a publication by another Polish-American scholar on the same topic.

Limited Good is also at work in the dark side of Polish-Jewish relations. Chauvinist Poles and chauvinist Jews believe that there is not enough "good" available for both Poles AND Jews. They believe that people will know of Polish suffering under the Nazis OR they will know about Jewish suffering under the Nazis. They believe that people will know of Poles who betrayed Jews OR they will know of heroic Poles who rescued Jews.

Limited Good insists that people can't have knowledge of both.

A related concept: the zero sum game. People who adopt this worldview see life as a game, with only one winner, who takes all.

They cannot conceive of a world with multiple winners. They cannot conceive of a world where my victory contributes to your success. They cannot conceive of other people as their fellow team members, only as their competitors.

A joke from the Soviet era:

A peasant complains: "Comrade Party Secretary! I must protest! My neighbor has two cows and I have none!"

The Party Secretary replies: "Don't worry, little father. We will rectify this. We will take one of your neighbor's cows and give it to you."

The peasant responds: "No! Comrade Party Secretary, you don't understand! I want you to kill BOTH my neighbor's cows!"


Defeatism. Learned Helplessness. The Romance of Defeatism. Conspiracy Theories. Poverty Consciousness.

Defeatism and Learned Helplessness: We are doomed. Nothing we do can have any positive impact.

The weirdest, saddest, most recent example of this appeared in an internet post. A woman said that she could not do anything to contribute to fighting the Bieganski stereotype, because Jan Tomasz Gross was all powerful, and her efforts against him were futile.

So, Jan Tomasz Gross is Godzilla, and she is helpless Tokyo.

For some, defeatism exerts a romantic allure. They like to cite the Warsaw Uprising. They feel that Poles, to be real Poles, must not win. 

Conspiracy Theories are related to defeatism: "They are out to get us and there is nothing we can do about it."

Conspiracy theorists see dark plots in the most mundane events.

After I wrote a mildly critical review of a fellow Polonian's book, an officer in a Polonian organization, a man with whom I'd previously enjoyed collegial cooperation on Polish matters, sent me an email accusing me of having sold out to the Jews. A similar conspiracy theory appeared in a Polish publication. A reader of this very blog sent me an email suggesting that I had posted a pro-Israel post as part of selling out to Jews or being manipulated or bullied by Jews.

In all these fantasies, the message is clear: unseen hands control our fates. We are merely puppets. There is nothing we can do. In other words, conspiracy theories are the perfect excuse for doing nothing.

Poverty Consciousness also relieves believers from doing anything. "We Poles can't do anything about negative stereotyping because we are poor and the bad guys are rich."

A facebook post asks me, "Can you please offer me a reduced price on 'Bieganski?'? I am poor and I can't afford to buy books."

I don't have a problem with that. It's no shame to be poor. Unfortunately, I can't offer a reduced price; I don't control book prices.

Here's the interesting thing – the same facebook poster who asks for a reduced price on the book will go on to post messages like this, "Hey! Check out the speedboat I just bought … here's a slideshow of my trip to Paris … here are some snapshots of our snorkeling tour of the Maldive islands!"

Of course there are many poor Polish people. There are, though, in the West, certainly, lots and lots of Polonians who are quite comfortable – and yet still talk as if they are penniless serfs – when it comes to their contributing in any way to Polonian matters. When it comes to purchasing consumer goods, suddenly they remember where they keep their plastic.

Ironically, in my experience, people who really are poor peasants can be among the most generous people on earth.

Poverty consciousness insists to its believers that they are poor and powerless when in fact they have money and they use that money to purchase the consumer goods that they value. When significant number of Polonians remembers where the wallet is when it comes to scholarships, publishing, and culture, things will change for the better.

For now, Poverty Consciousness, Conspiracy Theories, and Defeatism reassure their believers that their passivity is A-OK. After all, nothing can be done. The romance of defeatism insists that it is somehow more authentically Polish to lose than it is to win.


Oppressive models of power

Oppressed people see power at its ugliest. Many of those who held power in Poland were bullies or snobs.

Even today, too many Polonians understand bullying or snobbery as power. Selecting such people as our leaders has not advanced our cause.



The Bieganski stereotype insists that Poles are all crazed nationalists, devoting their passions to promoting Poland. That's just not true.

Polish chauvinists insist that all Polonians are passionate patriots kept down by powerful forces beyond their control. That's just not true.

The Bieganski stereotype insists that Poles are the world's worst anti-Semites, and that anti-Semitism is the foundation of Polish culture, and that Polish culture must be condemned and jettisoned, root and branch.

That's just not true.

What is true?

Most Poles and especially most Polish-Americans do not care about any of this – in fact they aren't even aware of it.


In my wildly diverse classes, I've taught a fair number of Polish-American students, both those who were born in the US and descended from forgotten great-grandparents who were Polish, and students born in Poland. I've also taught classes of only Poles.

None of these students ever expressed any desire to be identified with Poland or Polish identity or any activism associated with Poland.

A couple of these students told me that they wanted to be identified as something else, and had gone so far as to change their names to alter their identification.

I know several who have been "Wiggers," an ugly word, a combination of "white" and "nigger." Wiggers adopt clothing and postures popular in Black Gangsta culture – the pants down over the buttocks, the gold chains, the backwards baseball cap.

I know a Polish-American scholar who has no interest in his Polish ancestry; he studies Jamaican Dub Poetry. Another Polish-American named his child after Bob Marley. Another married a black man and spends her social time with his family, not her own.

Why would Polish-Americans become Wiggers? Because they crave an identity, a history, roots, a family, heroes and role models, a culture.

Bob Marley provides a sense of identity to "wiggers." 
My other students often voice great pride in their ethnicity. Hispanic, Muslim, Irish, Italian, African American, Japanese – "This is what I am and I'm proud of it!" My students publicly announce this in class; they create in-depth scholarly projects; they reach out to their fellow students. Irish students pursue research on famous Irish authors or stereotypes of Irish Americans or Irish folk music. An Italian American student did a research paper on the impact of the television show "The Jersey Shore" on images of Italian Americans.

Several of my Muslim students have done projects on Islam or what it means to be Muslim American. They do this eagerly, proudly, and publicly, in spite of often open hostility from their fellow students. African American students mention their ethnicity and their culture on an almost daily basis. A Japanese student gave a speech insisting on the peaceful nature of Japanese culture (this did not go over well with the Chinese students).

Poles? Never. Not once. Not ever.

It's true of my entire Bohunk cohort of students: Polish-Americans, Ukrainian-Americans, Slovak-Americans, Croatian-Americans. They just don't talk about it, not even if asked.

There is one exception. My student Azur. I talk about Azur in
this blog post.

Azur was a Slav, and proud of it. He came from Bosnia, an Eastern European country. Azur did talk about his country, in detail: Sarajevo, the Bosnian dragon, the Bosnian fleur-de-lis. He talked about his father and his uncles and their experience in the wars of the break-up of Yugoslavia. He presented his research to his fellow students.

Azur was a Muslim.

Why was a Muslim Slav so eager to talk about his culture, and my Christian Bohunk students have not been? The answer to that question might help us to understand The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision.


There is a small percentage of Polish-Americans who do devote some energy to their heritage.

For the most part, these folks' activities are self-limiting. They draw a border around their identity and their energy. That border prevents them from ever becoming activists.
Self-limiting Polonian identities, below:

Tribalists. They have a tribe. They limit themselves to their tribe's territory and their tribe's rituals.

Perhaps their tribe's territory is a small Polish neighborhood and its Catholic Church. Their rituals: Catholic mass in Polish, eating pierogies in the church basement, and occasionally dressing up in folk costumes.

They like and trust their tribe members, who are all people of the same immigration wave, age, income, and educational level as themselves.

They are suspicious of and uncomfortable with outsiders, including Polish-Americans from the next town, Polish-Americans who have a different educational level than their own, Polish-Americans of a different immigration wave, or Polish-Americans who are younger or older or richer or poorer or more right-wing or more left-wing or more religious or less religious than themselves. They will not unite with these "alien" Poles to accomplish any wider goal that serves all Polonia.

New rituals – organizing to demand a college course on their history, raising money for a scholarship, joining a national or international protest with people they have not met, purchasing a scholarly book, or even a poetry book on Polish topics from Amazon – cause them anxiety and discomfort. They will not perform these alien rituals. They have no desire to have an impact on any territory beyond the borders of their self-limited world.

An example of a hardcore tribalist: A handsome, macho, blond, Polish-born, Polish-American boy was the leader of the pack during the 2011 Jagiellonian University summer school. He sparked parties; the university guides deferred to him.

He lives in Wallington, NJ, a heavily Polish-American town.

On the bus during our daytrip to Zakopane, I overheard him say that he stockpiles weapons, and that if any trouble began, he would be ready to shoot bad people from Paterson, NJ, who might attack Wallington.

Gently, quietly, I approached this lad. He looked about twenty years old. I told him that I live in Paterson. I told him that I am active in Polish issues. I told him that he should drive the
seven miles that separate Wallington from Paterson. I said that he and I could be active in Polish issues together.

This was a very muscular young man. I know because he often walked around bare-chested. This young Hercules had nothing to fear from a little old lady like me.

As I spoke to him, he looked terrified.

His socialization had prepared him to be the alpha male of a crew of young Polish-Americans in Poland. Nothing in his socialization had prepared him to communicate coherently, never mind organize politically or culturally, with a Polish-American from a different immigration wave, from a different age group and gender, from a different town. A stranger inviting him to participate in Polish-American issues overwhelmed him, discombobulated him, wiped his brain clean and froze it up.

Among members of his tribe, he is a fearless leader. When encountering someone he defines as alien, the tribalist cannot function.

Hobbyists. The women dabble in genealogy. The men collect military insignia. Like all hobbyists, their hobbies allow them to escape the stresses of day-to-day demands. The last thing they want to do is get involved in controversial, real-life issues; thus, the route from hobbyist to activist is a difficult one.

Celebrity worshippers. When Czeslaw Milosz wins a Nobel Prize, or Andrzej Wajda wins an Academy Award, or Izabella Skorupko is chosen to be a Bond girl, they pay attention. Activism is a nitty-gritty activity, demanding contact with unglamorous people. Polonians without celebrity status, humble goals that aren't broadcast via the TV show "Entertainment Tonight" or via the front page of the newspaper, offer them nothing they value. 

Celebrity worshippers notice when a Polish actress like Isabella Skorupko becomes a Bond girl. 
Audience Members. They catch performances of Mazowsze or the latest Polish film. Polishness is something they buy tickets for and observe. It is not something that they do.

Seasonal Polonians. They are Polish in their kitchen on Wigilia – Christmas Eve – and on Easter Sunday.

Snobs. The Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype is contagious. If the snobs were to associate with Bohunks, they would risk losing their own hard-won status as self-created Polonian princes and princesses.

The only Poles they will own up to have received an imprimatur of approval from certifiably superior people, i.e., non-Poles.

The snobs never shut up about Copernicus, Kosciuszko, Karski, Chopin, Curie or Milosz. The snobs are religiously rude to any Pole who has ever cleaned anyone else's home. Their rudeness establishes their superiority. They are NOT Bieganski, they want you to know.

Sunshine soldiers and summer patriots. "Convenience" is their keyword. If it is convenient for them to do so, they will toss off a letter protesting this or that incident. Theirs is ADHD activism.

Chauvinists. A consistent netizen of online Polish groups is the Chauvinist.

He makes a lot of noise: "Rah, rah, Poland! Boo, hiss Jews!" He makes a white eagle on a red field, or a photo of Pilsudski, his Facebook photo.

He complains a lot, very vehemently. "How scandalous! There's been another Polish joke on TV! We must do something! Doesn't anyone here care about this EXCEPT ME!!!!!"

All his noise and bluster might convince you that he loves Poland.

Love allows growth, and he isn't interested in any Poland that isn't his rigid fantasy of Poland: one where the men are manly, the women know their place, no one is gay or an atheist, and Lwow and Wilno are Polish cities.

The chauvinist's denial and defensiveness demand that, in public, we speak of Poles only as heroes and heroines. Every Polish woman is Princess Wanda, bravely fighting for Poland. Every Polish man is brave Knight Konrad Wallenrod.

We must always blame the Jews. Or the WASPs. Or the liberals. Or Jan Tomasz Gross. Or the big conspiracy against Poles.

The chauvinist's denial and defensiveness demand that we never diagnose our own failings, address them, and improve our tactics.

Drama Queens Superficially, Drama Queens may appear to be perfect activists. With their short, sharp bursts of energy, they shock and awe.

In the long run, Drama Queens cause more harm than good.

They are in it for the backstage gossip, in which they always play the leading role. These dramatics, in which the Drama Queen uses other people as props in his or her psychodrama, suck people's focus and undermine unity.

Drama Queens like the bright lights and admiration that they imagine activists enjoy.

In fact, 75% of the time, activists are ignored. 15% of the time, they are misunderstood. The rest of the time they are condemned, marginalized, and forgotten. Admiration constitutes, at best, 1% of the average activist's life. No one is applauded for stuffing envelopes. Thus, one cannot count on the Drama Queen.

"Tangled Roots" by Senex Prime. Source
The Walking Wounded I teach African Americans, and, as one might expect, there is much trauma in that population. Today, one hundred and fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the wounds of slavery and Jim Crow display themselves daily in the lives of my black students.

Polonians also show trauma.

I remember a Polish-born student approaching me at the end of the semester to say, "I like you, professor, because you understand what hurts me." I find it hard to imagine a student of any other ethnicity paying me just that compliment.

Twenty years ago I knew an Australian Polonian. He had a picture of Pilsudski on his bedroom wall. I know because I still have a photo that I took of him grinning proudly in front of the Pilsudski portrait. In our long talks, he unreeled both the considerable pride he drew from his Polish identity, and the considerable pain.

Now, twenty years later, he aggressively insults me for still being involved. "Polishness is a big waste of time! It's a pointless, soul-destroying energy suck! Get out while you can!"

He has moved to Thailand, married a Thai woman, and speaks Thai every day. Thais are nice to him and smile at him, he reports. No more tension, no more grief, over identity.

What causes the pain of the walking wounded?

I can only guess.

Members of the c. 1880-1924 immigration were obsessed with their experiences in the Old Country as peasants. They were hungry, they were cold, they were without contact with the sophisticated, they had the powerless peasant's conflicted relationship with power – power in the form of a boss or power in the form of a printed book or contract or financial investment – they had limited contact with the wider world outside the village, and they were physically strong.

They wanted housing, they wanted food, they wanted stability, and they unquestioningly believed that their hard work could earn them these things. Peasants, they lacked the cards to do anything fancy – they would not become journalists or financiers. They were blessed with the strong backs and the iron wills to work very hard jobs. They stuck with those jobs in spite of every obstacle, they bought houses, they put down roots, they married, they stayed married, and they did not waver in their determination.

That's the average Polish-American from that immigration. They had little to nothing to do with Chopin or Curie, and everything to do with very clean houses, very full refrigerators and very reliable employees.

These people were not verbal about their identity. They didn't talk.

Such lives can be horribly stifling and frustrating and they dealt with those frustrations through displaced aggression – by getting drunk and beating their spouses or kids. I don't know that I've ever met anyone from that generation who did not mention the
silence – "They never talked about it" – the excessive alcohol consumption and the domestic violence.


Younger Poles today who were born in Poland and came to the US also have a distinctive identity. It is secret. Springing from generations of struggle and horror, knowing that cataclysmic forces can overturn lives, they have knowledge that those around them just don't have. Their narrative runs counter to the currently dominant American narrative of Political Correctness. They know that white people can be slaves. They know that Stalin's face does not belong on a t-shirt. They know that the left can mass murder as efficiently as the right.

They keep their counter narrative secret, though. They adopt a shiny surface of American consumer goods and eye others warily. They know that if they spoke too frankly about what they know, what their people have seen, they would be different, and they don't want to be assessed as different, though in their hearts they know they are. They know about the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype, and they resent it. They are unwilling to take any action to change it, though, because of the crisis in leadership and organizing. They have made it in The West, and they do not want to be associated with any Bohunks who have not made it. They are snobs. Their snobbishness renders them useless as activists. 

This secret identity of many Polonians, especially young ones, can lead to a brittle smugness. "We Poles have suffered and we know the world's dark secrets and we have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good." This stance alienates them from the wider world, and from their truest selves. The can begin to feel like imposters.


The next post in this series: PartThree: There's Hope! What You Can Do about The Crisis in Polonian Leadership,Organization and Vision.


  1. An excellent blog! This part, about Polish self-hatred and self-defeating behaviors, is nothing new. It had been a part of Polish thinking under the rule of the Partitioning powers. Please click on, or copy-and-paste:

  2. Dear Danusha,

    I am just through parts 1 and 2, first reading. Thank you for the insights. It all rings true. Its painfully true.

  3. MB, thank you so much for reading and commenting. As you can see, very few readers or comments for these three posts. I'm saying unpopular stuff. I'm grateful that you took the time to read and comment, MB.

    And grateful for Jan Peczkis' comments and his inclusion of pertinent links.


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.
This blog welcomes comments from readers that address those themes. Off-topic and anti-Semitic posts are likely to be deleted.
Your comment is more likely to be posted if:
Your comment includes a real first and last name.
Your comment uses Standard English spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
Your comment uses I-statements rather than You-statements.
Your comment states a position based on facts, rather than on ad hominem material.
Your comment includes readily verifiable factual material, rather than speculation that veers wildly away from established facts.
T'he full meaning of your comment is clear to the comment moderator the first time he or she glances over it.
You comment is less likely to be posted if:
You do not include a first and last name.
Your comment is not in Standard English, with enough errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar to make the comment's meaning difficult to discern.
Your comment includes ad hominem statements, or You-statements.
You have previously posted, or attempted to post, in an inappropriate manner.
You keep repeating the same things over and over and over again.