Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"Bieganski": "Important," "Admirable," "Pioneering," "Incontrovertible to Any Fair Minded Person" Goska "Forces Open the Door"


"Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture," has been reviewed by editor, publisher, and bookseller Daniel T. Weaver in "Upstream Two: A Mohawk Valley Journal." Active and concerned Polonians and those interested in Polish-American culture will purchase, read, disseminate and support Upstream Two, as it focuses on Polish-American life and literature.

Weaver's review of "Bieganski" is one of the most accurate that the book has received so far.

All too often, those who speak about the Brute stereotype are Polish chauvinists or anti-Polish bigots. The Polish chauvinists insist that all Poles are heroes on horseback. The anti-Polish bigots insist that Poles are inherently flawed, or, more crudely, that Poles are all pigs. Neither group is correct. The Polish chauvinists have no use for my work, and neither do the anti-Polish bigots.

This skewed shouting match is worse than farce; it is a tragedy. The Bieganski stereotype is pervasive in elementary school classrooms, on university campuses, in the press and in films, in museums and in formal, state-sponsored "tolerance" efforts to come to terms with atrocity. It is a stereotype that is used to rewrite history, a stereotype that is used to lie to concerned human beings about what we need to do to meet our ethical responsibilities as members of the human race. Indeed, contrary to both Polish chauvinists and anti-Polish bigots, the Bieganski stereotype has deep and universal ethical implications.

Daniel T. Weaver is neither a Polish chauvinist nor an anti-Polish bigot. He is able to see and report with greater acuity than members of either group. He remarks that after the arrival of peasant immigrants to the US, the image of the Pole in America became "a brute, a man existing only slightly above the level of an animal…Goska shows that negative Polish stereotypes, unlike negative stereotypes of other national, racial, and ethnic groups, continue to be acceptable…Goska does an admirable job showing negative Polish stereotypes."

"Goska's book raises two troubling questions. Why, when the Germans planned and carried out the Holocaust, do so many people blame Poland and have a higher opinion of Germany than of Poland? Why, when both Poles and Jews were both victims of Hitler's racist theories, do some from both sides so despise each other?" The Bieganski stereotype, Weaver insightfully realizes, "Can alleviate Nazi guilt."

A reviewer in American Jewish History had the same epiphany as Weaver. Bieganski, this reviewer reported, "gives the illusion of absolving those who failed in their own test of humanity" during the Holocaust.

In his review, mulling over the questions Bieganski raises, Weaver mentions a woman I'd never heard of: Stella Kubler. Kubler was a Jewish woman who betrayed possibly thousands of Jews to the Nazis in Berlin during World War II. Weaver also mentioned the book, "The Cap: The Price of a Life," about Holocaust survivor Roman Frister, who had been repeatedly raped by a Jewish capo, and who stole a cap from a fellow prisoner, in order to facilitate his own survival, while dooming the victim of the theft.

"In the end," Weaver says, "Goska makes an honest attempt to employ [her] theories to explain the baffling reputation of Poland as the perpetrator of the Holocaust and the continued acceptance of negative Polish stereotypes in American culture and elsewhere…[Bieganski] forces the reader to think about issues he or she has not likely been forced to look at…Other writers must force open widely the door Goska has opened."

As much as I am gratified by Weaver's review, he missed a couple of very important points in the book, and his review contains two sentences that are terribly inaccurate. But I'm not going to quibble; I'm not even going to challenge him to a duel.

When I was writing "Bieganski," the hostility I encountered communicated to me that I was treading on dangerous terrain. Indeed, ten years out from my PhD and having published, as expected, in peer-reviewed journals, and garnered positive evaluations from students and peers, I am forced to consider leaving teaching forever. Being a "pioneer," as Weaver called me, writing a "groundbreaking" book, as Shofar Journal of Jewish Studies called "Bieganski," has had a ruinous impact on my life as a wage-earner.

But I learned something else, too. I realized that, eventually, someone would read "Bieganski," and would understand. Daniel T. Weaver doesn't understand the book perfectly, but his review shows that he understood a good percentage of what I was saying, and that is a gratifying feeling.

That's the good news. The not so good news is that Polonia has not yet taken action on the Bieganski stereotype. While I've spoken at Brandeis, at Georgetown, in museums, synagogues and in UU churches, I have yet to speak to a Polish group. The Polish embassy and the Kosciuszko Foundation have not yet addressed the book, Polish language publishers have not yet published it, and Polish-Americans are not purchasing it in significant numbers.

Meanwhile, one or two people do buy the book. I received a very heartening email from a reader of Bieganski who is neither Polish nor Jewish, but, in fact, proudly German-American. This reader understood the book, too. He understood its universal implications. His email:

"Say 'n - - - - r' and you're dead. Say 'Polack' and people stand there, smiling, waiting for the punchline.

Selective outrage against what should be equally immoral.

You know Bieganski isn't a fight for Poles & Jews, it's about evolving people's heads to where they see right and wrong, try to empathize with human beings struggling, past, present and future and learn from past mistakes."

I rejoiced when I received this email from this one reader. He got it. He understood the book. Thank you, one reader, thank you.

***

Upstream Two also contains an essay by me, "My Vow: I Will Never Be an Immigrant," and several poems. It also contains a review of Linda C. Wisniewski's "Off Kilter: A Woman's Journey to Peace with Scoliosis, Her Mother, and Her Polish Heritage," identifying it as a memoir the reviewer wished he could have written himself, and many other reviews of, or original contributions to, Polish-American culture. Again, concerned Polonians will buy Upstream Two, read it, and support it, as will anyone interested in Polish-American culture.


17 comments:

  1. Congratulations on getting some long-overedue recognition. The review is a real upper! It often takes time, but good works are eventually noticed and rewarded.

    {To see my own detailed review of BIEGANSKI, please paste-in and go to:

    http://www.amazon.com/review/RULLZ187GHMT1/ref=cm_cr_dp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1936235153&nodeID=283155&tag=&linkCode=

    To read my own review of Frister's THE CAP, please click on my name in this specific posting.

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  2. Thank you. I very much appreciate your good wishes.

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  3. Congratulations!

    Pitch ahead:

    You should make your books available in ebook form. Ebooks are usually cheaper than print books, so they will be accessible to more people. Anyone with a smartphone, computer access, or of course an e-reader can read one -- and now, iphones are available as entry-level, "free with a cell plan" phones.

    I'm still saving for /Bieganski/. One day, I also hope to read /Save, Send, Delete/. The part that I've read on Google Books seems really interesting. (Although I have to say, I don't have much respect for the misogynist sissy-shaming in the first e-mail. This Is The Problem With Third Wave Feminism, I tell myself, It Does Not Avoid Sissy Shaming The Way Second Wave Does. And yet you predate Third Wave feminism, don't you? Back to the drawing board! ;) )

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  4. Alison, I have no power over whether or not Bieganski is made available in e-book form.

    I think it simply depends on numbers. If it is profitable for the publisher, a book becomes an e-book.

    "Bieganski" is expensive at least partly because Polonia has not bought it in large numbers. When someone buys a copy, the price goes down. When no one is buying it, the price goes up. I watch the price on Amazon with some regularity and I see this again and again.

    Recently someone bought a couple of copies and the price dropped by about fifteen percent.

    So, when Polonia buys "Bieganski," the price will go down.

    And, yes, I do name Polonia. This is a book for Poles and people of Polish descent. They are the audience. If not them, who?

    As for "Save Send Delete," there is enough in that book to offend everyone.

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  5. Congratulations on the review! Still waiting for my copy of Upstream in the mail, but thank you for mentioning me.

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  6. Linda, thank you very much. And I really like your writing and want to encourage everyone to buy and read Upstream Two so they can read you and me and all the rest of us.

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  7. This is really a great information with so much success. I hope very soon we will be in touch for future growth. Thanks!

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  8. Dear Dr Goska,

    I am a Polish undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge, England. I had been following your blog for the past few months and I finally decided to read Bieganski. It wasn't in my college library. It wasn't in my (or in any other, for that matter) faculty library. It wasn't in the university library. I got a copy from Amazon - and I'm happy I did. This is the sort of book you want to keep.

    Your book is brave, illuminating and, I dare say, life-changing for any Pole with international exposure. Yes, you do write about Polish-Jewish relations. But you also write about "the Polish\Slavic\Bohunk experience" - and this is like screaming in near-total silence.

    Thank you.

    P.S.
    I am sorry to have learnt that writing Bieganski was not exactly an easy journey. Perhaps you should consider teaching at a Polish university? More and more universities are delighted to offer courses in English and, I imagine, would welcome you with open arms...

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  9. The main reason that BIEGANSKI is not selling more copies is that so few people know that it exists. Although it is easier said then done, it might help to talk to major Polish newspapers, in the US as a start, and see if you can have an ad printed. It may be cost-effective in at least paying for the ad by the increased book sales.

    It can work. The Polish-Underground member, now 91, who published WOLYN AFLAME, which I had translated into English, invested in various ads in newspapers, and he got a respectable amount of copies sold.

    Just a thought...

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  10. Piotr, thank you very much for your post. I hope you will consider posting a review on Amazon.

    If more Poles and Polonians were like you -- willing to purchase a book, to read it, and to support it, the world would be a better place.

    I hope you keep in touch. I'd like to read more about your experiences.

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  11. Thank you for your reply. My review has just gone live. As to my experience as a Pole at a British university - I would love to share it with you. Let me collect my thoughts, write a few notes and get back to you.

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  12. Piotr, thank you very much for the Amazon review. Much appreciated!

    If you write a coherent essay about your experiences as a Pole at a British university, I will happily post it as a blog entry. Otto, Roy Martin, Danuta Reah, Chris Jaworski, have all written guest blog entries.

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  13. Danusha, I would be glad to help you to put any of your books into KDP format for ebooks! Now, that I have published my first ebook, I have learned how easy it is. Ebooks are becoming extremely popular. I think all authors should consider it. But, especially someone like yourself - who is already publishing blogs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Terese, thank you much. I have to request permission from the publisher for this, as that is what the contract stipulates.

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  14. Oh its seems like a review to definitely go through.. If its available in kindle format ebook pls let me know Danusha..

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  15. Danusha, I would like my favourite Polish news magazine, Uwazam Rze, to review it...I am not sure, but perhaps You, as the autor, should contact them? I think this could interest them very much-also, I believe Poles in Poland should read this!

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    Replies
    1. Hanna, feel free to contact them. I won't. I've more or less given up.

      Delete

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