Wednesday, August 29, 2012

An Alleged Polish Crypto-Jew; Who Wants Peasant Ancestors? Guest Blog Post by Kasia

Peasants in a Russian Village. Who wants boring ancestors like this? Source.

Adrien Brody in "The Pianist." As Kasia observes,
"Both are narratives of victimhood and suffering,
but while one is degrading, the other is ennobling."


Are your ancestors boring? Were they just a bunch of lumpy grey peasants, sunup to sundown, rooting in the earth, slopping manure, snoring? Never learning to read, relieving themselves outside?

Wouldn't you like more glamorous and exotic ancestors than that? If not Cleopatra or Napoleon, at least a poet or two?

Who hasn't known this frustration?

Luckily, when I was a kid, my mother took me to Czechoslovakia, and I met my peasant ancestors. They were really cool people. I write about one of them, my Aunt Bora, in this essay. I am proud and happy to descend from peasants like my Aunt Bora.

But Eastern European peasants are negatively stereotyped, as described in the book "Bieganski." It's understandable that some would like to trade their Eastern European ancestry for a more glamorous one.

***

Recently Bieganski the Blog featured a post titled A Biological Take on Identity Politics. This blog post addressed some people, who have no evidence of Jewish ancestry, insisting that they are crypto-, or hidden, Jews. One New York Times essayist even went so far as to claim that her hidden Jewish ancestry was lurking in her DNA. Her genes contained memories of persecution and survival. She had been raised Catholic, but her genes' memories told her she was really Jewish.

A blog reader, Kasia, read that blog entry and responded with the fascinating story of a woman she came across on the web. This woman appears to be of strictly Polish, Lithuanian, Slovak, and Hungarian ancestry, but is insisting, without any evidence, that she is a crypto-Jew.

Here's Kasia's description of the woman:

I have come across this person on the internet who is absolutely convinced that she is Jewish. She seems to have researched her roots pretty well, to the extent that she knows most of the birthplaces and names of her relatives and ancestors within the last 100 years or so.

There is a problem though. All the names and places point to a Gentile Polish/Lithuanian and Slovak/Hungarian background. There is no evidence that any of her ancestors converted to Christianity, to the contrary, they all seem to have been dyed in the wool Roman Catholics.

Surprisingly, this absolute lack of evidence of any Jewish roots is to this person proof absolute that all her relatives had, in fact, been Jewish, then converted, and then lived in denial for the rest of their lives. Not some of them, which would have been realistic, but all of them.

The fact that some of them had their names misspelt / transcribed into English on Ellis Island and in subsequent census records is further evidence of their duplicity and eagerness to hide their true identity.

This would have remained, to me, a bizarre and mildly entertaining story found on the internet; but then I read Danusha's blog post on Crypto Jews, as well as the very interesting comments on this post, and I realised that the earnest, blind yearning for Jewish roots I described above might be dictated by something else, or something more, than mere confusion or wishful thinking.

To someone of her background, swapping the "narrative" (haven't liked the word since Literary Theory class at university, but there you are) of poor, uneducated peasant immigrants from Eastern Europe for a story shared by the Jewish diaspora worldwide is probably tempting. Both are narratives of victimhood and suffering, but while one is degrading, the other is ennobling. One condemns you to isolation and rejection, the other gives your individual existence meaning within a greater whole. I would probably never have understood this if I hadn't read Danusha's blog from end to end beforehand.

Just so it's clear - I wish my internet acquaintance all the luck in finding her Jewish relatives. She probably has a few, like many other Eastern Europeans. I just don't think finding them automatically makes her Jewish. The past is a muddle of ethnicities which it would be impossible to untangle today.
***
Regular readers of this blog know what I'm going to say. It is up to us to tell our own story. I cover this ground in the three part blog post on the Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization, and Vision

You can start by buying, reading, reviewing, and recommending a book by and about Polish peasants and their working class descendants, and getting that book on the syllabi in schools. 

7 comments:

  1. I am proud and happy to descend from peasants like my Aunt Bora.


    It gets even worse-some people,f.e from Silesia,want to feel German (although,lets see,having a distinctively SLAVIC name,sometimes combined with even a rather Slavic look) or "Silesian" (as contrasted to Polish,as most Silesians understand themselves to be Poles,but with a special touch) because...they feel "ashamed"-This is how the communist thugs were,in a kind of way,even worse than the Germans-The Germans brought the best up in Poles (who became heroes,fighting for their lives and those of others,also of Jewish faith) the communists (who secured,during the round-table talks,a nice spot for themselves in the "new" Poland,and also for their acolytes) destroyed our pride and spirit.There will be NO REVIVAL without getting rid of everything they have left! Because Poles feel weak,they get abused,they want to be "modern"-thus,like crazy idiots,are trying to imitate EVERYTHING the "West" does (even in the "West",people are starting to realize that these things are destructive-like borderless "tolerance"),accepting Western prejudice,f.e against peasants, as s.th laudable. Me to,for a certain time, I was thinking similariy- BUT,some day, I realized how IGNORANT;ARROGANT;STUPID,NARCISSISTIC;KNOW-IT-ALLS AND INTOLERANT these so-called "enlightened" "cultured" people in fact are.Not all of them, but an overwhelming part.And yes, my ancestors were,partly,also peasants,devoutly Catholic (which I am not,although I do respect faith),good and tolerant people,who were the cornerstones of their community and,by extension,of the Polish Nation&State.And I am mighty proud of that.Without "stupid peasants" everyone would have starved to death a long time ago :-D. Gosh, I wished EVERYONE would start to act PROUDLY about where he/she comes from.It awesome-because it pxxxxx of hateful idiots (thus,you will be able to spot them very quickly not waste any further time on them) and will make normal people inclined to start feeling interested (in your cultural background)-I wished, EVERYONE could start being a honorary ambassador!!!

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  2. @Hanna. Your proposal that Poland has to "get rid of everything they [the communists] have left" is not only impossible but completely undesirable. what you want is another witch hunt and you've convinced yourself that Poland was so injured by communism, its people became so downtrodden, its economy so disfunctional and its prospects so bleak that someone must be punished.

    You're deluding yourself if you think that will fix Poland's problems, such as they are. Just what kind of country do you want? What kind of economy do you want? Poland's current problems of social dislocation and poverty do have a cause and a clearly identifiable one that they share, in varying degrees, with all advanced countries around the world: it's called Liberal Capitalism. That is 'The West' as you call it, and that is what it offers. At least the European version is not as dry economically (Britain apart) as the USA but it's still just a variant. What did you think would happen when communism fell? Money would miraculously appear on the footpaths of the cities and in the fields outside of the villages? The problems ushered in by the transition to a capitalist economy can never be solved by big doses of national pride and appeals to patriotism or by blaming (in your case in a thoroughly unpleasant way) "intellectuals".

    When I go to Poland (as I do annually) to visit my relatives and friends I see a dynamic society mostly proud of what it has achieved in recent years. Sadly ,I see quite a lot of poverty ( but no surprise there) and I see people working hard. What I don't see is a national malaise or any sense of shame in being Polish, especially among the younger people I know. Of course if one longs for a return of the League of Polish Families to the political arena or think that the Smolensk crash was a Russian plot and the subsequent investigation a PO cover-up, then obviously things may look different.

    The worst thing Poland could embark on is a witch hunt. Sure, former UB officers from the Stalinist days, if the evidence of crimes is available, should be prosecuted. But that's it, lustration is enough for the rest and let's move on. South Africa should be a guide here. Nelson Mandela set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission but the ANC did not indulge in wholesale purges of former Apartheid era functionaries, politicians and leaders of white supremacist parties. Under Apartheid, the black and "coloured" population of South Africa endured conditions and treatment far, far harsher and brutal than anything Poland endured under the communists after the Stalinist period ended.


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  3. I'm glad you said "after the Stalinist period" ended Peter. Because what went on under Stalin was awful. Not one of his willing executioners has even been brought to trial, let alone convicted of anything, as far as I'm aware. And, as I am not in favour of hunting down and convicting 90 year olds, its too late now. But you could say "The grapes are sour anyway", as I'm sure the politics would still not allow it.

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  4. Hi there,Peter,

    @not only impossible but completely undesirable
    Impossible? In the nearest future-yes.Undesirable? NOT,not at all! We have to get rid of as much communist leftovers as possible (as for f.e the Pałac Kultury in Warsaw,it can stay,with a different purpose,as for communist monuments like the "4 Spiących"-they should be given to a museum). Why is it highly desirable to get rid of the rememants of communism? Because we have to rebuild Polish society anew-based on a true communitarianism, not a completely utopic ideology.

    @you want is another witch hunt
    No,Peter,I want truth and justice-because,without both,a state has no real legitimacy.Read up about Helena Wolinska and You will know what I mean-those guilty MUST be punished.Thats why I have the hightest regard for the Cambodian people-they dont care if the mass-murdering Khmer Rouge are geriatric or not,justice must be served.

    @Poland was so injured by communism
    It was-and still is.50 years of no real economical developement (while,ironically,Germany grew rich by its linkage to world/western economy),followed by 20 years of having "elites" (apart from the short interlude of the Kaczynski government) treating Poland as their personal cafeteria while communist struck a deal-We get to call dibs on state assets plus will get away scott-free,for this, we will relinquish power (the Magdalenka agreement).Also, google "Homo Sovieticus".

    @Just what kind of country do you want? What kind of economy do you want?
    Sovereign,with a strong,top notch both-sexes conscription army (like in Finland),with a strong sense of cultural pride and communitarism (like in Switzerland).Economy...a mixed economy would be nice.


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  5. @it's called Liberal Capitalism. That is 'The West' as you call it, and that is what it offers
    I agree-Liberal Capitalism finished, what soviet-imposed communism had started. I personally despise it all the same-mostly,because it is degrading people to "assets",thus,they are not perceived to be more than they seem to be on a first glance (with "more" I mean culture,language,family lineage,belonging to a nation,belonging to a specific region,religion ect).Neither West nor Communism-we really have to work out another way.Despising soviet-communism does not mean loving western capitalism.

    @capitalist economy can never be solved by big doses of national pride
    Here You err-we NEED national pride (by which I mean to think,that we are worthy, that we can achieve s.th,that its worth it)-as it is right now, Poles are proud to work for a foreigner (yep, they have oikophobic prejudices),even in a foreign country-this is BAD,we need these people in Poland (or,for that matter-Romania needs its talented ones in Romania,Latvia needs ect) to make a difference in the long run.Otherwise we all will become but a Generalgouvernement for the rich countries,the provider of top notch workers.And nothing else.

    @"intellectuals".
    I should have made myself clearer,I am sorry.By "intellectuals" I mean pseudo-intellectuals who,like monkeys, are repeating and imitating everything Western "intelectuals" do-without thinking about why it might not be a good ideal-mostly,these people think of themselves as parts of the "new left",a "left" so thoroughly apart from the lives and sorrows of normal people,so incredibely intolerant and arrogant of those having another opinion (like religious people) and ashamed of belonging to the uncivilized Polish tribe that,even as a person with genuine leftist inclination,I will continue to make fun of them :-)

    @national malaise or any sense of shame in being Polish,
    Interesting.In an European poll Poles were the ONLY nation which the Germans!!!! YES,THEM! like more/attributed more positive attributes to than...the Poles themselves.S.th must be wrong.....

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  6. @PO cover-up
    Peter- I know a LOT of people from Poland in all walks of life.I go to Poland serveral times a year,also, I am reading a weekly political magazine,in Polish.Let me tell You one thing-one scandal after the other,increasing debts WITHOUT substantial growth,increasing emigration FROM Poland (but not back),an dog-eat-dog society,were the most vulnerable are pocked fun by self-appointed "elites- this state,the III Republic, is terribly broken.We need a new republic.(And no,I am not a PiS voter (althought,right now, they are the smaller evil around)).It took me some time to realize this truth,but,as the Bible states-the truth sets one free.And seeing the truth is hurtful,I know.

    @But that's it, lustration is enough for the rest and let's move on. South Africa should be a guide here
    Peter,what You dont seem to realize-If these people are allowed to stay,to get away with it,it is Nazi Germany all over.Justice is justice is the fundament of a country with the rule of law.South Africa btw is a TERRIBLE example how not to "move on"-sure, they gave black people the franchise.They just did not give them justice,truth and the (material) means to achieve equality.This piece of information is courteousy by a friend of mine who grew up as a with Southern African.Basically, it was a trade-off: Amnesty against participation.Or,to phrase it differently: No justice,no truth,no redistribution of property for black&coloured right to vote.I think one sees clearly where the advantage lies.

    Probably You would want to know what I mean by justice and truth-should be try them in court? If possible,yes,absolutely. If not-but the evidence is there-they should have their retirement entitlements should be reduced severely.Also,their names should be said aloud,f.e on television.Harsh? I dont care.For s.o who f.e was engagend in forging evidences against so-called "enemies of the peoples state" (who subsequently got murdered as "traitors") thats just a knock on the back.


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    Replies
    1. Hanna, I'm always impressed by the information, the energy, and the concern in your posts.

      I wonder why you post without a last name. Just curious.

      I wonder if you have ever run for office and if you plan to do so.

      Delete

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