Saturday, April 13, 2013

Giving Polish Books Away


This Saturday morning, I am packing up Polish books to give them away.

I remember buying these books when I was a grad student, struggling with a chronic illness, making no money, collecting socks on the street and food at food banks.

The books are all about Poland, about folk art in Poland, women in Poland, Jewish poets in Poland – not exactly bestsellers. These books are the kind of hardcover, obscure university press books that cost an arm and a leg.

I would spend as much on one of these books as I would spend on food for two weeks.

I prized these books. I coddled these books. When I had to move from one temporary grad student squat to another, these books were my first and my last thought.

These books were the future. The future for which I was sacrificing everything.

Someday I'd be a PhD. Someday I'd teach classes about my loves in Polish culture. Someday I'd share the contents of these books with my students.

I worked for that moment. I got straight A's, of course, even though my working class, Polish Catholic, immigrant perspectives often irritated my professors. I published in the right peer-reviewed journals. I presented papers. I was invited to speak. I published my dissertation and it won an award.

But someday never came. I teach college, part time. My identity, and my dissertation on Polish matters, is not attractive to any academic employers seeking fulltime employees. I love what I teach. I'm happy and honored to teach creative writing, women in film, Greek mythology, Caribbean literature, African American history, the New England transcendentalists… I'm happy to teach all those and more.


I've never had, and I now must admit I never will have, a chance to teach a class in anything Polish. The institutions for which I teach are not much interested in anything having anything to do with Poland. Why should they be? No one in Polonia has ever made the case to them that study of anything Polish, from Polish American immigrant literature like the poetry of coal miner poet Anton Piotrowski, to the Polish experience of WW II, to what wisdom Polish-Jewish relations has to offer a world that is "hot, flat, and crowded" – no one in Polonia is making the case to the wider world, including academic employers, that this matters. I propose courses, and they go nowhere.

I wrote to a well-placed Polish American academic. I've tried just about everything, I said. I would give my eye teeth to teach what I gave my life to. Polish matters.

The response I received: What do you think I am, an employment agency? Don't bother me.

So, I'm packing up these books I bought when I was a grad student.

I'm sending them to a beautiful human being I met in Poland in 2011. This person is young and hopeful, utterly unconstrained by the "mind-forged manacles" that haunt so much of Polonia. If change comes, if Polonia's story becomes standard in education, as it should be, people like this will make that happen.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Is Bieganski the Brute Polak Tantamount to Holocaust Denial?

Art by Jan Komski, Polish Auschwitz prisoner and artist. Please visit his website here

Polish-American poet John Guzlowski posted an essay about his father's liberation from the Buchenwald concentration camp. John posted this at the Open Salon website. An excerpt:

"My father was a prisoner in this camp for four years.  He was just a Polish farm boy, and he was captured when he went into his village to buy a piece of rope one Saturday.  The Germans had surrounded the village and were rounding up men and boys to go to Buchenwald and work in the factories there.

A lot of times when we think of Concentration Camps we imagine the death camps the Germans built in Poland where the primary business was killing large numbers of civilians.  Buchenwald wasn’t a death camp.  Millions did not die there, burned in the ovens, their ashes scattered in ponds where the water is still gray 70 years later.  But they did die there.  About one out four people died each year.

What did they die of in Buchenwald?

Mainly starvation.  Fifty years later, my dad could still remember the hunger he felt.  He did hard labor 6 and even 7 days a week, 12 and 14 hour days, on a handful of food a day.  I’ve read accounts of what the men ate.  It came to about 600 calories a day. How much is that?  A Big Mac with Cheese is about 700 calories.  A Big Mac without cheese is 600.  But what my dad ate wasn’t a Big Mac."

A member of Open Salon, going by the internet handle "Koshersalaami," wrote in response to John's essay. Koshersalaami said,

"On Sunday night I was asked by my rabbi to play Hatikvah on piano for our area's Yom Hashoah (Holocaust rememberance day) service. (The service was Sunday night; he asked me a week earlier.)A survivor was our guest speaker. He was, like a member of our congregation who is now on something called the March of the Living, where Jewish teenagers go to Auschwitz-Birkenau for Yom Hashoah and then to Israel for Israeli Independence Day, someone who as a young teenager was transfered around a lot and saw the inside of a lot of camps. What he described was utterly horrific, and I say that as someone who has heard many of these stories before.

So I have a question for you:

For Jews, Holocaust denial is a very big deal, such as when guys like Ahmedinejad of Iran host Holocaust denial conferences. Your history with the Holocaust is from a somewhat different direction - forced labor while being starved and abused as opposed to mass extermination up front. (Jews actually dealt with both, depending on who was lucky enough to be routed to forced labor as opposed to the wrong kind of showers - I learned the other night that some facilities had both kinds of showers and those taking them didn't always know which kind they'd been herded into.)

My question is: Do you feel targeted by Holocaust denial? I realize it's a strange question, but I don't know, because many deniers these days do so in a peculiar attempt to delegitimize Israel, and I just don't know how that translates to other victimized populations."

I responded to Koshersalaami's post:

I felt a strong urge to respond to koshersalaami who wrote, "For Jews, Holocaust denial is a very big deal…My question is: Do you feel targeted by Holocaust denial?"

I was very touched by this as it shows a great deal of thought and compassion on the poster's part.

My book "Bieganski" includes brief biographical statements by John Guzlowski. In introducing John in the book, I wrote, "John Guzlowski's Polish Catholic grandmother, aunt, and cousin were murdered by Nazis and Ukrainians. They raped John's Aunt Sophie and broke her teeth; they stomped his cousin to death. With his bayonet, a Nazi sexually mutilated John's Aunt Genia. John's parents were Nazi slave laborers; his father was in Buchenwald. John was born in a displaced persons camp after World War II."

This introduction haunted me. It haunted me not because of the horror. It haunted me because I felt NO horror while writing it. I wrote that intro with as little passion as I might write, "pick up milk, eggs, and bread" in a note to myself.

In writing "Bieganski," I was steeped in the agony of the Polish people under German Nazis. By the time I arrived at handling John's contribution to the book, toward the end of the book and the writing process, I was numbed by horror.

Is denial of Poland's WW II agony immoral? Is it tantamount to Holocaust denial? Does denial of Poland's agony distort world history and important ethical questions? Does distortion of Poland's WW II history cause us to fail in our duty to understand Nazism?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

That's not the least of it. Not only is Poland's martyrdom all but unknown. Something even worse is happening. Poles have been scapegoated. In many television shows, films, and peer reviewed scholarly publications, Polish Catholic peasants have been inserted where German Nazis belong. This substitution is occurring for complex narratological reasons, all explained in my book.

When I was working on "Bieganski," I really thought that there was someone out there who was doing this to us. Someone, or someones, some empowered entities, were distorting our history. After years of work on these issues, I realized that some external enemy is not the problem.

Rather, Polonia – Poles and their descendants now living throughout the world – is not doing the work of telling this story. We need to unite, organize, and support each other. We need to tell our story to new audiences, and in new ways.

We are not doing that. Why? Again, the reasons are complex. One hundred years ago, most Poles were peasants. The majority were illiterate. My grandmother never learned to read or write. While most Poles today are not illiterate peasants, we don't have a tradition of sophisticated engagement with books, media, authors, and scholarships. Rather, we have a tradition of fearing and being suspicious of them.

I once met a man who expressed outrage to me at how Poles are misrepresented and how Polish history remains unknown. I immediately advised him to read buy and read John Guzlowski's books. The man practically spat. "I've decided that buying and reading books doesn't do any good. I want to do something that has impact."

That anti-book, anti-author attitude does not help Polonia. Too, Poles have been invaded by others who used "divide and conquer," and all too often, Poles have found it easier to attack each other than to unite to each any goal.

In response to my blog, Polonians sent me outraged emails about university press books that distort Polish WW II history, museums that distort Polish WW II history. Newspaper articles and television shows. The outrage is high. On almost none of these matters did I witness any progress. The organization and effectiveness is low.

This matters, as koshersalaami intuited. The distortion of World War II in Poland, what I call the Bieganski the Brute Polak stereotype, matters to everyone. The stereotype of Poles is used to misrepresent WW II history. People really don't understand Nazism, or the genocide of the Jews, and they should.

I hope and pray for the day when Polonia unites, supports its own writers and scholars, and tells its story to the world, as John Guzlowski so effectively, and movingly, does.

Link to John Guzlowski's essay at Open Salon is here

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Markowa Project. An Invitation to Polonia.

Wiktoria Ulma and her children, as photographed by Jozef Ulma.
From Mateusz Szpytma, The Risk of Survival, The Institute of National Remembrance 2009. With permission of the author

I've been lucky enough to travel the world. When I visited Markowa, in July, 2011, I knew I had happened upon a very special place. I am very grateful to Malgorzata, Mateusz Szpytma and the citizens of Markowa for making the visit possible.

Markowa is where the Ulma family, during WW II, were massacred by Nazis for helping Jews.

When I prayed in Saint Dorothy's church, when I visited Ulma family homes, and when I stood beside memorials, I felt a transcendent, spiritual peace.

I wanted to contribute to making the Ulma family story better known in the wider world. I wanted to engage the current conversation in the US on multiculturalism, tolerance, and peace. I envisioned a documentary that would take the microphone away from extremists on both sides in the Polish-Jewish dialogue and put it into the hands of good, everyday people on both sides of the Atlantic. I wanted to engage, not identity politicians, ready to hate, with an ax to grind and a zero-sum game to "win," but experts in win-win, civil discourse. Dialogue facilitators would be compassionate professionals from the field of conflict resolution who would ensure that both sides were respected and heard.

I wanted to tell this story in a manner that would emphasize its universal appeal, not its value only to a narrow, parochial audience of chauvinists on either side. I wanted a final product that would communicate profoundly to Poles and Jews and also to the African American, Muslim, and Hispanic kids I teach and live among. Poland has much to teach the wider world.

Thus, the Markowa Project.

I returned from Poland and got to work writing up a project proposal. I presented the proposal to university personnel experienced in the kind of material that is likely to be funded.

They were excited. The proposal had the markings of a project that would likely pick up significant funding.

Problem: the year and a half since I return from Markowa has been an excessively eventful one for me. I (and the rest of New Jersey) was stricken by two hurricanes which meant evacuation, living in emergency shelter, and going without heat, power, electricity, or even potable water. There have also been health crises severe enough that for the past year and a half, there has not been a single month that I have not had several hospital visits.

During the periods when I was indisposed, I sought help, support, guidance, and team members from within Polonia. I didn't want to see the Markowa Project die.

I heard the same answers I heard when I was working on "Bieganski."

"It's impossible! There is no money! No one has any money! There's barely enough money these days for simple scholarships! Help you meet a deadline with research or grant writing? I'm too busy! It's impossible!"

For the most part "
Bieganski" was a one-woman show. The price I paid to do it all myself was very high.

The Markowa Project could not be a one-woman show. It would require teamwork from committed, reliable team members. I've worked with teams on projects for education, for gay rights, for peace activism. That kind of teamwork is required here.

I don't see any of these on the horizon.

Maybe a Polonian will read this and realize that something valuable is being lost and decide to change that.

Maybe someone who wants to see something done to combat the Brute Polak stereotype would jump in and contribute skills to building this project: research, grant writing, networking. Contacting possible funders like Martha Stewart, Barbara Piasecka Johnson and Steve Wozniak. Maybe someone who wants actually to do something – would actually do something.

Polonians insist: "We want more books telling our story on library shelves! We want more books telling our story on course syllabi! We want more documentaries on television and in movie theaters telling our story! We want more speakers and events telling our story!"

In fact, Polonia is richly blessed with storytellers.

Poet Christina Pacosz told the story of the Leadwood anti-Polish riot. She told that story
here. Mishael Porembski made a terrific documentary about her Polish dad's experience of World War II. A review is here.

And of course there is "

Polonia, you have been richly blessed with storytellers, filmmakers, researchers, poets and scholars. It's up to you, Polonia, to put our books on library shelves, on course syllabi, to purchase tickets for these documentaries, to invite us to speak and sponsor and advertise our events. Hire us to teach your children.


I have a picture of the Ulma family taped to my refrigerator. It's been there since I returned from Poland in 2011. I "promised" the Ulma family that I would do what I could to make their story more widely known.

I think, in this tumultuous year, I've done all I can, and, with great sorrow, I have to give up.

Ulma family, I am sorry I was unable to get the Markowa Project off the ground. I tried. Perhaps this blog post will pave the way for a miracle.


I'm hesitant to say this, because no one knows what the future will bring, but chances are this will be my final substantive post in Bieganski the blog.

I hope to continue to post the occasional brief post about manifestations of Bieganski the Brute Polak, or significant to Bieganski.

I would love to post guest blog posts. If you'd like to see your writing posted here, please contact me.

For reasons the perceptive reader will understand, I think this may be the final substantive post.

Letting Go. Banksy 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Markowa Project. Proposal.

Wiktoria Ulma photographed by her husband, Jozef. Source



Pulitzer-Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman famously called today's world "hot, flat, and crowded." Globalization and technology have brought humans of diverse cultures into contact with each other. We need to learn how to co-exist.

Poland is an example of the gifts, challenges, and curses of multiculturalism. We can learn much from Poland, if its wisdom is spoken clearly to the world.

The Markowa Project would bring together Poles living in Poland and Jews living in the United States for dialogue. Dialogue would be conducted with respect for both sides. Moderators would be proven experts in civil speech and conflict resolution committed to win-win paradigms. Chauvinists who exploit Poland's tragic history in order to score points in zero-sum, ethnic identity games would play no role. The final project would be a documentary distilling the wisdom of people committed to respectful, peaceful coexistence. The wisdom of Poland's Jews and Catholics, its citizens and those whose ancestors lived in Poland, would be available to the world.


Terminology: "Poles" is generally used to refer to people living in Poland or their descendants who were not Jewish. "Jews" refers to people living in Poland who are Jewish, or who were Jewish, or their descendants. Everyone in the field uses these terms, as rough and as inaccurate as they may be.

Polish-Jewish relations matter to the wider world for the following reasons. Both Poles and Jews suffered and died under the most notorious regime in history: Nazi Germany. Poles and Jews are responsible for maintenance of Auschwitz, a world heritage site.

There's more to it than that. Poland, as Ewa Hoffman has put it, is an example of multiculturalism avant le lettre – that is, Poland was multicultural before the term "multicultural" was invented.

Poland offers inspiration, and cautionary tales, to anyone invested in multiculturalism and coexistence.

In the Middle Ages, Poland warred with the Germanic Teutonic Knights. In that struggle, Catholic Poles united politically and militarily with Lithuanians, when Lithuanians were still significantly Pagan. King Casimir the Great invited Jews into Poland. According to legend, Casimir had a Jewish mistress, Esterka, by whom he fathered several children. The boys were raised as Catholics, the girls as Jews. Muslim Tatars settled in Poland; their descendants live in Poland to this day. What is today Unitarianism got its start in Poland.

These historical forces, all rooted in the Middle Ages, produced a Poland-Lithuanian Commonwealth that celebrated what Polish aristocrats called their "golden freedom." People living in Poland might be Catholic, Muslim, Protestant, Pagan, or Jewish – following Judaism in all its permutations, with thriving, significant communities from Orthodox to Karaite, from Reformed to Hasidic. Poland was known throughout Europe as the "paradise of the Jews." After Martin Luther's historic break with the Catholic Church, Poland became known as a "state without stakes" because Poles were, theoretically, allowed to follow any religion they wanted to, at a time when other European countries were burning dissidents.

The 1573 Warsaw Confederation declared, "We swear to each other, on behalf of ourselves and our descendants, in perpetuity, under oath and pledging our faith, honor and consciences, that we who differ in matters of religion will keep the peace among ourselves, and neither shed blood on account of differences of faith, or kinds of church, nor punish one another by confiscation of goods, deprivation of honor, imprisonment or exile."

Fast forward. History intervened. History's most notorious genocide took place, largely, in Poland. The Nazi death camps were, for the most part, located in Poland: Auschwitz, Birkenau, Treblinka, Sobibor, Chelmno, Majdanek, etc.

It isn't just World War Two and the German Nazis, though, that introduced anti-Semitism to Poland. Interwar Poland, between the end of World War I in 1918 and the start of World War II in 1939, saw an upsurge of anti-Semitism. One prominent anti-Semite was the Darwin-inspired Roman Dmowski, leader of the National Democrats. Chauvinists wanted the Polish "race" to win and the Jewish "race" to depart.

What happened? People who study Polish-Jewish relations try to understand how a country that was a model of multiculturalism became less tolerant.

Citing the scholarly work of Edna Bonacich and Amy Chua, "Bieganski" offers an answer to the "what happened?" question that is not unique to Polish-Jewish relations. In fact, this pattern, of multicultural societies adopting chauvinist stances, has occurred again and again, for predictable reasons, and it is occurring today. Humanity can benefit from the historical and ethical lessons Polish-Jewish relations, properly understood, offer.


Unfortunately, the two groups who tend to hog the microphone when Polish-Jewish relations are discussed in academia and in the media are not interested in advancing the human, universal search for understanding, healing, and co-existence. Rather, all too often, those who speak publicly about these matters are narrow chauvinists attempting to corner the market on national dignity and score points in a zero-sum game.

Chauvinist Poles voice a conspiracy-theory, us-against-them approach. On internet discussion boards, it is not uncommon to encounter Poles who voice the opinion that "They," "organized, wealthy Jews" control discourse. Poles, in this view, are helpless victims who can do nothing to tell their own story.

When confronted with evidence of Polish anti-Semitism, chauvinist Poles respond with three tired excuses: Poles suffered a lot during World War II, Poles produced heroes like Jan Karski, and Americans were anti-Semitic, too.

Poles did suffer a lot during World War II, Poles did produce heroes like Jan Karski, and Americans were largely anti-Semitic decades ago, but these rationales for Polish anti-Semitism are intellectually shallow and ethically bankrupt. They are not the best response to the challenge of Polish-Jewish relations. When chauvinists are the only ones representing the Polish side in public discourse, Poles inevitably come across as being a nation of chauvinists. Their effort to "protect Poland's good name" is inevitably self-defeating.

On the other hand, there are people who never question their own conviction that Poles are the world's worst anti-Semites, and that anyone who disagrees with that is just a typical Polish anti-Semite who is in denial. While anti-Semitic Polish conspiracy theorists may exist on discussion boards, those who think that all Poles are anti-Semitic brutes are given free access to college classrooms, peer-reviewed publications, and mainstream media.

When accusations of Polish anti-Semitism arise in the press, all too often they are followed by the public spectacle of the worst extremists from the above two camps screaming past each other.

One yearns for a better developed public conversation on Polish-Jewish relations. One yearns to take the microphone away from chauvinists and hand it to people who have deeper, richer more universal and timeless things to say.

Markowa skansen, or open-air museum.

Markowa. Source


Markowa is an agricultural village in the Sub-Carpathian Region of Southeastern Poland. Population four thousand; it was founded in the fourteenth century. The nearest city is Lancut, five miles away, with a population of 18,000. Markowa marks the border between plains and the Carpathian Mountains. It is a scenic spot. The region is largely agricultural and thirty-five percent wooded. A national park, home to bison and wolves, takes up much of the Sub-Carpathian region of which Markowa is a part.

During World War II, in Markowa, Nazis shot to death the entire Ulma family for helping Jews. Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma were devout Catholic peasants. Jozef was a prominent citizen. He adopted advanced agricultural methods, and he also was a photographer. Many beautiful photos exist of Wiktoria, the children, and the Ulma farm.

Poland was the only country in Nazi-occupied Europe where any help to a Jew meant death for an entire family, for generations. Thus, the Nazis killed not only Jozef and Wiktoria for helping Jews, but also the Ulmas' seven children. The parents were killed first in front of their screaming children. The children were then killed.

The citizens of Markowa today are quite aware of this history, and are working very hard to commemorate the Ulmas, and their larger lesson of love in action, to the point of giving up one's life. Markowa features a villager-created-and-maintained skansen, an open-air museum that preserves traditional, pre-industrial, peasant life. There are a windmill, looms, and other pre-industrial peasant technology and products.

I've spoken about my book, "Bieganski," at a synagogue, a few universities, including Brandeis and Georgetown, libraries, and churches. I've never had an audience better than the audience I had in Markowa. The citizens of Markowa, contrary to a sophisticated, urban person's expectations of agriculturalists in an out-of-the-way village, revealed a truly special combination of commitment without chauvinism, compassion and love without self-righteousness, and intellectual inquiry without bitterness or arrogance.
See source for higher resolution of Conflict Resolution Skills Ladder


Below is a very brief sketch of the project.

Through technology, the Markowa Project would bring Markowa's residents together with American Jews.

Through friends and ads on outlets like facebook, it would locate American Jews who would like to have a dialogue with the Polish, Catholic Peasants about which they have heard so much.

The Markowa Project would recruit citizens of Markowa who would like to have contact with modern American Jews.

Members of both groups would be interviewed. They would be asked their story, what they think of members of the other group. Why they care. Their worst fears. Their greatest hopes. No interruptions, no corrections. Just record these interviews, on camera. Interview questions would be similar to those questions used in the ethnographic interviews recorded in "Bieganski."

Interviews would be commented on, not by experts in Polish-Jewish relations, who, all too often, have an identity-politics ax to grind, but by experts in civic communication, conflict resolution, win-win paradigms and the universal, human search for understanding, peace, and human dignity.

Next, through technology, bring members of both groups together. Conduct, if not face-to-face conversations, screen-to-screen conversations. Record this meeting as it is happening.

Finally, after this meeting takes place, do follow-up interviews. Again, ask participants, How was it for you? Did you change your mind about anything?

Relate everything that has been said to the larger, humanity-wide problem of multiculturalism and diversity.


The follow-up to this blog post is here


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sacrifice in the Green Brier Review

Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio. Source: Wikipedia 
The Green Brier Review features an essay by me entitled "Sacrifice." The essay retells a story readers here know already; my experience of grad school and the conditions under which I wrote "Bieganski." You can read "Sacrifice" here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Invitation to Join a New Facebook Group

Polish Rider by Rembrandt source: Wikipedia 

A blog reader, who chooses to remain anonymous, has begun a facebook group. He extends the following invitation:

To all who are interested in discussing the Bieganski stereotype and ways to defeat it:

On Danusha Goska's blog I have read many incredible stories by many authors. Danusha's articulation of the concept of Bieganski brings clarity to many questions that most of us have had for our entire lives. The authors who contribute to her blog, the guest writers and members, can share their stories with a wider audience. Facebook is possibly the widest audience on the internet. I will do my part to spread awareness of this group to spark discussion on the internet.

Perhaps some of our other readers and contributors on this blog may be interested.

If Bieganski rears his brutish head, we can archive and save the posts for posterity. We can have a 'Hall of Shame', a compendium of trolls and their pathologies. We can show audiences across the internet how sad they are, what sadness drives them to hate.

It will affect people as it has affected me; remember, I was not so aware of Bieganski for most of my life, it seemed so uncanny, that it couldn't be real, it couldn't be true that so many people could hate, fear or disparage a person for being a Bohunk. But it is true.

Anyway, we can also archive positive discussions too. We can archive hopefulness and optimism and education and awareness and dignity.

If anybody here is interested, please comment and discuss with us on Facebook here.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Opinion Poll: Austrians Think Nazis Could Win in 2013


"A poll published this weekend by 'Der Standard' newspaper found that 42 percent of respondents said that 'not everything was bad under Adolf Hitler,' while 54 percent of the 502 respondents said a Nazi party would have some success in democratic elections today, and 61 percent supported the concept of a 'strong man' as leader."

From: Austria marks annexation by Germany 75 years ago
By George Jahn, Associated Press
March 11, 2013
Full text here

Original source:

Umfrage: 42 Prozent sagen "Unter Hitler war nicht alles schlecht“
Conrad Seidl, 8. März 2013, 18:24
Der Standard, here

Also see Huffington Post, here

Friday, March 8, 2013

Why Poles -- And Other Bohunks -- Have No Right to Speak Up About the Bieganski the Brute Stereotype

Oh, shut up. Source

I just posted a blog post about "Song of the South," a 1946 Disney film that is a combination of live action and animation. It is a controversial film. It depicts Uncle Remus, an elderly black man, telling African-based trickster tales of Br'er Rabbit to a lonely white boy. Disney has never released a DVD of the film. Fans love it and want the DVD; opponents feel that the film is racist.

In my blog post I don't take a stand one way or the other. I think both sides make good arguments. I like some aspects of "Song of the South," and I find other aspects of the film cringe-inducing. I honestly have no idea what impact a release of the DVD would have on young viewers.

Immediately after I posted the blog post, I realized that someone would comment on the blog post to say, "You don't have a right to talk about this, because you are white, and as a white person, you have no authority, no intellectual insight, and no moral right to comment on an issue of pertinence to African Americans."

Sure enough, someone did post a response saying more or less that very thing.

And then I realized something else.

When I first began working on stereotypes of Poles, I was told: "You have no right to speak about stereotypes of Poles, because you are Polish, and that means you have no authority, no intellectual insight, and no moral right." I've been told that again and again.

Please note the contrast in conventional PC speech, the kind of speech that dominates on college campuses and in polite American discourse. Only African Americans have the authority, the intellectual insight, the moral right, to speak about stereotypes of African Americans.

Polish Catholics, on the other hand, are refused the authority, the intellectual insight, the moral right, to address stereotyping of Polish Catholics.

Obviously both positions can't be objectively true. Either ethnic identity qualifies you to address stereotyping, or it does not.

But in the topsy-turvy "logic" of Political Correctness, one group is empowered, the other is disempowered.

When an African American expresses concern that a given cultural product – a Disney movie, a politician's speech, a joke – is racist, we know we must listen with polite and engaged concern and a commitment to action.

When a Polish Catholic expresses concern that a given cultural product misrepresents or denigrates Poles, we know we must mock that Polish person, dismiss their concern, and write them off as narrow, hypersensitive Polish chauvinists whose worries have nothing to do with us, or anything of any importance.


My best guess: Because Polonia has not done the work that African Americans have done. African Americans worked very, very hard to make their concerns the academy's, and the wider society's, concerns. Polonia has not done that work, and it is silenced.

Polonians can begin to address that silencing by following the suggestions in the blog post entitled "The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization, and Vision." That blog post is here.

For what it's worth, I think the identity argument is not only wrong, I think it is evil. I do not believe that morality, intellect, or authority are distributed by ethnicity, and I think that the belief that they are is a step back into the dark evils of racism, rather than away from those evils. I'd rather listen to an intelligent and moral man address misogyny, rape, childbirth, and motherhood than a stupid and immoral woman. I'd rather read Antony Polonsky, a Jewish scholar, on stereotypes of Poles, than an uninformed, chauvinist, and belligerent Polish Catholic.

The blog post on "Song of the South" is here.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

American Artist Charles Krafft Alleged to be a Holocaust Denier

The above two items are from Charles Krafft's webpage, here
The American public radio program, Studio 360, hosted by Kurt Anderson, broadcast a segment alleging that American artist Charles Krafft is a Holocaust denier. The program included a discussion of whether or not Krafft's work should remain in museums. 

If I were a museum curator, I would not want a Holocaust denier's work on display. 

But ... I still value films by Roman Polanski, a man guilty of rape. And I like Wagner's music. I don't have the final answer. This work, though, I would not want in a museum. I don't think it fills an artistic need, and I think it can too easily be understood as being pro-Nazi. 

Link to the Studio 360 broadcast here.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Guest Blog Post by Gary L. Krupp of Pave the Way Foundation

Meredith and Gary L. Krupp. Source

Bieganski the Blog is honored to host a guest blog post by Gary L Krupp. Mr. Krupp is head of the Pave the Way Foundation.

Mr. Krupp's biography, from the Pave the Way Foundation website, is below:

"Gary Krupp is the only Jewish man in history to be knighted, by Pope John Paul II, raised in rank by Pope Benedict XVI to the Order of St.Gregory, and invested by permission of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth as an Officer Brother in the Anglican Order of St. John of Jerusalem. Being a trusted member of the Papal household has enabled him to act as a catalyst in initiating changes and eliminating many obstacles to the furtherance of Judeo-Christian relations."

Here is a portion of the statement of purpose of the Pave the Way Foundation, from their website:

"Pave the Way Foundation is a non-sectarian organization dedicated to achieving peace by closing the gap in tolerance, education and the practical relations between religions, through cultural, technological and intellectual exchanges. We strive to eliminate the use of religion as a tool which, historically has been used, by some, to achieve personal agendas and to cause conflicts."

The Pave the Way Foundation website is here.

Gary L. Krupp's December 28, 2009 New York Post editorial, "Friend to the Jews: Pius XII's Real Wartime Record" is here.

A March 7, 2010 New York Times article about Gary L. Krupp, "Wartime Pope Has a Huge Fan: A Jewish Knight," by Paul Vitello is here.

The Media as a Tool for Evil
by Gary L. Krupp

Human history contains many horrific events that seem unimaginable. Brutality has been committed against innocents, totally devoid of any empathy or remorse. How can this happen, in a world of civilized societies?

When we observe historical acts of genocide, we find that, without exception, the perpetrators utilize the media to capitalize on our human weaknesses, driving hatred and bigotry. It is an unfortunate reality that the general public is totally blind to this while the ruling class is fully aware of the media's power to achieve an objective.

History is replete with examples of propaganda by the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and so on and so on. Utilizing this tool of disinformation, these regimes could demonize and fix false blame on certain groups, making them scapegoats for all of the ills of society and the focal point for national retribution. These false biased media reports have always been used to incite hatred and ultimately to encourage nonviolent citizens to commit violent acts. This practice has universally been the precursor to genocide.

Media manipulation is also the tool used to push a political or a social agenda. If an individual has unlimited resources he can literally buy an election or enact his cause. The continuous effectiveness of manipulating the weak minded where they always believe what the media feeds us, proves that Albert Einstein was right with his definition of Insanity: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

We who live in the 21st century believe that our level of sophistication, advanced technology and communication, makes us immune to these negative forces, but we are wrong. We are no different than our cave-dwelling ancestors. If we are mindful that this ability to kill our own species is in our DNA, than we must at the very least, take action to try to expose the use of this deadly tool.

Biased, unsubstantiated television, print and Internet reports, and even artistic performances can be the fuel that drives the engine of hate. We must invent fresh, innovative methods to de-legalize and disprove biased media and their false reports at the very moment they are published. The general public needs some mechanism that will help them discern the truth, in the mountain of reporting we see every day if we are ever to become an enlightened international society.

In the world of "hurray for me and the heck with you" It appears that "thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" is taken more as a suggestion rather than a commandment.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

May Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind Dress as an African American Basketball Player on Purim?

Dov Hikind is an Orthodox Jew, a child of two Holocaust survivors, and a Brooklyn Assemblyman. At a recent Purim party, he dressed up as an African American basketball player. Purim is a holiday devoted to fun. Hikind's costume is in keeping with that tradition. 

New Yorkers are now debating whether or not Hikind's costume was a racist act.

I'm saddened by this conversation. From what I've seen from the photos on the web, the costume does not seem malicious in any way. Further, I am Catholic, and I have repeatedly seen people dress up as Catholics, often in costumes designed to offend ... and I don't make a federal case out of it. 

Curious as to what blog readers think. 

Dov Hikind
Photo of Dov Hikind in Purim costume
Photo from The Gawker, critical of Hikind. Source
Just one of the tamer examples of people dressing up as Catholics for comedic purposes. Father Guido Sarducci, Don Novello, Saturday Night Live's most frequent comic character. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Seth MacFarlane's Anti-Semitic Academy Award Jokes: Your Thoughts?

I'm here to ask Bieganski the Blog readers what you thought of Seth MacFarlane's anti-Semitic jokes at the Academy Awards.

His "We Saw Your Boobs" song was offensive to many women, of course. His joke about John Wilkes Booth getting into Abraham Lincoln's head was disgusting. 

His "jokes" about how one must pretend to be Jewish and donate money to Israel in order to work in Hollywood was, ime, anti-Semitic and unfunny.

Wondering what y'all thought. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

USDA Sensitivity Training Scandal

A still photo from the USDA sensitivity training session. This trainer has been paid millions of dollars by the US government to train employees to have approved responses to various ethnic groups.  Who wins, who loses? Pilgrims are bad. "Bam!" -- a required response. I'm not kidding. 
This is NOT a still photo from the USDA sensitivity training session.
"The Manchurian Candidate" 1962. Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury, Janet Leigh.  Director: John Frankenheimer. BTW, Laurence Harvey was Lithuanian-Jewish.
I know this blog is read in other countries, and I know readers in other countries express shock at how identity politics in the US works. 

If Polonia wants to eliminate the Bieganski, brute Polak stereotype, it will have to understand how identity politics works in the US. 

There is a small scandal in the US right now -- I say small because only right-wing outlets are paying much attention. USDA employees have gone public to talk about sessions they have been subjected to, where they were required to chant negative slogans about the Pilgrims, and about themselves. They were required to chant that they were racist, and required to chant uplifting slogans about members of other ethnicities. They were also required to shout "Bam!" after the sensitivity trainer made a point. This was in lieu of "Amen," which was perhaps perceived as too religious. 

There have been films of this training on youtube, but as the day has gone on, some have been removed. 

You can easily find news coverage of the scandal by googling "USDA Sensitivity Training." I won't post a link because I haven't read through all the sites and I can't recommend one or the other above any other. They are all pretty much saying the same thing. I base what I wrote, above, on the youtube videos I saw, which were later removed. 

Who Can Resist These Hamantaschen?

Traditional Hamantaschen

Hamantaschen unchained!

Gotta try these marble coconut Hamantaschen

Anything flavored with peanut butter and chocolate is all right by me! 
Just a fabulous selection of Hamantaschen recipes can be found on buzzfeed, here

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Racist Language in German Children's Books: Dialika Neufeld in Spiegel

A German Children's Book 
Germans murdering Poles in Bochnia. Source

In Spiegel Online, Dialika Neufeld argues that Germans should remove offensive terms from German children's books. I read this article in English. The word "negro" is identified as an offensive term. In current American English, "negro" is not offensive, merely old fashioned. The offensive word is "nigger." I'm not sure if "negro" is a flawed translation for "nigger." In any case, Neufeld argues against using offensive terms for black people in children's books, and she mostly focuses on black people. 

Germans, of course, victimized Jews and Poles much worse than they victimized black people, at least in the past century. I wonder at the focus of her article. If Germans are going to upgrade their level of sensitivity, ought they not upgrade their level of sensitivity toward Poles? Jews as well, of course? But Germany has been working on improving relations with Jews for some time. How about Poles and Poland? Are we on their Politically Correct radar? If not, we should be. 

She does mention offensive terms for Poles in passing: "People in the second category -- those who deny the problem exists -- claim that everyone nowadays knows not to use words like "Negro," "Gypsy," "Polack" or "Slit-Eyes," these terms that seem to come straight out of some handbook of discrimination. But their view holds little weight, given that I regularly find myself having to explain to adults why they shouldn't use the words "nigger" or "Negro" -- and certainly not in my presence."

On the one hand, it is easy to agree with Neufeld. I would not read the word "nigger" to a child. I would not have the book containing that word around, or, if I had to read it, I would delete the word.

On the other hand, German literature is full of nasty images of Poles and others, including women. The Grimms' Tales are replete with sadomasochistic and misogynist tortures. I wouldn't read those to a child, either, but their existence is part of our cultural heritage. Censoring them attempts to change the world into something it is not. 

Full article is here.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Polish Stations of the Cross

Came across a webpage exhibiting what it called "Polish" Stations of the Cross, though the artist, HAP Grieshaber, was German. The web page states that the stations were meant "originally to adorn the Church of the Atonement in Auschwitz, a project which never saw the light of day."

The web page exhibiting these Polish Stations of the Cross is here.

Friday, February 15, 2013

University of Wisconsin-Superior: White Skin Is Unfair

The University of Wisconsin-Superior is allegedly teaching its students that it is unfair to be white. 

Full story here



Thursday, February 14, 2013

Polish Tennis Player Agnieszka Radwanska Allegedly Called "Catholic Slut" in Israel

Agnieszka Radwanska. Source
There are allegations that Polish tennis player Agnieszka Radwanska was called a "Catholic slut" while playing in Israel. "There are allegations" is a woefully vague phrase. It reflects the tone of the news articles about this event. There is a palpable hesitation on the part of reporters to report the event in question. One can see that in the news item linked below.

A cautiously-worded news article, "Radwanska Disappointed by Fan Reaction in Israel," is followed by posts protesting the cautious wording. As one put it, "I don't understand this article. There is no information whatsoever. It basically says that something has happened. It's completely useless." Another says, "They cannot say what happened, because that would be considered anti-semitism if they said that Israeli fans behaved bad." That article is found here.

It's interesting to see how the Bangkok Post describes the event. It's not about the alleged word "slut," but, rather, Polish anti-Semitism: "This time though, in the context of reports that sections of the Israeli crowd made noisy allegations about anti-Semitism in Poland, Radwanska's remarks had a far more sombre tinge." That story is here.
How about the Polish press? I'm saddened by this inappropriately breast-beating comment, below. If Radwanska was verbally abused as is alleged, it is she who deserves an apology, not Israel; it is the Israeli fans who are at fault, not Poles or Poland. 

"I believe that Israel is a beautiful country, great tradition, great people, great history. We always need more to understand them for what they encountered on our territory without our fault, but it happened. We should not make a fuss over what happened on the court, because if someone is going to read about it in New York or Toronto, or Paris, you think that in some way our team, we Poles, were not without fault" source

Thank you to Hanna for informing me of this story. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Poles Are Their Own Worst Enemies: Guest Column by Historian Artur Szulc


What I am about to write will be regarded as offensive to some Poles, and that's fine with me. This text is also difficult for me to write, because I am a Pole and I truly love Poland. I do not love it in any chauvinist way. I simply love Polish food, Polish people who I find admirable, loyal and honest. I love the diversity of Polish culture, its traditions and its history. Yes, I love Polish history.

But there are certain things, certain traits of characters in the Polish soul, which to put it plainly, disturb me. Perhaps those traits are not exclusive for Poles, but frankly I do not care about the characters of French people, or Germans, Greeks, Russians and so on. I am a Pole and write about Poles.

First, an introduction.

My name is Artur Szulc. I am a Polish-born Swedish historian and writer. I was born in Szczecin but I have lived in Sweden over thirty years. I travel to Poland every year, either to visit my family or to conduct research in archives, mainly in Warsaw. I have written four books and a fifth is on its way to be published in one of Sweden's biggest and most prestigious publishing house. I also write articles for major Swedish historical magazines. Enough about me.

So, what do I mean by writing that Poles are their own worst enemies?

One of the negative traits in the Polish soul is our tendency to engage in small-minded criticism and quarrels.

I am not talking about constructive criticism here. That is only healthy, but I refer to a kind of backstabbing criticism. It is a national sport in Poland and among Poles. Poles do this also in public, on the international arena, without thinking about the consequences, how negatively such behavior impacts on Polish possibilities to change stereotypes about Poland and Poles. Such behavior weakens Poland and there are historical examples to prove my point.

One reason behind the partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century was that Polish leaders and nobles quarreled among themselves and this was used by foreign powers.

Polish commanders quarreled during the January Uprising in 1863.

Polish politicians quarreled in the years following 1918 and Pilsudski regained power in a coup in May 1926 because of this.

Polish politicians in exile quarreled during the War 1940-45. The commander-in-chief and premiere minister Władysław Sikorski was highly criticized and stabbed in the back by several Polish politicians. These kinds of public quarrels didn't improve Poland's reputation and worsened the government-in-exile's ability to be seen as an important ally.

Do you have any idea how many political parties there are registered in Poland today? I believe it's well over fifty. Now, is that a sign of diversity and democratic progress, or simply a sign of the Polish inability to unite?

Then there is the Polish obsession with the past.

Yes, to a certain degree Poles are obsessed with the Past. I do not blame them at all, but what can the past do for Poland TODAY? Several years ago I was in Sopot, a beautiful small city at the Baltic Sea, between the big cities of Gdynia and Gdansk. My brother, my mother and I were walking on the pier in Sopot. I stopped to buy sunglasses and the salesmen asked if we were from Sweden. I answered yes, but added that we are Poles. He then said something about the common Swedish-Polish history. Bboth countries had the same king for a while in the late 16th century. And then the man said that Poland had been a great power in the past. I only replied, yes, and went on. But in my mind I thought: so what? So what that Poland had been a great power in the past? How did this help Poland in the 21st century? The obvious answer: it does not help at all!

Now, do not go crazy here! As an historian I love history, of course. But I study history and write about it because I believe it helps us to understand the present. To me history is simply a science in the field of humanities. It must not to be used as a weapon against political enemies or to raise sympathy for certain causes. It must not be used as a way to build national pride. We can only be proud of ourselves and our own accomplishments. Polish heroes, like captain Witold Pilecki, should and must be honored, remembered and respected, and taught about in schools. But their deeds belong to them, and them alone. How absurd would it be of me to think that what Pilecki did reflects on me, simply because I am Polish?

I think that is was Józef Piłsudski who said: "A nation that does not respect its past, does not deserve the respect of the present and does not have the right to future."

I agree with this, but not totally. We have all the right to the future, we only have to understand that the future is not build with the help of the past. We cannot always look in the mirror.

Respect the past, protect it, but stop living in it!

The Polish obsession with protecting Poland's good name doesn't help us, it hurts us.

Yes, some things I read about Poles and Poland makes me mad, really mad. When I was younger I just wanted to shred any critic of Poland, which I wanted to defend at all cost. I felt I had to protect Polish "honor", the good name of Poland or something like that. I still have those feelings. But as I started reading, researching and writing I realized that Poland has not been an innocent victim in the past. Poland has done some things which deserve strong criticism. But there are also many myths surrounding Polish history. Now, my main task is not to defend any "honor" or "good name", because that is an absurd notion. My main task is to write history as objectively as possible and as factually as possible. Books by Jan T Gross make me mad, not because they smear the good name of Poland, but mainly because they distort Polish history. At the same time, Gross has woken some demons in the Polish past and they must be dealt with, and they have. But some Poles cannot simply accept certain facts and move on. It is not always constructive to relativize events by putting forward other tragedies. "Yes, Poles did this, but look at what others did…" is a common defensive position, and I wonder, so? Does two wrong doings eliminate each other?

There is no such thing as the good name of Poland. Nations simply "are." They are not honorable or not honorable, honest or dishonest. The honor or good name of Poland is an emotional notion which cannot provide any strong argument in a debate with facts. Those who feel they want to protect Poland's past, do it with an open mind, with facts, with knowledge obtained from many different kinds of sources. Acknowledge the fact that Poland and Poles, like any other nations and ethnic groups, sometimes acted terribly badly and sometimes acted with courage, honor and sacrificed a lot. Nations are like people with pros and cons.

Finally, I want to add one thought. The inability of Poles to unite among themselves is also well illustrated by the fact that Dr Danusha Goska's book, "Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture" has not become a best-seller in the Polish-American community. It should be.

At the end I want to return to my claim that Poles are their worst own enemies. Yes, that is true and I provided at least three reasons why I think I am right on this. But, at the same time, Poles are also the most loyal and sacrificing people I know. It´s just sad that they turn on that noble trait only in case of emergency and not prior to it.

Artur Szulc

Monday, February 11, 2013

Red Wire Blue Wire? Good German, Bad German? Bieganski and "The Guns of Navarone"

Stereotypes of Poles? What stereotypes? 
This is a good German. The plot hinges on his goodness. 
This is a bad German. You can tell because he is so pale. He will be defeated by the Good German.
Otherwise, no Marshall Plan, no NATO. 

Just finished rewatching "The Guns of Navarone," a big, loud, all-star, World War II action adventure film. It's about an international team of Americans, Brits, and Greeks defeating the Nazis in World War II.

Nazis. You may have heard of them? They started World War II. No, really.

"Bieganski" argues that America – and Israel – needed to make peace with Germany very quickly and thoroughly after World War II, for several cultural, financial, and geopolitical reasons. Popular culture reflected this in films that made it clear that a minority of Germans were bad, and that most Germans were good. These films made it very clear that evil was not the German essence.

"Guns of Navarone" does this work as well. The plot of the film hinges on the goodness of some Germans, and the badness of others. There is a good German officer, who is humanitarian and polite. There is a bad SS man, so pale he could glow in the dark. Sadistic. Wants to torture a British officer who has gangrene. The bad German bangs on the Brit's broken, gangrenous leg. He is stopped – by good Germans. The film states very clearly: there was evil in Germany. It was a clearly demarcated minority of the population. In fact, you could pick the bad guys out in a crowd. They were all really white and pale. The good Germans kept them from doing too much harm.

The concept of good, civilized German Nazis is so key to the plot that the team leader, Gregory Peck, leaves a member of his team, the injured, gangrenous British officer, to be captured by Germans, because he knows the Germans will offer expert and compassionate medical care to the captured British officer. Really. REALLY.

Um, how to put this. Humanitarian? Compassionate? Nazis? Mmmm … maybe not so much.

Anyway. All the hate and disgust that WW II and the Holocaust generated had to go somewhere. As a young Israeli I quote in Bieganski put it: "We have to hate somebody, and we've already made up with the Germans." Whom do we hate, then? People who are not like us. The Germans, like us, are clean, modern, formally educated, largely secular or Protestant. We need to hate someone different, someone "backward," someone dirty and "primitive." We select Bieganski, the Brute Polak, as the target of our righteous rage and disgust.

My beloved Polish brothers and sisters try to combat this stereotype by quoting this or that fact about WW II – the number of trees planted for Poles at Yad Vashem, the heroism of Irene Sendler or Jan Karski. These efforts are doomed. It's like trying to put out a fire by taking vitamins. Taking vitamins is a good strategy, but taking vitamins has nothing to do with fires. To fight stereotypes, you need to understand stereotypes, and the activism that defeats stereotypes. You've heard me say this before. Polonia, read the book, and take up activism

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Salute to Julian Tuwim. A Guest Blog Post

Tuwim Street, Chrzanow. Source: Wikipedia 
Tuwim by Witkacy. Source: Wikipedia 

I once read Julian Tuwim's children's poem "Lokomotywa" to my creative writing class. I read it in Polish. Though they were Americans, and did not speak a word of Polish, they understood that this was a poem about a locomotive. Tuwim so expertly captured, in words, the sound of a train. You can read his poem here.

Julian Tuwim was Polish and Jewish and a poet. He lived during the twentieth century. He wrote a famous essay, "We, Polish Jews" about being both Polish and Jewish.

The text about Tuwim, below, is from an anonymous Amazon post. I know the author, who prefers to remain anonymous, but who has kindly granted permission that that text be reproduced here.


Julian Tuwim's essay, "We, Polish Jews" is about Tuwim's double identity as a Pole and as a Jew. In "Kwiaty Polskie," he wrote a lot about the fate of Poland. He was convinced that the new Poland would be free of the vices of the past, purged by its wartime experience:

"Cause us to bless the conflagration
That destroyed our property, if it
Proves to be a purifying fire
For our souls touched with decay.
As for Poland of any size-let her have greatness:
To the sons of her spirit or her body
Give a greatness of hearts if she's great, And a greatness of hearts if she's small . . ."

At the same time, the crimes of the Germans were so appalling that even dogs would seek revenge:

"And you, Warsaw dogs, on Judgment Day
Fulfill your canine duty-
Howl yourselves into a running pack
To wreak fierce vengeance for your victims.
For dogs torn by exploding bombs,
That perished under the shattered home,
For those that howled over their master
As they scratched his lifeless hands; and for
Dogs that exercised a hopeless charm
To curry favor with dead bodies;
For the death of puppies still at play
In their basket in the basement . . .

Let the armies of the lesser dog
Avengers fall on them when they're down,
Tear them to bits so that even their
Mothers never shall know where to look
For their parts, scattered over the earth . . . !

For ours could not find them either,
Their babies' heads, little legs and fists . . ."

Tuwim was aware of the gulf created by the war between those who experienced it first hand and those who did not. He felt great guilt at his escape and the comfortable conditions under which he experienced the war. His words also speak for us:

"And when, O Necropolis, we approach your suburbs,
Quarantined we will kneel in the field,
Full of hope and anguish:
Hope – that friends will come to meet us
From the City of the Crosses,
Bearing forgiveness in their eyes
And tears of happiness, not reproach.
Anguish – that these tears, this kindness, these greetings
Will be of no avail . . .
the silent thing will rise between us-

A dreadful phantom."

It is true that he became increasingly preoccupied with the fate of Polish Jewry, and of his beloved mother, who had a nervous breakdown under the impact of the war and withdrew to a sanatorium in Otwock near Warsaw. In 1941 he moved to New York. There he became convinced that only with the help of the Soviet Union could the Nazis be defeated. This led to a breach with another Skamander poet, Jan Lechoń, who had also made his way to New York and who wrote to him in May 1942 severing all relations because of Tuwim's "blind love for the Bolsheviks." Of the Skamander poets, only Antoni Słonimski, now in London, shared his view that without the Bolsheviks victory was impossible.

It was now he produced what was his last great work, the prose-poem My, Żydzi Polscy (We, Polish Jews, 1944). Suspecting the fate of his mother, who had already been murdered by the Germans, he dedicated it "To my Mother in Poland or to her beloved Shadow." He began by explaining why he now identified with the Jews of Poland:

And immediately I can hear the question: "What do you mean – we?' The question, I grant you, is natural enough. Jews to whom I am wont to explain that I am a Pole have asked it. So will the Poles to the overwhelming majority of whom I am and shall remain a Jew. Here is my answer to both.

I am a Pole because I want to be. It's nobody's business but my own. I certainly have not the slightest intention of rendering account, explaining, or justifying it to anyone. I do not divide Poles into pure-stock Poles and alien
stock Poles. I leave such classification to pure and alienstock advocates of racialism, to domestic and foreign Nazis. I divide Poles just as I divide Jews and all other nations into the intelligent and the fools, the honest and the dishonest, the brilliant and the dullwitted, the exploited and the exploiters, gentlemen and cads. I also divide Poles into Fascists and antiFascists . . ."

He went on:

"I am a Pole because it was in Poland that I was born and bred, that I grew up and learned; because it was in Poland that I was happy and unhappy; because from exile it is to Poland that I want to return, even though I were promised the joys of paradise elsewhere . . .

Above all a Pole-because I want to be."

He then explained his Jewish allegiance:

"All right," someone will say, `granted you are a Pole. But in that case, why "we Jews"?" To which I answer: because of blood. "Then racialism again?" No, not racialism at all. Quite the contrary.

There are two kinds of blood: that inside of veins, and that which spurts from them. The first is the sap of the body, and as such comes under the realm of physiologists. Whoever attributes to this blood any other than biological characteristics and powers will in consequence, as we have seen, turn towns into smoking ruins, will slaughter millions of people, and at last, as we shall yet see, bring carnage upon his own kin.

The other kind of blood is the same blood but spilled by this gang leader of international Fascism to testify to the triumph of his gore over mine, the blood of millions of murdered innocents, a blood not hidden in arteries but revealed to the world. Never since the dawn of mankind has there been such a flood of martyr blood, and the blood of Jews (not Jewish blood, mind you) flows in widest and deepest streams. Already its blackening rivulets are flowing together into a tempestuous river. and it is in this new jordan that i beg to receive the baptism of baptisms; the bloody, burning, martyred brotherhood of Jews."

Perhaps naively, he believed that the sufferings of Polish Jews would so arouse the sympathy of their compatriots that antisemitism would disappear.

"Upon the armbands which you wore in the ghetto the star of David was painted. I believe in a future Poland in which that star of your armbands will become the highest order bestowed upon the bravest among Polish officers and soldiers. They will wear it proudly upon their breasts next to the old Virtuti Militari. There also will be a Cross of the Ghetto-a deeply symbolic name. There will be the Order of the Yellow Patch, denoting more merit than many a present tinsel. And there shall be in Warsaw and in every other Polish city some fragment of the ghetto left standing and preserved in its present form in all its horror of ruin and destruction."

The new Poland to which Tuwim returned in June 1946 and pledged his complete support must have been a great disappointment to him, partly because of the persistence of antisemitism. Three weeks after the Kielce pogrom he received a bitter letter from a Polish Jew and long-time activist in the Communist Party of Poland, who asked him:

"Why must I emigrate from this country? Why is there no place for me here? In this country to which I devoted the whole of my youth. I want to emphasize that I bear no resentment towards the government. Unfortunately, even the appropriate stance of the Polish government towards the Jewish question does not change the nature of the problem. The nation has been poisoned with the venom of hatred and does not want us."

Not knowing how to respond to the letter, he passed it on to Adolf Berman, a leading member of the Centalny Komitet Żydow w Polsce, the main Jewish organization in post-war Poland.

Tuwim cannot have been unaware of the increasingly repressive character of the regime. At times he opposed this repression, approaching Bolesław Bierut on behalf of the poet Jerzy Kojarzewski, an officer in the AK, and five of his associates who had been sentenced to death in late 1945. In the case of Kojarzewski, the sentence was commuted to ten years' imprisonment.

At the same time, Tuwim was determined to ally himself with the new order, writing in 1950 to the poet Mieczysław Jastrun that they needed to talk about "the unimportance of lyricism in the project of the socialization of minds and in general about the exceedingly limited influence of poetry on transformations of historical significance in humanity's history." He composed a sterile "Ode to Stalin," in which he spoke of the revolution as eternal beauty, and of Stalin as an immortal hero, but his muse deserted him and he subsequently devoted himself to translation, editing, and writing children's stories. In one poem he describes the death of his mother, which gives poignant expression to his own grief and perhaps also explains his inability to write after her death:

"At the cemetery in Łódź
The Jewish cemetery, stands
The Polish grave of my mother,
My Jewish mother's tomb.

The grave of my Mother, the Pole,
Of my Mother the Jewess;
I brought her from the land by the Vistula
To the banks of industrial Łódź . . .

A fascist shot my mother
When she was thinking of me;
A fascist shot my mother
When she was longing for me . . ."

Yet it remains a mystery whether his inability to write was because he was numbed by the scale of the Jewish tragedy, whether he soon saw through the illusions of communism but could not or would not articulate his feelings, or whether it was because he needed the stimulus of being hated to spur his literary creativity. He died in December 1953 aged 59. His last words are reported to have been "For the sake of economy, please turn out the eternal light: I may need it someday to shine for me . . ."

Tuwim's Bench in Lodz, Poland. Artist: Wojciech Gryniewicz. Source: Wikipedia
Tuwim's grave, Warsaw. Source: Wikipedia