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 


  1. Knowing how dedicated and heartfelt you are for this, I know it wasn't an easy decision.

    Doors are still open and maybe this is an opportunity to figure out another path.

    I see the same lack of teamwork. I saw that people seemed more concerned with winning arguments or scoring points with comrades in a common cause. If you are leading and turn around and no one is there, maybe your just out for a hike. It's important that the oppressed feel some stake in the solution or else your efforts will be for naught. Sad to say this but I think it's important to say the failure isn't yours. Poles let themselves down.
    Imagine the woman's movement if no one showed up to protest in justice. MLK's marches in Selma or Washington, strolling alone. Speeches given to the mirror pool at the base of the Lincoln monument, alone and talking to himself. Moses leading himself out of Egypt. Noah but the animals are too busy attacking each other!
    Evolution doesn't happen in a vacuum.

    You've done your best in the past and I know you'll figure another way of fighting the good fight - after a break something will present itself, and you'll do your best once again.

    I empathize with your decision. I'm sure everyone here says "Thank you". You've done a great job.

    The Markowa Project will live with you. The D I know will figure a way of telling their story. The promise you made doesn't live or die here. I can't wait for version 2.0 and the opportunity to help.


    1. Otto thank you for the incredibly eloquent send off.

      It's more than a little strange that at this moment the one other person who would care would be a German. I've been frank about my problems with Germans on this blog. I am so touched by what you taught me and every reader through your essay "Ripples of Sin."

      this blog was not a complete waste of time because it gave us all a chance to read that great essay.

      Thank you. Wszystkiego Najlepszego. Auf widersehen.

  2. I'm sorry to hear this will probably be your final substantive post Danusha, but hope the blog will stay up as it is a great resource for all concerned with Polish - and other - media issues. I often recommend it, and the book itself.

    The idea of providing a neutral space where all can be heard is an excellent one... the reason I won't engage in Polish-Jewish issues is that I am made to feel that the only place for me in them is to make a ritual Stalin-style denunciation of my dear aged father and all his generation.

    This I cannot do. I want to honour both my parents, as our Creator requires. So what is the point?

    And I think that one of the reasons I am involved in Polish media issues at all - I try to tackle one a month - is that the pressure to make this denunciation is so strong and so constant that I almost feel I will be making it by default if I don't speak out.

    And it is of course possible to speak out without accusing or vilifying anyone else.

    But, as you know, I feel the strongest corrective to this (and all the horrors of the present system of things on the earth) is to go door to door, trying to get people to see what the Bible on their shelf actually says. And its most frustrating that my knees will not come along with me at the moment. And I cant go without them.

    Which is not to say that the Markowa Project is not a good idea. It is. I think it identifies the big problem and circumvents it. But I also think that American Polonia is still pretty traumatised - that was a vile attack in the 1960s, and its got worse - and we will have to go slowly.

    But, as you note, so many of us are speaking out now. And speaking to each other.

    But I believe the Hebrew prophets of old one hundred per cent when they say that they are writing down the inspired word of the true God, so I know that, as Jeremiah, inspired by holy spirit, warned: "it does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step".

    We cannot put things right. This system of things will be destroyed at Armageddon. Think about the warning in Daniel 2:44 for example.

    But I think that what we can do as Poles/Polonians is speak out truthfully, while keeping "the law of loving-kindness" on our tongues - and obviously not vilifying others, as we are being vilified.

    And thanks for doing so. And, if you feel you can't go on with it, who can blame you. Many Polonians don't feel able to deal with it at all. And I don't blame them either.

    And, on a (perhaps) more cheerful note, if the political agenda suddenly changes, we might find that we are no longer in the hot seat. We will suddenly be: "our Gallant Allies the Poles" again. Or, better still, of no interest at all to the powers-that-be - much as the other Axis Power aren't.

    The uncheerful side of that is that, almost certainly, some other group will be being vilified in the same way. And if and when that happens, I hope I will take some time to give them some support.

  3. One moment of truth (among many.)

    I had sketched out the Markowa Project proposal for a couple of big funders. NOT Polish funders. Just American agencies that fund projects like this.

    I received a medical diagnosis that meant immediate surgery.

    Because of the diagnosis I would miss the deadline for the big funders.

    The proposal was in ALMOST ready condition. All that was required was one more pair of eyes to go over it, dot the i's, cross the t's.

    I couldn't do it -- surgery. Deadline.

    And I could not think of ONE Polonian who would take up that task while I was in the hospital.

    I've been working on Polish-Jewish relations for over twenty years, and I do not know one, not one, Polonian who would do something so simple as go over a grant proposal and mail it in while I was in surgery.

    I know dozens of Polonians who write pages and pages of protest on internet discussion sites. Oh, I am so upset. Oh, this stereotyping of Poles / misrepresentation of WW II history must stop.

    I don't know one single person who would do something so simple as go over a grant proposal.

    This will change. Eventually a generation of Poles ready to take significant action will appear. When that day comes, I hope they discover "Bieganski."

  4. Otto I just want to say that I just read your note again and it meant a great deal to me.

    I think whenever I feel a wince for all that was lost here, the opportunities, the hope and plans, I will reread your note and take solace from its wisdom and compassion.

    Thank you

  5. Again, Dr. Goska, you are in my prayers concerning your situation.

  6. Dr. Goska,

    Milan Kundera once wrote that the greatest tragedy is the tragedy without vocal chords. In Bieganski and in your other work, you have given vocal chords to tragedies both national and personal.

    That you should continue to do so.

    Liron Rubin

    1. LR that my work reached you is a plus. I'm honored. Thank you.

  7. Rest assured Danusha, your research and writing has an effect and will continue to affect people over time. I've grown personally from your insight, and see things in a much wider perspective than I previously imagined. And it will grow over time, even while you're away. Questions were answered like what exactly is Slavdom? Who exactly are the Jews? How do the Jews feel and see things? Where is the compromise? How can we all be friends? Why stereotypes are evil and nothing to laugh about.

    Nowadays, when I witness blatant in-person stereotyping about Bohunks, Poles, Jews, or anyone for that matter, I take more of a stand against it, when in the past I used to just let it go not trying to stir the pot at such a young age. Being of mixed Polish-Tatar ancestry, (and who knows what else), we've always identified ourselves as Polish. My father exhibited discrimination of all types for having dark skin and Asian eyes with high cheekbones. We never knew that he could be of Mongoloid-Turkic extraction. That's how powerful the culture is under Slavdom. It's a culture of real substance, altogether organic, and originally blind to race and nationality. The idea that real Polishness consists of a homogeneous race contradicts the history of Slavdom. My practical view is that the original slavic peoples (who were of mixed backgrounds culturally) that migrated westward only had one binder to group them together - the word (slowo) as their binder that grouped the various non-homogenous peoples to a single language. All pragmatic bologna aside, if we consider removing today's nations, history, tribes and historical political agendas, we'll see that "the word" (implying Slavic culture) is what Polishness is all about. The only difference really is in how the variety of tribes developed their regional cultures and dialects further. The variety that exists today, for myself, is like walking into an ice cream shop :) God Bless you.

    1. David thank you so much for letting me know that my work has mattered to you. That means a great deal to me.

      I remember when you made it a point to thank poet John Guzlowski for the story he told in Bieganski. It touched me a great deal that you read his story in my book, and that it mattered enough to you to seek him out and thank him.

      Polonia needs more people like you, David Waligora.

  8. We each work on the things that matter most to us, but I find yours interesting enough to pay attention. It may not be my way, but it merits attention. Life is complicated enough that to work on one thing and get something done is an accomplishment. We have few enough scholars, and the ability to achieve critical mass with like minded persons is thus even more difficult. I wish you well in whatever you are facing.


  9. Dear Danusha, I wish you all the very best and hope that you overcome your health problems to resume the valuable work you have been doing. Your book has made a strong contribution to opening a debate that needed to take place. It's central arguments are strong and well marshalled so that it's influence will grow over time.

    Once again, all the best with respect

    Peter Rechniewski

    1. My health is fine.

      My health is not the issue.

      The post above is very clear. It's not about my health.

      Thank you.


Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
These themes include the false and damaging stereotype of Poles as brutes who are uniquely hateful and responsible for atrocity, and this stereotype's use in distorting WW II history and all accounts of atrocity.
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