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


  1. The phrase "Holocaust denial" usually means denial of the fact that the Germans murdered 5-6 million Jews during WWII. However, this also has been used, in a softer sense, towards those who do not agree that the Nazi genocide of Jews was special, or qualitatively different from the genocides of numerous other peoples.

    Otherwise, the comparison of Poles and Jews at the hands of the Nazis is called "relativizing the Holocaust".

    Those readers interested in examining this subject in detail should click on my name in this specific posting.

  2. German tv station ZDF made mini-series "Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter". Worst anti-semites in that series are... polish Home Army members. There are also Ukrainian collaborators who kill Jews, but it's easy to take them for Poles. They scream in some slavic language that is hard to identify. And they kill Jews. Of course German soldiers are terrified by their brutality. Like all good, civilised Western people should be. There are also bad Germans, but those "Nazis" are killed by good Germans. Seriously. All three male heroes in that series kill "Nazis". Bad Germans are dead before war ends. Only good ones survive (some die heroically).,_unsere_V%C3%A4ter

    1. Yes, the Germans are at it again--trying to shift the blame for the Holocaust, as much as possible, from themselves (where it belongs) and unto the Poles.

    2. Germany would have to have noticed the constants signals from America's media and its academe that the Official History of WW2 (as opposed to What Actually Happened) is now spinning Germany out of the picture, and substituting Poland.

  3. Monument to Home Army wil be build in Kraków, near Wawel. They are still polish heroes to us, no matter what sons and daughters of occupiers say.

  4. I posted the above to the Polish-Jewish Matters and the Holocaust FB group.

  5. Lukasz, have you seen that series? I am asking because I've read comments about it by Polish people who have seen it, who do not agree with your view that the worst anti-semites presented there are members of the AK at all, but that a variety of behaviours is presented on the part of Poles towards the Jews (including the AK).

  6. Hello Mr. Rechniewski,
    I've seen fragments of this series (scenes with Poles mostly). Other parts were of no interest to me. From what I know all Poles in that series (some 20 people) are anti-semitic. Not in the same way, but still.
    Polish farmer asks partisan commander "Are there Jews among you?" before he sells (?!) them food. Commander jokes "Any Jews present? See? No Jews". One of his men says "We drown Jews like cats".
    When partisans stop train to Auschwitz they decide to leave Jews locked inside. One of them comments "Dead Jew is better than living one".
    One of 5 main heroes in this mini-series is a German Jew. He escapes from transport and joins Home Army. Of course he hides fact that his jewish. How could a German (!) join Polish Resistance is simply beyond me. For sure he couldn't pass for a Pole (he's from Berlin). Simply ridiculous.
    Anyway, he releases Jews from that train and his buddies kick him out from unit for that. Suddenly they realise that he's a Jew. I guess that all their Jew-radars were broken.
    But don't worry, all those anti-semitic Pollacks get killed by German soldiers.
    Variety of polish behaviours range from indifference to pure hatred. No good Poles here, sorry. And no German death camps.
    This tv series is already on YouTube. In German. If anyone wants to see it.

    1. So, in the new version of WW2, it is German soldiers who are the heroic rescuers. Its all getting beyond satire. But is at least a constant up-close and personal reminder to us how true our Creator's warning is. Jehovah, the God of Abraham, the true God, has warned us that all - all - the kingdoms of the world lie in the power of the one who is called "the father of the lie".

      Re the Denial angle - the subject of Danusha's blog - I have been seriously wondering if the next train out of Platform Thoughtcrime will make it Denial to point out that Poland was not an Axis Power.

  7. Hello Lukasz, I think viewing snippets isn't enough for a definitive judgement. I know it's tempting to do it but . . .I am quite willing to accept that the series has an embedded theme or themes that Poles were as anti-semitic as Germans and that Poland is "co-responsible" for the Holocaust but only a close analysis of the entire narrative would reveal that.

  8. The story about Victor-the Polish partizan have been added because the original idea to make him a US soldier failed, there was not enough money to send the crew to the USA. So the original research didn't include the Polish part of the series. It was "prowizorka" in Polish or "Polish economy" in German. Finaly we have streotypes of "Brute Poles".

  9. People should google: "WWII and Holocaust: Just a big Joke to Disney's ABC-TV" to see a protest letter by the Polish American Congress Anti-Bigotry Committee to ABC-TV/Walt Disney. They are protesting Jimmy Kimmels Dec. 4 anti-Polish Nazi hate jokes.

    Or people can go to this link:

  10. I happened to run across this and realize that responding a year and a half late might not exactly be timely.

    The German reimagining of the Holocaust detailed here certainly strikes me as a form of Holocaust denial. Yes, there were certainly antisemitic Poles during the war and, in fact, after it - there were pogroms against Jews in Poland in 1946, after the War was over. However, the existence of antisemitic Poles (which is wrong to generalize about) addresses neither the guilt of the Nazis nor the extent to which Poles were victimized during the War entirely independently of Jews. The expression "Never Again!" is used frequently by Poles as well as by Jews.

    My two cents, but my opinion is quoted in the post.


    now posting on, as is John Guzlowski.


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.
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