Friday, December 26, 2014

"The Imitation Game": Fine Movie; Distorted History

Film-fan me loved "The Imitation Game." The me who knows something about World War II felt that "The Imitation Game" was a bit of an unfortunate farce.

Aesthetically "The Imitation Game" is like a hundred other movies about British people dressed in attractive but muted woolens who march about speaking about God and country and occasionally dropping their civilized masks and giving play to their violence or their lust. We've seen all this before: the vintage clothing, the vintage cars, the vintage architecture, the golden lamplight on vintage interiors. We've seen it on Masterpiece Theater and Merchant Ivory and Jane Austen films and Downtown Abbey which I've never watched but which I feel as if I have watched.

"The Imitation Game" is also like a lot of bio pics.

I really do wish "The Imitation Game" had some aesthetic surprises up its sleeve.

"The Imitation Game" treats very complicated subject matter: the breaking of an unbreakable code. I wanted the movie to tell me something about this topic that I didn't already know. The film just puts an enigma machine on a table and has a bunch of smart characters stare at it and announce that it can produce one hundred fifty followed by eighteen zeroes variations. Okay, but how? Give me something technical. The movie never trusts its audience, or its own storytelling skills, enough even to scratch the surface of the nuts and bolts of code-breaking.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives a fine performance as the film's version of Alan Turing, the British mathematician who helped to decode Germany's Enigma during WW II. In the film, Turing displays symptoms of Asperger's. He doesn't get jokes and he has few friends. Everyone is mean to him. He lives an isolated life with only one significant human companion, his school chum Christopher. Turing is awkward and superior with his fellow codebreakers, and they hate him. He is light years more advanced than they. If only they could appreciate his brilliance! Turing is regarded with suspicion by his superiors. They almost arrest him. They break into and search his home. Again, this all feels hackneyed.

Enter Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). Joan is a gifted code-breaker. Like Turing, she too faces difficulties because of others' ignorance and prejudice. People don't realize that a woman can be a worthy code-breaker and they keep her back and put her down.

Joan encourages Turing to overcome his Asperger's symptoms and to befriend his coworkers. He does so.

A casual comment by a secretary, that each German message ends with the words "Heil Hitler," leads Turing to have the Aha moment that breaks Enigma. His jubilation is short-lived. He realizes that he can't rescue an English ship because if he does so, the Germans will realize that the English have broken their code. Turing devises a mathematical method to determine when to use information gathered from breaking the code, and when not to.

Two other timelines are intertwined with the WW II timeline. We are shown Turing's schooldays. He interacts with Christopher, his schoolboy crush and only friend. Christopher departs from his life and Turing is heartbroken. The headmaster of the school is cold in breaking this news to young Turing. Poor little Turing must bear this hard news all by himself.

In the other timeline, also interwoven randomly into the WW II timeline, Turing is interrogated in the early 1950s for "gross indecency" – homosexuality. Turing undergoes chemical castration. This affects his ability to think. He can't even do a simple crossword puzzle in the newspaper. He is a broken man. The film insists that his death was a suicide. Some, including Turing's mother, are not so sure of that.

I was moved by the film. The scenes of little schoolboy Turing are very poignant; it's always hard to watch children suffer. Cumberbatch is a very competent actor and he plays intellectual intelligence well, which is a rare accomplishment. Not many actors could look as smart as Cumberbatch does. He is convincing as someone with Asperger's.

The me who knows and cares something about accuracy in a film "based on a true story" about WW II was very disappointed with this movie.

"The Imitation Game" erases the significant contribution of Polish war heroes and Polish mathematicians to the breaking of Enigma. Like Turing, the Poles were also cruelly and ignominiously betrayed by the very Brits they helped: from Churchill consciously lying about who committed the Katyn massacre to Churchill handing the Poles to Stalin at Yalta to Brits like Stephen Fry insisting that Polish Catholics caused the Holocaust.

It was ideologically convenient for Brits to shaft the Poles, and the Brits did exactly that. "The Imitation Game" erases the Poles because the film wants Turing to be a lone genius and a lone, martyred homosexual. As it happens, during WW II, there were plenty of opportunities for heroism and martyrdom; Turing did not monopolize the supply.

The film is inaccurate in other significant ways. Turing was treated kindly by the headmaster around the Christopher incident, and Turing remained in contact with Christopher's family. Turing proposed to Joan Clarke because he liked her – he even told her he loved her – not to keep her in the code-breaking program. He tried to re-start their relationship years later. Turing could be funny and charming in real life. Etc.


The bottom line is that the filmmakers wanted to create an image of Turing as an isolated genius, unappreciated by anyone, and persecuted because of his homosexuality. In fact Turing was part of a team of other geniuses, and he was open about being gay. I wish the film had been able to tell us more about how a relatively privileged man had been so ill-treated. His working class lover was not chemically castrated, for example. "The Imitation Game," though, is not really interested in probing complex facts, or in saying anything new. 

Please have a look at this previous blog post by Otto here that tells about the Polish contribution to breaking Enigma 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Identity Politics

America is caught up in the reaction to two grand jury verdicts, one involving the police shooting death of Michael Brown, the other involving the death of Eric Garner. My thoughts on both are in the Front Page Magazine article you can read here

Friday, December 19, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Jewish Woman Gets Bieganski-Style Treatment at an Ivy League Event

source: www.nytimes.com
My good friend Vivian Shnaidman, author of Homicidal Intent, posted a message on Facebook about anti-Semitism.

Vivian told an anecdote that occurred on an Ivy League campus in the US. A Jewish woman was forced to answer for Israeli "genocide" of Arab Muslims.

When I read this anecdote, I felt as if it could have happened to me. On American campuses, I have been put on the spot and forced to answer for Polish genocide against Jews. When I have tried to talk to the people mouthing stereotypes – "You Poles are the world's worst anti-Semites" – I generally discover that my accuser knows nothing of Polish history, in the same way that Vivian's friend's accuser knew nothing of Israel's history.

This is Political Correctness at work. Political Correctness is, inter alia, a pecking order. It's a way of saying, "You are Jewish [or Polish] and so you are lower than I. I will use virtue as a means to put you down and to elevate myself."

Real virtue is not what is at stake. Fake, Politically Correct virtue is what is at stake. Thus, pretend genocides – the pretend Jewish genocide of Arab Muslims, and the pretend Polish Catholic genocide of Jews – are used. Mind – I am not saying that the Holocaust never happened. It did. It was a German, Nazi project. Not a Polish, Catholic one. Of course there were Polish villains, but those villains are not representational of the Polish nation or of Catholicism. They are not I, and I am not them.

Certainly I have never participated in a genocide, and putting me on the spot at a university event, or putting a Jewish woman on the spot at a university event, is not a real act of courage or virtue. It is one-ups-man-ship, and that's what Political Correctness is really all about: I am better than you.

Vivian's post is below:

***

I believe the current anti-Jewish, anti-Israel situation is a result of mass propaganda and of the innate antisemitism of people of non-Jewish descent that has pervaded history since time immemorial. Here is my example.

Yesterday I heard about an incident at a faculty "mixer" at our local Ivy League University. An Israeli acquaintance of mine was invited, in the role of "attractive woman." (She reports that the guest list included geniuses, millionaires, and attractive women, and the seating was arranged in this order).

This woman was seated next to a[n] (I prefer "a" but I am aware that some people do not pronounce the h) historian (a professor - hence a "genius.")

That historian said to this Israeli woman, upon learning she was Israeli: "How do you feel about the terrible genocide your country is perpetrating against the Palestinians?"

This woman was shocked and essentially speechless. She did not want to start a confrontation or draw attention to herself. The seating plan was such that her husband (genius, but her genius) was seated elsewhere, so she was all alone.

She mumbled something about getting his facts straight and that there were no such thing as "Palestinians" before 1967, but she was basically horrified that a HISTORIAN – someone with a coveted tenured position at this world-famous university – was unaware of the history of the little strip of land that in Biblical times through Roman times, and again in modern times, we call "ISRAEL."

That historian was UNAWARE of the fact that the Arabs/Muslims living in that area never had a self-government, never had a political system, never had their own currency, and that genetic studies indicate that many of them are actually of Turkish (Ottoman) descent.

That person was unaware of the first Aliyah, unaware that Jews have always lived in Israel, unaware of the fact that the Arabs were offered a separate state or to remain part of the new invented state of Jordan, unaware that Jordan went to war with Israel in 1967 (along with Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon) and LOST their territory fair and square. Unaware of all these things – why – because the world hates and has always hated the Jews.

If we could map out anti-Jewish activity in Europe and the middle east over the past 3000 years (and I'm sure someone has done this) we would find that once a century something holocaust-like happens. The Nazis were the first ones to have the technology to systematically exterminate Jews, but think about today's technology – 70+ years more advanced. This is how it starts – with invented history and blaming the Jews for things we have nothing to do with.

One final anecdote (because I'm supposed to be writing PSYCHIATRY FOR LAWYERS, not THE HISTORY OF THE JEWS): Right after Obama won the first time in 2008, I was in court in my role of expert witness (nothing to do with Jews or Muslims – a sex offender case). When I came in, everyone in the courtroom was talking about how they were preparing their escape hatch from the US just in case. One religious Jewish attorney was explaining how his wife was Canadian so he was applying for a Canadian passport. The judge was talking about retiring abroad and getting a new citizenship. One psychologist had an Israeli passport.

All of us Jews who were aware of law and history and had good educations (psychiatrists, psychologists, and lawyers) were well aware of the fact that a guy who was raised Muslim until the age of 11 could not and would not be a friend to the Jews or to Israel. The past six years I think have borne this out. And for the Jews who have this fantasy that being anti-Israel is not the same as being anti-Semitic, I will say only one thing: If you don't think you're Jewish, ask your neighbors. Rant over.

***

By the way, I googled Vivian's claim about Turkish genes and found this


And I am mindful that many Jews supported Obama, and continue to support him. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"With Blood and Scars" by BE Andre


"With Blood and Scars" is a new Polish-themed book by B. E. Andre.

The book has two plotlines. One involves children, and is from the past. One involves a Polish father dying of cancer in modern day England, and his adult child hoping to learn the full facts of his life before he dies.

The book's intriguing title comes from a passage written for Polish children about their own country. How was Poland born? "With blood and scars." 

Here's the book description from Amazon:

"Time is running out for Ania. She needs to ask her dying father a vital question; his answer is the key to how she will lead the rest of her life. She must force him to revisit his childhood in Poland in 1944, a time when decisions about survival were made on the spur of the moment, a place where chaos undermined all previous morality. Who is her father really? Can she bear to find out? 


Another secret also torments her: an incident she filed in her memory store. Now the police have found the remains of a child in Whalley Range. Should she try to find the gang of friends from her own childhood days? Or should she keep the secret of what happened then? This coming-of-age novel is a tale of heroic survival against all odds: a life-affirming story of courage and hope set against harrowing circumstances. It celebrates the goodness that can be found in all nations." 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Japan's Pristine World War II Record

Because if you don't talk about war crimes, and you don't admit to war crimes, and no one pays any attention to your war crimes ... what war crimes? 

From FrontPageMagazine:

"Unlike Germany, Japan never came to terms in any way with its wartime history. The Japanese are fed on a diet of official history and pop culture history which makes them out to be the victims of American aggression. This history typically starts with American planes suddenly bombing Japan for no reason and then concludes with Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

Link follows. Warning: this is a very disturbing article. "Japan Still in Deep Denial" here

Saturday, December 13, 2014

"Take For Example Genocide"


I'm posting this here for the capital A Atheist's use of cultural relativism, and for the line "Take for example genocide." 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

When Someone You Love Says Something You Hate

Source
Last year on September 11, I chatted with students about the day's significance. These students were majority minority: African American, Hispanic, and Asian, with a few whites. Some were born overseas, in Africa and the Caribbean. All were young, in their late teens or early twenties. Most came from New Jersey cities like Paterson, Passaic, Newark, and Jersey City.

None of my students identified Al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden as the author of the 9-11 terror attacks.

A few mentioned Jews as the planners and perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks. Others agreed. None objected.

"Yeah, I heard that," one volunteered, as if offering multiple sourcing as support towards a potential assessment of the attribution of guilt for 9-11 to Jews as verifiable.

"No Jews went to work that day," another said.

Some thought George Bush was responsible. Others identified shadowy, legendary conspirators, like the Illuminati.

Of course I felt sad. I wanted my students to know the truth. They didn't.

I certainly label these views as anti-Semitic. I don't label the students themselves as anti-Semitic because I don't think they have a grasp on what antisemitism is, or even what a Jew is. I think they're totally blind on this matter, and innocently parroting rumors that have been represented to them as fact. I don't think they know why one should question such material.

I do know why one should question attribution of 9-11 to Jews. I do know why such a statement is abhorrent. I am aware of wider narratives, of circles of atrocity and responsibility, of webs of meaning. My students are oblivious to all of that, from the Holocaust to Heinrich von Treitschke to Leo Frank to the Munich Olympics to Klinghoffer the man and Klinghoffer the opera. I know about that. They don't.

Their parents, who, for the most part, are struggling to survive in low-wage jobs, don't know about these things, and never passed on awareness that they don't have.

In telling this anecdote, I could handle it in various ways.

If I wanted to prove that Americans are anti-Semitic, I could use this anecdote.

If I wanted to prove that Blacks and Hispanics are anti-Semitic, I could use this anecdote.

If I wanted to prove that Blacks and Hispanics from Newark and Paterson are ignorant or poorly educated, I could use this anecdote.

If I wanted to prove that Jews carried out the 9-11 terror attacks, I could use this anecdote.

I don't want to choose any of these listed options.

Here's what the anecdote says to me.

My students have been poorly educated in New Jersey's underperforming high schools, which do cluster in Newark and Paterson, inter alia. New Jersey's high school ranked as worst performing is in Paterson, as is its fourth worst performing high school. Five, six, seven, eight, and nine are in Newark. Ten is in Paterson.

My teenage students can hardly be blamed for the caliber of schools they have been forced to attend.

Conspiracy theories have flourished in recent years for a variety of sociological and political reasons. One cause is Political Correctness which seeks always to place blame on America. The single-minded "Blame America First" approach encourages tortured logic and excuses anyone who isn't American or Western.

National Public Radio celebrity and pseudo-intellectual Karen Armstrong said that when she learned of 9-11, she concluded "We did this." Well, if Karen Armstrong is a member of Al Qaeda, that's absolutely true. Otherwise, it is exemplary of politically correct hogwash.

Newark's current mayor, Ras Baraka, is the son of another PC celebrity, Amiri Baraka, New Jersey poet laureate and PEN award winner, winner of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim. Amiri Baraka's poem "Somebody Blew Up America," implicates Jews in 9-11.

A good number of left-wing professors contribute to ignorance because certain truths are not congenial to how they want to interpret history.

Another factor: Paterson has a large Muslim population. Many Muslims do attribute the 9-11 terror attacks to Jews. Recently an imam insisted on Egyptian television that Jews created ISIS. I know that some-not-all Muslims share anti-Jewish conspiracy theories with others who are not Muslims. They have shared these conspiracy theories with me and my students.

I mention all this because I love my students. I see them in all their humanity. They are lovable.

I know when I say "Black kid from Paterson" my interlocutor is likely immediately to imagine a mugger or a juvenile delinquent lounging on garbage-strewn streets. Mentally, the person to whom I mention a Black youth from Paterson will immediately lock his or her doors, roll up his or her windows, and step on the gas.

The negative stereotypes of my students are already there.

If I casually toss in a story about Black and Hispanic kids from Paterson attributing 9-11 to Jews or the Illuminati … well … I'm basically squirting kerosene on an already smoldering dump of stereotyping.

For that reason, when I tell these stories, I tell them carefully.

I emphasize my students' native intelligence, their hard work, their eagerness to do the right thing in a world that doesn't love them enough to communicate to them exactly what the right thing is. I state over and over again, not to be nice, but to tell the truth: I have an MA from UC Berkeley, a very good school (and an even better school when I attended than it is now), and a PhD from Indiana University, another very good school, and my students are every bit as smart as the smarty pantses I've rubbed elbows with. The difference really is, all too often, money, or luck.

In short, I tell these anecdotes carefully. I strive not to add to stereotyping.

I recently blogged about Shelley Salamensky's New York Review of Books blog piece about the POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews. Shelley's piece ends with an anecdote about Poles saying obnoxious things about Jews, specifically that Jews stole money from the Polish treasury, and that Jews have large noses and forelocks.

I took exception to the New York Review of Books ending a piece about a museum of global importance with an anecdote about obnoxious Poles. I wrote to Shelley Salamensky and to my surprise Shelley wrote back. Her note was entirely gracious and generous and she showed awareness of, and concern for, negative stereotyping of Poles.

I felt guilty for being so critical about Shelley's piece. But…

Do such obnoxious things get said? Of course they do. I never heard the specific conspiracy theory that Shelley mentions – that Jews stole all the money from the Polish treasury – but I've heard other offensive things.

Like all offensive commentary, I think that the statements I have heard from Poles are complicated texts that need to be understood. In the same way that I need to work to understand why so many young people from Newark and Paterson, who are themselves members of stereotyped minority groups, have accepted outlandish conspiracy theories about Jews, I need to understand why any Poles in present day Poland would say that Jews stole all the money from the Polish treasury.

I think Shelley would agree with me on this. I will invite her to speak for herself and to do a guest blog entry on a topic of her choosing. I think that would be great. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The New York Review of Books Visits the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews and Stumbles Upon Bieganski

Let's go out into the woods and drink vodka. Source

On December 6, 2014, the New York Review of Books blog ran an article, "Poland's Jews: Under a New Roof" by Shelley Salamensky. The article addresses the new POLIN: Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. The bulk of the article is very bland and unoriginal. It merely restates facts that might be found in something like a pamphlet or a Wikipedia article. Anyone who knows or cares anything about Polish-Jewish relations will be familiar with the facts relayed in the bulk of the article.

In its final paragraphs, the article presents a little Bieganski scenario. Poles are described as xenophobic, anti-modern, woodsy peasants. Excerpt:

"When in recent years I found myself in the area on research, its gentle landscape of forests and fields looked little changed from family tales…

While Polish national politics may be edging from far-right to right-center, Poland's southeast corner is a stronghold of anti-abortion, anti-feminist, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, and—with burgeoning Roma communities in Slovakia, just a few miles away—anti-Roma sentiment. It is still possible to encounter medieval Catholic notions of Jews as Christ-killers and money-grubbers, and while it is nearly impossible under Polish law for Jews to reclaim property confiscated in the World War II era, news of revival activity in Warsaw prompts fear that descendants of Polish Jews will show up and take their homes and farmland back.

However, so few natives who have stayed in the region have knowingly encountered Jews that this is less a matter of anti-Semitism than cultural insularity and ongoing misinformation…

In a mid-sized city near Sanok not long ago, I fell into conversation with a group of middle-aged Poles in a café. They informed me, in evident earnest, that Poland was poor today because "the Jews stole all the money from the treasury."

"When?" I asked.

"Before the war," a woman said. Others nodded.

"What did they do with it?"

"Ran off to Israel and New York."

When I asked about concentration camps, I was told that they were where Polish patriots were killed.

"Have you ever met a Jew?" I asked. A few said they'd seen some.

"What do Jews look like?" With their hands they traced bulbous noses and long sidecurls in the air.

"What would you say," I concluded after too much wódka, "if I told you I was a Jew?"…

But there is reason to believe that the museum's message of respect and understanding will be embraced, especially among younger generations exposed to new ideas by the Internet and, increasingly, employment abroad. After a thousand years, a few more shouldn't be so long to wait.

End of excerpt.

You can read Shelley Salamensky's full article here

The reader will not be focusing on the material in Salamensky's article that is merely a replay of material found elsewhere. Salamensky's original contribution is the anecdote about the allegedly anti-Semitic, backward Polaks with whom she drinks vodka.

Poland, it is implied, has been an oppressive place for Jews for a thousand years. Jews are "waiting" for tolerance in Poland. Tolerance will be imported by Poles who travel abroad and learn about it abroad, and bring it back home. And, of course, from the Internet.

"Bieganski" takes on, and dismantles, the idea that "tolerance" is "modern" and that "backward, primitive" Poland must import it from more modern locales.

I learned of this article through an email sent by a Polonian. "I wanted to cry when I saw this," the Polonian said to me.

I understand my correspondent's tears, but I wanted to confirm. "Why did you want to cry?" I asked.

My correspondent made clear why he/she wanted to cry. The article goes out of its way to depict Poles as primitive bigots. The article does this while ostensibly celebrating a much-heralded new museum dedicated to Polish Jews.

The article smears all Poles on the basis of rather flimsy grounds. A group of unnamed Poles associated Jews with money, large noses and forelocks.

News flash: it is conventional for people around the world to associate Jews with money, large noses and forelocks. Jews make this association themselves. That may be a good thing, a neutral thing, or a bad thing. One thing it is certainly not is a Polish thing.

The idea that Jews stole money from the treasury and ran off to Israel and New York is a new one for me. I have never heard that. I don't doubt that there are Poles who believe it.

Salamensky concludes her otherwise bland article with this ugly, provocative anecdote. It is what the reader will remember. This ugly, inflammatory anecdote is the takeaway.

I would never do what Salamensky does here. I would never end something that I hoped thousands of people would read with an ugly, inflammatory anecdote depicting Jews sitting around a table, handling coins – the closest analog I can come up with to Poles in a woodsy, rural location sitting around drinking vodka – and talking about what animals Poles are.

Bieganski is in the details here. No, Salamensky never says "Poles are the world's worst antisemites." She doesn't have to.

One more thing. The Polonian who sent me this link asked that I not publicly identify him/her, and I will not.

This Polonian understands that there are consequences for Polonians who speak out about the Bieganski stereotype.

I understand that, too. I have spoken out, on the record, about the Bieganski stereotype. I have paid the price, and the work has not been, for the most part, supported by Polonia. An example. I've been invited to speak by Jewish institutions. I am still waiting to be invited to speak by a Polish one. Hello, Kosciuszko Foundation. Hello, Indiana Univeristy Polish Studies Center. I spoke there under the late Tim Wiles and I would very much like to speak there again. Hello Polish American Congress.
One step in addressing the Bieganski stereotype: Polonia needs to support her own.

Update: more on this topic here

Monday, December 8, 2014

This Is Who Is Teaching Your Children about World War II

Read the story behind this video here. This professor is teaching his students the history of World War II. He, according to his student, does not like Christians. 


Saturday, December 6, 2014

NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" Tells a Bieganski Joke

This blog has recorded other Bieganski jokes told by the taxpayer funded National Public Radio show "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me." 

The show of December 6, 2014 told another. 

"FAITH SALIE: For years Vladimir Putin has been attempting to boost Russian fertility by displaying himself shirtless, presumably to get the whole country in the mood. Turns out his country women have gotten bigger, just not with babies. Now Putin is setting his sights on the booming obesity rate among Russian ladies. His government have announced a national fitness competition to find the motherland's most vigorous vixen. The tight lucky winner's prize will be a horseback ride with Putin himself through the Siberian mountains. In the world's sexiest Slavic photo op, both she and the president will be topless. Putin promise to canter. The fitness challenges are designed to display both strength and femininity through feats that smack particularly Russian. These include figure skating and gymnastics, but also speed peeling potatoes for borscht, disassembling Matryoshka dolls and dragging to bed unconscious men who reek of vodka."

You can find previous Bieganski jokes on "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" here and here

And, no, you will never hear an Amos and Andy style joke on "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me." 

The "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" homepage is here

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Response to Lost Polish Child "There's a Reason for the Stereotypes."

A child got lost in the cold in Poland. Under the December 4, 2014 Yahoo news story about this event, one poster wrote, 

"Po-lock the doors! Figures. Being married to a ski I see how they do- there's a reason for the stereotypes."

You can see the story here.

Peter Matthiessen "In Paradise." Does Matthiessen Play the Bieganski Card?

Poet John Guzlowski has drawn our attention to Peter Matthiessen's "In Paradise." John invited us to investigate whether or not this highly praised, 2014 book by an influential writer plays the Bieganski card. 

I have not read the book and cannot say. I hope John will blog about it here. Meanwhile, here are some quotes from Amazon reviews. 

"His writing cuts like a dagger into the ambiguity of moral responsibility of a nation, a people and the Catholic Church as the crematoria did their awful work...

He joins a disparate group that visits Auschwitz and Birkenau. Germans who want to expiate a national guilt, Catholic clergy who bristle at the Church’s blind eye during the Final Solution, Poles who steadfastly claim ignorance of what occurred under their very eyes, and Jews—survivors and others—who return to confirm man’s capacity for evil...

Set in 1996, amidst the turmoil and renewed genocide in Eastern Europe...

In Poland, even after the war, in the effort to make the country Judenrein, the Poles, who swore they knew nothing, murdered an additional 2000 returning Jews, so that today, there are far less still living there. From 4 million, of which 3 million were murdered, there are approximately 25,000 souls today. Could those who participated, in any way at all, ever be forgiven? Could future generations ever be forgiven? Should anyone ever forget the sadistic monsters that planned, participated in and rejoiced in the prospect of a country that was Judenrein? The age old question is also, should they be forgiven or forgotten at all?...

The question of what the nearby villagers made of all those trains, all that land appropriated and barbed-wired in. And all that smoke. Christians being able to move into deserted homes"

The Bieganski Stereotype: Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty? Filip Mazurczak Weighs In.

Filip Mazurczak, whose work is linked in this blog here, here, and here, sent me a couple of questions. I respond to them below.

FM: Regardless of whether or not you agree with me that anti-Polish prejudices are fading, do you at least agree with me that the following trends are encouraging and represent a sea change previous generations could have found it difficult to imagine?

DVG: I don't think that anti-Polish prejudices are fading. I don't think that there has been any sea change. About "encouragement." I don't see anything to be encouraged about. What I see in Polonia is a crisis in leadership, organization, and vision. I describe what I see in a series of blog posts linked here.

I could be wrong. Further research would be needed. There is no money and no interest in further research. That lack of interest and money for research is representational of the problem.

FM: The so-called Polish joke is, by all accounts, fading into obscurity. I spent most of my life in the United States in a Polish family and whenever I told people of my background they responded either positively or neutrally. In fact, I didn't even know that such jokes existed until I was 16, and if I were not of Polish background it's likely I never would have known they exist.

From what I have read, they were common on the Johnny Carson show and other pop culture in the 1960s and 1970s, but I would argue that most young Americans are unfamiliar with them. Instead, primitive, vulgar ethnic humor that I have seen in the United States has mostly targeted Hispanics (and sometimes blacks). The literature I have read on ethnic stereotypes confirms that since the late 1970s, the "Polish joke" has fallen into disuse in the United States.

DVG: Filip you first wrote to me a long time ago, in April, 2013, and I responded briefly. I responded briefly because I was put off by your note because you said something similar in your initial message to what you say, above.

You had said, in your initial note from April, 2013, that you were reading Bieganski and you wanted to respond to it. And then you started talking about Polish jokes.

My feeling was then, and it is now, that you aren't responding to Bieganski. Bieganski makes almost no reference to Polish jokes. It offers no sustained analysis or discussion of Polish jokes. Bieganski isn't about Polish jokes. Why are you telling me that things are getting so much better because there are fewer Polish jokes, when in fact I hardly mention Polish jokes?

Second, all jokes are said to be in decline.

On June 10, 2014, the Oakland Tribune reported "The Death of the Joke", which you can read here. "Seriously, the Joke is Dead," reported the New York Times on May 22, 2005, which you can read here.

Why cite the death of a dead form to argue for a "sea change" for the better?

In any case, read some recent Polish jokes from England here. Read about an international incident involving a Polish joke in August, 2014, at a swimming competition, here. And read some American Polish jokes, copyright 2014, here.

Again, though, Bieganski is not about Polish jokes.

FM: Polish Righteous among the Nations are much better known.

DVG: I am Polish-Slovak American. I've been to Poland several times. I've gone out of my way to educate myself about Polish matters. I had not heard of Witold Pilecki until a few years ago.

FM: When I was in high school more than a decade ago, we spent a full two months (sic!) of English class solely devoted to the Holocaust, and it was largely Judeo-centric (for my class presentation, I talked about the various different groups targeted by the Third Reich from Jews and Slavs to Roma and black Germans) because I was sick of this. Back then, most educational material seemed to suggest that only the Danes and a handful of Dutch (and, of course, Oskar Schindler) cared about Jews; the rest of Europe was glad to see them go.

However, since then Irena Sendler has become much better known and tons of educational material has been created about her. Jan Karski is similarly becoming better known, and a book about the Zabinski family was on the New York Times bestseller list and there are plans for a Hollywood adaptation. When I look at Holocaust education materials produced today, a lot more attention is given to Polish Righteous.

Recently, Israel's new president went to Poland for his first foreign visit. It was related to the opening of the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. In his speech (you can read its transcript on the website of Israel's embassy in Warsaw if I recall correctly), the Israeli president praised Poland for coming to terms with dark episodes in its past (he specifically mentioned the pogroms in Jedwabne and Kielce) and gave much praise to Poland's Righteous Gentiles, saying that several generations of Israelis owe their lives to them.

This is a huge break from the past. In the 1970s, Prime Minister Menachem Begin/Mieczysław Biegun  said that the Poles overwhelmingly collaborated with Nazi Germany and the whole of Poland had not more than 100 people who aided Jews on Dutch television. Not long after, another Israeli PM Yitzhak Shamir (born Janicki) famously said that "all Poles suck anti-Semitism with their mothers' milk".

I don't know if you're aware of the controversy related to the building of a monument to Righteous Poles in Warsaw next to the POLIN Museum. It is a Jewish initiative and has received the blessing, among others, of Poland's chief rabbi (whom I hold in high regard). However, it is being protested by leftist Polish intellectuals.

[Filip Mazurczak's article on this topic is here]

I'm not saying that everything is peachy. Many Jews still harbor anti-Polish prejudices, just as many Poles harbor anti-Semitic ones (and many Americans have prejudices against Hispanics and blacks, Turks have prejudices against Kurds and Armenians, Belgians have against Congolese, etc.). But don't you think that the trends I discussed above indicate that things are moving in the right direction?

DVG: No, I don't. Again, I could be wrong. The chapter in Bieganski that I invite you to read is entitled "The Necessity of Bieganski." Nothing in that chapter has changed. This blog offers regular updates. 

Polish Jokes

Polish jokes here

And an attempt at analysis from Slate, March 27, 2014 "The Humor Code. Every Culture Has a Polish Joke" here.

Excerpt:

"For the past several decades, British sociologist and preeminent humor scholar Christie Davies has been collecting examples of an odd phenomenon: Nearly every culture has its own version of the Polish joke. That is, every country likes to make fun of people who’ve been labeled as simpletons and, often, outsiders."

TIME Magazine: Enigma. Poles Had Nothing To Do With It.


The Dec. 1 - Dec. 8 2014 issue of TIME magazine features three separate articles that reference Alan Turing's work on Enigma during World War II. The cover image is of Benedict Cumberbatch playing the part of Alan Turing in a new movie. Unless I missed it, none of the three articles about Turing and Enigma even mentions in passing the Poles' work on Enigma. 

If you'd like to read about the Poles' work on Enigma, you can find a guest blog post on the topic here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Poles "Tout" Rescuers; Bieganski is in the Details



"Bieganski" is a book about stereotypes. Stereotypical slants on bare facts are sometimes very subtle. 

I recently stumbled across an article with the headline "Poland Touts Rescuers." 

That's Bieganski right there, in those three words. 

"Tout" is a verb that means "to promote." It also means "to advertise for sale" "To sell gambling tips" and it also means "to pimp a prostitute." "Tout" never has a positive connotation. Its negative connotation is subtle. Its hateful punch is delivered below many people's conscious awareness. 

Here's one online definition of "tout." "attempt to sell (something), typically by pestering people in an aggressive or bold manner."

JTA,the Global Jewish News Source, says that Poles "tout" rescuers. So, when a Polish American like me mentions the heroism of a man like Witold Pilecki, I am a "tout." A pimp. I "pester people in an aggressive manner" in order to sell something. 

You can read about Poles prostituting their heroes here

Sunday, November 30, 2014

THANK YOU! Dziekuje!


Thank you to James Conroyd Martin, author of Push Not the River, Karen A. Wyle, author of Twin Bred, Pani F, who chooses to remain anonymous, and Eugene Sokolowski.

These kind and generous souls donated the $150 necessary to update Bieganski's cover. 

THANK YOU! 


Buy Push Not the River at Amazon
Buy Twin-Bred at Amazon

The Statute of Kalisz in First Things by Filip Mazurczak

First Things published an article by Filip Mazurczak about the Statute of Kalisz. You can read it here.

Filip Mazurczak Interviews Halina Szpilman, Widow of Wladyslaw Szpilman

Filip Mazurczak interviews Halina Szpilman, widow of Wladyslaw Szpilman, subject of the Roman Polanski film "The Pianist" here.

Excerpt: Szpilman, who was of course Jewish, was very attached to Poland, his fatherland. 

"He was very attached to Poland and could not imagine life elsewhere. My husband always sat on the chair where you are sitting right now and got very upset when a guest sat there, because he believed that was his place. This was his place, and Władysław believed that he lived there and he was born there. He spent his whole life in Poland, including the worst period, that of German occupation. Some people found it strange that he could have lived in the same place where he lost his family. In any case, he was very strongly connected to his fatherland."

Filip Mazurczak Interviews Antony Polonsky on Several Key Questions

An interview between Filip Mazurczak and Antony Polonsky covers several key questions in Polish Jewish Relations. Full text here.

Excerpt:

"There is now a clearer understanding that the mass murder of the Jews during the Second World War was initiated and for the most part carried out by the Nazi regime in Germany and by the German people who largely followed its lead. It is also understood that the reason for siting death camps on Polish soil is that this was where most of European Jewry was to be found. In addition, it was far from the front and also away from Germany and Western Europe."

Karen Armstrong Is Not a Scholar and She Should Not Be Allowed to Prostitute the Holocaust

Recently Karen Armstrong, a faux scholar beloved of the left, accused Bill Maher and Sam Harris of paving the way for another Holocaust. I was very troubled by this and American Thinker published my piece today expressing that offense. You can read the piece at American Thinker here or at my other blog here.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Student Handout: "A Relatively Large Number of Poles Collaborated with the Nazis."

A document identified at the top of the page as a "student handout." Milaca, Minnesota. K-12, that is kindergarten through 12th grade. 

"A relatively large number of Poles collaborated with the Nazis." 

Not so in France. "Many French citizens found it difficult to accept that Jews were being deported and began helping Jews...Germans realized they couldn't rely on the French."

"Most Dutch were reluctant to cooperate" with the Nazis...The German occupation of the Netherlands is considered the most ruthless in Western Europe" [emphasis added -- the Nazi occupation of Poland was the most ruthless, but Poland is not in Western Europe.]

"Many Italians assisted Jews." 

Pope Pius XII is seen as a silent collaborator. 

Entire document here

Friday, November 28, 2014

"I Would Curse This Miserable Country..."

It's always hard for me to explain to people what "Bieganski" is about. It's not a nationalistic rah rah Poland book. It's a book about stereotypes. 

People sometimes then ask, "Oh, so you are saying that there are no Polish anti-Semites or antisemitism?" 

And the answer is "No, of course not. Of course there are Polish anti-Semites and there is Polish antisemitism. Rather 'Bieganski' points out that stereotypes are used in discussions of Polish anti-Semites and Polish antisemitism in a way that is not helpful." 

I just stumbled across a fairly typical example on the web.

In May, 2014, the Jewish week published an article about someone who "scrawled" a swastika on a transformer in Bialystok. You can read the article here.

Such an event calls for rational discussion on how to combat antisemitism. 

In the comments section, one finds this: "I would curse this miserable country, but it already is. It is filled with Poles." And this, "Our only defense, our only solution....a strong and united Israel to serve as warning to anti-semitic people the world over that their time will not come again." And this "When will we Jews finally turn our backs on this poisonous little land?"

There's a degree of hate there that needs to be understood before we can move forward. 

Answers.com Reports False History of Polak Jokes

You can find all sorts of weird things on the web ... including Answers.com's made-up version of where the Dumb Polak stereotype comes from. 

Where do people come up with this stuff? And why do they pretend that they know something when they don't? 

Luckily many people are aware enough not to believe everything they read on the web. 

You can read the full Answers.com invented history of Polak jokes here.

Here is an excerpt:

"The phrase 'dumb Polack' generated after WWII. When Hitler's army invaded Poland, the Nazi soldiers were ordered to hunt down and kill any person of intelligence in the country. This included: authors, painters, teachers, and any other person with a high level of education. With all the intelligent people of Poland murdered, the phrase came to be because the "dumb" citizens were left to pass on their genes to future generations. Sad but true."

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Jewish Holocaust Survivor Mira Wexler and Polish Rescuer Helena Weglowska Reunite After SeventyYears

Jewish Holocaust survivor Mira Wexler and Polish rescuer Helena Weglowska reunited today after seventy years. One of many news accounts can be seen here.


"The Proud and the Profane" And the Polak. William Holden, Deborah Kerr, Thelma Ritter, 1956

The other night I re-watched "The Proud and the Profane," a big, blowsy, fun, old-fashioned, bodice-ripper melodrama from 1956 starring William Holden, Deborah Kerr, Thelma Ritter and Dewey Martin. William Holden is Colin Black, a "half-breed" – what an ugly word – lieutenant colonel. Deborah Kerr is Lee Ashley, a war widow and Red Cross worker. They meet in New Caledonia in 1943, during World War II.

"The Proud and the Profane" is like a Douglas Sirk movie, although it was not directed by Sirk, but by George Seaton, more famous for lighter fare like "Miracle on 34th Street." In Douglas Sirk movies, passion wrestles with social convention. Just so here. Lee is all but virginal and Colin pursues her like a panting hound after a scared bunny. There is an unintentionally hilarious sequence where Lee and Colin begin a conversation in street clothes, continue in more casual attire, and finally conclude their conversation while wearing bathing suits. This is no doubt meant to symbolize their letting their guard down.

Another symbolic gesture is Colin's stick. He carries a stick that may be a riding crop, though he's never seen on a horse, or an arrow, symbolizing his Indian ancestry – I'm not sure. He beats the stick against his palm a lot. Okay, maybe it's just a phallic symbol.

Though it is not an artistically or intellectually ambitious film, it features one of the most arresting, provocative, and squirm-inducing scenes I've ever seen in any movie.

Lee is Little Miss Perfect: gorgeous, spotless, polite, above-it-all. You assume that her marriage to her late husband Howard Ashley, who died in the Battle of Bloody Ridge on Guadalcanal, was a perfect marriage.

Towards the end of the film Lee goes to visit the cemetery for American soldiers who died fighting the Japanese. The cemetery is heartbreaking – it's a vast expanse of white crosses and stars of David under the tropical sun. You can't help but think of, shed a tear for, and be grateful to all the American GIs who sacrificed their lives so that we could enjoy all we do.

There is a solider hanging around the cemetery. His entire unit was killed at Bloody Ridge. He spends his days tending their graves and talking to them. He points to two graves. He says something like "There's Martini. There's Goldberg. They didn't like each other. They're getting along fine, now." As he speaks of these traumatic events, this soldier maintains a smile. It's eerie.

He doesn't know who Lee is. He thinks she's just a Red Cross worker. He speaks freely about Lee's late husband, Howard. He reveals that Howard was miserable in his marriage to Lee. Finally after he has said enough to completely turn Lee's life, heart, and guts upside down, he asks her name. She says, "Mrs. Howard Ashley." The soldier is gobsmacked. It's an amazing scene.

There's another surprisingly relevant aspect to this movie. "The Proud and the Profane" is based on a novel, "Magnificent Bastards." That title alludes to a thrust of the plot. Colin Black is not just a horndog chasing after super-pure Lee Ashley. He is a soldier, with all that that implies. He is passionate, brutal, direct. He reminds Lee that one has to express one's dark side to do what war demands: kill people and break things. The movie's job is to make virginal Lee appreciate earthy Colin, and vice versa.

In addition to these big themes, you get to watch two beautiful people chase each other around swaying palms and across sandy beaches. In fact Kerr lolls lustfully on a beach in a bathing suit in this film, just as she does in "From Here to Eternity." Holden's great beauty is marred by the heavy makeup he wears in order to look Indian. For me, a Golden Age film buff, the heavy makeup just adds to the film's corny appeal.

Dewey Martin plays the minor character Eddie Wodcik. Wodcik is a ghetto kid. He is impulsive, not very bright, not in control of his feelings, violent, ineffectual, tragic, and doomed. Eddie had grown up in a ghetto. He was an orphan. His sister died in a tenement fire. Lee looks like his sister so he becomes irresistibly drawn to her. He follows her around like a puppy and beats up anyone who insults her. When he sees that Colin has hurt Lee, he tries to stab Colin. He fails. Colin is the hero, after all. Colin hears Eddie sneaking up on him and trips him. Eddie later dies in combat.

Eddie had to be a Polak. The characteristics that the filmmaker wanted for this character mesh perfectly with the Polak stereotype. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bieganski in Poland in Polish. March, 2015

Jacek Tokarski of Wydawnictwo Wysoki Zamek writes to report that "Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture" will appear in Polish in Poland in March, 2015.

"Bieganski" is being translated by Katarzyna Szuster. Katarzyna has previously translated "A Broken Childhood" by Martyna Gradzka and "Secession in Lviv" and the work of the poet Justyna Bargielska.

I have chatted with Katarzyna via email and I am very encouraged by her attention to detail. I wrote "Bieganski" while treading a razor's edge. I strove to tell even controversial truths in a way that might be heard over the din of competing victimologies and prejudices. I prayed that Jacek would find a translator who would walk that same tightrope in the Polish language translation.

I asked Katarzyna her feelings about the charged topic of the book. She wrote back, "I enjoy translating your book, partly because it reflects my feelings about Polish-Jewish relations. I feel that Poland hasn't been given a voice or attention that isn't negative in some way, but at the same time, we're not blameless." I very much appreciate her reply.

I wrote to Kira Nemirovsky of Academic Studies Press, the publisher of the English language version of the book, to discuss the Polish language version. I mentioned to her that some have objected to the cover as it exists now. In fact it was I who had originally suggested the current cover, as I felt it encapsulated both of the stereotypes the book describes: the lumpen Polak Bieganski and the crafty Jewish Shylock. Unfortunately some readers interpreted the cover as an endorsement of those stereotypes. For that reason, I think another cover might be in order. Some possibilities are below. If you care to, please express a preference in the comments section. Thank you.

March 27, 2015. Jacek Tokarski of Wydawnictwo Wysoki Zamek has given me a new date for the publication of "Bieganski" in Poland in Polish. The new date is also in 2015. I hope it comes together this time!