|Rabbi Joseph Potasnik and Deacon Kevin McCormack
In recent days, on three different occasions, WABC NY, one of the largest talk radio stations in the nation, and a division of Cumulus Media, played the Bieganski card. On the morning of Sunday, March 2, 2014, "Religion on the Line," advertised as the longest running show on WABC, featured Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Cooper characterized Ukrainians as violent, frightening anti-Semites, who had been killing Jews since the seventeenth century Chmielnicki Massacres. Rabbi Cooper was on the program in order to re-emphasize points he had made in a Huffington Post article from February 25, 2014, "Ukraine's Jews Caught between a Rock and a Hard Place…Again." In that article, Rabbi Cooper wrote,
"During the Cossack uprising of 1648-57, led by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky 15-30,000 Ukrainian Jews out of a total population of 51,000 were murdered or taken captive. The organized violence against the helpless and impoverished Jews in the Ukraine in the 19th and early 20th century spawned a new word in the lexicon of hate -- pogrom. Many of our grandparents fled the Ukraine, arriving on American shores penniless…During the Russian Revolution and ensuing Civil War, another estimated 30,000-100,000 Jews were killed…over 1 million Jews [were] shot by Einsatzgruppen killing squads and Ukrainian collaborators in Western Ukraine."
In March, 2014, Ukraine is on the brink of catastrophe, and it needs Western help. At this time of crisis, WABC talk show hosts have repeatedly characterized Ukrainians as nothing more than brutal, Jew-hating thugs who deserve no respect. WABC hosts who have hammered home this racist caricature include Ron Kuby, Michael Savage, and now "Religion on the Line"'s hosts Rabbi Joseph Potasnik and Deacon Kevin McCormack, although, to his credit, Deacon McCormack attempted to soften Rabbi Cooper's line. That attempt was not successful. Rabbi Cooper had already tarred all Slavs as essentially brutal pogromists who have been murdering Jews for hundreds of years.
I am reminded of 1981, when the Soviet Union brought its heel down on Solidarity. At that time, Poland needed international support. Sadly, many significant Jewish voices in the US insisted that Poland did not deserve support, because, they argued, Poland was a land of essential, guilty, anti-Semites. For example, Tikkun's Rabbi Michael Lerner lobbied President Bush to cut off funding to Poland.
It reminds me of Andrzej Kapiszewski's book "Conflicts across the Atlantic," which details how some American Jews made it a point to present as negative an image as possible in the American press at the time when Poles were struggling to regain their freedom during and after World War I. Now Ukraine is in crisis, and some American Jews are using this time to insist to the American public that Ukrainians are essential anti-Semites who can never change and who do not deserve support or respect.
NO not all Jews are doing this. Some are.
YES horrific crimes were committed against Jews in Eastern Europe. No decent person has ever denied pogroms or the Holocaust. Rather, what we reject is the Bieganski stereotype. We must talk to each other about this in an informed way in order to lay down guidelines for fruitful conversation. It is not beneficial for one side to monopolize discourse with a monster stereotype at a time when Eastern Europeans are on the brink.
My Polish friends have been prominent in their support for Ukraine.
Please note: when Ukrainians did massacre Jews, they also massacred Polish Catholics.
What people following Ron Kuby and Rabbi Cooper's line won't tell you is this: the Chmielnicki massacres included significant numbers – thousands – exact figures are not available –of tortured and murdered Polish Catholic victims. During World War II, Ukrainians carried out a genocide against Polish Catholics. There were tens of thousands of victims – no one knows how many. The Polish Catholic cultural presence in many locations was erased.
Polish-American poet John Guzlowski is the son of a survivor of this genocide. As Ukraine struggles today, neither John Guzlowski nor any of my other Polish friends has said anything like, "The Ukrainians are killers; remember what they did to us under Chmielnicki in the seventeenth century; remember what they did to us during World War II."
Rather, we Poles and Polish-Americans are saying, "Let's focus on supporting democratic elements in Ukraine." We are not focused on settling old scores, on stereotypes, or on revenge.
I invite concerned persons to unite, organize, and communicate your concern to WABC and Cumulus.
I have just sent the following email to Deacon Kevin McCormack,
Dear Deacon McCormack,
I'm writing about your show today. I was very concerned by Rabbi Cooper's contribution.
I would like to appear on your show in order to offer another point of view.
I am the author of "Bieganski." It is the only scholarly book dedicated to stereotypes of Poles and other Eastern Europeans as brutal anti-Semites. Antony Polonsky, the world expert on Polish Jewry, was the editor of the series in which the book appeared.
"Bieganski" has been endorsed by Rabbi Michael Herzbrun, Polish-American poet and professor John Guzlowski, and Prof. James P. Leary. Father John T. Pawlikowki, chair of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council's Subcommittee on Church Relations called "Bieganski" "An important contribution to improved Polish-Jewish understanding." The Shofar Journal of Jewish Studies called it "Groundbreaking." American Jewish History said that Bieganski points out that the Brute Polak stereotype "gives the illusion of absolving those who failed in their own test of humanity" during the Holocaust. "Bieganski" won the PAHA Halecki Award. I have been an invited speaker on this topic at Brandeis, Georgetown, Indiana University Bloomington, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
I've been listening to "Religion on the Line" for ten years. I have repeatedly heard Rabbi Potasnik and other guests deploy the Bieganski stereotype. Deacon McCormack, I know you are not Eastern European, but as a Catholic you should care about this topic, too. The Bieganski stereotype is used to distort Christian-Jewish relations and the Holocaust.
I am sending to you the introduction to the book as an email attachment. I hope you will have a look.