Friday, March 14, 2014

Understanding Bieganski: A Horrifying Account of Anti-Semitism at School

"Bieganski, the Brute Polak Stereotype" describes a stereotype of Poles, and other Bohunks (Lithuanians, Slovaks, Ukrainians, etc) as essentially dirty, violent, brutal anti-Semites.

This stereotype is strengthened by a laser focus on anti-Semitic acts committed by Poles.

In fact anti-Semitism is an international problem. It must be addressed internationally.

The disturbing and disgusting excerpts from the below-quoted New York Times article show that anti-Semitism is a problem in the modern United States.

Anti-Semitism is evil and must be condemned wherever it appears.

Identifying Poles – or, lately, Ukrainians – as essential anti-Semites muddies this fight, rather than contributing to the success of the fight against anti-Semitism.

Swastikas, Slurs and Torment in Town's Schools
By Benjamin Weiser
November 7, 2013

The swastikas, the students recalled, seemed to be everywhere: on walls, desks, lockers, textbooks, computer screens, a playground slide — even on a student's face.

A picture of President Obama, with a swastika drawn on his forehead, remained on the wall of an eighth-grade social studies classroom for about a month after a student informed her teacher, the student said.

For some Jewish students in the Pine Bush Central School District in New York State, attending public school has been nothing short of a nightmare. They tell of hearing anti-Semitic epithets and nicknames, and horrific jokes about the Holocaust.

They have reported being pelted with coins, told to retrieve money thrown into garbage receptacles, shoved and even beaten. They say that on school buses in this rural part of the state, located about 90 minutes north of New York City and once home to a local Ku Klux Klan chapter president, students have chanted "white power" and made Nazi salutes with their arms.

The proliferation and cumulative effect of the slurs, drawings and bullying led three Jewish families last year to sue the district and its administrators in federal court; they seek damages and an end to what they call pervasive anti-Semitism and indifference by school officials.

The district — centered in Pine Bush, west of Newburgh, and serving 5,600 children from Orange, Sullivan and Ulster Counties — is vigorously contesting the suit. But a review of sworn depositions of current and former school officials shows that some have acknowledged there had been a problem, although they denied it was widespread and said they had responded appropriately with discipline and other measures.

"There are anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred that we need to address," John Boyle, Crispell Middle School's principal, said in a deposition in April.

In 2011, when one parent complained about continued harassment of her daughter and another Jewish girl, Pine Bush's superintendent from 2008 to 2013, Philip G. Steinberg, wrote in an email, "I have said I will meet with your daughters and I will, but your expectations for changing inbred prejudice may be a bit unrealistic."

Mr. Steinberg, who, along with two other administrators named as defendants, is Jewish, described the lawsuit in recent interviews as a "money grab." He contended that the plaintiffs had "embellished" some allegations…

Not long afterward, the mother said, one of the boys called T.E. "Jew" on the bus and made an offensive gesture toward her and her daughter.

Sherri E. withdrew her daughter from Crispell Middle School last year, and is now educating her at home….The swastikas, drawn or carved onto school property, or even constructed by students out of pipe cleaners, caused much of the anxiety. Sometimes they were accompanied by messages like "Die Jew," the children testified.

"I actually started to hate myself for being Jewish," D.C., a Pine Bush High School graduate who now attends college, said in an interview. He recalled that around the time of the Jewish holidays, teachers would ask if there were Jewish students in the class. "I learned very, very quickly not to raise my hand," he said…

His sister, O.C., now 15, testified about a more direct message from a sixth grader who formed his hand into the shape of a gun and "said he was killing Jews."

In seventh grade, O.C. said, she saw a girl holding her hands up to hide a swastika on her face. The girl explained that a student had restrained her while another drew the insignia; the school said it had disciplined the two students.

…"How do you get a Jewish girl's number? Lift up her sleeve," went one. D.C. remembered a student telling him that his ancestors had died in the Holocaust. The student then blew on his flattened hand, and said, "You are just ashes."…

At that point, a pickup truck pulled up nearby, and a man emerged. The man, John Barker, 42, a mechanic, cautioned that "everybody watches out for everybody." When asked about the presence of Jewish families, he blurted out, "We don't want them in our town."

"They can't drive, for number one — and they already have Sullivan County. Who really wants them here? They don't belong here."…

A boy on the bus ride home asked if he was Jewish, and when D.R. answered yes, a group of students began taunting him with slurs, he testified. One boy then repeatedly punched him in the stomach "until I was ready to throw up," D.R. said in his account.…

"I was lied to, to my face, repeatedly, by the schools," Jerrold R. recalled in an interview. The assurances, he said, "kept us from doing something that would have protected our kids, taking a more aggressive stance."…

In a September court hearing in White Plains, the district's lawyer, Ms. Wong-Pan, told Judge Kenneth M. Karas that Pine Bush officials did not condone anti-Semitism. She accused the plaintiffs of distorting the facts.

"I mean, the way they describe it, it sounds like it's the Third Reich in those schools," she said…

Read the full article at the New York Times website here.


  1. Astounding that this should be a problem in the modern USA after all we've learned in the past few decades.

  2. I have read the New York Times article, and wonder how it came to be that these Jews came to be seen as unwelcome in this community.

    1. Hello Mr. Peczkis,
      I have read that article too. I have an opinion on this matter. I'm not an American, so maybe I'm wrong. Pine Bush was a community without Jews. A perfect environment for anti-semitic feelings to grow. We have the same kind of "anti-semitism without Jews" in Poland, I'm sure You know that. What is happening to those poor Jewish children was inevitable.
      But there is hope.
      Local children will have to, sooner or later, face the fact that those "new guys" are just like them. Friendships will be formed, despite prejudices of some parents. That's also inevitable. One word: curiosity.
      I will now use a quote from American movie that I've seen years ago:
      "If the element can hold out long enough and face the torment of the system until the system's energy is depleted. If the element can look the system in the eye and say 'I'm still here, asshole!' Then, the system will have to change, adapt, mutate." ("Angus", 1995)

    2. That's just it. Are the community attitudes simply a fear/dislike of those who are "different", or is there something more behind it?

  3. I think the anti-Semites of Pine Bush are stupid and obnoxious people who lack depth, intelligence, discretion and decency.

    I think anti-Semitism permeates culture and I think they latched on to an easy hatred.

    I do not think that there is any "rational" reason here for the anti-Semitism in Pine Bush. I do not think that the local Jews are making matzohs out of Christian children's blood or engaging in any other behavior, mythic or actual, that might "rationalize" the prejudice.


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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