I am saddened when I encounter those voices in Polonia who insist that Bieganski, the Brute Polak stereotype will "die out" as "Poles become better educated and stop being peasants."
I am also saddened when I encounter Polonians who say, "Please read Tim Snyder's 'Bloodlands.' Once you realize how much we suffered at the hands of Hitler and Stalin, you won't stereotype us anymore."
Stereotypes don't work that way. There is no evidence in the ample scholarship on stereotyping to support either of the above conclusions.
Bieganski, the Brute Polak stereotype, as described in the book "Bieganski," is very much alive and well, and will continue to flourish in newspapers, school curricula, church sermons, and other cultural products for as long as Polonia chooses to refuse to address him in a strategic manner.
Dumb Polak jokes come and go, novels like "Sophie's Choice" rise and fall, media panics like that surrounding the publication of Jan Tomasz Gross' "Neighbors" flare up and die down, but Bieganski is the background source, and the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype is alive and well, and will continue to inspire new products.
One such new product is "Generation War," which was shown first on German television and now on the BBC.
In the Guardian newspaper discussion page devoted to this miniseries, one viewer wrote to protest,
"the demonisation of the Polish [Armia Krajowa or Home Army] partisans as anti-semites prepared to kill Jews, in contrast with the sympathetic portrayal of the [German, Nazi] central characters, none of whom express anti-semitic sentiments.
I understand that contemporary Germans might find it hard to accept that their own parents and grandparents committed mind-boggling war crimes, and would like a more sympathetic portrayal of innocent young people caught up in something they did not understand, and later could not get out of. However, this programme goes too far in distorting the truth. I am not Jewish or Polish, but feel insulted on their behalf."
Other viewers, though, insisted that Poland was an anti-Semitic country, and that anyone who complained about the depiction of Polish war heroes as rabid anti-Semites was just a "cry baby."
You can read more such comments here.
A Polish Home Army veteran is suing over "Generation War." Sadly, he and most of Poland is unaware of "Bieganski"; there is no Polish-language version of the book. It is being held up by a lack of funds for translation.
"Bieganski" is needed in Poland. It is needed in curricula in America. One poster, named "Deborah," who appears to be American, wrote in response to the furor over "Generation War,"
"Are you aware of the Warsaw ghetto uprising that occurred a year before the Warsaw uprising during which the aka refused to get involved or even supply any aid? Nobody disputes that the Holocaust was instituted by the Germans but there was a reason most of it took place in Poland – anti-semitism was so inbred that it was a fertile ground.
I am extremely grateful to those 6,000 + heroes who risked their lives but if I recall correctly the Polish population was about 60 million at the time and while I certainly understand why someone would not want to risk his life or the lives of his family, I can’t understand why someone would voluntarily turn in a jewish neighbor for a keg of beer."
Deborah's comment is full of historical errors. Her new name for the Armia Krajowa, or Home Army, as the "aka" will cause some to laugh. But her deployment of the Bieganski stereotype is condoned in American classrooms, media, and political decisions. Polonia, wake up. Educate people like Deborah.
Here is a snip from a Krakow Post article about the lawsuit:
A veteran of the Armia Krajowa (Polish Home Army) has filed a civil case in the Krakow District Court against controversial German TV drama, Our Mothers, Our Fathers, which is set during World War II.
The former soldier, whose name has not been made public, joined forces with the World Association of Home Army Soldiers (Światowy Związek Żołnierzy Armii Krajowej) to file a case against the series’ producer, Nico Hofmann, on the grounds that it tarnishes the reputations of Poles who fought against Nazi occupation. Attorney Monika Brzozowska, with PDB, the law firm representing the complainants, confirmed the court’s civil department had received the summons.
The drama has caused considerable offence among many Poles for its depiction of Polish Home Army soldiers displaying anti-Semitic sentiments. It has also been accused of implicating Poles in the atrocities of the Holocaust and playing down German responsibility. In one scene, a Home Army soldier boasts: “We drown Jews like rats,” while his compatriots are shown refusing to help Jews bound for Auschwitz.
The series was commissioned by German public broadcaster, ZDF, and broadcast in German and Austria (as Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter) in March, 2013, finding a large audience and critical acclaim. The three, 90-minute episodes were shown by Polish broadcaster TVP in June (as Nasze matki, nasi ojcowie). It achieved record ratings, but also provoked anger among Poles who regarded its depiction of Home Army combatants as grossly unfair.
You can read the entire article and the 89 comments that follow here.