Friday, August 22, 2014

"How Did Poland Transform from Hero to Villain?" Bieganski Review by Michal Karski

Equality for All? Well, Maybe Some Still Don’t Deserve It.

by Michal Karski

‘History is written by the victors’, goes the old adage (or, as it was put less solemnly by Winston Churchill; ‘history will be kind to me because I intend to write it’). There is no doubt that the losers are usually at a disadvantage. However, the recent German television series ‘Generation War’ seems to have turned that apparent truism on its head to the extent that the real villains of WWII seem to be not so much the Germans themselves, but rather thuggish and uncivilized Eastern European Nazi sympathisers.

The central European country of Poland has received particular attention in this respect for some time. After 1945 it suited the Communist regime to portray the takeover of the once-sovereign state as a ‘liberation from fascism’. Stalinist propaganda dismissed the Polish anti-Nazi  resistance as ‘fascists and reactionaries’ and this has found its way into Western perceptions.

But how did Poland, the country which was, after all, the first to offer military resistance to Hitler and fought against the Nazis on all fronts for the entire duration of the war, manage to become transformed from hero to villain?

Dr Danusha Goska provides the answer to this conundrum in this scholarly but immensely readable study of a prejudice which seems to surface with alarming regularity in the worlds of academe and media and which few influential agencies seem willing or able to tackle. She points to a pattern in American culture which has been able to denigrate immigrant Slavs in general and Poles in particular which would never have been acceptable with other ethnic groups. She gives the reason why this continues and provides numerous examples of negative stereotyping. The book discusses unflattering portrayals of Poles and other Eastern Europeans in films and also so-called ‘jokes’ based on ethnicity delivered by people who imagine they are being witty when they are otherwise being essentially racist. (May I say, on a purely personal note, since I did not grow up in America - even though I did have the good fortune to go to a superb American Forces school in Germany for quite a few years – that I have never been exposed to any anti-Polish prejudice. This does not mean, of course, that I am denying the existence of such prejudice and  the examples cited of Poles and other Eastern Europeans being regarded as inferior beings demonstrate that there is still some work to do in the USA in terms of combating ethnic prejudice. Some individuals clearly need to live up to the ideals of  the Nation’s Founders in what is otherwise considered by many people as not only the world’s foremost democracy but also one of the world’s most advanced societies).

Returning to the question of Poland being subjugated by the Communist puppet regime imposed by Stalin and the resulting image of the Poles as fascists which has found its way west. There is no doubt there was an extreme right which was active in pre-war Poland and there is also no doubt that the war would not have been won without the enormous sacrifice of ordinary men and women from all over the USSR (which included Polish contingents incorporated into the Red Army) – and it is only right and proper that their sacrifice is honoured. Unfortunately the flip side to the actions of the USSR which is rarely mentioned in the west other than in history texts, is the two-year Nazi-Soviet co-operation which resulted in the dismemberment of the Polish state. As I wrote previously on these pages, the pre-war multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nation, with all its faults and divisions, is extinct and lives only in the memories of a generation who are themselves fading away.

Given the prevalence of the Slavic stereotype, the question arises whether Danusha Goska’s study will do anything to mitigate the entrenched attitudes of some  Americans. The overall impression given in the book about attitudes to Poles looks fairly bleak at the moment, therefore all credit to Dr Goska for analysing  a controversial and difficult subject. The epithet which seems to come up most frequently in descriptions of this book is ‘necessary’. In this respect, Polonian organizations might consider offering Dr Goska the kind of support which a serious scholar of her calibre clearly deserves.

This is not to say that I agree 100% with everything that Dr Goska says. Personally I think the section of the book which demonstrates the way in which Hollywood has tended to portray Polish characters negatively could do with some balance. A few positive depictions ought to be mentioned, in fairness. Gene Hackman’s General Sosabowski, in ‘A Bridge Too Far’, for instance, is shown to have been one of the very few Allied commanders expressing serious reservations about the wisdom of Monty’s Arnhem plan; there are honourable and sympathetic Polish characters in Polanski’s ‘The Pianist’; Charles Bronson’s Danny Velinski, the ‘Tunnel King’ of ‘The Great Escape’ is quite positively drawn (albeit with potentially damaging claustrophobia); the whole tenor of Jack Benny’s ‘To Be or Not To Be’ (and its Mel Brooks eighties remake) is very much pro-Polish, so that the positives, although perhaps not outweighing the negatives, do appear from time to time.

The average American needs to be reminded that the vast majority of people of different religions and nationalities in pre-war Poland co-existed peacefully, flourished because of the cultural interchange, and are now in no position to defend their good name because they were either murdered by the Nazis for no other reason than their own ethnicity or, in very many cases, for trying to protect their Jewish friends and neighbours.

My single reservation about Dr Goska’s book concerns the cover painting and echoes what Sue Knight also referred to recently on this blog. People do, unfortunately, judge a book by its cover and the picture of Millet’s peasant with the hoe is rather off-putting (in my humble opinion), therefore may I suggest that perhaps a second edition would substitute the famous ‘Bociany’ by Chelmoński, with its overtones of innocent simplicity rather than just brutishness, which would be an implied and pointed contrast to the book’s title? But otherwise, full marks for an excellent, extremely scholarly, objective and fair-minded work which would be a valuable addition to every American school syllabus in the on-going debate about ethnic stereotyping.  It would certainly serve as a stimulus to critical thinking and would also be a powerful counterbalance to entirely non-academic creations expressing purely personal viewpoints such as Art Spiegelman’s ‘Maus’ (which, for all its undoubted visual brilliance, is a rather controversial  example of an academic teaching aid, since, in my opinion, it reinforces, rather than challenges, ethnic stereotypes). Well done, Danusha.

You can read previous blog posts by Michal Karski here and here.

"Bieganski" is available on Amazon here


  1. Interesting Review.

    The question, how did Poles get transformed from heroes to villains, must be evaluated. I am not sure that Poles ever were heroes in the eyes of most Americans. True, there were episodes of Polonophilia, as after the heroism of Kosciuszko and Pulaski, and the sympathy for Poland in 1939, but these never had a profound or lasting impact on American thinking.

    As for "Generation War", and the relativization and soft-pedaling of German crimes, this, too, is nothing new. We have, for the longest time, seen the contrived dualism between "Nazi" and "German" among Americans.

    1. Where Polish heroism is concerned, I had in mind the image which was fostered by the Allies at the beginning of the war. FDR, after all, spoke about Poland as an "inspiration to all nations".

      There have been all kinds of images of Poles over the years, ranging from unfavourable to favourable. One image which comes to mind is Tolstoy's depiction of the Uhlans in 'War and Peace' (Book Nine, Chapter Two), who gallop their horses into a river in an apparent effort to impress Napoleon and forty of whom drown as a result. Whether this is in any way historically accurate Or whether it is on a par with the mythical cavalry charge of German tanks I don't know.

    2. Michal: Correct. Others too.If you go to Google books you'll see great articles on the Poles in magazines of the time. I'm working on research project involving WW2 technology development and recently found a speech the Polish Ambassador in exile gave at Columbia in 1942. Oddly enough this part involves Dr. Franklin Gilbert - first generation German American like myself - chief engineer from Paramount who was one of five scientists to die off the coast of NJ June 8th, 1942. He was involved in the invention of the sonobouy used to detect U-boats ( and more recently missing Malaysian flights ). Jan's bigoted view of Germans just inspired me to write up something about the ambassadors speech. It's a great speech by an intelligent man.
      These disparaging images of people are about control. Dehumanize a group and you can get away with anything.
      Is the cavalry charge against tanks true? The real question is why does it matter. The answer is that it matters because someone thinks that it wasn't bravery but stupidity that would be the motivation for the Polish troops to do that. Russians attacked tanks and artillery with pitchforks, yet there are no Russian equivalent jokes.

    3. Thanks for the contribution, Otto. I've just finished reading the Tolstoy book, as a matter of fact (not exactly lightweight holiday reading, but I've been struggling with it for some time and promised myself to finally finish it). A great book, but, as with the Polish lancers episode, how much of it actually reflects his own biased view? He does try to be fair-minded and presents a couple of sympathetic French characters, but when he dismisses the idea of great men influencing history - he downplays the importance of Napoleon himself - he still manages to elevate Kutuzov to heroic status.

      But I'm getting miles away from Danusha's book. You make a good point about the cavalry charge. There was a Guardian article which completely deconstructed it (I am not able to copy and post the link), saying it was a piece of cleverly manipulated anti-Polish propaganda, designed to make the Poles look foolishly reckless. The chapter on cinema in Danusha's book and the reasons behind the unfavourable portrayal of Poles and other East Europeans is elaborated further in the 'Scapegoat' chapter, which illuminates the core of this issue.

    4. The Guardian article was called 'Debunking Polish stereotypes' by Julian Borger

    5. You should review the American press before September 1, 1939, before September 17, 1939, before June 22, 1941 and then again before December 7, 1941 and what (and who) wrote about those brave Poles. I do not mean to denigrate those who wrote nice pieces about them but i think you will find that the Poles and their cause were treated entirely instrumentally by virtually all the people opening their mouths.

      It is impossible not to see the Polish question in the US as simply an echo of the larger US discussion about entering or not entering the war. If you were pro-British you know where you stood since at least September 3, 1939. If you were an "isolationist" (or covertly pro-German) you know where you stood. If you were Jewish you knew where you stood or you should have known (since 1938 - at least). If you were Irish you were probably suspicious of the Brits but not altogether pro-German. If you were Italian, you just wanted to survive this one. If you were Communist you didn't really know what to think for a while there but life was made clear to you again after Hitler's invasion of the USSR. And so on.

      On the other hand, ethnic identities did not always translate into political identities - just look at Ike or Nimitz both of whom were German Americans.

      The propaganda value of Russian pitchforks relative to the rest of the world was zero for the Germans once it was clear that they were at war with the USA and the UK.

      The reason why the "lancers" reels made their way to the West was because of the phoney war - had the French and Brits attacked the Germans in accordance with their agreements with the Poles, the Germans would not have wasted their time with the lancers.

      Incidentally, watch any German reel of the Wehrmacht moving into Poland and you will soon find heavy use of horses outside of the mechanized units (indeed that is why they were "mechanized" - back then that was the difference from the regular units).

  2. A good review Michal. And I am glad that you picked up the extraordinary spin that is putting Poland into the losing side on WW2, plus making them responsible for Nazi atrocities, when they were in fact targeted under Nazi racial laws.

    Interesting that you agree with my about the cover. I do wonder if that was chosen by someone who wanted to sabotage the book?

    I have neither read nor seen The Pianist - I try to avoid reading hearing or seeing anything about WW2 these days, beyond tackling a media issue or two. But I understand it was a fair book, dealing with what actually happened, rather than the new revised version of WW2. And I am surprised, but pleased, that the movie reflected that.

    I intend to go on avoiding the product of Hollywood though.

    1. Thanks for that, Sue. Among the more positive depictions of Poles during the war, there were those which were made in Britain; 'The Colditz Story' and 'The Battle of Britain', for example. But the relatively recent 'Enigma' not only completely ignored the Polish contribution to cracking the code but even invented a Polish villain (!)

    2. Yes, Michal, and even in The Great Escape the Polish character was treated with respect - and he had clearly been fighting on the Allied side. But I did note that the politics had massively changed by the time of "Enigma" - and it seemed that Poles were being moved into the Axis camp. Not that I saw it, but it came up as a media issue.

  3. Thank you Michal. I enjoyed reading your review and thinking about what you shared in regard to the Bieganski discussion.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Kimberly. I suppose I could have mentioned another couple of examples of Hollywood East Europeans, neither of them exactly negative: there's Bluto Blutarsky of 'Animal House', as played by the brilliant John Belushi, whose character, the epitome of an incoherent slob, is, after all, a bit of an inspiration to the others and is on the side of the progressives in their battle with the forces of reaction.

      There's also the likeable if uncomplicated Lebowski as played by Jeff Bridges and, as I mentioned in another post, there's the zany and eccentric Wayne Szalinski, as played by Rick Moranis in 'Honey I shrunk the Kids'.

      Maybe not a terrifically edifying selection, but not altogether depressingly negative.

    2. Sorry - make that "none of them exactly negative..."

    3. Actually, maybe someone in the film industry has been reading Danusha's book. Just watched the riveting 'Gravity' with Sandra Bullock. George Clooney plays a (heroic) character called Kowalski!

    4. Michal one could only wish for that! :-)

    5. You think Blutarsky was intended to be a Slav? Belushi was a full on Italian stereotype in his looks.

  4. I did make really clear in "Bieganski" why I talked about the films I talked about. The selection was not random. It was based on scholarly criteria. Thank you.

  5. One might certainly disagree with the criteria I used, but if so the person disagreeing would have to at least mention the criteria I used and state why those criteria did not meet the reader's needs and why other criteria would have worked better.

  6. You're quite right. The object of the chapter about 'Bieganski in American Cinema' was clearly to highlight the way in which Eastern European and Polish characters have usually been presented negatively. And, as I said, the negatives do probably outweigh the positives.

    And, in fairness to you, Danusha, your book does confine itself to American cinema, so perhaps I should not be bringing British films into the discussion.

  7. The criteria I used for choosing the films I discussed can be found on page 127 of the book.

  8. I hope I haven't completely misunderstood. Can you remind me? I don't have a copy of the book where I am at the moment...

    1. Not right now I'm working on something else. But it is there.

  9. Jan:
    Do you really beleive the statement you made, 'contrived dualism between "Nazi" and "German" ' or was that a verbal slip?

    Hopefully not. I'm reminded of the inspiring speech Kennedy gave to the people of Berlin, stating he was a Berliner! ... unfortunately a Berliner is a doughnut. He meant to say Berlinesher; from Berlin, as I'm suffer with you from your Communist oppressors... oh well too err is human...

    If not though, please remember that Jesus loves stupid, bitter people too and to me always be first and foremost, a Berliner.


  10. No mistake. And Einstein has nothing to do with it.

    No bitterness. Just the facts. And Cold War speeches do not change the facts.

    Virtually every Nazi was a German (or Austrian). Of course there were exceptions, but they were just that--exceptions. I like the way one commentator put it, "I never met a German who was not a Nazi before 1945, and I never met a German who was a Nazi after 1945."

    Of course, Nazism was not everything. Even those Germans who were anti-Hitler (e. g, Stauffenberg) were every bit as anti-Polish as Hitler. Over the long term, German imperialistic and genocidal aggression against the Slavic peoples preceded Hitler by at least 1,000 years.

    Of course, this is not to say that Germans today think this way. However, I leave it an open matter what Germany's real intentions towards Poland are. Is, for example, the EU (European Union) a new Mitteleuropa, an embryonic Fourth Reich, or not?

    1. That's not even close to the truth. roughly 15% were Nazis. And yes, Einstein and other Germans do have everything do with it. In one broad stroke you decide to lump everyone in one mould - doesn't that sound just like what you fight against? You're facts are self-serving and wrong. How many Germans fought Nazi Germany. In you view they don't count and that's just silly.
      The commentator may have had a glib soundbite, but like Polish jokes that doesn't make them true does it?

    2. A better question is how many Germans were good for the Poles/Polish state? We need not remind you that some very anti-Nazi Germans (including Jewish Germans) were very patriotic in relation to the concept of Germany - that certainly does not make them bad people - but it did make them often not the best for Poles. Put more specifically - morality is a concept best kept for churches - in real life the game too often is zero sum and morality is only used as a cudgel by one side or the other.

    3. This is not to say that morality has no place in the world but it is not a stretch to claim that people who can spare some morality (and indeed often enough people who like to moralize) are people who are secure and unaffected by their choices - they can afford to be moral so to speak. Security, however, has to come first. Generosity can follow

  11. 15%, huh? Sounds like you are confusing membership in Nazi organizations with actual Nazi-style beliefs, which encompassed almost all Germans. For instance, the Wehrmacht did horrendous crimes no less so than did the formally-Nazified formations such as the SS and the Gestapo.

    You are also avoiding the facts that those Germans opposed to Nazism were just as militaristic, and anti-Polish, as those who were not.

    Education (e. g., Einstein) has nothing to do with it. Some of the most barbaric German leaders (e. g, Hans Frank, the Butcher of Poland), were very educated.

    The facts of history are inescapable. The Germans have conducted over 1,000 years of lebensraum aggression against the Slavic peoples. I see no point in going in circles about this elementary fact.

    To refocus this discussion, let us return to GENERATION WAR, which was mentioned at the start of this discussion. This, and other forms of German revanchism, which seek to relativize German conduct and to shift the blame unto Poles, do not encourage confidence that today's Germans are really all that different from the Germans of several decades ago.

  12. Generation War is idiotic but I'm not sure I see any attempts to revive Nationalism.
    You "fact" about 1000 years of German aggression against Slavs discounts any other angles in history. That's what makes is seem like what you keep saying are obvious facts just are silly prejudices. History is written by the story-teller not the victor.
    And while the topic was a review of Generation Wars it was you and your bigoted contrived dualism between "Nazi" and "German" that lead to this part of the discussion. So no, I'm clear about the distinction on party membership, those who acted out of stupidity. Here's why what you suggest is wrong, you in one fell swoop dismiss an entire history because of a slice of history. And yes, it's bitterness, anger and maybe worst of all selective memory. Over that period of time you think Germans were plotting to kill off Slavs. That's just as silly as the prejudices Poles endure.
    Lastly, your point about modern day Germans assigning blame to Poles. Please show me an example. I read German papers along with others from around the planet and the last time I saw anything of that nature it was in a Korean paper. Please, point it out to me and we'll fix it. I have a zero tolerance policy for BS.

  13. We can't argue against prejudice and be prejudiced ourselves.

    Not all Germans were Nazis and not all Nazis were/are German.

    Germany produced Bach, the White Rose, Hildegaard von Bingen ...

    Poland produced Dmowski.

    We've all got good guys and bad guys in our family trees.

    No one is superior by virtue of ethnicity.

    1. I suggest actually reading Dmowski's body of work before formulating a judgment. He was operating in an extreme environment where Poland did not exist, where the kind of language he used was par for the course and, I would suggest that, without his commitment to the cause, Poland would not have been reborn.

      To tie Dmowski to the nutcases of Falanga is much too simple unless your goal is simply to delegimize this line of thinking entirely not because of what it is but rather because of what it might lead to - and that is a very dangerous path to take for it assumes a level of freedom quashing is helpful so that you don't get the dominos falling.

  14. Again, I am talking about long-term historical and cultural trends. I am not talking about individuals.

    And, yes, after the Jews, the Slavs were next.

    Generation War is not about reviving nationalism. It is German revanchism: Pure and simple. It is an attempt to relativize the conduct of the German Nazis with a greatly-exaggerated portrayal of anti-Semitism in the A. K. (Armia Krajowa), the Polish Underground Army.

    1. 'Generation War' was presented as a fiction, nevertheless anyone watching would probably have assumed that - apart from the unlikely protagonists - the historical background was based on fact. (Just as no Americans actually tunnelled out in 'The Great Escape' , yet that film was largely based on real events).

      One of the problems with 'Generation War' - and I believe there are several - is that the AK is presented as essentially an anti-Semitic organisation. It could be argued that they should have offered more support to the insurgents in the '43 Ghetto Uprising, and the arguments for and against are still ongoing, but as an organisation which represented by far the greatest number of fighters in the occupied country, they took their orders from the government in exile in London, which reflected all shades of political opinion. There is no doubt that, among Polish resistance fighters who hid in the forests, there were indeed unreconstructed right- wing extremists, who were former members of the Falanga or the ONR (which, although theoretically disbanded, did not suddenly vanish into thin air), but these people were not subordinated to the AK and the producers at ZDF should have reflected the complexity of the situation by doing a lot more research. Instead they chose to brand the AK - and, by extension, Poles in general - as more anti-Semitic than the Nazis themselves. I believe one ZDF producer has already expressed his regret at offending the Poles, so perhaps we can look forward to a realistic account of the '44 Warsaw Uprising making its way onto our screens? (The Uprising, one of several crucial historical events entirely ignored by ZDF, in which both Polish Christians and Polish Jews fought in the ranks of the AK

    2. Good points, Michal. There were even openly-Jewish members in the highest echelons of the AK.

      However, note that the vast majority of the alleged killings of fugitive Jews were conducted by unknown assailants and under unclear circumstances. Blaming the AK, NSZ, ONR, or Falanga is clearly inappropriate. We also know that an unknown number of fugitive Jews were killed by the Communist GL-AL, and common bandits, who very often hid their crimes by pretending to be AK, NSZ, etc.

      Now back to Generation War. The Germans--of all people--who once developed anti-Semitism to its most extreme and deadly form--should not be passing moral judgment on the conduct of Poles and the A. K. That they do so is, to me anyway, the height of prejudice and bigotry.

    3. Ok - I won't go into which splinter groups or bandits were actually responsible for hunting Jews - and you're right in saying that extreme leftist were just as guilty of atrocities as extreme rightists - but where I would part company with you, Jan, is I would only say that 'Generation War' reflects the views of a group of people at ZDF Television, and not necessarily the vast majority of Germans. The series did attract huge viewing figures in Germany, but there were also a few critical reviews in the German press.

    4. Michal - it does not matter whether the "silent majority" of Germans disapprove of Generation War. Ulness you buy into Goldhagen, the silent majority of Germans probably was not anti-semitic (as opposed to indifferent) to the situation (if one may call it that) of "Jews" before and during the war - much as Poles - and yet the people who drove the process were people who were very much not indifferent. Obviously, I am not comparing the making of this movie to the start of WWII but the point about devoted minorities dictating the terms of the final product is well established in anthropology

  15. Otto wrote that, "Generation War is idiotic", and Michal wrote that, "The series did attract huge viewing figures in Germany". If it was so idiotic, why did it attract huge viewing figures in Germany?

    1. Soory. I've been working and missed this for few days.

      My answer to this is: "Jersey Shore". Stupid, popular but unless you live in NJ and have any pride in the state, not malevolent.

  16. It was also shown In Poland, of course, and also attracted very many viewers. The reason is, I would guess, is that this film claimed to present another perspective of WWII, and not the Hollywood version which we are so used to.

    As a matter of fact, it seems fairly clear to me that the series was aimed not only at a domestic audience, but also at the English-speaking one. I don't believe ZDF would have been able to sell the series either to the UK or US if their likeable heroes had been shown shooting Brits or Americans instead of anonymous Russians. (And the girl who becomes a nurse, Charlotte, is called 'Charly' by the others, whereas surely at that time in Germany she would have been called 'Lotte' - a bit of a marketing ploy, perhaps?)

  17. May I backtrack a bit, Jan. You said that "blaming the AK, NSZ, ONR and Falanga is clearly inappropriate ". But weren't ONR and Falanga declared illegal by the pre-war Polish government precisely because of their extreme right-wing views, which included an openly anti-Semitic agenda"?

    1. I think they were delegalized because they represented a threat to the pre-war government. It's kind of like Lincoln - he may have freed the slaves but he didn't exactly set out with that purpose in mind - rather than just keeping the union together.

      One might also point out that to talk about what was "legal" in a government that was run by the putschists of Pilsudski is, to put it mildly, to tread on very thin ice - incidentally, that putsch in some ways looks very similar to the Egyptian putsch after the Arab Spring in Cairo. In both cases, extremists (see the killing of Narutowicz) or people viewed as extremists were getting too close to power and so everyone breathed a sigh of relief that "order was restored." What that did to the legitimacy of each regime thereafter is another story, of course

  18. I recently read a book about the Jewish resistance in Poland ('Isaac's Army' by Matthew Brzezinski), which is less than flattering about the AK, although it does give them their due in general. What also comes out is the complex situation in which many Jewish fighters were affiliated to communist groups and whose loyalties were therefore questioned by Polish nationalists. None of these complexities find their way into 'Generation War' which presents the Poles in general as virtual caricatures, the kind of brutes that Danusha writes about.

  19. Thank you, Michal, for your questions. I am glad that this discussion is going into some substance and depth.

    Your comment about "Generation War" presenting Poles as virtual caricatures and brutes is spot on. The fact that it comes from a German source makes it all the more odious.

    The de-legitimization of the Polish Right started before WWII, and it had nothing to do with anti-Semitism. It occurred because the followers of Pilsudski wanted to limit the power of the Endeks and the ONR. In addition, political and economic anti-Semitism should not be conflated with murderous anti-Semitism. For more on all this, please see my Amazon Listmania on the Polish National movement.

    For an examination of the AK, NSZ, ONR, and BCh in detail, please see my Amazon Listmania on Guerrilla Warfare.

    Finally, for an in-depth examination of the Polish Underground movement and its relationship to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, please click on my name in this specific posting.

  20. I think I may have mentioned this before, but what we had over here in the UK after the ZDF series had finished, was a discussion programme which examined all the issues raised. It was called 'Generation War: Fact and Fiction ' and was broadcast (I believe) as a result of pressure brought to bear by various Polish groups. The German producer who had been invited acquitted himself rather well and argued his case quite persuasively. The other panelists - writers and historians - questioned aspects of the series (very politely, to be sure), from the extreme unlikelihood of the five friends including one among their number who just happened to be Jewish in Berlin of 1941, to the portrayal of the Polish resistance. To his great credit, the Holocaust historian David Cesarani mentioned Zegota, the AK sponsored organisation specifically designed to aid Jews, but he also made the point that, from the Jewish perspective, any Polish resistance grouping in the forest was potentially dangerous, since no-one could tell which was anti-Semitic and which was not. The Polish right-wingers had not exactly won the trust of the Jews and it didn't much matter whether their anti-Semitism was murderous or just ideological.

  21. Remember, suspicion between Poles and Jews went both ways, and reasons for distrust also went both ways. This, of course, is lost in productions such as "Generation War", which focus only on the Jews and Jewish-related matters as important.

    1. I mentioned previously the chapter of 'Bieganski' which goes into the reasons why many in the western media have chosen to portray Poles and Poland negatively. I won't try to summarize here - it makes for compelling reading - but I might add that there could also have been another reason for portraying Poles unsympathetically. If Poles could be shown negatively (typically by being painted as overwhelmingly anti-Semitic), then this could serve to absolve the collective 'West' of its appeasement to the USSR at Yalta and its failure to come to the aid of an ally which inconveniently continued to resist Stalinist occupation in the face of political realities.

      What some in the west seem unable to get to grips with is that the population of pre-war Poland was, for the most part, just as many are now in the west, not necessarily politically active and just wanted to get on with their everyday lives. But as a direct result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Polish citizens of all ethnicities and persuasions found themselves victimized by both Nazis and Soviets. Most Poles were opposed to both totalitarian systems and only grudgingly allied themselves with the USSR after Stalin was forced into the Allied camp.

      Unfortunately films like 'Generation War' will be regarded by many as a history lesson even though there was no mention of the fourth partition of Poland and only oblique references to the camps.

    2. "If Poles could be shown negatively (typically by being painted as overwhelmingly anti-Semitic), then this could serve to absolve the collective 'West' of its appeasement to the USSR at Yalta and its failure to come to the aid of an ally which inconveniently continued to resist Stalinist occupation in the face of political realities."

      This reason is why you might expect to see an increase in "unfavourable" portrayals of current Poles.

      Anyone looking at the situation in Ukraine is quite clear that Ukrainians running the show in Kiev are not "fascists" and yet the reports keep trickling in - in fact, despite the fact that the people that seem to be most involved in defending Ukrainian independence have Jewish connections too! Ms. Nuland, Arseniuk, Poroshenko or even Anne Applebaum have done more for Ukrainian independence than many Slavs.

      In fact, the best way to tell a "real" anti-semite is by looking at the reaction of such a person to these people's efforts. People who are willing to give up their own identity just because that identity is being fought for by some Jews are the kind off coo coo anti-semites that would rather hurt themselves if, they think, it also hurts "the Jews".

      Unfortunately, there are people like that all over the West and Poland is not really an exception - so next time you see someone cutting of his nose solely because he thinks that "hurts" the "Jews" too, you will have in front of you a "genuine" type of an anti-semite.

  22. All very true. However, the shameful sellout of Poland at Yalta, and its implications, are now several decades old.

    There is a much more recent factor at work: The promotion of the remembrance of the sufferings of the Jews (Holocaust) above all else. Since the sufferings of the Jews are put on a pedestal, it means that the sufferings of other (Poles) must be downplayed or virtually disregarded. It also means that the experiences of the Jews must be given greater moral urgency than the experiences of non-Jews (Poles).

    Finally, historic Jewish Germanophilia, and the tendency of Jews to identify with powerful nations (Germany over Poland), creates a dynamic that blurs the actions of Nazis (Germans) with Poles, as exemplified by, but by no means limited to, "Generation War."

  23. Personally, I think it's pointless comparing or analysing degrees of suffering. One could end up comparing the barbarous methods of torture or killing employed by the SS, for instance, as opposed to those of the NKVD, and end up concluding nothing more profound than the observation that many supposedly civilised human beings who were living under both totalitarian systems - the Third Reich and the USSR - suddenly found themselves gripped by a collective madness, which swept them along on a tide of hatred for their fellow human beings.

  24. Of course it is pointless to compare or analyze degrees of suffering. But that is exactly what is going on. Jewish suffering is not only presented as supreme, but Polish suffering is relegated to a footnote--if that.

  25. It goes without saying that I don't agree with every post on this blog, and most times I don't say anything.

    This time I will say that I don't agree with the immediate previous posts at all.

    Jews suffered more under Nazism than anyone else.

    It is important to remember that.

    Polish suffering is not better known because of choices Polonia has made. Polonia has not done the work that other groups have to get their stories told.

    I will not post a series of back and forths on this. You've had your say and there's no need to repeat it.

  26. Thank you for giving me space on your blog to post my views.

    Best wishes MK

    1. Michal, any time. I just do not want a lengthy back and forth on whether or not it is appropriate to remember that six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis and whether or not Polonia could do better when it comes to getting its own story out.

    2. There is no question that we should ever forget the six million Jewish victims of the Nazis. As for Polonia doing better to get its own story out, I think that one of the problems until recently has been the fact that many of these stories weren't known. It may not be so much that Polonia is unable to speak with one voice, but rather that people's experiences of being victimised by both Nazis and Soviets have been so vastly different that it's a difficult task to co-ordinate all the facts into any kind of easily comprehensible narrative.

      Thanks again for the opportunity to write on your pages and best wishes.


    3. Michal, you don't have to keep thanking me. It is I who thanks you for your contributions, which I hope will continue.

    4. "There is no question that we should ever forget the six million Jewish victims of the Nazis."

      We should remember the one Polish victim more - because he is ours

    5. To be clear. Our obligation is to remember our victims. The Jewish obligation is to remember their victims. Each group should be aware of each other's narrative but should remember which narrative is "theirs" and which is not

  27. I believe Polish suffering is not known as it does not fit the current political agenda. If it suddenly does become on-message, it will become known.

    We have been telling our story, and getting it out there against all the odds.

    But there is a balance, in that our Creator, the God of Abraham, when he gave us that perfect, inspired definition of love at 1 Corinthians 13, taught us that love "does not keep account of the injury".

    The German TV programme "Generation Wars", which, apparently (I have only read the reviews) pictured Poles as "unter", much as Hitler defined them, would seem to show that we - the children of Adam - have not even learnt the most basic lesson we could have from all this memorialising of WW2. And that, therefore, we have not been remembering it in the righr way.

    By the way, as I have probably said, I am happy that Germany can now tell its own story, although sorry they have chosen this way.

  28. I guess this conversation is dying down so I will say, again -- at least I hope I've said it already -- that I don't agree with any stigma adhering to all Germans as Germans.

    I have acknowledged on this blog that I have visceral prejudices against Germans. I don't argue that those are rational or ethical. My prejudices against Germans are neither rational nor ethical.

    I reject tarring any ethnic group with any negative quality. All human groups commit crimes, including Poles.

    There are many heroic Germans, including Germans who actively resisted the Nazis and lost their lives thereby.

    Is there a difference between a Nazi and a German? Of course there is. It makes no sense to equate the two.

  29. Apropos to the question of German collective guilt, I found an essay, by German philosopher Karl Jaspars, quite helpful. To see my review of this work, please click on my name in this specific posting.

  30. Just one more thing (as Lt Columbo would have said:

    I've been catching up on some older editions of this blog, giving me a bit more insight into some of the commentators here, and, at the risk of Danusha accusing me of "back and forthing", may I ask Jan, since he makes the distinction between "political and economic anti-Semitism" and "murderous anti-Semitism", if there is any form of anti-Semitism which is based on anything other than ill will towards Jews? The term itself does not seem to imply any kind of benevolence, however it's dressed up.

    1. maybe you should first define the term before further discussing its subdivisions?

  31. A lack of benevolence, whether justified or not, is one thing. Murdering somebody is something entirely different.

    To feel that Jews act inconsistently with Polish national interests is one thing. Murdering Jews is something entirely different.

    Those who attack Poland like to falsely conflate the two, especially when it comes to the NSZ and the ONR.

    1. Thank you for your reply. This may be a suitable point for me to bow out. Thank you to all who took the trouble to read the review above and to comment.

  32. You said earlier "you've had your say". I don't know whether you were talking to me or to J Peczkis or both, but I got the impression you were signalling the end of the debate.

    I don't particularly want to get into an exchange with one person and monopolise this board, so that's why I'd rather finish now.

    Apart from that I'll be incommunicado for a while. Hope to post or comment again soon. Cheers, M

    1. Hi, Michal, what i said was i didn't want a lengthy debate on whether or not Jews or Poles suffered worse under the Nazis, and whether or not it is worthwhile to pay attention to that fact.

      Jews suffered worse.

      It is worthwhile to pay attention to that fact.

      Poles have not gotten their own story out, and their story will get out once they do the organizing tasks mentioned in the series of blog posts on the crisis in Polonian leadership, organization, and vision.

      I get really tired of reading posts saying that Poles are victims of evil, powerful Jews who won't let Poles tell their story. I know that this is nonsense and I don't want to give it any space.

      In any case, I haven't censored any posts in this thread.

      I hope you keep posting, Michal.

    2. "Jews suffered worse."

      This is true but only at the most general level. If you apply this concept to individuals, it become meaningless. Take a Jewish kid from a wealthy family. The family senses Hitler coming to power and they use their money and connections to exit Germany. Maybe they move to Sweden, if lucky, to America. In any event, say, all survive the war. Are they Holocaust survivors?

      Then take a Polish kid from the countryside. A bomb (German or otherwise) falls on his father's farm. Mother dies as a result. Then "partisans" come and take the father away. Never hears from father. In the meantime, the Germans come and "study" whether he qualifies for "reeducation" as an Aryan (& shipment to Germany). They let him go or take him away to Germany. Either way, he survives the war. is he a [Polocaust] survivor?

  33. I don't have much in common with J Peczkis or his views on politics but, is he actually denying that the Jews were the ones who suffered most under the Nazis? I think he's trying to make the point that the Poles also suffered but under both totalitarian regimes. In that sense he's not wrong. Where I think he goes massively wrong is to attribute to the Jews in general some kind of wish to present themselves as sole victims of WWII to the exclusion of all other groups or nations.

    I really must go. My cabbage awaits...

    1. "I really must go. My cabbage awaits..."

      Priceless exit line :-)

  34. Since Michal raised the question, allow me to clarify my position:

    I do not dispute the fact that, as a group, Jews were greater victims of the Nazis than the Poles as a group. What I object to is the contrived meritocracy that has been made of this.

    An analogy may help. By any rational measure, quadriplegics are greater victims of spinal cord injuries than are paraplegics. However, it does not follow that quadriplegics are therefore entitled to greater attention or moral significance than paraplegics.

    There is, unfortunately, a section of Holocaust-related Jewish thinking that actively attempts to elevate the suffering of Jews above all others’ genocides. I have reviewed a number of works on this matter. To see them, please see my Holocaust (Shoah) Misconceptions Corrected listmania by clicking on my name in this specific posting.

    Nor is it a matter of “getting the word out”. If there are enough wealthy and influential Jewish personages to open a Holocaust library or museum on every block, let them go right ahead. Good for them. What I object to is the privileged position of the Holocaust in the American educational curriculum. This is what is fundamentally unfair to Poles and other peoples who have experienced genocide, and this is what must change.

  35. On a somewhat different subject, today (September 1, 2014) is the 75th anniversary of the Nazi German attack on Poland that began WWII, and ended in the murder of 6 million Jews and 3 million Poles.

    Unfortunately, hoary Polonophobic myths about the 1939 war still go around. To see refutations of them, please click on my name in this specific posting.


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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