Thursday, December 4, 2014

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"


  1. Now I know the definition of righteouness by Westerners. It is willingness to sacrifice Pollacks to save Jews.
    In Poland it is willingness to sacrifice yourself to save other Pollacks. They may accidentally be Jews.
    How barbaric we Pollacks are!

  2. In a lot of ways, this is a silly book.

    There is an absurd love plot, and a mysterious birth plot straight out of Dickens.

    When the novel finally turns to Auschwitz and the Holocaust, it reads like a Facebook discussion. The people on the retreat to Auschwitz throw around statements about the Holocaust, and then they disappear. There are more than a hundred people on the retreat.

    Threaded through this are ridiculous statements about Poles--the women have hairy armpits and BO, all Poles drink too much and are snooty and pretentious, they and other Christians are responsible for the Holocaust. On and on.

    Even the main character (a Polish American scholar of Holocaust poetry) is not a very appealing character. Moody, cranky, sexist, shallow.

    A clumsy novel, all in all, written by someone who appears too tired to write a serious novel about the Holocaust.

    A reader would be better off reading one of the writers that the main character says he's researching: Milosz, Szymborska, Tadeusz Borowski, or Primo Levi.

    There one will learn about the Holocaust. Not in Peter Matthiessen’s sketchy book.


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.
These themes include the false and damaging stereotype of Poles as brutes who are uniquely hateful and responsible for atrocity, and this stereotype's use in distorting WW II history and all accounts of atrocity.
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