|Let's go out into the woods and drink vodka. Source|
On December 6, 2014, the New York Review of Books blog ran an article, "Poland's Jews: Under a New Roof" by Shelley Salamensky. The article addresses the new POLIN: Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. The bulk of the article is very bland and unoriginal. It merely restates facts that might be found in something like a pamphlet or a Wikipedia article. Anyone who knows or cares anything about Polish-Jewish relations will be familiar with the facts relayed in the bulk of the article.
In its final paragraphs, the article presents a little Bieganski scenario. Poles are described as xenophobic, anti-modern, woodsy peasants. Excerpt:
"When in recent years I found myself in the area on research, its gentle landscape of forests and fields looked little changed from family tales…
While Polish national politics may be edging from far-right to right-center, Poland's southeast corner is a stronghold of anti-abortion, anti-feminist, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, and—with burgeoning Roma communities in Slovakia, just a few miles away—anti-Roma sentiment. It is still possible to encounter medieval Catholic notions of Jews as Christ-killers and money-grubbers, and while it is nearly impossible under Polish law for Jews to reclaim property confiscated in the World War II era, news of revival activity in Warsaw prompts fear that descendants of Polish Jews will show up and take their homes and farmland back.
However, so few natives who have stayed in the region have knowingly encountered Jews that this is less a matter of anti-Semitism than cultural insularity and ongoing misinformation…
In a mid-sized city near Sanok not long ago, I fell into conversation with a group of middle-aged Poles in a café. They informed me, in evident earnest, that Poland was poor today because "the Jews stole all the money from the treasury."
"When?" I asked.
"Before the war," a woman said. Others nodded.
"What did they do with it?"
"Ran off to Israel and New York."
When I asked about concentration camps, I was told that they were where Polish patriots were killed.
"Have you ever met a Jew?" I asked. A few said they'd seen some.
"What do Jews look like?" With their hands they traced bulbous noses and long sidecurls in the air.
"What would you say," I concluded after too much wódka, "if I told you I was a Jew?"…
But there is reason to believe that the museum's message of respect and understanding will be embraced, especially among younger generations exposed to new ideas by the Internet and, increasingly, employment abroad. After a thousand years, a few more shouldn't be so long to wait.
End of excerpt.
You can read Shelley Salamensky's full article here
The reader will not be focusing on the material in Salamensky's article that is merely a replay of material found elsewhere. Salamensky's original contribution is the anecdote about the allegedly anti-Semitic, backward Polaks with whom she drinks vodka.
Poland, it is implied, has been an oppressive place for Jews for a thousand years. Jews are "waiting" for tolerance in Poland. Tolerance will be imported by Poles who travel abroad and learn about it abroad, and bring it back home. And, of course, from the Internet.
"Bieganski" takes on, and dismantles, the idea that "tolerance" is "modern" and that "backward, primitive" Poland must import it from more modern locales.
I learned of this article through an email sent by a Polonian. "I wanted to cry when I saw this," the Polonian said to me.
I understand my correspondent's tears, but I wanted to confirm. "Why did you want to cry?" I asked.
My correspondent made clear why he/she wanted to cry. The article goes out of its way to depict Poles as primitive bigots. The article does this while ostensibly celebrating a much-heralded new museum dedicated to Polish Jews.
The article smears all Poles on the basis of rather flimsy grounds. A group of unnamed Poles associated Jews with money, large noses and forelocks.
News flash: it is conventional for people around the world to associate Jews with money, large noses and forelocks. Jews make this association themselves. That may be a good thing, a neutral thing, or a bad thing. One thing it is certainly not is a Polish thing.
The idea that Jews stole money from the treasury and ran off to Israel and New York is a new one for me. I have never heard that. I don't doubt that there are Poles who believe it.
Salamensky concludes her otherwise bland article with this ugly, provocative anecdote. It is what the reader will remember. This ugly, inflammatory anecdote is the takeaway.
I would never do what Salamensky does here. I would never end something that I hoped thousands of people would read with an ugly, inflammatory anecdote depicting Jews sitting around a table, handling coins – the closest analog I can come up with to Poles in a woodsy, rural location sitting around drinking vodka – and talking about what animals Poles are.
Bieganski is in the details here. No, Salamensky never says "Poles are the world's worst antisemites." She doesn't have to.
One more thing. The Polonian who sent me this link asked that I not publicly identify him/her, and I will not.
This Polonian understands that there are consequences for Polonians who speak out about the Bieganski stereotype.
I understand that, too. I have spoken out, on the record, about the Bieganski stereotype. I have paid the price, and the work has not been, for the most part, supported by Polonia. An example. I've been invited to speak by Jewish institutions. I am still waiting to be invited to speak by a Polish one. Hello, Kosciuszko Foundation. Hello, Indiana Univeristy Polish Studies Center. I spoke there under the late Tim Wiles and I would very much like to speak there again. Hello Polish American Congress.
One step in addressing the Bieganski stereotype: Polonia needs to support her own.
Update: more on this topic here
Update: more on this topic here