Saturday, April 25, 2015

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski. A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

Rod and Sue Martinez Source
Wladyslaw Bartoszewski died yesterday.

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski was a world-class hero. We, Polonia, should have created school curricula where every school child in America knew his name. We did not.

What did we do instead?

Most Polonians don't know about world-class heroes like Bartoszewski. If they are engaged in any Polish-related activities at all, those activities are limited to pierogis, polka, and celebrating Polish victories in soccer matches.

Those Polonians who do care about advancing Polish culture are all too often fractious and focused on taking down perceived enemies, rather than advancing Polish authors, artists, poets, and scholars.

Polonians are currently circulating a petition to get FBI director James Comey fired. Polonians have recently tried to squash "Ida," a black-and-white, slow-moving, Polish-language art film that would only ever be seen by very few people.

Both of these protests are misguided. Polonia will not advance by trying to sabotage others. Polonians will advance by supporting their own authors, artists, storytellers and poets.

Too many Polonians who do care about advancing Polish culture fall back on anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. I received this email the other day. "Jewish and Soviet influence on film, anti-Polish themes, story-lines, characterisations, and ethnic portrayals…those powers that be out there, who hide behind elaborate chains of ownership, changed names (lots of that in Poland and elsewhere) and shell companies can pull strings and set policies that are absolutely undetectable – which is exactly how they want it. So, don't under-estimate nor over-estimate Jewish influence in all manner of global activities – but certainly Do Not Deny it is happening."

What can one say to this man? Jews are 0.2 percent of the world population – maybe 13 million people. There are tens of millions of Poles, not to mention one billion Catholics. And Jews have often been the ones telling our story in a sympathetic way.

I have been working on the Brute Polak stereotype for over 25 years. I've published. I give talks, including to Jewish groups at Jewish institutions. The Kosciuszko Foundation says it is concerned with negative stereotypes of Poles. I have written to the Kosciuszko Foundation repeatedly offering my services. I receive no reply.

The other day I gave a talk on a college campus. The talk was well received. There were two Jewish American scholars present. They were interested, respectful and engaged. I am surrounded by heavily Polish communities, including Wallington and Greenpoint. No Polish-Americans showed up to the talk.

I reviewed Wladyslaw Bartoszewski's book "Samaritans: Heroes of the Holocaust" eight years ago. I posted the review on my blog, on Amazon, on Polish discussion lists. I begged Polonians to buy, read, review, and share Bartoszewski's book. I visited the Amazon page for the book today and I see there are still only two reviews. It also appears to be out of print.

Polonia, you don't need to peek nervously under your bed for the secret Jews you fear are tormenting you. You do need to organize, advance your own heroes, support your own artists, writers, and poets, and tell your own story.

Below please find a summary of an article by Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, and a review of a book he wrote.

The information, below, is from Wladyslaw Bartoszewski's 1989 article, "The Founding of the All-Polish Anti-Racist League in 1946."

After WW II in Poland, pogroms broke out. In towns like Kielce, Polish Catholics murdered Polish Jews. These Jews were Holocaust survivors. Bartoszewski organized reaction against these pogroms. Quotes below are from his article revisiting this history of Polish resistance to hate. Even though many are eager to speak of crimes committed by Poles, almost no one knows of Polish Catholic organized resistance to hate.

"There are no accounts in histories of Poland after the Second World War of the All-Polish Anti-Racist League, founded in 1946 … it is a waste of time to search scholarly works for even a brief mention of the League, its origins and public activities, or the contents of the League's publication, Prawo Czlowieka (The Rights of Man.) …scholars have not been interested in its existence" (243).

After WW II, the Soviet Union invaded Poland. Poland experienced something like a civil war. "Acts of repression, violence, and terror, mass arrests, deportations, bloody confrontations claiming thousands of dead and injured, were an everyday occurrence, particularly in the first year. Through ruthless political and police methods, a new political order and system was introduced, which was rejected by a significant part of society … the tragedy of the genocide of the Jews was, after all, a great psychological shock for many Poles" (244).

"Both in the Polish press and on the radio at that time there was no lack of voices to oppose these tragic incidents, and the recent suffering and extermination of Jewish society in Poland were also mentioned. Articles, memoirs, and references to the subject can be found in the first post-war dailies Robotnik, Dziennik Ludowy, Gazeta Ludowa, Kurier Codzienny, in the weeklies Nowa Epoka, Odrodzenie, and particularly in the Krakow Tygodnik Powszechny" (247).

"An initiative was taken during the first weeks of 1946 by former members of the occupation Council for Aid to the Jews. This was to establish a loosely structured, all-Polish society to discuss the problem for the moral and political danger for Poland and the Poles of actions dictated by anti-Semitic views and anti-Jewish prejudices, whatever their causes. [Former members of Zygota] Were unanimous in recognizing the importance of using their own authority and enlisting the public support of others of importance in the struggle against the degrading chauvinism in Poland, against manifestations of national, religious, and racial hatred, and, above all, against all unsympathetic or hostile attitudes towards Jews who had survived … a group met in Warsaw on 30 March, 1946."

In April 1946 a pamphlet was published and appeals appeared in many national and local dailies, calling for the establishment of an Organization committee for the All Polish Anti-Racist League.

[from pamphlet]

"On 30 March 1946 a group of social and political activists, representing all circles of Polish social and political thought, prompted by deep moral feelings and sharing the conviction that the interests of the Polish nation required nationwide action in the struggle against racism, have established an Organizational Committee for the All-Polish Anti-Racist League, based in Warsaw."

The pamphlet lists ten officers. The majority were former members of Zegota. There was a socialist, a journalist, a philologist, members of the Home Army, a theater worker, and a member of the union of rural youth (248).

Their program:

"The whole of the evil and barbarity of Nazism can be summed up in the slogan: racism, anti-semitism, pogrom. Here, writ large, was all that is worst in man, everything expressing crime and darkness and depriving human society of its right to live, simply because it is alive. Under this banner, man's lowest instincts take precedence over a thousand years of Christian spiritual civilization. The degradation of humanity, the numbing of man's sensitivity to the pain and suffering of his neighbor, the corrupting of human conscience – this is the work and sin of racism. The fight against this evil in Poland is not only the concern of a handful of our Jewish fellow-citizens: the fight against evil is the concern of man, of every man, and is a question of the nation's moral honor."

"The most important task now in Poland is the reconstruction of social and economic life, destroyed by the Germans. No less crucial is the need to rebuild the spirit of the nation, to educate people in the spirit of brotherhood. In this momentous work we should follow the ideals of Kosciuszko and Mickiewicz, Czacki and Lelewel, Orzeszkowa and Konopnicka, Zeromski and Strug. We shall follow the great truths of humanism and humanity.

An example to us should be the all-Polish action of the Council for Aid to the Jews which led the way in helping the victims of racism and anti-Semitism during the occupation, when responsible people from all sections of society, the intelligentsia, workers and peasants, whatever their political affiliations, socialists and populists, members of the PPR and SD, Catholics and free thinkers, rushed to help the victims of racism. In the name of human conscience, in the name of Polish culture and the vital interests of the state, this work is being continued by the All-Polish Anti-Racist League."

The Anti-Racist League was careful to list, as quoted above, Polish heroes, male and female, who struggled for justice (249).

The establishment of the league was noted sympathetically in the American, British, and French press (250).

League members strenuously protested the pogrom in Kielce, in July, 1946. League members called the murderers "scum" (250-51).

Bartoszewski mentions the signatories of the condemnation of the Kielce Pogrom. They include a Catholic priest (252).

The anti-racist league appealed to the Catholic church hierarchy. The league received no reply (253).

Bartoszewski himself was falsely accused by the communists and sent to jail. The communists took control of, and distorted, the League's publications. They were no longer to talk about anti-Semitism; rather, they were to talk of "'American and British imperialists' persecuting Negroes and other colored peoples."

Below please find a review of Bartoszewski's book "The Samaritans."

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski's and Zofia Lewin's "The Samaritans: Heroes of the Holocaust" is one of the most thrilling, moving, and profound books you will ever read. It is one of the top ten books I've read in my entire life. I hope never to forget the lessons it teaches.

In a sense, the stories "Samaritans" contains are simple; their details are the details of concrete choices made in face-to-face human encounters. No one here commands a battleship, great armies, or the attention of the masses. Average people, very much like you and me -- children, blue collar laborers, office workers, a gang of drunks out on a spree --  simply decide to exercise the limited powers they have to make a positive difference in one human life. In doing simple, common things, the real people in these pages display a heroism that is overwhelming in its purity.

On a dirt road, an imprisoned Jew begs Maria Kobierska, a small Polish Catholic girl, for water as, nearby, Nazis guard the transport . . . a Warsaw man must determine a way to dispose of the bodily waste of the many Jews he has hidden in the attic of his apartment building, unbeknownst to his fellow apartment dwellers . . . Dominican Mother Superior Anna Borkowska instructs Jewish resistance fighter and her "right hand," Abba Kovner, in the use of the grenades she brings him . . . carriage maker Staszek Jackowski continually extends an underground bunker in which he eventually hides 32 Jews just two blocks away from Gestapo headquarters . . . secret agent Stefan Korbonski cannot understand why the BBC will not publish the war news he has been sending, at great risk, from occupied Poland . . . finally he is told . . . The Brits refuse to believe Korbonski's report of the Nazi genocide of Jews.

"Samaritans" is an anthology of short accounts of Poles who saved Jews during World War Two. The accounts range from one to several pages. Some are told by the rescued; some by rescuers; a few are told by third parties.

Because they are first-person accounts, some written shortly after the war, some written during the war, reading them requires attention and patience. It's as if you are reading the private diaries of dozens of separate people. You may be a paragraph or two into an account before you are fully oriented -- before you know exactly what town you're in, how old the main characters are, or even their gender. Be patient. These accounts, unmediated and unedited as they are, display raw power. These accounts convey an immediacy and an urgency that more carefully edited versions of the Holocaust do not.

It's exactly because the stories involve average, obscure people in everyday settings in which you can imagine yourself that they have so much power. This book isn't about Hitler or Eisenhower or Roosevelt. It's about a drunk stumbling home across a short-cut, and stumbling onto an escaping family in need of help. The drunk could ignore the people he's stumbled across; he could turn them in and make a tidy fortune for himself; or he could help them.

You can imagine yourself in these scenes. When was the last time you saw someone in need on the shoulder of a highway? Did you stop? Or did you just ignore the needy person, hoping someone else would take care of it? In short, these stories, about an epochal event in a country far away, are also about our everyday lives, and our everyday choices. Are we the kind that looks away and assumes that someone else will take care of it? Are we the kind that profits from someone else's misfortune? Are we the kind that risks, and that helps? When we are offered the opportunity to be heroes, what do we do?

"Samaritans" is an invitation. It proclaims: the only thing separating a hero from you or me is simple human choice. Experts insist that we are all selfish Darwinian wind-up toys, that ideals are silly fantasy only a fool believes in, that focus on pleasuring the self is the only good. The selfless heroism of these Samaritans incinerates cynicism. Driven by faith --  "Because I was a Catholic" --  by political ideals -- "as a Socialist" --  by loyalty --   "He was my friend" --  by personal integrity -- "I knew I could never live with myself otherwise" -- these Samaritans risked torture and death. With people like this in the world, we have to acknowledge that there is such a thing as goodness, and that we can exercise it whenever we so choose.

No one featured in "Samaritans" was solely responsible for the salvation of an individual Jew or a group of Jews. As historians point out, it took only one traitor to betray a Jew to the Nazis, but it took several people, perhaps even an entire village, to protect one Jew. Again and again, Jews on the run encounter person after person who can't take responsibility for their entire safety, but who can give shelter for the night, a new suit of clothes, counterfeit documents, or even just a glass of water.

As small as these gestures were, Poles were tortured and killed for them. Maria, the Polish girl who provided water to a thirsty Jew, was arrested and damaged for life. Other Poles featured here were beaten to death, put in concentration camps, and burned alive. Children as young as three were shot to death.

It is a sin and a crime that this book is so little known. While other, important books detail the crimes we committed during World War Two, a book that proves the reality of human goodness is out of print. By letting this book go out of print, we have let humanity down. Buy it, read it, stock libraries with it: the least we can do. 


  1. Poland needs an active and well organized Polonia. When polish authorities protest - it has little effect. It's easy to ignore voices coming from some distant country. When angry voices are coming from your own backyard- it's a different situation.
    If things continue as they're going, Polish-American relations will continue to deteriorate.

    1. Lukasz I could not agree with you more.

      And thank you again for alerting me to his passing.

    2. You're welcome. I wasn't sure if american media will notice that sad news. After all he was a Pole.

    3. Lukasz I have seen zero coverage in American media. I get my news from Google news, and from the radio, and from what others around me say. I don't know if anyone is covering it.

  2. He was a zionist jew and a trator. Good riddance!

  3. Bartoszewski was born Bartman.


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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