Friday, June 24, 2016

John Guzlowski "Echoes of Tattered Tongues" on the Leonard Lopate Show

Buy Echoes of Tattered Tongues at Amazon here

On Monday, June 20, 2016, Poet John Z Guzlowski appeared on WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show. This is a big deal. Lopate is a serious and well-informed interviewer. 

I've been listening to the show for years. I don't think I've ever heard anyone present the Polish side of things on the show. I'm not saying it hasn't happened; I'm saying I've never heard it, and I am a regular listener. 

That John Z Guzlowski was able to appear on the show and present our story in poetic form is a big deal. A very big deal.

I was fascinated by Lopate's first two questions. I'm not sure they were really his first two questions; they are the first two that struck me. 

My paraphrase: "But but your parents were Polish Catholics. How did they end up in a Nazi concentration camp?" 

Really. Really. This very well educated man had to ask that. 

Second question. "How was the treatment of your parents different from the treatment of Jews?" 

Really. Really. John's parents, like many Polish Catholics during WW II, lived through hell. 

And that ... is somehow ... in and of itself ... not worthy of what ... not worthy of attention. 

The rape, murder, torture, dismemberment, enslavement, dispossession, concentration camp internment -- somehow not significant. Somehow must be seen *in comparison to* another story. 

No one would interview a Jewish poet writing about his father's experience of Buchenwald by first asking, "How did your parent's suffering compare to Gentile suffering?" 

Look -- we all know that the Holocaust deserves special attention. 

But if you are a talk show host and your guest is poet John Z Guzlowski, perhaps show some attention, upfront, to what his parents went through. And don't belittle him, his work, or his parents by putting them in the shadow. 

Let them tell you their story. 

Listen to John Z Guzlowski read from Echoes of Tattered Tongues here


  1. I have listened to the program, and can identify. My parents and grandparents had been in Nazi and Soviet concentration camps.

    I am not the least bit surprised that the interviewer didn’t have so much as a clue that Poles were also victims of the Nazis. This has happened many times before.

    As to who was treated worse (Poles or Jews), it varied from camp to camp. Based on my reviews of books on Nazi German concentration camps, I conclude that Jews were treated no worse than Poles, in most cases.

    Nazi policy towards Jews was internally inconsistent. Jewish forced laborers who were indispensable to the German war effort were nevertheless sent to their deaths. In other cases, however, Jewish forced laborers who were not crucial to the German war effort were spared, and ended up surviving the war. Go figure.

    “My paraphrase: "But but your parents were Polish Catholics. How did they end up in a Nazi concentration camp?"

    Really. Really. This very well educated man had to ask that.”

    “Look -- we all know that the Holocaust deserves special attention.”

    But that is just the problem! So long as we buy into the notion that Jewish suffering is special, we will continue to face this ignorance, disbelief, and non-internalization of the fact that Poles were also victims of the Germans-Nazis.

  2. "So long as we buy into the notion that Jewish suffering is special"

    Everyone knows that that is not the issue.

    Jews were targeted and eliminated in ways that Poles and others were not.

    Decent people acknowledge that.

    The problem is that Polish suffering is not honored in and of itself.

    Only Polonians can change that.

    1. I think that the best answer to this is the work of American Jew Peter Novick, who wrote THE HOLOCAUST IN AMERICAN LIFE.

      Novick strongly rejects any notion of the uniqueness of Jewish deaths, and is especially critical of the notion, as he puts it (p. 9), of: "Your catastrophe, unlike ours, is ordinary; unlike ours is comprehensible; unlike ours is representable." Elie Wiesel has vulgarly equated the notion of expanding the Holocaust (to encompass the millions of Poles murdered by the Germans) with expanding the victims of the Crucifixion to include the two thieves executed with Jesus Christ (p. 219).

      Whose sufferings are memorialized and whose are forgotten inescapably boils down to which group has power and influence. Novick frankly writes (p. 12): "When a high level of concern with the Holocaust became widespread in American Jewry, it was, given the important role that Jews play in American media and opinion-making elites, not only natural, but virtually inevitable that it would spread throughout the culture at large." Conversely, Novick recognizes (p. 233) that Poles and Ukrainians: "never had the political, cultural, or financial resources to press their case".

      That says it all.

    2. People tend to focus on one group of victims. It makes things more simple.
      We say "Armenian genocide" or "massacres of Poles by UPA".
      Assyrians, Greeks and Maronites were also targeted for extermination by the Turks.
      UPA murdered not only ethnic Poles, but also Jews, Armenians, Czechs and Russians.
      Seems that number of victims matters.

  3. Powerful stuff from John Guzlowski. The image of a "flash of lightning" is very apt. He expresses in a single short poem what many prose writers might struggle to convey in many paragraphs.

  4. " the work of American Jew Peter Novick"

    It's important to convey our respect for each other in how we phrase things.

    This phrasing is offensive.

    1. No offense intended.

      In fact, I very much respect people such as Peter Novick.

  5. Jan thanks for letting me know.

    FWIW, you might want to have a look at this:

    According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (2000):

    It is widely recognized that the attributive use of the noun Jew, in phrases such as Jew lawyer or Jew ethics, is both vulgar and highly offensive. In such contexts Jewish is the only acceptable possibility. Some people, however, have become so wary of this construction that they have extended the stigma to any use of Jew as a noun, a practice that carries risks of its own. In a sentence such as There are now several Jews on the council, which is unobjectionable, the substitution of a circumlocution like Jewish people or persons of Jewish background may in itself cause offense for seeming to imply that Jew has a negative connotation when used as a noun.[5]

    1. Good to know. Is "Jewish-American" an acceptable name?

  6. OK.

    I wish there was half as much sensitivity when the subject of discussion is Poles.


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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