On August 10, 2017, a beloved Facebook friend shared a story he identified as one of "Degradation, humanity, survival and reunion. Read it."
I did read it. I discovered a bogus hoax that resorted to the Bieganski, Brute Polak Stereotype – exactly as described in my book of the same title.
You can read the entire story at the link below. Here's a summary: Polish women are invited by a Nazi to despoil Jews before those Jews are murdered. While despoiling the Jews in a brutal manner, one woman discovers a baby, which she raises with love and tenderness. The baby grows up, moves to Israel, and, sixty-two years after the start of World War II, after the 2001 Sbarro terror attack, meets her real father.
This much we know: the story is false. How do we know? There are only two possible sources for the story, both of them are dead, and the story depicts them in a very negative manner. How likely is it that a woman would tell a story depicting herself as an anti-Semitic monster? Not likely.
There's more. There are no facts in this story. No names. No dates. No numbers. If this really happened, would we not have at least one such fact? The name of the village? The name of the concentration camp or death camp? The name of any of the main characters?
Nazis kept the valuable property of conquered peoples for themselves. This is a widely-known fact. We have no reason to believe that Nazis would invite Polish women to take a fur coat, "gold jewelry, silver candlesticks and other heirlooms," or that Nazi guards would stand by passively as Polish women took these items. Everything we know about the Nazis tells us that this would never happen.
You can read about the Nazi's looting of conquered peoples' money and valuables here, here, here, and here.
The few facts mentioned beggar belief. The man at the end would have to be approximately ninety years old.
The Sbarro bombing received international attention. Would such an astounding and heartwarming story, if true, not have received international attention as well? And yet the only source for this story is Heroes of Faith, which is not a high-profile book. I wasn't able to find it, but I was able to find Heroes of Spirit, which may be the book the post cites. Titling it Heroes of Faith may have been an error. You can find Heroes of Spirit on Amazon, here.
For all these reasons, I have to assume that this story is invented, and that its inventor resorted to the Bieganski, brute Polak stereotype. Poles are the real bad guys of the Holocaust, not German Nazis, who simply stand around after inviting Poles to do horrible things to Jews.
I said so in my blog post on this topic, linked below. My blog post adheres to the facts at hand, and never veers into emotionality, though this hoax certainly might inspire outrage in a Polish reader.
A beloved Facebook friend responded. I would like to protect his anonymity, so I will call him "John Smith," meant to be a neutral pseudonym.
I like John Smith very much. He is, as his photos attest, handsome. He is very well educated. He is a professional, and, as such, he has a smooth public persona.
He is not the type to resort to all-caps or multiple-exclamation-point posting styles. He posts about substantial issues. He has numerous, vocal friends of a variety of viewpoints. He encourages them to express themselves on important matters in a civil fashion. All these aspects of his online presence attract me greatly.
After I posted about the above-summarized story, John posted on my page, "Danusha, at the risk of offending you on a subject you feel passionately about: During the Holocaust, some Poles looted and despoiled the Jews."
I assessed that comment as an insult.
John rejected my assessment. He attributed the problem in the conversation to me.
I wrote to John privately. I said, paraphrase, "Do you realize why what you said to me was so offensive? And, if not, may I please explain to you why what you said was so offensive?"
Let me break down John's comment.
"Danusha, at the risk…"
John opens by describing his talking to me as risky. Talking to a Polish woman apparently presents risks of which I am unaware. What does John fear I might do to him? I can only guess.
"…of offending you…"
Right. If a Jewish person mentions a historical fact to a Polish person that Polish person may become offended.
Yes, that assumption is offensive. Poles can handle facts. Facts don't automatically offend us. We are grownups. We have ethics. We don't live in denial.
"…on a subject you feel passionately about…"
I studied Polish-Jewish relations at the Jagiellonian University, the same university attended by Copernicus, Jan Sobieski, Malinowski, and Karol Wojtyla. I have an MA from UCB and a PhD from IUB. I published a prize-winning, well-reviewed book addressing the manipulation of stereotypes of Poles and Jews in retellings of the Holocaust narrative, the only, AFAIK, scholarly book expressly focused on that question. I've spoken about this topic in the US and Poland, at several different universities, including Brandeis and Georgetown.
But, to John, I am not a scholar. I am just about "feelings." "Passionate feelings."
By the way, John has not read my book.
Which is paramount in John's brain, I wonder? That I am just about "passionate feelings" because I am a Polak, because I am Catholic, because I am of peasant-descent, or because I am a woman?
Whereas he, the Jewish, professional man, is evidently not all about "passionate feelings."
In any case, please note that my original blog post, linked below, is not about feelings. Not even "passionate feelings." It's about facts. John addressed *none* of the facts.
John couldn't – with facts – defend the obscure, mistitled, and non-scholarly book that is the source of the anecdote. He could not defend the anecdote's absence of facts, or its contradiction of known historical facts.
No. He made no attempt to use any facts. He just attacked me, as an irrational creature of "passionate feelings."
"…During the Holocaust, some Poles looted and despoiled the Jews…"
This is the topper. It's lines like this that break my heart, anew, every time, and cause me to reflect that there may never be any serious long-term hope for Polish-Jewish reconciliation.
John and I have been Facebook friends for years. I genuinely like him. I have, I hope, been on good behavior with him. And yet he still looks at me, and sees Bieganski, the Brute Polak.
I am so stupid that I don't know that Poles did horrible things during World War II. And I need to be told this.
I am so venal that I can't confront, or don't care, that Poles did horrible things during World War II.
I am nothing more than a stereotype.
And John is flabbergasted, and completely clueless, why what he said to me was so offensive.
If this were just about John, that would be one thing. But it isn't just about John.
I can't count the number of times I've had this exact same experience. Poles are scary. It is risky to talk to Poles. Poles are "passionate" and can't address facts. Poles are in denial. Poles don't care about bad things Poles have done. Jews must educate Poles, but Poles are such brutes that education is impossible. Sigh. It's just so damn hard trying to talk to Poles.
I'm a real, living, breathing, flesh-and-blood human being, and John can't see me – because it serves him better to see the stereotype.
People ask me when the Brute Polak stereotype will fade. As I describe in my book, there is no reason to hope that it will fade as long as current cultural patterns continue. We are stereotyped for a reason, and those reasons still exist.
You can read the full text of the suspect story here.