Sunday, February 18, 2018

Haaretz and Bieganski: How Poles Are More Vilified as 'Bestial' Brute Jew Killers Than German Nazis Themselves


Haaretz published today a piece by me entitled, "How Poles Are More Vilified as 'Bestial' Brute Jew Killers Than German Nazis Themselves."

You can read the piece at Haaretz here

The full text is below. 

I am very grateful to Haaretz editor Esther Solomon who worked with me on this piece. 


To many observers, not least those who are neither Polish nor Jewish, the highly critical press coverage of Poland's new Holocaust law which seeks to criminalize declaring the complicity of the Polish nation in the murder of Jews in WWII, appears both simple and clear.

Poles contributed enthusiastically to the genocide of six million Jews. Poles did so because they are staunchly Catholic, simple-minded and chauvinistic. Right-thinking observers must perpetually goad Poles to drop their defenses, acknowledge their guilt, and make amends.

Polish-Jewish relations are thus reduced to a calculation performed with black and white beads on one rod of an abacus. The black beads represent the bad, anti-Semitic Poles. The white beads represent the exceptional, prejudice-free Poles. A "true" historical retelling is only achieved when the black beads far outnumber the white beads. The token righteous white bead – Jan Karski – is the main concession to any semblance of balance. Karski was the Polish Home Army officer who brought the first eyewitness account of the Holocaust to Roosevelt.

The abacus approach dominates public discussion. But it is intellectually and ethically bankrupt, not just because it distorts beyond recognition a thousand years of Polish-Jewish interaction and the unique horror of 1939-1945. The abacus prevents historical clarity and ethical responsibility. And this debate matters very much in the era of Trump.

In my book Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype, I explored how people talk about the Holocaust, its victims and its executors. Many, though not all, of those I interviewed talked about Poles quite differently from how they talked about Germans.

Visceral vocabulary and animal references were prominent. This trend can be found in Fania Fenelon's Auschwitz memoir Playing for Time. Fenelon writes that Poles exhibit a "particularly disturbing" "bestiality;" they are "monsters," "brick-faced," "servile," "pigs," "bitches," "pests," and "a real cow." A Polish woman has "piercing little black eyes like two glinting gems of anthracite set in a block of lard; she was shapeless and gelatinous." A Polish woman "was big and fat and as strong as a man – a monster! One would have been hard put to find any human traits in her at all."

Survivors often did not apply such visceral language to German Nazis. Fenelon describes one officer. "Goodness, he was handsome. So handsome that the girls instinctively rediscovered the forgotten motions of another world, running dampened fingers through their lashes to make them shine, biting their lips, swelling their mouths, pulling at their skirts and tops. Under the gaze of this man one felt oneself become a woman again." This Nazi "wore his uniform with incomparable ease and style … Insouciantly he laughed and joked, conscious of his charm." Fenelon is describing Dr. Josef Mengele.

Nazis are not seen as representational of Germany, a nation frequently referred to as "civilized" and "decent" in contrast to "backward, gray, gothic, primitive, Catholic" Poland." One madman, Hitler, exploiting unique historical circumstance, Germany's humiliating WWI defeat, and the punitive Versailles Treaty, forced otherwise "decent" Germans to commit anti-Semitic crimes.

Poles, on the other hand, as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said, "imbibe anti-Semitism with their mother's milk." One online post I saw stated Poles "were like American rednecks from the Ole South who loathed blacks."

All Poles were, had always been, and would always be, chomping at the bit to murder Jews. Scholars who have abandoned such racist essentializing in reference to other ethnicities, apparently still believe it's legitimate practice in regard to Poles, such as Paul Berman's 1994 New Yorker article that referred to "darkest Poland".

Even scholarly reviews of books about Nazi war criminals and Polish war criminals use very different language. Scholars work hard to distinguish Nazism from German identity. When Poles commit crimes, Poles qua Poles are guilty.

Even when Jan Tomasz Gross published, in 2001 Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland and 2006's Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz, which did not advance a theory of Polish ethnicity as essentially debased, the media response rushed to form that very conclusion.

Professor Joan Mellen's review makes this clear: Poles qua Poles are guilty. "Polish citizens of all classes…Poles of all social classes … The old order and the army, the new Communist apparatus, the cardinal and his bishops – all conspired to kill Poland's remaining Jews," she indicts. Note the adjective: "all." All Poles are murderous anti-Semites. Why? Because "Anti-Semitism was so embedded in the culture of Poland. [Poles express] pure, unregenerate evil."

Elie Wiesel described post-war anti-Semitism in Poland using this same vocabulary of bestiality: "low, primitive, vile and ugly in the human animal."

With increasing frequency, Polish, Catholic peasants, not German Nazis, are positioned as the quintessential Holocaust criminal. It is easier for clean, well-educated, progressive audiences to accept dirty, backward, superstitious peasants as the perpetrators of the twentieth century's most notorious crime. German Nazis are too like modern audiences.

Leading Nazis were, like us, clean, modern, progressive, and well-educated. In fact, though, Nazism was not the fruit of the village, the church, or the past. Scientific racism was a product of the university, the place that true moderns believe will rectify our primitive errors and make us better people.

America engages in a similar sleight-of-hand. Poor, white, rural, Christian Southerners are deployed universally as a personification of the ultimate hater. In our movies, "rednecks" are idiot savant banjo players and anal rapists, as in the film Deliverance. Poor white southerners, rednecks, trailer trash, and hillbillies, are to blame for slavery and Jim Crow. As long as a toothless, drawling pick-up truck driver dominates the crime scene, the rest of us are exonerated. Poor whites recognize their demonization. Thus, they flocked to Trump, their putative champion.

Just so with the brute Polak stereotype being trotted out, with abacus accessory, to remove guilt from the "civilized" world for the Holocaust. As long as anti-Semitism is a crime committed by dirt-stained Catholic farmers, not by educated, "handsome" elites, modern, progressive Americans are insulated from the agony of confronting what human beings can do. And Poles will recognize their demonization, and flock to ever-more nationalist champions.

We need to recognize that the monolithic stereotyping of Poles actually damages our understanding of complicity and responsibility for the Holocaust.

As Gitta Sereny wrote in her 1996 article, "The Complexities of Complicity," in the London Times, challenging the anti-German essentializing of Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners: "Murderous bigotry is not ingrained in the character of any one nation but is part of the human condition. It is not only young Germans who, as did happen after 1945, needed to be retaught humanity, but all children [of all races] need to learn this now and forevermore."

I support free speech and I oppose this new Polish law. But the tumult that prompted the law will not die down till the false stereotypical calculus of the abacus is smashed.

We need, rather, a mirror. The author of atrocity is not them; it's us.

Danusha Goska is the author of Bieganski, the Brute Polak Stereotype (Academic Studies Press, 2010). You can read the first chapter of the book here.

26 comments:

  1. I have read your article in HAARETZ. It is excellent.

    The whole purpose of the Holocaust establishment is to create and maintain a moral high ground, which in turn only works when other nations can be blamed for all sorts of things.

    And Poland gets it the worst because she is on the bottom of the totem Pole in this decades-old blame game.

    It is no more complicated than that.

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  2. Jan

    "The whole purpose of the Holocaust establishment is to create and maintain a moral high ground"

    No, it's not. And there really is no "Holocaust establishment."

    People should be educated about the Holocaust.

    And if Poland is "on the bottom" who does Poland have to blame? There are tens of millions of Poles in Poland and millions of Polonians outside of Poland.

    No one is stopping Poles and Polonians from engaging in their own education project.

    Please note that the two articles I've written on this topic have been published by publications with significant Jewish editorial authority.

    Where are the Polish or Polonian media outlets publishing my work?

    They don't exist.

    Polonia can solve Polonia's problems.

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    1. "Where are the Polish or Polonian media outlets publishing my work? "

      http://www.wysokizamek.com.pl/upload/file/Bieganski_Tygodnik%20Powszechny.pdf

      https://wpolityce.pl/polityka/382219-amerykanska-pisarka-w-haaretz-zydzi-uwazaja-wszystkich-polakow-za-antysemickie-bestie-niemcow-natomiast-usprawiedliwiaja-na-kazdym-kroku

      Delete
  3. This is an excellent article, Danusha: clear, pertinent to recent discussions, & supported by examples from popular journalism & scholarship. Thank you, in particular, for citing Gitta Sereny's laser-sharp assertions regarding the human condition.

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    1. I'm glad you liked the article. I hope you will read the whole book. :-)

      The initial piece I sent Haaretz did not include the Sereny quote. I sent in a shorter piece. The editor wanted more facts to be fleshed out so I took material from the book. Thus, the quote to which you refer.

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  4. Congratulations, dr Goska, it is a wonderful, articulate and erudite article. Good job to Haaretz for publishing it too.

    Unfortunately, many such articles and much work of people of good will will be needed to undo the damage wrought by the PIS government. It was even stated today by Szewach Weiss, a great friend of Poland who has so far been rather supportive of this government. Now he is saying they are reversing the progress of the last 25 years.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the positive feedback. Much appreciated. Nothing will ever erase what people of good will have done. Even it we can't see it, God is at work in the world.

      Delete
    2. Dear Piotr, what progress? Now we know the truth and do not live in the matrix aby konger. Time to leave our viciously abusive "friends".

      Delete
  5. Thank you, Dr. Goska for your splendid article. We should discuss all this matters, of course. In the same time, however, I would like to confess: I am a strong supporter of new Polish IPN Law. You see, in 1939 my Father fought with the Polish Navy (the Hel Peninsula) against the German agression. Then he spent next 6 years as a P.O.W. His first wife died (from malnutrition diseases, etc.), leaving two kids, (my stepsister and stepbrother), just immediately after my Father returned from the German P.O.W. camp. My Grandfather, from my Mother's side, died in 1940 in the Ural mines. One good Jew brought to his wife his old-fashioned clock, only thing spared; nothing left after him. No graveyard. Pretty soon the rest of this family went to Siberia. They survived, however their health were rather broken. When the second wife of my Father, my Mother, gave the birth, I was borne. In the very same moment my Mother died. I have never seen her alive. And so on... . The third wife of my Father rised me. Her sister perished in the Wola Massacre, her brother was killed in the Warsaw Uprising (both 1944). My Wife's aunt, the nun, was killed by Germans in the concentration camp. My Mother-in-Law's family survived, albeit with poor health, among the others, because, a some German neighbor gave them some milk from time to time. She was a good, decent woman, just like the Jew, I mentioned, who bruoght my Grandpa's clock. And so on... and so on. We are ordinary Polish people. Hitler & Stalin, and their supporters did us all this harm. It supposed to be like a kind of Memento for the Mankind.
    I am very glad that the present Polish government very clearly stated to the whole World that it was no 'Polish Death Camps' in existence during WWII. We are (just like the Israelis) the nation of fighters. Nothing less. So..., now you understand.
    For your convenience (and all concerned): http://www.msz.gov.pl/resource/e7497fea-f446-4f82-80b1-169d609d697a:JCR
    Antoni J. Wrega, Warsaw, Poland

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    1. Antoni J Wrega, first, I am sorry for all the suffering you and your family have endured.

      Second, you write, "So..., now you understand."

      That's a rather unfortunate and insulting sentence. I have spent thirty years studying Polish Jewish relations. I have interviewed people with stories like you. I tell these stories in my prize winning book, which I hope you will read.

      I do not publish on this matter without much hard work.

      Delete
    2. Sorry, Dr. Goska. Do not feel being insulted, please. "So..., now you understand" -- it was definitely not to you; rather to ignorants all over the World. You are clearly, not part of them.

      Delete
    3. Toni W. Thank you. I spoke in haste. If you saw the feedback I generally get, I think you'd understand my touchiness. For a sample, see Sue Knight's post elsewhere on this page. She quotes some of the reaction at Haaretz, which, alas, is not atypical.

      Delete
  6. Danusha,
    Very well written exposition. Congratulations for having Haaretz publish it.
    Your example of black and white beads on one rod of an abacus is spot on. All are black except for a white one, which is all that will be permitted to collectively represent Jan Karski, Irena Sendler, Witold Pilecki, the Ulma family, ┼╗egota, and a multitude of others acknowledged and not at Yad Vashem. And of course, allowance must not be made for the many required shades of gray.
    Because most Americans learn virtually nothing of Polish history and culture, the black beads have come to represent the false, malicious, and defamatory narrative that has been widely and thoughtlessly accepted as fact. As you point out, that narrative, particularly during World War II, portrays Poles as intrinsically backward and bestial, as well as embodying a natural predisposition toward evil that transcends that of the Germans.
    While I support neither this law nor Holocaust Denial laws, I’m hopeful that the discourse generated by the Polish law will help elicit the many shades of gray that are critically needed to correct the narrative, provide an accurate portrayal, and ultimately smash, as you so well put it, “the false stereotypical calculus of the abacus.”

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for the positive feedback. Much appreciated.

      Delete
  7. I have commented on the article - answering a nasty comment accusing you of being "racist" and of "Holocaust Denial".

    What a lot of hatred there is. If people would only listen to the Creator, the God of Abraham... well, I hope to be zimmering about on the doors tomorrow trying to tell all who listen.

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  8. Gratuluje,

    Amazing that Haaretz published it, as it's the most leftist and polonophobic paper in Israel. I submitted a well-written, pro-Poland article on the "Polish concentration camps" issue to Jerusalem Post -- putatively a "conservative" paper -- and they have not even responded.

    What I don't understand is this: During WW2, Poland had the largest underground army in Europe, the largest organization for rescuing Jews, and the largest number of private initiatives to rescue Jews -- at the highest personal cost to the rescuers and their families.

    On the other hand, Hungary was on Hitler's side, had a collaborationist government, had its Jews rounded and roughed up by Hungarians and delivered into German hands and, ultimately, Auschwitz. 20.2% of Hungarians voted in 2014 for the overtly fascist, explicitly anti-Semitic Jobbik party.

    Yet Netanyahu is pals with Orban, supports him in the fight with Soros (which I applaud), there is hardly any attack on Hungary by Jewish voices, except if they speak as prog-lefties, not Jews. All this fury of Israel and the world's Jewry plus their amen corner in the progmedia (there are none other) is directed solely at Poland.

    Weird...

    Max Denken

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    1. Max,

      Not weird at all. According to one theory, Poland is the target because Poland has the money. It's all about "property restitution".

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    2. I completely reject this theory.

      Delete
    3. Mr Jan Peczkis always has the answer. Funnily enough, it's always the same one.

      Delete
    4. Haaretz the most Polonophobic paper? Your theory drives from your view of the left as being Polonophobic. Jerusalem Post and the Times of Israel publish pieces attacking Poles much more frequently than Haaretz and Haaretz does publish pieces like the one being discussed.

      And you support Orban agaist Soros?? FMD, as we say in Australia. I'll leave you to work that one out.

      Delete
    5. Hello Max, this is why I feel this is a political agenda. If it was about what actually happened in WW2 surely it would be the nations that actually fought in the Axis that were getting all this "untering" - not Poland, which fought on the Allied Side?

      Where its all leading to, I don't know. Time will tell, I guess.

      And, by the way, I am not wanting the nations that fought on the Axis Side "untered". Its an unGodly thing to do to anyone. And in any case, surely the truth about WW2 is that both sides did some terrible things?

      Delete
    6. @Peter Rechniewski
      I am not a habitual reader of the Israeli press, and being on the Right, certainly not the socialist one. However, the only items that I had read, prior to D.G.'s article were by a certain Ofer Aderet. Try him, lots of material about Poland there.
      As to Orban and Soros I've worked that out in spades. I consider Orban the best and most hope-inspiring political leader in the West, and Soros one of the most evil men to walk the Earth in the last half century. But then, as your surname indicates you might understand, de gustibus non disputandum est. We clearly sail on different ships, and that's that.
      Max Denken

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    7. I've read Ofer Advert. Not impressive and definitely both intellectually lazy and one-eyed. However, Haaretz also prints articles that approach these matters differently on more occasions tahn JP or TOI.

      Politics is not a matter of taste but a matter of choice based on world view, general disposition etc. Soros is a very successful, anti-democratic, manipulative nationalist whose approach has inspired PiS with such great results. He is also responsible for the rehabilitation (ongoing) of antisemites and fascists from Horthy's period, so yes he may be inspiring to some.

      I wonder what Soros has done that can be consituted as evil? "One of the most evil men to walk the earth in the last half century" along with such worthies as Stalin, Mao, Ceausescu, Marcos and Dick Cheney . . .mmmmm.

      Delete
  9. Congratulations again, Danusha.
    Radio Poland cited and summarized your article in Haaretz today. I hope too that some of the Polish media picked it up.

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    1. Some of the Polish media did pick it up, but these two

      https://www.salon24.pl/u/konfederat1000/845899,czegos-takiego-jeszcze-nie-czytaliscie

      https://wiadomosci.onet.pl/swiat/izraelska-naukowiec-o-negatywnych-stereotypach-polakow/hdeqhhk

      are assuming that Danusha is an Israeli author.

      For what it’s worth, I made the point at the Krakow Post, that Prof Goska is a Polish-American academic, but the KP is aimed mostly at English speakers.

      http://www.krakowpost.com/18650/2018/02/radio-free-krakow-kosciuszko-interview

      Danusha may be interested to know that some in the PiSocrat camp are now talking about setting up a "Polokaust" museum. Competing for victimhood? It's getting embarrassing.


      Delete
  10. "Polokaust" museum. Really? It's about time.

    (I would call it the Polonocaust Museum, though).

    Victimhood competition? That is what is has been for decades--ever since the Holocaust assumed supremacy over all other genocides.

    How could it be otherwise?

    ReplyDelete

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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