Saturday, April 14, 2018

My Friend's Great Grandmother on Holocaust Remembrance Day and Polish-Jewish Relations

On April 12, 2018, the New York Times ran a story headlined, “Holocaust Is Fading From Memory, Survey Finds.” The article is chock full of statistics that could depress any concerned citizen. Young people in the US, in spite of widespread, required Holocaust education, are woefully ignorant about even basic facts, like how many Jews the Nazis murdered, how Hitler came to power (through an election), and what Auschwitz was.

Around the same time, I confronted other reasons to despair. This blog is dedicated to negative and false stereotypes of Poles in media, academia, and the wider culture. This blog urges concerned people, including Poles and Polonians (people of Polish descent living outside of Poland), to take action. Suggestions for action can be found here, in a blog post entitled “There's Hope! What You Can Do about The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision.”

Sadly, few Poles and Polonians act on the suggestions in that blog post. And, sadly, negative and false stereotyping of Poles continues.

I read the comments that come through this blog. In recent days, one rejected comment said that Poles have a “kosher adversary.” Other comments have insisted that Jews have all the power, and Poles have no power.

Poland is a rising nation and there are millions of people of Polish descent in the US, the UK, Germany, France, and Australia. They include the star and director of America’s # 1 film, John Krasinski, prominent journalists Mika Brzezinski, Curtis Sliwa, Rita Cosby, Andrew Nagorski, and Jim Miklaszewski, and politicians Lisa Murkowski and Tim Pawlenty. Poles and Polonians have power. Poles have money, and Poles have microphones.

The problem is not that Poles and Polonians do not have power. The problem is that Poles and Polonians have not chosen to use their considerable power effectively to correct historical wrongs.

Hating Jews does not serve Poles, Poland, or Polonia.

I felt this sadness, and wanted to do something about it, when, the other day, I stumbled across a photograph in my Facebook feed.

The photo is black and white, and obviously antique. It is of a mature woman, who gazes at the photographer with calm. Her abundant hair is upswept; her mouth is set. She is dressed modestly. The caption identifies this woman. She is my Facebook friend’s great grandmother.

Fancia M. lived in a village named Maksimowka, near Tarnopol. Both are now in Ukraine, not Poland, and both are renamed. Her son had left Poland for Canada. He went back to get Fancia. Neither was ever able to escape from Nazi-occupied Poland. My Facebook friend reports that, “When they came for her, she gave her good coat to a bystander, saying that she wouldn’t be needing it.” Apparently she understood the Nazi intention.

She was murdered in the Holocaust. My Facebook friend posted this photo in honor of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

That day, one of the blog readers here sent in a message mocking Holocaust Remembrance Day, and suggesting that it be renamed, in the manner of Columbus Day being renamed to “Indigenous People’s Day.” I found that suggestion repellent. I do not want to change the name of Columbus Day, but I do recognize that the arrival of Columbus meant a genocide, often unintended, through disease, of Native Americans. Jews committed no genocide. They were the victims of a genocide.

If the anti-Semitic myth that “Jews have all the power” were true, the Nazis would not have been able to murder six million Jews. American synagogues would not need police protection from regular phoned-in threats, and Israel would not survive on a knife-edge. If Jews had all the power, this kind-eyed woman would have died at home in bed.

Fancia M, thank you for being alive, thank you for your eyes, thank you for being great grandmother to my friend.

Thank you for any hearts your photo is able to open.


  1. I have read the survey, about Americans' ignorance about the Holocaust, and actually find it encouraging.

    Because public opinion is not strongly animated by Holocaust-related thinking, this means that Jewish accusations about Poland, and demands from Poland, may have less of a political impact, and damage to Poland's reputation, than would have been the case had Americans been more "into" the Holocaust.

    It may also mean that Polish politicians will feel less "heat" to give in to so-called property restitution claims.

    Anyway, I hope so.

  2. It's beyond sad that anyone would feel "encouraged" that Americans are ignorant of the Holocaust.

    Further, "Jewish accusations about Poland" is an anti-Semitic comment.

    As we've shown on this blog in recent days, many Jews and Jewish publications have defended Poles and Poland, in spite of Poles' foolish bill criminalizing speech about the Holocaust.

    Haaretz published me. It was only after Haaretz published me that any Polish publications took any notice of my work.

    Poles themselves have failed effectively to address their own stereotyping.

    Negative stereotyping of Poles is a Polish problem. Poles can solve it.

    Anti-Semitism is no friend to Poles or Poland.


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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