Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Pruchnik and the Holocaust. Poles and Jews and Negative Images of Ethnic Others

From Isaac Bashevis Singer's The Slave 

The [Polish] mountaineers no longer bothered him [the novel's Jewish male protagonist]. But this was not true of the girls who slept in the barn and tended the sheep. Night and day they bothered him ... they sought him out and talked and laughed and behaved little better than beasts. In his presence they relieved themselves, and they were perpetually pulling up their skirts to show him insect bites on their hips and thighs.

"Lay me," a girl would shamelessly demand, but Jacob acted as if he were deaf and blind. It was not only because fornication was a mortal sin. These women were unclean, and had vermin in their clothes and elflocks in their hair; often their skins were covered with rashes and boils; they ate field rodents and the flesh of rotting carcasses of fowls. Some of them could scarcely speak Polish, grunted like animals, made signs with their hands, screamed and laughed madly.

The village abounded in cripples, boys and girls with goiters, distended heads and disfiguring birthmarks; there were also mutes, epileptics, freaks who had been born with six fingers on their hands, or six toes on their feet. In summer, the parents of these deformed children kept them on the mountains with the cattle, and they ran wild. There, men and women copulated in public; the women became pregnant, but, climbing all day as they did on rocks, bearing heavy packs, they often miscarried.


Many are insisting that Polish Catholic peasants are responsible for the Holocaust. Proof can be found in a custom from Pruchnik, Poland, where, on the day after Easter, villagers beat an effigy with Jewish features. The effigy is meant to stand for Judas, but the facial features were stereotypically Jewish.

Poles are not alone in creating negative images of ethnic others. Jews do it, too.

The above passage is from Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Nobel Prize winning  author.

Some negative stereotyping wins Nobel Prizes. No one draws a line between Singer's, or his readers', contempt for Polish peasants and historical atrocities. 

The Polak joke book, pictured above, was written by a Jew. No one draws a line between books like that and historical atrocities.

The image of Poles as pigs is from Maus. Maus won a Pulitzer Prize. It occupies a cherished place in the Holocaust canon. It depicts Poles as pigs.

With Poles, the rules change. Pruchnik = the Holocaust.

It is a double standard and it deserves to be examined.

1 comment:

  1. I do have a small practical suggestion. Suppose "peasant" were to be re-defined as "working class"? After all. who works harder really?

    Because while it is clearly Politically Correct to despise "peasants" - don't ask me why, one of the many nasty mysteries of politics - would it be PC to speak so contemptuously of "the working class" and openly despise them for being poor and hot having had much chance of a "higher" education?

    And yes, Maus is a disgrace, but an excellent example of the way the world works, in that a book supposedly devoted to showing the horrors of a Nazi system that "unters" certain groups, goes out of its way to "unter" a vulnerable group itself - and is lauded and applauded by "the world"...

    Its beyond satire.

    You cover the Maus debacle very nicely in Bieganski. (And I am using the word "nice" in its original sense of exactitude.)

    And I take the point you are making in the blog. But it all comes back, I think, to the question of Political Correctness, which, in my experience at its sharper end, tells us who must be treated with respect and who may safely be despised. Any group can be picked on in this way, once they are on the "unter" page, as there are no perfect people. We are all the damaged children of disobedient Adam - all caught in the same trap, and all in need of the loving rule of the Kingdom of God.


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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