Sunday, May 5, 2019

Judas Beating in Pruchnik, Poland

The Accusation by James Huntley Source

Judas Beating in Pruchnik, Poland, April 19, 2019

Years ago I read an article about mixed marriages between black and white Americans. The article was published in the 1960s, when such marriages were rare and risky. The spouses were a testament to the triumph of love. They also testified to a less savory human quality. Spouses reported, "When things get really tense, that moment comes, when he (or she) calls me a n - - - - r" – or "cracker" or some other racist slur. Yes, you can love someone so much that you defy custom or even the law. But when push comes to shove, your ancient training in hate surfaces.

Poles engaged in Polish-Jewish dialogue are like those spouses. We struggle for decades to progress past fear, hate, and stereotyping. But when tension arises, we are shoved right back into the stereotype box. We become, again, "medieval" "dumb Polak" "Nazi scum."

On April 21, 2019, a beloved Facebook friend posted a link to a World Israel News article entitled "WATCH: Polish townsfolk beat, burn Jewish effigy for 'betraying Jesus.'" In the ensuing discussion with several Jewish Facebook users, our friendships frayed to near non-existence. My friends presented me with a litmus test. I could publicly announce that I am ashamed to be Polish, or I could lose our connection.

On Friday, April 19, in Pruchnik, Poland, children beat an effigy meant to represent Judas. The effigy appeared to be made of burlap. "Judas 2019 traitor" was written on its chest. The effigy had a long nose, black side curls, and a small black hat. Eventually men sliced the effigy open and set alight the straw contents. This six-minute video was covered, and condemned, by the Washington Post, the Times of Israel, The Forward, Haaretz, The BBC, Newsweek, Reuters, U. S. News and World Report, ABC News, The Times (London), and too many others to list.

Make no mistake. None of this was ethical journalism covering a real rural village, population 3,500 in the Carpathian mountains. In fact, the World Israel News didn't even bother to spell the town's name correctly, dubbing it "Parchnik." No journalists covering this event traveled to Pruchnik or interviewed the villagers and asked them what this custom means to them.

No. This coverage was all about reinforcing the Brute Polak stereotype. As described in my book, "Poles possess the qualities of animals. They are strong, stupid, violent, fecund, anarchic, dirty, and especially hateful in a way that more evolved humans are not … The special hatefulness of the Brute Polak is epitomized by his Polish anti-Semitism."

The Brute Polak serves many purposes. One reason it exists is to shift blame for the Holocaust away from German Nazis and onto Polish Catholic peasants. Further, the Brute Polak stereotype is used to discredit all Christians and Christianity itself. Ultimately, the Brute Polak stereotype is exploited by those invested in discrediting Western Civilization and its Judeo-Christian roots. Christianity is one foundation of Western Civilization. Poland is noted as a Catholic country. Slipping Poland into the historical slot earned by Nazi Germany is an aid in discrediting Western Civilization.

Comments, below, are cut and pasted from social media and news sites covering Pruchnik. I did not edit these comments and they contain their original errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar. Many of these comments were signed with first and last names.

Poles "always were and always will be virulently antisemitic . Its in their genes"

"Ahh the Polacks they never disappoint , stupid then , stupid now, stupid forever !!"

"It's time to put an end to their very lucrative Holocaust tourism industry--by which they profit from murdering their Jewish citizens twice over!"

"If there was any doubt that many Poles are anti-semitic to the core, this should dash those doubts … Catholicism who keeps them in this darkness is a crime."

"Roman Catholicism that is the Satanic strategy against the Jewish people."

"The sages tell us that Poland is doomed. They will never amount to much due to their perpetual antisemitism."

"Hitler used Christianity to support his extermination of the Jews."

"I shed no tear over Notre Dame. But Poland and the Catholic Church there are notorious for their anti-semitisn. The Crusades, Inquisition, and The Holocaust were Catholic led and inspired."

"The Poles are still filthy Nazi scum. They deny complicity with the Germans, but they were eager to participate in the murder of Jews. What was then is still true now. Never forget. Never forgive."

"That is why Hitler put all his big camps there. He knew no Poles would mount any raids on them. Think about it! Did the polish underground lift a finger in 1943? Nope!!"

"It is a matter of common knowledge that the Polish govt was in league with the Nazi hierarchy."

"The Germans didn't murder all 3 million Polish Jews without a lot of help from the local Polish anti-Semites. I'm so glad the Soviets occupied Poland and made their lives miserable."

"Don't ask America to come and save you when Russian rolls it's tanks and army into your pathetic country."

"bunch of little paganists. Many Poles have Jewish ancestry. There are some decendants of intermarriages here too besides regular Poles. Show this to dumb intermarrying Jews in US, EU etc. Shey should see what kind imbeciles can be their offsprings"

"The christian community can not keep its hate focused on Judas only. The effigy … was to evoke hate toward present day Jews, to get kids accustom to physically attacking modern Jews, to propagate christian hate to a new generation. It is not hard to recognize that christians are gearing up for a new spasm of genocidal wars … Europe's Christian identity is historically based on the genocide of all other life on the earth … It is not coincidence that both world wars were started by Europe's Christian identity. Nor is it a coincidence that the rampage of genocide across all the inhabited continents is based on Europe's Christian identity … One can add the global slave trade."

"Religious inspired violence proves that civilization resting on technology, science, legislation, and rational discourse has so fragile links to one generation to the next that blind abstract hate will find real victims, again and again, if the links to history are not sustained in public education. Given Poland's role in the Holocaust, there ought to be no symbolic violence but only expressions of Christan nonviolence on Easter."

The Brute Polak stereotype is not limited to comments sections. The Washington Post coverage, titled "Children beat effigy of Judas in Poland, amid persistence of 'medieval anti-Semitism'" was written by Rick Noack. On April 22, Noack had published "Christianity Under Attack? Sri Lanka Church Bombings Stoke Far Right Anger in the West." That article began by calling the murder of Christians by jihadis a "theme." Noack was widely criticized for trivializing the murder of Christians attending Easter services in Sri Lanka. Noack also criticized fundraising for Notre Dame cathedral, "Notre Dame may have too much money after billionaires and others rushed to pledge." Pruchnik was a gift to Christophobic, German-born Noack.

Noack uses the word "medieval." The World Jewish Congress also used the word "medieval," and linked "medieval" with the Holocaust. "Jews are deeply disturbed by this ghastly revival of medieval antisemitism that led to unimaginable violence and suffering."

"Medieval" is a dog whistle for the Brute Polak stereotype. Nazism was an entirely modern phenomenon. Associating genocide with the word "medieval" is a way to link mass murder with the Catholic Church. Catholicism had a monopoly in the West before the Reformation, which began in 1517, 25 years after one commonly accepted end of the medieval era. Using the word "medieval" further links genocide with rural people living what are described as "backward" lives. If only these folks would "evolve," would "progress" into a "modern, progressive" form, there would be no more violence.

The Brute Polak stereotype is historically revisionist. Nazism was opposed to Christianity, especially Catholicism. See "Against Identifying Nazism with Christianity." Nazis were educated, urban, and in their own minds quite "evolved." No top Nazis were uneducated, or were peasants. As Steven Zipperstein, Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History at Stanford University wrote, Nazi Germany was "Europe's most cultivated, certainly its best-educated country. Germany had the world's finest elementary school system, the highest literacy rate and the best universities; by 1913 more books were published annually in Germany than in any country in the world. Its technical skill, its industry, its relentless business savvy … marked it off as among modernity's singular successes."

In a fascinating rhetorical pirouette, that appeared to go unnoticed by those in the comments section, Noack wrote, "With anti-Semitic attacks on the rise across Europe," conflating Pruchnik villagers with assaults on Jews in Paris and London. Who is beating those Jews? Not Poles. "Anti-Semitism has spread through the Islamic world like a cancer" The Washington Post reported in 2019. "European Jews … cannot avoid the issue of Muslim antisemitism. Not only have many of the bloodiest attacks on European Jews in recent times been carried out by Muslims, surveys – including the Institute for Jewish Policy Research's 2017 antisemitism survey – do show distinctly higher levels of antisemitic attitudes amongst Muslims," The Jewish Chronicle reported on May 24, 2018.

Noack wrote, "The Catholic Church taught for much of the past century that the death of Jesus was to be blamed on Jews." The Catholic Church rejected the deicide charge against Jews in the sixteenth century Council of Trent, in 1965's Nostra Aetate, and in other documents. I was raised Catholic and was never taught that Jews were responsible for Jesus' death. Yes, some Catholics believe in deicide. But that's not what Noack wrote. He wrote it was church teaching.

"World War II and the Holocaust triggered a rethink and the abandonment of that interpretation within the church. But not all communities changed course." German Noack makes clear: The Catholic Church is responsible for WW II and the Holocaust, and Poland clings to that guilt-ridden stance. That children beat a Judas effigy in Pruchnik is proof.

Haters never get the facts right. Beating Judas effigies is not particularly "Polish." One respondent to the Washington Post's coverage wrote, "I grew up in Poland and have never seen or heard of this hateful practice. On top of it both Church and politicians condemned this practice." Same here. I've celebrated dozens of Polish-themed Easters, in the US and Poland, and I am unfamiliar with beating Judas as well.

No one traveled to Pruchnik to interview the villagers. Were the Washington Post discussing any other custom in any other remote, maligned corner of the world, you can bet that that depth of investigation is what they would demand. No liberal discusses even a custom as heinous as Muslim female genital mutilation without treating the practitioners with kid-glove respect. I have received graduate training in anthropology at one of the best universities in the world and I can testify that we never talked about any custom except with respect for the practitioners. Even if you want to change a custom, you have to first respect those who practice is. Unless they are rural Polish villagers.

Beating Judas has been practiced in Greece, the Philippines, and Latin America, as well as Liverpool, England. Of course majority Protestant England also burns the Catholic Guy Fawkes in effigy annually. UNESCO's World Heritage List includes mention of the Czech version of the Judas custom. No one is accusing any Mexicans, who have been enthusiastic practitioners of the beating-of-Judas custom, of being responsible for the Holocaust. The exclusive focus on Poland for an international custom that never reached its height in Poland again reveals that this panic is all about revivifying the Brute Polak stereotype in order that it can continue to perform its historically revisionist task of rewriting WW II history.

That those condemning Poles and Poland are not interested in changing or eliminating the beating of Judas custom in Pruchnik is revealed by their very lack of respect. Now that a town of 3,500 rural people, utterly powerless to change the international opprobrium heaped upon them, have been verbally pilloried around the world, how likely do you think those villagers will be to listen to any suggestions for change? Of course they are not likely to listen. Those condemning this custom don't want it to disappear; they want to milk it for all it is worth. If you want the custom to change, you go to Pruchnik, you address the villagers as your equals, and you work with them for a better world.

In response to being demonized, Poles on social media asked Jews to consider their fellow Jews who have hung highly inflammatory Purim effigies. In some photos, Orthodox Jews hang effigies made to look like Israeli soldiers. In others, Jews hang effigies that are obviously African American themed. Poles pleaded, can't you see how wrong it would be to label all Jews as racist or anti-Israel on the basis of an inflammatory Purim effigy?

I want to ask my Jewish brothers and sisters to consider another analogy. The international panic over Pruchnik, a town no one has heard of before this, is itself an act of beating and burning a hated stereotypical figure. The world is invited to hate Polaks and blame them for the Holocaust, because a handful of people no one actually talked to engaged in a custom that is both ambiguous and international.

Nor is Pruchnik the only time some Jews created an effigy of a hated, stereotypical version of Polish identity. In considering Pruchnik, I cannot help but think of Isaac Bashevis Singer, H. N. Bialik, Philip Roth, Art Spiegelman, Lenny Bruce, and many others. Singer won a Nobel Prize in literature. He described Poles as "beasts" who urinate, defecate and copulate publicly, expose themselves, never bathe, eat rats, grunt like animals, scream and laugh madly, and have six fingers and toes. All this ugliness comes from just one paragraph from just one of Singer's novels. Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer-Prize-winning comic book Maus is required reading in the Holocaust canon. In Spiegelman's book, Poles are quite literally pigs. Thanks to Spiegelman, generations of American school children have been taught to regard Poles as pigs. H. N. Bialik, Israel's national poet, also called Poles pigs. "A sty of pig-men" was how Bialik characterized a tavern in a Polish village. Philip Roth, winner of the National Book Award, the Man Booker Prize, and awarded, by President Obama, a National Humanities Medal, described Poles as "big, dumb … dumb, blonde … direct descendants of the ox." Lenny Bruce, hailed as a cultural icon, imagined a world where all ethnicities could unite in brotherhood. Multicultural humanity would then turn on the real enemy: Poles. "It won't matter, it won't matter anymore even if you are colored and I'm Jewish, and even if Fritz is Japanese, and Wong is Greek, because then…we're all gonna stick together – and beat up the Polacks!" If Poles flew into a tizzy every time they were stereotyped by a movie, newspaper article, or March of the Living tour, they wouldn't have time for anything else. Clearly, to stereotype is very much not the same things as to commit genocide. Were it, Jews would be guilty of genocides of Poles. In fact every one of us who ever stereotyped our ethnic others would be guilty of genocide, and there would be no one left on earth. I will not present my Jewish friends with any litmus test. I will not demand that they pillory Singer or Bruce or Spiegelman. I ask only, when they speak about Pruchnik, that they factor in to their understanding the effigies hanging in their own closets.

In current, high stakes culture wars, that will determine the fates not just of individuals but of civilizations, Catholics and Jews are natural allies. Historically there is no Poland without Jews. There is no modern Jewish identity without Poland. The brute stereotype serves the propaganda purposes of the enemies of Western Civilization to discredit both Christianity and Judaism.

As a Catholic, I believe that Jews are my older brothers in the faith, as my Polish pope and peasant-stock parents taught me. I revere Genesis 12:1-3. I stand with Jews against BDS and the Ilhan Omars of this world. I ask my Jewish brothers and sisters to stand with me against the Brute Polak stereotype. I ask Jews to stand with me and all Poles not just when it is easy to do so, but also when it is hard. I ask Jews to stand with us not just to honor one-of-a-kind celebrity heroes like Jan Karski. Stand with us also when it comes to difficult moments, like when one of your number hangs an offensive Purim effigy, and when some of us Poles do the wrong thing. I'm not asking you to close your eyes. I'm not asking you to approve. I'm asking you to extend to us, as the best of us extend to you, patience, respect, dialogue, and a refusal to revert to stereotypes that harm us all.

Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery and Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype available in English and Polish

This piece appeared in Polish in Dziennik Zwiazkowy


  1. You say,

    "The Brute Polak serves many purposes. One reason it exists is to shift blame for the Holocaust away from German Nazis and onto Polish Catholic peasants. Further, the Brute Polak stereotype is used to discredit all Christians and Christianity itself. Ultimately, the Brute Polak stereotype is exploited by those invested in discrediting Western Civilization and its Judeo-Christian roots. Christianity is one foundation of Western Civilization. Poland is noted as a Catholic country. Slipping Poland into the historical slot earned by Nazi Germany is an aid in discrediting Western Civilization."

    Exactly right.

  2. Danusha,

    Very well researched and very well written.

    Debasing others elevates the debasers and, as you point out, the likelihood that such debasement may be unjust must not be considered as this would undermine the debasers’ lofty self-image.

    The ignorance and visceral hatred in the comments from social media and news sites covering Pruchnik are appalling and sadly confirm the extent to which Bieganski has been blindly accepted and continues to be propagated.

    The analogy of Purim and Judas effigies is clearly applicable but such a comparison would never occur to the haters. Speaking of which, Noack is quite the Pole hater. As you point out, haters never get the facts right and this clearly applies to Noack.

  3. Ɓukasz KlimekMay 8, 2019 at 1:25 PM

    Hello Dr Goska,

    A fine article. I was left with mixed feelings after reading it. But it gave me something to think about.

    As is my custom, I added a link.


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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