Monday, September 12, 2022

A Problem in Polish-Jewish Dialogue. The Folks Who Want to Lecture and Refuse to Listen.


Polish-Jewish dialogue faces obstacles. One of those obstacles is an approach adopted by some, not all, members of the latter group.
Let's give this approach a name. For now, I'll go with the name Tyran.


I've encountered Tyran repeatedly over the course of the thirty-five years I've been engaged in this dialogue.


How many Tyrans are there?


There's no way to know, because, unfortunately, no one has funded the research to find out.


A simple questionnaire would provide something like an answer.


So, Polonia, fund the research.


Tyran works like this.


Tyran denigrates the intelligence of his interlocutor. "You're not quite as smart as I am. I will speak slowly and simply You're not quite as educated as I am. Let me introduce you to the material you need to read. I assume you don't know this material because you are Polish and Christian, and I associate Poles and Christians with stupidity."


Tyran denigrates the humanity of his interlocutor. "Let me shout at you one heartbreaking account after another of horrific human suffering, suffering you don't know about, because you are stupid, and suffering you don't care about, because you lack common decency."


Tyran erases the history of his Polish interlocutor. "I need to shout heartbreaking anecdotes at you, because you are not a member of my group, and I know for a fact that people like you have never been tortured, have never been dispossessed, have never heard a knock in the night and had to board a cattle train that would travel for days before stopping, only to end in a concentration camp. People like you have never been subjected to minor prejudices or historical genocides. So I have to shout all this at you, because your life and your people's lives have been easy and lucky."


Tyran conflates anything bad that has happened to his own group with one religion, and one religion only. "Two thousand years! Two thousand years! You people have been doing this to us for two thousand years! Nazism," Tyran insists, "was Christian!" (Please, see here.)


Tyran is certain that that evil, violent, bigotry against his faith is the be-all and end-all of Christianity, and that Christianity has been a monolithic superpower for 2,000 years with only one goal – oppressing people like Tyran.


In Tyran's history book, there are only blank pages where should have been recorded the Jews who loved and worked for, or gave their lives for, Poland. There is no Jurek Leder, no Mihal Landy, no Artur Rubenstein, no Marek Edelman. There are only thick, black lines crossing out accounts of those Jews powerful enough to hate and do damage; there is no Jakub Berman, no Lazar Kaganovich, no Helena Wolinska-Brus. In Tyran's history book, the index contains no entry for Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, the Ulma family, Sendler, Sister Cecylia Maria Roszak; 7,177 people are erased, as are the thousands who helped them, as are the thousands who died doing that work.


In Tyran's history book, there is no mention of the popes who issued statement after statement condemning hate and enjoining coexistence; in that history book there is no Sicut Judaeis, no Statute of Kalisz, no Va'ad Arba' Aratzot, no Warsaw Confederation, no "Zydowie polscy," no Eliza Orzeszkowa, no Esterka, no Council of Trent condemning deicide – 417 years before Vatican II – no periods of relative peace when people thrived and became, say, the House of Rothschild but also thousands of less famous successful people, including a good percentage of Poland's doctors, lawyers, and businessmen. An international proverb attested that "Regnum Polonorum est Paradisus Iudaeorum" but also "Hell for the peasants," that is, Christian, largely Catholic and Orthodox, peasants.


Tyran insists that Christianity has been a world-class superpower for two thousand years. With this super power, Christianity controls all and dictates all.


Tyran will not acknowledge that Pagans were torturing and persecuting Christians for the first 300 years of Christianity's existence. Tyran does not know that when Christians were an embattled minority, Jews did participate in some executions. See for example, the Mamilla Pool massacre of 614 AD.


When Jews had more numbers, there were Jews who engaged in persecution. This is mentioned in the Book of Acts, the Talmud, and Josephus. Hostility is recorded in the Birkat haMinim, the text of which may predate any Christian persecution of Jews.


Christians acknowledge that there is no excuse for Christian crimes against Jews. There is no escaping modern Christians' responsibility to condemn and reject anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism must never be minimized or relativized away.


Rather, the point is this. Tyran insists that *only Christians* persecute and stereotype others, and that Christianity's essence is one of persecution and intolerance. Tyran insists that his own religion is pure, is tolerant, and has a pristine history of non-violence. The facts prove Tyran to be wrong.


To confront hate and prejudice, we must confront hate and prejudice in a clear-eyed, fact-based way.


The "two thousand year" myth endows Christianity with a super power it has never possessed. Lithuania did not officially adopt Christianity until 1387. The last Muslims were expelled from Spain in 1609. Christianity was all but wiped out by Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa, and millions of Christians, across Europe, were enslaved by Muslims, for hundreds of years, up to the end of the eighteenth century. Jews first arrived in Poland as merchants whose wares included Polish slaves. Poles and other Slavs were enslaved and marched to Muslim Spain, and, later, the Ottoman Empire.


Atheism, Islam, and Neo-Paganism have been steadily rising in Europe at least since the Enlightenment. Nazism's ultimate goal was to eliminate Christianity and Catholic priests, especially Polish Catholic priests, were tortured, killed, and sent to Dachau. Communism, of course, is a major competitor for hearts and minds and a mass killer of Christians. "About 200,000 clergy, many crucified, scalped and otherwise tortured, were killed during the approximately 60 years of communist rule in the former Soviet Union, a Russian commission reported this week," according to 1995 a news report from the Religion News Service.


There's another significant historical trend missing from Tyran's history book. Christians devoted extraordinary amounts of energy to massacring each other. Europe saw two hundred years of religious wars, not Christian on Jew, but Christian on Christian. Just one chapter, the Thirty Years War, is summed up as "one of the most destructive wars in European history … it was directly responsible for the death of an estimated 4.5 to 8 million soldiers and civilians, with some areas of modern Germany experiencing population declines of over 50%."


Tyran insists that Christianity is a monolithic power obsessed with persecuting him. The facts suggest that human beings have been doing atrocious things to each other since the expulsion from Eden. Christians have been at the receiving end of atrocities from Roman Pagans, Persian Zoroastrians, Muslims, the Golden Horde, Communists, and Nazis. We need to understand the given circumstances behind any atrocity, and work not to repeat those circumstances. False, simplistic histories muddle this effort.


Tyran does not know that Auschwitz was originally built for, and originally inhabited by, Poles arrested and interned as Poles. Czesława Kwoka has no place in Tyran's history book. Tyran does not know about Generalplan Ost, or about Germanic and Russian attempts to obliterate Polish identity in the centuries preceding the twentieth. Tyran does not want to talk about 3.3 million Soviet POWs, captured by the Nazis, who died under atrocious conditions, including by starvation, gassing, and shooting.


Tyran waves away Polish and Soviet POW suffering under the Nazis as "incidental." The most notorious quote in this series came from Barbara Engelking "For Poles, death was simply a biological matter, death like death." As opposed to Jewish death, which is "a tragedy, metaphysics, a meeting with the highest."


A Polish-American poet wrote poems about his parents' experience. His mother's family members were tortured, raped, and murdered by Nazis and Ukrainians. His mother was a slave laborer. His father was in concentration camps. His poetry about these topics was dismissed by Tyran as "distracting attention from the real victims."


Dhimmitude, the persecution of Jews and Christians in Islam, is swept from view, or redefined as "tolerance" Imaginary "Islamic tolerance" having been invented, Bernard Lewis wrote, to shame Christianity. Pagan empires' wars against and persecutions of Jewish populations, for example, Pagan Rome's destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and its genocidal policies against Jews that followed, are redefined into non-existence. Very non-Christian Japan's significant production of anti-Semitic material, or anti-Semitism in the, again, very non-Christian American, British, and French left must be ignored or somehow attributed to Christianity.


Deborah, a nice woman, when Ukraine was invaded, posted material on social media damning Ukraine as a hellhole. Ralph took a similar tack.


Both Deborah and Ralph had previously sent me Facebook friend invitations. They wanted contact with me – a Polish Catholic woman. Before these incidents, they had been warm and friendly. They were willing to sabotage contact that we both valued for the right to slander Slavic Christians even as Ukraine is fighting for its life.


Ukrainians committed massive atrocities against Jews in the past. Ukrainians committed massive atrocities against Poles in the past. Here's one difference in how those atrocities are discussed.


In my experience, Poles don't talk about Ukrainian atrocities against Poles as essential to Ukrainian identity. That is, the Ukrainians who did bad things in the past did bad things because of a given set of changing historical circumstances. Those circumstances have passed, so one need not assume that Ukrainians today are going to start, as they did eighty years ago, sawing Poles in half and crucifying them.


But Tyrans do talk about Ukrainian crimes against Jews as timeless, as eternal, and as essential to Ukrainian identity. For this reason, Tyran's argument goes, one should not support Ukraine today, because Ukrainians alive today are identical to criminals who lived a hundred or even four hundred years ago.




My Facebook friend Alex shared one of my essays on his Facebook page. Two of his Facebook friends, Bonnie and Andrea, liked my essay enough that they sent me friend requests on September 6th.


On September 8, I posted about Judy Woodruff's anti-Polish comments. Here's what my post said: "Judy Woodruff, powerful American PBS journalist, says Poles went along silently with Nazism, and are complicit in the Holocaust."


The above single sentence is the entire text of my post.


Under the link, to let people know why I posted about this, I gave more info about myself. I mentioned that this blog post was part of a blog that goes back more than ten years. I mentioned that I've published books and articles addressing the topic. I posted a link to a video talk, and a link to the intro to my book Bieganski.


New Facebook friend Bonnie wrote, "You may find 'Shoah' enlightening if you've never seen it." Bonnie subsequently posted a link to the Wikipedia page for Shoah.


I was astounded. I was insulted. I was saddened.


Was this woman, a woman I did not know at all, who had sent me a friend request just two days before, really telling me to watch Shoah? I had just identified myself as a scholar deeply immersed in Polish-Jewish relations.


Of course I've seen Shoah, multiple times. I've read popular and scholarly responses to it. I've attended lectures. I've published on it.


And watching Shoah, Bonnie assumed, would "enlighten" me? Because, she assumed, I was in the dark.


After recommending Shoah, and posting its Wikipedia link, Bonnie blocked me.


Andrea, who, like Bonnie, had sent a friend request two days before, posted next. Andrea bashed me in a 416-word-long post. From Andrea's post:


"Bonnie is a highly intelligent, Ivy League-educated woman with a graduate degree. Bonnie not only understands about the philosophy and historical rise of Nazism, as well as European and Jewish history prior, during, and after the Holocaust, she is familiar with all types of artistic expressions associated with the Holocaust. She has read from a wide range of Holocaust literature, and she has viewed documentaries and movies about the Holocaust, as well (this is not the extent of her knowledge).


She has made it her business to be informed about this historical event, an event that was perpetrated as a genocide against the Jewish people. This unmitigated and unmerciful slaughter of Jews, this attempt at a 'final solution,' to finally rid of the world of the Jew was performed by the Nazi regime, and, unfortunately, except for Righteous Gentiles, far too many Jew-hating people living in the Nazi-invaded European countries collaborated with the Nazi's [sic] in their attempts to rid the world of the Jews.


This Holocaust was a first attempt at a 'final solution' regarding the Jews, but it is only one in a long line of a two-thousand-year history of Jew hatred, accusations of deicide, of mass expulsions, of pogroms, of mass killings.


So, a highly-intelligent Jew, an educated Jew, an informed Jew, an unprejudiced Jew may, and should, feel 'contempt' for individual people, people from any country who collaborated with the Nazi killing machine and who took pleasure from the slaughter of innocent Jews."


I didn't want to bash Andrea publicly, as she had bashed me. I didn't want to return rudeness with rudeness.


I sent her a private message. This is a cut and paste of what I wrote, "I value courtesy. Andrea, I know nothing about you, and I'm willing to give you one more chance, but if you ever speak to me that way on my page again, I will unfriend you. I do not allow people to insult me on my page. Thank you." In response, Andrea, too, unfriended me.


I remember giving a lecture in Krakow in the late 1990s. I had prepared for hours. I would talk about stereotypes. I defined the stereotypes. I used multiple illustrations. Folklore, movies, the New York Times. I vividly remember those pages in the New York Times in my sweaty little hand.


The second I finished talking, the audience exploded. One woman, from Israel, grabbed my New York Times from my hand and shook it violently. "I am the victim, do you hear me? I am the victim. I will always be the victim. You will always be the victimizer. I'd rather be the victim than be a victimizer like you."


Mind: my lecture had addressed stereotypes. I had been talking about artifacts like Woody Allen movies and ethnic jokes. I had not addressed who victimized whom historically.


The Israeli woman hadn't heard a single thing I said. I suspect she just attended my talk so she cold have that moment.


What could have happened on Facebook the other day?


This could have happened.


Bonnie could have said, "Danusha, you just accepted my friend request a couple of days ago. Thank you. I'll tell you a bit more about myself. My name is Bonnie Last Name. I am from town name and I am an occupation name."


Bonnie could have begun this way, by fully introducing herself, to recognize that she is a person, and I am a person, and we are two people about to discuss a difficult topic. When embarking on such an endeavor, it is essential that people bring their entire selves, and behave courteously. Anonymous hit-and-run is ugly. It is not courteous.


Bonnie could have said, "Danusha, above you wrote, 'Judy Woodruff, powerful American PBS journalist, says Poles went along silently with Nazism, and are complicit in the Holocaust.' Danusha, you seem to find this statement objectionable. If so, why do you find it objectionable? I saw a movie called Shoah. It convinced me that Poles were passive in the face of Nazism, or maybe even approved of it, and were certainly complicit in the Holocaust.


You say, above, that you have published scholarly work on this issue. I'm guessing, then, that you have seen Shoah. Please share your thoughts with me. What did you think of Shoah? Why do you think Poles were not passive in the face of Nazism, or even approved of it? Do you think Poles were complicit or not?"


And you know what? If Bonnie had been courteous like that, a very interesting and mutually rewarding conversation could have developed. Bonnie, Andrea, and Alex, along with Sue, John, Izabela, and Otto, could have all joined in, sharing thoughts, feelings, sources, and insights.


We could have all been human together; we could have all felt good about each other. Through our courtesy and respect, we could have made the world a less hostile place, and a more peaceful one.


  1. All good points. The narrative presented here is the one that dominates the media portrayal of Poles and Poland, all to Poland's ongoing detriment.

  2. About 100,000 Jewish soldiers fought as Polish soldiers exactly 83 years ago, in September 1939. Thousands of them died. Thousands of Jewish civilians died in mass executions and bombings together with Christian Poles. The WJC informs about the Nazi-Soviet agreement, a 2020 text about the war

  3. repeatedly informs about its two Holocaust related texts, one of them reprinted by TIME. One of the texts prizes the "Maus", the other one falsely describes the IPN. Surprisingly few people answer.

  4. Rabbi Yaakov Menken: "The Poles slaughtered Jews with delight." Next the Kielce pogrom "after the war" (in Poland under Soviet ocupation or civil war). Retweeted "The New York Times published a manic hit job on Hasidic schools, hectoring about educational proficiency, for no other reason than because they're the last stand against the "diversity" curriculum." A day ago I would have accepted the statement, but in the context of "delight" I am sceptical.

  5. NY Times Hit Piece On Hasidic Education Published On Eve Of NY Regents Vote To Undermine All Religious Schools

  6. Another voice "The poles don’t surprise anyone, I suspect the answer will be “ get lost” although Angela Merkel would not have been that polite - the poles have been playing the victim for decades now." Angela Merkel is quite unpopular in Germany, but Michael Rosenfaldt (Worldwide) likes her.

  7. Aviva Klompas "Unbelievably, the haters are now invoking comics to slander Israel". I understand the problem perfectly.

  8. Aviva Klompas "Who could have imagined this 80 years ago?
    5 Holocaust survivors arrived in Berlin accompanied by the prime minister of the Jewish state. They are met by an honor guard of German soldiers." Imagine 5 Polish survivors met by a honor guard in Berlin. Let's make one survivor and Berlin municipal police guard. Still impossible.

  9. "St. Louis" by Spiegelman, The strip is perfect to use at elementary schools. Is it?

  10. About German critics of the Polish report: Germany has documented Die Vertreibung (the expulsion of Germans decided by the Allies), but has not documented Nazi crimes in Poland. Democratic Germany has acted like a criminal, destroied many traces of the crimes. A criminal shoul be punished and resocialised rather than allowed to terrorize its victims under 'rule of law' propaganda. Germany has paid to Western nations, but used the weakness of the post-war Poland to not pay. Germany failed even symbolically help the Polish victims, to create a network of hospitals and hostels for them, to reconstruct some historical buildings, to return thousands of stolen paintings, to collect a library for Warsaw. Germany has burned Polish National Library and several other ones, to destroy Polish culture.


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.
These themes include the false and damaging stereotype of Poles as brutes who are uniquely hateful and responsible for atrocity, and this stereotype's use in distorting WW II history and all accounts of atrocity.
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