|Laura E. Adkins from her website|
Czeslawa Kwoka, 14-year-old Polish Catholic murdered in Auschwitz.
Adkins' article could have simply been titled, "Germans Good; Polaks Bad."
Adkins' biography identifies her as "an award-winning writer, editor, and speaker based in New York. She is the Opinion Editor of the Forward."
The book Bieganski, the Brute Polak Stereotype, points out that many Jews and others speak differently about Poland than about other countries, including Germany. Poland is uniquely evil, and its evil is associated with negative qualities that urban, mercantile people associate with poor and rural people. Germany is clean, both morally and physically. Germans are intelligent. Poland is dirty, both morally and physically. Poles are stupid. Poles required advanced people, like Germans, to educate them.
Further, the Bieganski stereotype demands that one must mention that Jews have, historically, suffered horribly. That suffering must be factored into any atrocity in which any Jew is implicated, for example the betrayal of Poles during the 1939 Soviet invasion and genocidal occupation of Polish territory, or the torture, show trials, murder, and burial in unmarked graves of Polish heroes during the Soviet occupation after World War II.
The opposite rule applies to Poles. Poles have also suffered cultural and biological genocidal pressures from Germans, Russians, and Austrians, from the Middle Ages up to the twentieth century. That Polish suffering must never be mentioned when Poles are implicated in atrocity. Rather, Polish suffering must go unmentioned, must be mocked as imaginary, or must be trivialized as minor and exaggerated by Poles.
Before we address Adkins, let's look at previous expressions of the Bieganski stereotype.
Leon Weliczker Wells' bio from the Yale archives states that Weliczker Wells "was born in Lvov, Poland, on March 10, 1925. Wells was a prisoner in the Janowska concentration camp outside Lvov during World War II. He escaped from the camp in an uprising in 1943 and was hidden in the basement of the Kalwinski family on the outskirts of Lvov."
Below is an excerpt from Leon Weliczker Wells' memoir.
"The Poles, having endured centuries of occupation, were very proud of the independence they won in 1918 after World War I. The Jews, on the other hand, spoke about the good old days under Austrian rule, about the great Emperor Kaiser Franz Jozef of Austria. Our parents … spoke with pride about the superiority of German culture and its people compared to the Polish culture. This attitude was very badly received by the Polish people. They hated German civilization and Germany as a whole, as the Germans had always been their enemy and occupiers. Poland was located between two big powers, the Germans on one hand and the Russians on the other …
Our mothers, having been educated during the Austrian occupation, proudly spoke about their 'westernized culture.' To show off their refined education they quoted German poets such as Goethe, Schiller, and Lessing, especially Lessing's 'Nathan der Weise,' … German sayings and philosophical statements were also very much in vogue. To be able to quote a German writer like Heine was to show one's elevated status.
The belief that German culture was superior continued even to the time when Germany occupied Poland in 1939 … I remember when the Jews spoke among themselves about the future under the Nazi regime: 'Under the Germans it couldn't be so bad as the press wants us to believe because they are the leading civilized nation.'"
I hope soon to post a review of a superb new book, The Escape Artist, in which Holocaust survivor and hero Rudy Vrba reports that he encountered Jews *arriving at Auschwitz* who continued to insist that Germans were superior, civilized, trustworthy people. Within hours of such statements, their bodies were reduced to ash.
When I conducted interviews for Bieganski, the Brute Polak Stereotype in 2000, one of my informants said that if he were to win an all-expenses-paid vacation in Poland, he would assume that Poles would endanger him because he is Jewish. Further, Poland would be a poor, dirty country. Austria, on the other hand, shines like the promised land. One can walk around speaking German, and have a great time doing so.
"I might want to hide my Judaism as much as possible just so that I would look like an American tourist, but not a Jewish American tourist. When you said 'Poland,' an image popped into my head, which is it's gray, it's dirty, it's polluted. When I think of Hungary, for example, there's color. It's bright. Hungary was never invaded by the Soviets like Czechoslovakia was. [Hungary was infamously invaded by Soviets in 1956.]
When I think of Poland I think gray, there's no color. Even the sky is gray. It's overcast. There's one complete cloud over the entire country. I would go with the idea that I've gotta prepare myself. It's not gonna be like the United States. It's not gonna be like the west.
I'm probably going to be depressed at the condition of misery that people are living in. And it probably would be a safer bet if I just don't identify myself to too many people and my passport says I'm American, that's all the identification I need. I might as well go to [name of ancestor's city]. Now, from what I've been told, the city was completely destroyed in World War Two. The city that's there now has nothing to do with the city my [ancestor] was born in. So, what would be the point? But I'd like to go and see what it's like.
I'd love to go back to Vienna. I loved it when I went there. We [he and a relative] had a wonderful time in Vienna. We walked around and spoke German. It was a fabulous time. I would love to go back to Vienna. So. If I won the trip, I'd go to Poland. If you asked me would I ever willingly go to Poland, I don't think I'll ever get there. It's basically, I have to weigh the benefits of being a tourist there against the dangers."
My informants, including those who self-identified as having had "comprehensive Holocaust education" from entities like March of the Living, knew nothing about Polish suffering.
A university student said, "If I went to Poland today … I would definitely have my eyes open all around … I get this feeling that Polish people don't really have a full respect for Jewish people and that there is an anti-Semitism still lingering and the main thing that makes me think that is an article I read in the Washington Post a month or two ago and what happened was that some warehouse that was very near Auschwitz was recently turned into a discotheque."
I asked, "I know this will sound like a ridiculous question, but can you tell me what Auschwitz was?" My goal was to discover, without asking a leading question, if my informant knew that Poles had been interned, tortured, and murdered in Auschwitz.
He replied, "Auschwitz had been a concentration camp that a great number of Jewish people were brought to by train."
"Do you know about the history of non-Jews at Auschwitz?"
"No, I don't." In this absence of information, he couldn't know that a discotheque near Auschwitz has an impact on Polish, as well as Jewish, survivors.
Laura E. Adkins' Forward article was published in 2023, but it repeats age-old Bieganski bigotry. That bigotry begins with the very title of the article: "Poland and Germany Have Long Taken Opposing Approaches to Holocaust Remembrance. Touring Them with Doug Emhoff, the Difference Was Stark."
This title is so absurd it's hard to convey its absurdity to those lacking historical knowledge. Nazi Germany was, inter alia, an awesome military machine that fought off opponents to the west and east in Europe, the Atlantic Ocean, and North Africa. Even American military might was stalled by the dregs of a depleted Germany's forces in the Battle of the Bulge.
Nazi Germany conducted a blitzkrieg in Poland that massacred civilians and destroyed cultural landmarks. Nazi Germany rejected any concept of "just war." Men, women, and children, the elderly, priests and nuns, churches, museums, forests, factories, and farm animals were ground into dust.
Nazi Germany's ally, Soviet Russia, invaded from the east, and immediately began campaigns of torture and mass murder with the goal of a Polish genocide.
Poland, a smaller agricultural country, was just emerging from over a hundred years of foreign occupation. After the utter physical and psychological devastation of the Nazi and Soviet invasions and occupations, Soviet Russia advanced again, and Poles lived under Soviet hegemony till 1989.
Poland and Germany take opposing approaches to Holocaust remembrance? That The Forward felt comfortable publishing that headline communicates loud and clear that it is comfortable disseminating falsehoods.
"It is one thing to acknowledge the dark parts of your country's history. It is quite another to reckon with them. I've spent the past six days traveling through Poland and Germany with Doug Emhoff, the second gentleman of the United States, as he's toured sites of Holocaust atrocities and engaged in a series of conversations about rising antisemitism."
Adkins erases any difference between Poland and Germany when it comes to Holocaust guilt. Poland and Germany are, in her formulation, identical producers of Nazism. Germany, though, is superior, because it "reckons with" "dark parts." Poland is inferior because it does not.
"whether walking through the soggy woods in Gorlice, Poland — where Emhoff has family roots — or down the immaculate streets of Berlin."
Germany is physically and morally clean. It is "immaculate," a word Catholics associate with the mother of God. Poland, a "dark" land of "soggy woods," lives up to the most negative stereotypes urban, mercantile people have of rural people.
"Six million Jews, and millions of non-Jews, were murdered … In Poland and Germany, I witnessed two dramatically different ways of dealing with these facts. Poland was home to some of the deadliest concentration camps during the Holocaust, but its approach to remembrance makes the brutal nature of the Nazi regime feel distant and foreign."
Poland makes the "Nazi regime" "feel" "foreign."
The Nazi regime was not only foreign, it was a genocidal invader of Poland.
Again, to Adkins and The Forward, Poland and Germany are equal producers of Nazism and the Holocaust. Germany is facing up to its guilt. Poland makes Nazism "distant and foreign." Poland is "home" – note her choice of that cozy word – to "some of the deadliest concentration camps."
No, you liar, Poland was not "home" to the "deadliest concentration camps." Poland was an invaded, occupied country where non-Jewish Poles were interned, tortured, and murdered in Nazi concentration camps.
"Berlin especially makes open acknowledgement of the sins of the past, both collective and individual. … German authorities have worked to be painstakingly honest about how their society arrived at a point at which the Holocaust was possible"
And Poland does not do these virtuous things that Germans do, even though Poland is an equal producer of Nazism and the Holocaust, along with Germany. Poles provide "home" to "deadly concentration camps" but Germans are "painstakingly honest."
Which Germans are painstakingly honest? Has Adkins seen the 2020 Luke Holland documentary Final Account, in which some elderly Nazis continue to deny, or make excuses for, German crimes?
Nazis victimized "Jews, the Roma people, gay people, and dissidents." Who is missing in Adkins' formulation? Poles. Historian Michael C. Steinlauf, the son of Polish Jewish Holocaust survivors, wrote that Poles, "after the Jews and the Gypsies [were] the most relentlessly tormented national group in Hitler's Europe" Not to Adkins.
Adkins continues. "In Poland, you're constantly chased by ghosts. There are plenty of markers of the country's dark past — well-preserved concentration camp sites, Holocaust museums, buildings bearing Hebrew writing yet lacking any Jews."
Note: for Adkins, there are no Jews in Poland. I just returned from one of many trips to Poland. On this trip, as on every other, stretching back to the 1970s, I encountered Jews and their contribution to Polish culture and Holocaust education.
Note: for Adkins, "well-preserved concentration camp sites" are products of Poland's "dark past."
"At a Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration in Birkenau, I felt that lack of self-awareness acutely. While the ceremony itself was held outside, on the site of demolished barracks, the press and translation room was set up in an outbuilding room equipped with ovens. Seeing a coat rack casually set up next to them filled me with rage.
The building isn't a crematorium, and they weren't the ovens used to burn the bodies of those murdered in the camp. But their significance as a symbol is unmistakable — as is the callousness of treating the room that houses them as just another space to store extra stuff. It felt as if the officials in charge wanted the credit and gravitas that accompanies Holocaust remembrance, without grappling with the gravity of what actually happened in this place."
Here Adkins performs the same trick my informant, quoted above, performs.
He read of a discotheque opening near the Auschwitz concentration camp. He insisted that that proves that Poles don't care about the suffering that occurred in Auschwitz. He had no idea of the presence of Polish non-Jews in Auschwitz.
Is Adkins so ignorant that she doesn't know that Auschwitz was opened, and operated for the first 18 months of its existence, as a camp for Poles to destroy Poland?
"It is estimated that a total of 130-140 thousand Poles were sent to Auschwitz in direct or collective transports, and added to the list of prisoner numbers. It is further estimated that approximately 10 thousand Poles (including police prisoners) were killed in Auschwitz without ever being registered as prisoners. At least half of the Poles imprisoned there [approximately 70,000] are estimated to have died as a result of starvation, beating, sickness, excessive labor, failure to receive medical care, and execution by shooting, lethal injection of phenol, or murdered in the gas chambers. Many prisoners died soon after being transferred to other concentration camps."
Adkins insists that Poles are incapable of "an admission of culpability." While, of course, superior, clean Germans are.
In fact Poles have been producing "admissions of culpability" for decades, including during the war. Poles of conscience have spoken out against, and acted against, anti-Semitism in Poland for at least a hundred years. See, for example, Eliza Orzeszkowa, Boleslaw Prus, Czeslaw Milosz, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, Jan Blonski, etc.
"It's Germany's approach, exemplified in the New Synagogue, that better understands what the real point of remembrance is."
Yes. Germans are clean and superior. Germans are "exemplars." Germans "better understand." Germans can educate the simple Polaks. In this, Adkins agrees with those who believed that the Nazi invasion of Poland couldn't be that bad, because Germans are so much better than Poles.