Sunday, June 27, 2010

Polish. And Gay.

Krakow 2008 Gay Pride Parade. Stan Baranski

Ten years ago I broadcast the following essay via WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana:


Have you seen the new Hollywood blockbuster, U-571? A bunch of macho American submarine sailors change the course of World War Two by stealing a Nazi code machine. The filmmakers assured us that this is a true story!

Well, not quite. It was Polish intellectuals, and a gay British mathematician, who did the key work on breaking Enigma, the Nazi code.

Sure, U-571 is only a movie. It's just that unfortunate stereotypes guarantee that "Polish Intellectual" and "gay war hero" are oxymorons, the punchlines of jokes.

Hollywood could have played the hero in the war on stereotypes had it depicted - accurately - the Brilliant Polish scholars, and the heroic British homosexual whose work on Enigma greatly facilitated victory for the right side.

It's not just in Hollywood, unfortunately, that these contributions have been slighted. In real life, after the war, Churchill and Roosevelt delivered Poland, their worthy ally, into the hands of Joseph Stalin, a man responsible for more civilian deaths than Hitler.

And what became of Alan Turing, the gay British mathematician who also worked on Enigma? He was arrested, and offered a chance of prison or forced hormone injections to "cure" his homosexuality. He died an apparent suicide. Unfortunately, U-571 is part of a Hollywood trend that diminishes the role of all the diverse peoples whose combined effort defeated the Nazi menace.

*** End of broadcast essay***

At the time that I broadcast the above essay, I was participating in internet discussion lists devoted to Polish topics. I posted the text of this essay on one such list. I received a poignant private email in reply.

The sender of the e-mail was gay. This person talked about how rough it was to be both Polish and gay. To have to live with negative stereotypes of Poles … and of homosexuals.

The person begged me not to reveal his/her identity. I never have. I haven't forgotten this person, either.

I don't know why Poland, post-1989, allowed homophobia to take a prominent place in its public life. It is always a sorry spectacle when formerly oppressed people, Poles, and African Americans also, adopt prejudice and oppression towards others. When Lech Kaczynski and other prominent Poles were killed recently in a plane crash, many websites, knowing only this of Poland and Kaczynski – that he was a homophobe – carried the headline, "Homophobe Dies."

I'm a Christian. People ask me how I can be gay-friendly. I discuss that here.

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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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