Friday, November 25, 2011

There's Hope! What You Can Do about The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision

Green Jean. Source.

There's Hope! What You Can Do about The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision

This post is part of a three part series.

Part One: The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision.

Part Two: Possible Causes for The Crisis in PolonianLeadership, Organization and Vision.

Part Three: There's Hope! What You Can Do about The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision

This is what Polonia needs: an organization, networked internationally and with deep grassroots support, dedicated to eliminating the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype. It will disseminate the truth of Polonia. Not an exclusive, airbrushed, chauvinist version, but the entire, rich, complex and vibrant story.

This organization will be staffed by committed, professional, activists. They will be consistent, courteous, reliable, humble, and rational. They will treat each other and the wider world with professionalism and respect. They will establish their leadership not by making others feel small, excluded, and not good enough, but by making others feel big, included, and essential members of the team. They will show up day after day. They will keep their eyes on the prize: telling the Polish story and supporting Polonian authors and scholars.

This organization will not attack, blame, scapegoat, or demonize Jews, liberals, television, Hollywood, the New York Times, or anybody else. Its members will take responsibility for their own actions.

This group will not be confused or unfocused. They will not think that the problem is one scholar – not Jan Tomasz Gross – one phrase "Polish Concentration camps" – or one film – "Shoah." This group will do what Saul Alinsky instructed activists to do: pick a target, freeze it, and name it: Bieganski, the brute Polak stereotype, in all its manifestations.

This organization will ensure that the Polish-American story is told in elementary schools, high schools, on and university campuses. It will work to make that story known in popular and elite media.

Classic Bohunk texts like "The Jungle" and "Out of this Furnace" and The Poetry of Anton Piotrowski will appear on syllabi. Newer authors like Christina Pacosz will appear on syllabi, as well.

Oskar Kolberg will finally be translated and his key scholarship will be rescued from oblivion.

Revisionist histories will be corrected. No, African Americans are not the only group to face racism. Yes, "white" people have faced murderous racism, as well. No, Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon. Yes, Polish Catholic priests were targeted, tortured, and murdered. No, the Holocaust was not the product of primitive peasants, but of modern people and the world's best science. No, we can't make evil go away by becoming more modern.

This organization will work for the hiring of Bohunk faculty and the funding of Bohunk students.

If a world-class scholar like Norman Davies is offered a job and then rejected, and it looks like his support for Polonia is playing a role in his rejection, this organization will coordinate grassroots, watchdog activity and legal supervision of the case.

This organization will embrace Polish cleaning women as well as Kosciuszko on a white horse. This organization will celebrate Polish coal miners as well as celebrities. This organization will unite with other Bohunks – Slovak-Americans, Ukrainian-Americans, Lithuanian-Americans – who tell part of our own story. This organization will embrace not just pianists and the authors who write about World War Two, but will also ask, what do figures like Andy Warhol, a Rusyn-American, and David Wojnarowicz, a Polish-American, say about our experience?

This organization will honor the past and focus on the present and the future. Young people will be a big chunk of its staff and membership.

The Activist members of this organization will think globally and act locally.

Think Globally and act locally: Polish activists have always done this; their slogan was "For your freedom and ours."

Adam Mickiewicz, the Polish national poet, organized a Jewish legion, the Hussars of Israel.

Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a Polish military hero, wanted to buy the freedom of African American slaves, and worked for full inclusion of Poland's peasants and Jews.

In Poland in 1989, I joined other Poles in protesting the arrest of Vaclav Havel. Vaclav Havel was not Polish, but Czech. He had been arrested for the crime of laying flowers in Wenceslas Square in the memory of Jan Palach. Poles who "think globally and act locally" noticed, cared about, and protested this arrest.

In 1989, in Krakow, while protesting Soviet domination, we also marched in support of Chinese in Tiananmen Square.

Polonia will benefit from remembering and reinvigorating its tradition of thinking globally and acting locally.

This organization will recognize that Jews are Polonians' "older brothers in faith" and among our best allies. The work we will do to eliminate the Bieganski stereotype, we will do together.

This organization will not be merely reactive. It will not wait for assault, insult and revision only to respond with random, disorganized flurries of letters, but, rather, with commitment, coordination, and discipline.

This organization will be proactive. It will create a powerful, synergistic, cooperative and strategic network of those disseminating art and writing and film and speakers about Poland and Polonia and its rich, loving, vibrant, full voice will not be overcome – because we are an essential part of the wider human story.

Getting Polonians to unite, support each other, and act in a committed, disciplined, coordinated fashion will be the A-1 priority of this organization. It will organize activist retreats and workshops, where average Polonians overcome their atomization and learn to work together.

Rosa Parks was a product of this kind of workshop for early Civil Rights activists. As Paul Loeb describes in "The Real Rosa Parks," Parks didn't just one day decide not to sit in the back of the bus. Parks trained for twelve long years to be an activist.

Similarly, KOR – Komitet Obrony Robotników or the Workers' Defense Committee – organized a Flying University that trained people on attitudes and techniques that helped to bring about the Solidarity Revolution.

Poles – including Polish Jews like Konstanty Gebert and Adam Michnik – were able to bring about these activist workshops even while living under Communism's constant surveillance and deadly threat. African Americans could do the same under Jim Crow. There is no reason for today's Polonians, living in comfort and ease in the West, to think that they cannot do the same.

Prominent and wealthy Polonians will be proud funders and sponsors of this organization. This organization will reach out to them and honor them.

The staff and membership of this organization will be diverse. Some will be Catholics, some atheists. Some Democrat, some Republican. Some gay, some straight. Some will support this or that war or invasion or candidate, others will oppose.

They won't talk about abortion or war or gay marriage or other issues, though, because bringing up what divides them will distract them from their goal. They will keep the group united and focused. They will keep their eyes on the prize. They will get things done.

This organization does not yet exist.

This organization does not yet exist because Polonia does not yet want it.

When Polonia wants it, this organization will come into existence. And it will be great.

Ann75. "Colours in the Snow." Source.

Meanwhile, what can you do?

If you want to change things for the better, you can.


Make that decision. "I have decided to do this. I will not complain. I will not blame. I will not look back. I will not quit. With the higher power of my understanding as my rock, I will do this."

That's it, really.

The pyramids? The result of human will.

The Great Wall of China? The result of human will.

The Civil Rights Movement? The result of human will.

Solidarnosc? The result of human will.

People more articulate than I have made this point.

"For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith." - Mark, 11:23

"Give me where to stand and I will move the world." - Archimedes.

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." - Henry David Thoreau

"What lies before us and what lies behind us are small matters compared to what lies within us." - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness, concerning all acts of initiative and creation. The moment one definitely commits oneself, Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now." - Attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"Children, if you are tired, keep going; if you are hungry, keep going; if you want to taste freedom, keep going." - Attributed to Harriet Tubman.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." - Marianne Williamson

Are you going to build a pyramid or move a mountain?

How much more important is a human being than a pile of stones?

If you can develop your own mind, body, and soul enough that you stop being a complainer and a blamer and start being an activist – hey. Moving a human soul and a human life is as impressive as moving a mountain.

The longest journey really does begin with a single step, and it really is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

"We can do no great things. Only small things with great love." - Attributed to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.


Where do you start?

Do the work that is right in front of you.

If you have to confess your ignorance on Polonian matters, start buying, reading, and reviewing books on Amazon.

Do read about the heroes on white horses: Kosciuszko, Curie, Karski, Copernicus. And learn about and honor your peasant ancestry, as well. And – if you are Polish – no matter how white your collar is now – you have peasant ancestry.

Read Jan Slomka's priceless depiction of the Polish peasant experience, "From Serfdom to Self Government."

Read Olga Narkiewicz's "Green Flag: Polish Populist Politics" about life for peasants in 20th century Poland.

If you really want to strip the wool from your eyes and get rid, once and for all, of any romantic notions you may have about what it was like to be a Polish peasant, read "Four Russian Serf Narratives" edited by John MacKay.

Read about Bohunks in the US: "The Jungle," of course, and "Out of this Furnace."


If you want to be an activist but you've never marched or petitioned or organized, inform yourself.

Google "how to be an activist" or "activism 101."

Read "Rules for Radicals" by Saul Alinsky.

Alinsky got his start organizing Poles, Slovaks, Lithuanians, and other Bohunks in the "Back of the Yards" neighborhood in Chicago. Their group was the "Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council." When Alinsky arrived, Polish-Americans had a higher infant mortality rate than African-Americans. Alinsky wanted to help Polish-American babies to survive. He eventually became the world's most famous organizer.

Read Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience."

Read my own "Political Paralysis."

Watch "Man of Marble," about an indomitable Polish woman, and "Man of Iron" about an indomitable Polish man. Watch this video clip.

Read and watch movies about Gandhi, one of the most brilliant and successful organizers in history, about Mother Teresa. Watch "Eyes on the Prize."


And act.

Be the change you want to see.

Don't mourn. Organize.

The winter is yours. The spring is ours. Source.

Possible Causes for The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision

"Tangled Roots" by Eli Van Zoeren. Source.

Possible Causes for The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision.

This post is part of a three part series.

Part One: TheCrisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision.

Part Two: Possible Causes for The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision.

Part Three: There's Hope! What You Can Do aboutThe Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision.


Possible Causes for The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision.

Foreign powers attempted political, biological and cultural genocides against Poles and Poland for two hundred years.

Poland's own social structure: aristocrats on the top, Jews occupying the Middleman Minority position, and peasants on the bottom, created an oppressive model of power which echoes today.

Most post-colonial nations are the neighbors of other post-colonial nations in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. They developed a discourse that championed their own populations. They produced authors like Frantz Fanon. Fanon told colonized people to stop looking at themselves through the eyes of people who colonized them.

Poles' neighbors are their colonizers. Without realizing it, too many Poles adopted the worldview of the colonizer and the oppressor.

What is the psycho-social legacy of Poland's history, and how does it affect Polonia's failure to respond to Bieganski, the Brute Polak stereotype?


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

She was blonde, beautiful, poised. She was sitting on a bus in an ancient, foreign city. She was not Polish or Polish-American.

I asked her why she had come to Krakow, when she could have taken her vacation anywhere: the South of France, the Caribbean, the pyramids…

She told me. "I've been a nurse in a metropolitan hospital for twenty years. As you can imagine, I've dealt with patients from every ethnic group. I've been next to them at their worst moments: their own deaths, the death of loved ones, finding out that they have major disease. In nursing school, I learned the universal language. Touch. I've touched them, stroked their backs, to calm them, to make them feel connected and warm. And you can feel it – their muscles relaxing, their breathing becoming more regular. Except with one group of people. When I touch them, they tense up. I can feel them preparing for fight or flight. The Poles. For a long time, I've wanted to come here to find out exactly what kind of history could produce such a people."


I was talking to a successful scholar and author, a woman I knew to be Irish-American. I'd known her for ten years.

In the course of one afternoon's conversation, she revealed that she had Polish ancestry and culture in her home, something she'd always kept hidden. In fact, her Polish grandfather played a prominent role in the historic 1936-37 Flint, Michigan, sit-down strike.

Why didn't she own and celebrate her Polish identity?

Her grandfather, she reported, had abused alcohol and was physically violent to her mother.

My friend had no idea of Polish history. She had no idea what her grandfather faced in the Old Country. She just saw him as a violent drunk, wrote him off, and forgot him.

I wish Polonia had educated her. Not with cardboard cut-outs of Kosciuszko on a white horse, or rosy-cheeked peasants dancing a mazurka. With an honest, rich picture of all the forces that forged her Polish peasant grandfather: what sparked in him a passion for justice for the common worker; what steeled him with the determination to make history; what made him brave enough to face off with his social betters, and what crippled him such that he was a flawed parent to his own children.


Mishael Porembski's Emmy-Award winning 2000 film, "Burning Questions," records her own effort to understand her own Polish-born father, a man who "wasn't altogether happy." For those wanting to understand the impact of trauma on Polish parents or grandparents, Porembski's film is a good place to start.

Christina Pacosz's essay "A Great Deal of Doing" is another good resource. "A Great Deal of Doing" details the riot that drove Polish immigrants out of a Missouri town. Pacosz's Polish father was one of the victims of this riot. Christina, an American-born woman, grew up with the trauma that this riot caused her Polish father.

John Guzlowski depicts his Polish mother, Tekla, beating his father, Jan, and his sister, Danuta.

Guzlowski places Tekla Hanczarek Guzlowska's domestic violence in the context of Tekla's own history of trauma. Tekla was horribly traumatized by invading Nazis and Ukrainians. That had an impact on her, a complex impact that she wrestled with all her life.


I've already posted about Polish self-hatred, here.

In Poland, summer, 2011, I heard again and again, from Poles: "Bieganski is no stereotype. Poles really are slobs, bigots, and pigs. Especially the peasants. Especially the workers. I'm not like that, but most Poles are."

People who experience self-hatred will find it difficult to support other members of their group.

Self-hatred is the result of seeing oneself through the eyes on one's oppressor. Polonian organizations often respond to the Brute Polak stereotype by insisting that only recognized heroes like Kosciuszko and Curie have value. Polonians often respond to the Brute Polak stereotype by quarantining peasants and working class Poles, their history and culture.

When they do so, they unwittingly and inadvertently express self-hatred. They are seeing themselves through the eyes of those who have contempt for them. They are saying, "Yes, you bigots are correct. Polish peasants and Polish workers are not worth any positive attention."

Social Atomization

"Divide and Conquer" was policy for every one of Poland's occupiers for the past two hundred years. Russia, Germany, and Austria conquered and controlled Poles by turning Christians against Jews, Catholics against Orthodox, believers against atheists, peasants against aristocrats, flatlanders against highlanders, workers against university students, Poles against Lemkos, urbanites against rural people, and neighbor against neighbor.

Jakub Szela was a Polish peasant who had been cheated and whipped by his Polish lord. Austria, the colonizing power in Poland, encouraged Szela to lead an uprising that killed over a thousand Polish nobles. Austrians paid Polish peasants money for every decapitated Polish noble head. So many peasants brought in so many heads that Austrians lowered the price for a head to salt.

During WW II, Szmalcowniks did not betray only Jews to the Nazis. They betrayed their fellow Poles. Stefan Grot-Rowecki, the first commander of the Home Army, was betrayed by Polish traitors.

Lustration provided an opportunity for Poles to turn on each other. Other opportunities: gay rights, concepts of Catholicism, concepts of nation.

In November 2011, one of my Polish-American facebook friends posted a painting a Poles sharpening sabers. Under the painting he placed this caption: "Polish nobles sharpening weapons against domestic traitors." He went on to say that he was ready for "war" with his fellow Poles.

The result of divide-and-conquer was social atomization: society was divided up into tiny parts. Few trusted, or worked well with, anyone else. People trusted and cooperated with their own families, if that.

Nowadays, in America, when Polonians refuse to unite, they give excuses like this one: "I wrote a letter on my own" to protest this or that Bieganski-Brute-Polak incident.

Sustained, effective action requires community. Polonians who are atomized from their fellow Polonians choose to write individual letters rather than unite in groups because they find uniting with their fellow Polonians and acting in a disciplined, mutually supporting manner too difficult. This may be the legacy of divide-and-conquer policies.

In November, 2011, a Facebook poster posted this image with a caption about Polish Nobles sharpening blades to kill domestic enemies. 
An artist's depiction of the Szela uprising. Note Austrian colonizers purchasing Polish nobles' heads from Polish peasant sellers.  Source.

Siege Mentality and Displaced Aggression

My American students are familiar with Jews as victims of Nazism. My students often don't know that the Nazis persecuted any other group. My students often conclude from this, and are encouraged by Christophobic professors to conclude from this, that Nazism was a Christian phenomenon.

One day in class I was addressing this misconception. I mentioned that Nazis had enslaved Polish Catholics during World War Two.

Most of my students got the point – the Nazis didn't persecute only Jews.

One student reacted with outrage. "I am from Poland! My grandparents lived through World War Two! The Nazis never enslaved Poles! What you are saying is not true!"

After class, I emailed documentation to this student. The Nazis did, indeed, persecute and enslave Polish Catholics.

The student responded. He said that he had known all along that I was telling the truth.

His complaint: By saying that Nazis had enslaved Poles, I made Poles look bad. He accused me of "degrading" Poles.

Siege mentality interprets every touch as an assault, every word as an insult, every stimulus as an attack.

Siege mentality turns every potential ally into an enemy, every conversation into a fight.

Displaced aggression is a related phenomenon. From Wikipedia: "aggression may be displaced onto people with little or no connection with what is causing anger. Displacement can act in a chain-reaction, with people unwittingly becoming both victims and perpetrators of displacement. For example, a man is angry with his boss, but he cannot express this so he hits his wife. The wife hits one of the children, possibly disguising this as punishment."


George Foster's Limited Good

George Foster's Limited Good is one of the key insights to understanding the Polish penchant for sabotaging other Poles. It is also a key insight for understanding Polish-Jewish relations.

George Foster was a twentieth-century American anthropologist. He did fieldwork among peasants in Tzintzuntzan, Mexico.

Foster wrote,

"Broad areas of peasant behavior are patterned in such fashion as to suggest that peasants view their social, economic, and natural universes—their total environment—as one in which all of the desired things in life such as land, wealth, health, friendship and love, manliness and honor, respect and status, power and influence, security and safety, exist in finite quantity and are always in short supply.

Not only do these and all other good things exist in finite and limited quantities, but in addition, there is no way directly within peasant power to increase the available quantities. It is as if the obvious fact of land shortage in a densely populated area applied to all other desired things: not enough to go around."

Here's an example of limited good at work:

I lived in a small, remote village in Africa. One peasant, a respected, well-beloved, senior man, adopted advanced agricultural techniques. His farm produced much larger yields than his neighbors' farms.

His neighbors burned his farm to the ground.


Limited Good. There is only so much good in the world. If my next-door-neighbor's farm produces more manioc, my farm will produce less manioc.

Does this concept apply to modern, educated Poles, who are no longer peasants?


I had just published a work about Poles.

A Polish-American scholar made false and libelous charges against my work and me.

This astounded me – We were Polish-Americans, working in the same field. We were on the same team. He should support me, and I should support him. We could proceed to victory with each other's support.

But no. Why? This man had also just published a work about Poles – one with a theme similar to mine. In fact, he quoted me (without a citation – a big no-no in scholarship.)

The concept of limited good: if my publication did well, there would not be enough "good" left over for this scholar's publication. For his publication to advance, he had to downgrade a publication by another Polish-American scholar on the same topic.

Limited Good is also at work in the dark side of Polish-Jewish relations. Chauvinist Poles and chauvinist Jews believe that there is not enough "good" available for both Poles AND Jews. They believe that people will know of Polish suffering under the Nazis OR they will know about Jewish suffering under the Nazis. They believe that people will know of Poles who betrayed Jews OR they will know of heroic Poles who rescued Jews.

Limited Good insists that people can't have knowledge of both.

A related concept: the zero sum game. People who adopt this worldview see life as a game, with only one winner, who takes all.

They cannot conceive of a world with multiple winners. They cannot conceive of a world where my victory contributes to your success. They cannot conceive of other people as their fellow team members, only as their competitors.

A joke from the Soviet era:

A peasant complains: "Comrade Party Secretary! I must protest! My neighbor has two cows and I have none!"

The Party Secretary replies: "Don't worry, little father. We will rectify this. We will take one of your neighbor's cows and give it to you."

The peasant responds: "No! Comrade Party Secretary, you don't understand! I want you to kill BOTH my neighbor's cows!"


Defeatism. Learned Helplessness. The Romance of Defeatism. Conspiracy Theories. Poverty Consciousness.

Defeatism and Learned Helplessness: We are doomed. Nothing we do can have any positive impact.

The weirdest, saddest, most recent example of this appeared in an internet post. A woman said that she could not do anything to contribute to fighting the Bieganski stereotype, because Jan Tomasz Gross was all powerful, and her efforts against him were futile.

So, Jan Tomasz Gross is Godzilla, and she is helpless Tokyo.

For some, defeatism exerts a romantic allure. They like to cite the Warsaw Uprising. They feel that Poles, to be real Poles, must not win. 

Conspiracy Theories are related to defeatism: "They are out to get us and there is nothing we can do about it."

Conspiracy theorists see dark plots in the most mundane events.

After I wrote a mildly critical review of a fellow Polonian's book, an officer in a Polonian organization, a man with whom I'd previously enjoyed collegial cooperation on Polish matters, sent me an email accusing me of having sold out to the Jews. A similar conspiracy theory appeared in a Polish publication. A reader of this very blog sent me an email suggesting that I had posted a pro-Israel post as part of selling out to Jews or being manipulated or bullied by Jews.

In all these fantasies, the message is clear: unseen hands control our fates. We are merely puppets. There is nothing we can do. In other words, conspiracy theories are the perfect excuse for doing nothing.

Poverty Consciousness also relieves believers from doing anything. "We Poles can't do anything about negative stereotyping because we are poor and the bad guys are rich."

A facebook post asks me, "Can you please offer me a reduced price on 'Bieganski?'? I am poor and I can't afford to buy books."

I don't have a problem with that. It's no shame to be poor. Unfortunately, I can't offer a reduced price; I don't control book prices.

Here's the interesting thing – the same facebook poster who asks for a reduced price on the book will go on to post messages like this, "Hey! Check out the speedboat I just bought … here's a slideshow of my trip to Paris … here are some snapshots of our snorkeling tour of the Maldive islands!"

Of course there are many poor Polish people. There are, though, in the West, certainly, lots and lots of Polonians who are quite comfortable – and yet still talk as if they are penniless serfs – when it comes to their contributing in any way to Polonian matters. When it comes to purchasing consumer goods, suddenly they remember where they keep their plastic.

Ironically, in my experience, people who really are poor peasants can be among the most generous people on earth.

Poverty consciousness insists to its believers that they are poor and powerless when in fact they have money and they use that money to purchase the consumer goods that they value. When significant number of Polonians remembers where the wallet is when it comes to scholarships, publishing, and culture, things will change for the better.

For now, Poverty Consciousness, Conspiracy Theories, and Defeatism reassure their believers that their passivity is A-OK. After all, nothing can be done. The romance of defeatism insists that it is somehow more authentically Polish to lose than it is to win.


Oppressive models of power

Oppressed people see power at its ugliest. Many of those who held power in Poland were bullies or snobs.

Even today, too many Polonians understand bullying or snobbery as power. Selecting such people as our leaders has not advanced our cause.



The Bieganski stereotype insists that Poles are all crazed nationalists, devoting their passions to promoting Poland. That's just not true.

Polish chauvinists insist that all Polonians are passionate patriots kept down by powerful forces beyond their control. That's just not true.

The Bieganski stereotype insists that Poles are the world's worst anti-Semites, and that anti-Semitism is the foundation of Polish culture, and that Polish culture must be condemned and jettisoned, root and branch.

That's just not true.

What is true?

Most Poles and especially most Polish-Americans do not care about any of this – in fact they aren't even aware of it.


In my wildly diverse classes, I've taught a fair number of Polish-American students, both those who were born in the US and descended from forgotten great-grandparents who were Polish, and students born in Poland. I've also taught classes of only Poles.

None of these students ever expressed any desire to be identified with Poland or Polish identity or any activism associated with Poland.

A couple of these students told me that they wanted to be identified as something else, and had gone so far as to change their names to alter their identification.

I know several who have been "Wiggers," an ugly word, a combination of "white" and "nigger." Wiggers adopt clothing and postures popular in Black Gangsta culture – the pants down over the buttocks, the gold chains, the backwards baseball cap.

I know a Polish-American scholar who has no interest in his Polish ancestry; he studies Jamaican Dub Poetry. Another Polish-American named his child after Bob Marley. Another married a black man and spends her social time with his family, not her own.

Why would Polish-Americans become Wiggers? Because they crave an identity, a history, roots, a family, heroes and role models, a culture.

Bob Marley provides a sense of identity to "wiggers." 
My other students often voice great pride in their ethnicity. Hispanic, Muslim, Irish, Italian, African American, Japanese – "This is what I am and I'm proud of it!" My students publicly announce this in class; they create in-depth scholarly projects; they reach out to their fellow students. Irish students pursue research on famous Irish authors or stereotypes of Irish Americans or Irish folk music. An Italian American student did a research paper on the impact of the television show "The Jersey Shore" on images of Italian Americans.

Several of my Muslim students have done projects on Islam or what it means to be Muslim American. They do this eagerly, proudly, and publicly, in spite of often open hostility from their fellow students. African American students mention their ethnicity and their culture on an almost daily basis. A Japanese student gave a speech insisting on the peaceful nature of Japanese culture (this did not go over well with the Chinese students).

Poles? Never. Not once. Not ever.

It's true of my entire Bohunk cohort of students: Polish-Americans, Ukrainian-Americans, Slovak-Americans, Croatian-Americans. They just don't talk about it, not even if asked.

There is one exception. My student Azur. I talk about Azur in
this blog post.

Azur was a Slav, and proud of it. He came from Bosnia, an Eastern European country. Azur did talk about his country, in detail: Sarajevo, the Bosnian dragon, the Bosnian fleur-de-lis. He talked about his father and his uncles and their experience in the wars of the break-up of Yugoslavia. He presented his research to his fellow students.

Azur was a Muslim.

Why was a Muslim Slav so eager to talk about his culture, and my Christian Bohunk students have not been? The answer to that question might help us to understand The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision.


There is a small percentage of Polish-Americans who do devote some energy to their heritage.

For the most part, these folks' activities are self-limiting. They draw a border around their identity and their energy. That border prevents them from ever becoming activists.
Self-limiting Polonian identities, below:

Tribalists. They have a tribe. They limit themselves to their tribe's territory and their tribe's rituals.

Perhaps their tribe's territory is a small Polish neighborhood and its Catholic Church. Their rituals: Catholic mass in Polish, eating pierogies in the church basement, and occasionally dressing up in folk costumes.

They like and trust their tribe members, who are all people of the same immigration wave, age, income, and educational level as themselves.

They are suspicious of and uncomfortable with outsiders, including Polish-Americans from the next town, Polish-Americans who have a different educational level than their own, Polish-Americans of a different immigration wave, or Polish-Americans who are younger or older or richer or poorer or more right-wing or more left-wing or more religious or less religious than themselves. They will not unite with these "alien" Poles to accomplish any wider goal that serves all Polonia.

New rituals – organizing to demand a college course on their history, raising money for a scholarship, joining a national or international protest with people they have not met, purchasing a scholarly book, or even a poetry book on Polish topics from Amazon – cause them anxiety and discomfort. They will not perform these alien rituals. They have no desire to have an impact on any territory beyond the borders of their self-limited world.

An example of a hardcore tribalist: A handsome, macho, blond, Polish-born, Polish-American boy was the leader of the pack during the 2011 Jagiellonian University summer school. He sparked parties; the university guides deferred to him.

He lives in Wallington, NJ, a heavily Polish-American town.

On the bus during our daytrip to Zakopane, I overheard him say that he stockpiles weapons, and that if any trouble began, he would be ready to shoot bad people from Paterson, NJ, who might attack Wallington.

Gently, quietly, I approached this lad. He looked about twenty years old. I told him that I live in Paterson. I told him that I am active in Polish issues. I told him that he should drive the
seven miles that separate Wallington from Paterson. I said that he and I could be active in Polish issues together.

This was a very muscular young man. I know because he often walked around bare-chested. This young Hercules had nothing to fear from a little old lady like me.

As I spoke to him, he looked terrified.

His socialization had prepared him to be the alpha male of a crew of young Polish-Americans in Poland. Nothing in his socialization had prepared him to communicate coherently, never mind organize politically or culturally, with a Polish-American from a different immigration wave, from a different age group and gender, from a different town. A stranger inviting him to participate in Polish-American issues overwhelmed him, discombobulated him, wiped his brain clean and froze it up.

Among members of his tribe, he is a fearless leader. When encountering someone he defines as alien, the tribalist cannot function.

Hobbyists. The women dabble in genealogy. The men collect military insignia. Like all hobbyists, their hobbies allow them to escape the stresses of day-to-day demands. The last thing they want to do is get involved in controversial, real-life issues; thus, the route from hobbyist to activist is a difficult one.

Celebrity worshippers. When Czeslaw Milosz wins a Nobel Prize, or Andrzej Wajda wins an Academy Award, or Izabella Skorupko is chosen to be a Bond girl, they pay attention. Activism is a nitty-gritty activity, demanding contact with unglamorous people. Polonians without celebrity status, humble goals that aren't broadcast via the TV show "Entertainment Tonight" or via the front page of the newspaper, offer them nothing they value. 

Celebrity worshippers notice when a Polish actress like Isabella Skorupko becomes a Bond girl. 
Audience Members. They catch performances of Mazowsze or the latest Polish film. Polishness is something they buy tickets for and observe. It is not something that they do.

Seasonal Polonians. They are Polish in their kitchen on Wigilia – Christmas Eve – and on Easter Sunday.

Snobs. The Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype is contagious. If the snobs were to associate with Bohunks, they would risk losing their own hard-won status as self-created Polonian princes and princesses.

The only Poles they will own up to have received an imprimatur of approval from certifiably superior people, i.e., non-Poles.

The snobs never shut up about Copernicus, Kosciuszko, Karski, Chopin, Curie or Milosz. The snobs are religiously rude to any Pole who has ever cleaned anyone else's home. Their rudeness establishes their superiority. They are NOT Bieganski, they want you to know.

Sunshine soldiers and summer patriots. "Convenience" is their keyword. If it is convenient for them to do so, they will toss off a letter protesting this or that incident. Theirs is ADHD activism.

Chauvinists. A consistent netizen of online Polish groups is the Chauvinist.

He makes a lot of noise: "Rah, rah, Poland! Boo, hiss Jews!" He makes a white eagle on a red field, or a photo of Pilsudski, his Facebook photo.

He complains a lot, very vehemently. "How scandalous! There's been another Polish joke on TV! We must do something! Doesn't anyone here care about this EXCEPT ME!!!!!"

All his noise and bluster might convince you that he loves Poland.

Love allows growth, and he isn't interested in any Poland that isn't his rigid fantasy of Poland: one where the men are manly, the women know their place, no one is gay or an atheist, and Lwow and Wilno are Polish cities.

The chauvinist's denial and defensiveness demand that, in public, we speak of Poles only as heroes and heroines. Every Polish woman is Princess Wanda, bravely fighting for Poland. Every Polish man is brave Knight Konrad Wallenrod.

We must always blame the Jews. Or the WASPs. Or the liberals. Or Jan Tomasz Gross. Or the big conspiracy against Poles.

The chauvinist's denial and defensiveness demand that we never diagnose our own failings, address them, and improve our tactics.

Drama Queens Superficially, Drama Queens may appear to be perfect activists. With their short, sharp bursts of energy, they shock and awe.

In the long run, Drama Queens cause more harm than good.

They are in it for the backstage gossip, in which they always play the leading role. These dramatics, in which the Drama Queen uses other people as props in his or her psychodrama, suck people's focus and undermine unity.

Drama Queens like the bright lights and admiration that they imagine activists enjoy.

In fact, 75% of the time, activists are ignored. 15% of the time, they are misunderstood. The rest of the time they are condemned, marginalized, and forgotten. Admiration constitutes, at best, 1% of the average activist's life. No one is applauded for stuffing envelopes. Thus, one cannot count on the Drama Queen.

"Tangled Roots" by Senex Prime. Source
The Walking Wounded I teach African Americans, and, as one might expect, there is much trauma in that population. Today, one hundred and fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the wounds of slavery and Jim Crow display themselves daily in the lives of my black students.

Polonians also show trauma.

I remember a Polish-born student approaching me at the end of the semester to say, "I like you, professor, because you understand what hurts me." I find it hard to imagine a student of any other ethnicity paying me just that compliment.

Twenty years ago I knew an Australian Polonian. He had a picture of Pilsudski on his bedroom wall. I know because I still have a photo that I took of him grinning proudly in front of the Pilsudski portrait. In our long talks, he unreeled both the considerable pride he drew from his Polish identity, and the considerable pain.

Now, twenty years later, he aggressively insults me for still being involved. "Polishness is a big waste of time! It's a pointless, soul-destroying energy suck! Get out while you can!"

He has moved to Thailand, married a Thai woman, and speaks Thai every day. Thais are nice to him and smile at him, he reports. No more tension, no more grief, over identity.

What causes the pain of the walking wounded?

I can only guess.

Members of the c. 1880-1924 immigration were obsessed with their experiences in the Old Country as peasants. They were hungry, they were cold, they were without contact with the sophisticated, they had the powerless peasant's conflicted relationship with power – power in the form of a boss or power in the form of a printed book or contract or financial investment – they had limited contact with the wider world outside the village, and they were physically strong.

They wanted housing, they wanted food, they wanted stability, and they unquestioningly believed that their hard work could earn them these things. Peasants, they lacked the cards to do anything fancy – they would not become journalists or financiers. They were blessed with the strong backs and the iron wills to work very hard jobs. They stuck with those jobs in spite of every obstacle, they bought houses, they put down roots, they married, they stayed married, and they did not waver in their determination.

That's the average Polish-American from that immigration. They had little to nothing to do with Chopin or Curie, and everything to do with very clean houses, very full refrigerators and very reliable employees.

These people were not verbal about their identity. They didn't talk.

Such lives can be horribly stifling and frustrating and they dealt with those frustrations through displaced aggression – by getting drunk and beating their spouses or kids. I don't know that I've ever met anyone from that generation who did not mention the
silence – "They never talked about it" – the excessive alcohol consumption and the domestic violence.


Younger Poles today who were born in Poland and came to the US also have a distinctive identity. It is secret. Springing from generations of struggle and horror, knowing that cataclysmic forces can overturn lives, they have knowledge that those around them just don't have. Their narrative runs counter to the currently dominant American narrative of Political Correctness. They know that white people can be slaves. They know that Stalin's face does not belong on a t-shirt. They know that the left can mass murder as efficiently as the right.

They keep their counter narrative secret, though. They adopt a shiny surface of American consumer goods and eye others warily. They know that if they spoke too frankly about what they know, what their people have seen, they would be different, and they don't want to be assessed as different, though in their hearts they know they are. They know about the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype, and they resent it. They are unwilling to take any action to change it, though, because of the crisis in leadership and organizing. They have made it in The West, and they do not want to be associated with any Bohunks who have not made it. They are snobs. Their snobbishness renders them useless as activists. 

This secret identity of many Polonians, especially young ones, can lead to a brittle smugness. "We Poles have suffered and we know the world's dark secrets and we have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good." This stance alienates them from the wider world, and from their truest selves. The can begin to feel like imposters.


The next post in this series: PartThree: There's Hope! What You Can Do about The Crisis in Polonian Leadership,Organization and Vision.

The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision

"Barren" by Gary Bagshawe. Source.

The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision

This post is part of a three-part series.

Part One: The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision.

PartTwo: Possible Causes for The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision.

Part Three: There's Hope! What You Can Do about The Crisis inPolonian Leadership, Organization and Vision.


The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization and Vision

1.) Polonians complain about the misrepresentation of Poles.

Google "Polish slander" or "Polish defamation" or "unknown Polish history" or "Polish concentration camps" or anti-Polonism or Antypolonizm or polonophobia and you find website after website, petition after petition, letter after letter, facebook page after facebook page.

Titles like Richard C. Lukas' "Forgotten Survivors: Polish Christians Remember the Nazi Occupation" and "Waiting to be Heard: The Polish Christian Experience Under Nazi and Stalinist Oppression 1939-1955" reflect this complaint: someone is forgetting Polish victims. Someone is not hearing Polish victims.

2.) As "Bieganski" and this blog demonstrate, misrepresentation of Poles and Poland is real. The Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype is standard in schools, museums, media, and scholarship. Immigration, race, class, Holocaust and World War Two history, Catholicism and Christian-Jewish relations are rewritten in a manner that is false and unethical.

3.) A minority of Polonians openly scapegoat Jews, or even just one man – Jan Tomasz Gross – for this misrepresentation of Poles.

"Jews don't like Poles and Jews lie about Poles. Jews have much money. Jews have much power. Jews control the media. Jews control the government. Jews control schools. As long as Jews control things, Poles are helpless. We can never have as much money or power or control as Jews."

Sometimes Polonians blame African Americans, Liberals, Feminists, Gays. "This or that group controls the schools! Controls the media! Controls the culture! Controls the politicians! We poor, helpless, Polish people can't get our story told, because others control everything! We are helpless bystanders!"

4.) As long as Polonians blame "the Jews" – or Jan Tomasz Gross – for Polonians' failures, Polonia fails to grow up. Polonia fails to take responsibility for its own behavior. Polonia fails to act in its own interests.

5.) The organizing strategies that work for Jews and African Americans and Liberals and Feminists and everybody else the blamers blame would work for Poles and Polonians.

6.) Polonians do not make use of these strategies because of a crisis in Polonian leadership, organization, and vision.

7.) YOU can do something about this.


I've been observing ethnic politics all my life. I grew up in a very diverse town in a very diverse state. In my small town, my neighbors had been born in China, India, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Spain, Lebanon, Italy, Ukraine. There were African Americans, Native Americans, and Yiddish speakers.

I've lived in Africa, Asia, Europe, on both coasts, and in the heartland, of the United States.

I've taught students from every major and many of the minor ethnic groups on earth.

My father helped me write my first letter to the president when I was eight. My mother took me to my first march on Washington when I was in my early teens. I've politically organized with Serbs, Muslims, Tibetans, Nepalis, African Americans, the United Auto Workers, feminists, homosexuals, environmentalists, Catholics, Peace Corps Volunteers, etc.

I've been part of many successful organizing efforts, including to open a food bank, a controversial support center for GLBT students, to elect politicians, to get propositions on ballets. I've arranged multi-day conferences, written successful grant proposals, stuffed envelopes, staffed phone banks, attended city council meetings, and made hundreds of cold calls to voters and consumers. I've gone door to door with clipboards soliciting donations for worthy causes. I've registered voters. I've hung posters.

I've published and broadcast. "Political Paralysis" appeared in "The Impossible Will Take a Little While," an activist handbook featuring work by people like Nelson Mandela, Marian Wright Edelman, Henri Nouwen, and Vaclav Havel.

I've had ample opportunity to observe and compare how various groups play politics.

Polish-Americans are the single most self-sabotaging, and the least politically, culturally, academically and economically effective group with whom I have worked.


Why I care about the crisis in Polonian leadership and organizing.

I've seen Mount Everest and the Taj Mahal, the Acropolis, the Dome of the Rock, the Grand Canyon and the Louvre. I've lived in New York City and California's San Francisco Bay Area, visited Paris and London.

Poland offers something you can get no place else. It's not the Wawel palace; Versailles dwarfs it. It's not Chopin; you can hear his music anywhere. It's not big, flat, fields of rye or poppy or potatoes. I mean, come on.

Hell came to earth in Poland, and Poland produced heroes. Poland offers the best of humanity, in the midst of the worst of humanity.

During the Nazi occupation, Warsaw Mayor Stefan Starzynski said, "Through where there were fine orphanages is now rubble; though where there were parks, there are today barricades, covered with dead; though our libraries burn, and our hospitals, it will not be in one hundred years, but today, that Warsaw, by defending the honor of Poland, stands at the pinnacle of its greatness and glory."

Warsaw, by showing its courage and determination in the hellish conditions of the Nazi occupation, revealed Warsaw's – and humanity's – truest, and best face.

Polonia's squandering of this heritage is a tragedy.


What do leaders do?

Leaders are role models. Leaders have done admirable things, and others look up to them.

Leaders acquire resources and distribute them to the community. The head lioness in the pride is the head lioness because she's the one who kills the game and brings it back for the rest of the pride to eat.

Leaders cultivate team spirit. Leaders make sure team members cooperate with, and are loyal to each team member.

Leaders establish the status and power of the group among other groups in the wider world.

Leaders recognize talent and cultivate it.

Leaders nurture, and pass the work on to, the next generation. Leaders are as much about the future as the past and the present.


A remarkable leader in my own life was UC Berkeley Prof. Alan Dundes.

My first year at Berkeley, Prof. Dundes told me I was "the wrong minority" to receive funding.

Prof. Dundes "pulled strings he didn't know existed" in order to get me funding for my second year.

Prof. Dundes told me I was talented. He selected which of my works I should focus on publishing, told me exactly what I needed to do to improve them for publication, and exactly what journals to submit them to.

I moved away from Berkeley. I wrote to Prof. Dundes often.

Prof. Dundes was the most important scholar in his field anywhere on planet earth. He made regular media appearances and hobnobbed with the rich and powerful.

Prof. Dundes never indicated I was unworthy of his time. Prof. Dundes never let one of my questions slip by. He responded as if my most casual observation were fascinating and worthy of his focused attention.

More than ten years after I was his student, Alan Dundes went over my CV with a fine-toothed comb and made suggestions on how to improve it. He told me what jobs to apply for, at what schools. He wrote me stellar letters of recommendation.

In March of 2005, I received a long personal email from Prof. Dundes, one I found so moving I found it hard to reply to. A few days later, he was gone. Now, six years after his death, when I introduce my own students to Alan Dundes' work, I do so with joy and pride. I am passing his work on to the next generation.

I work to build team spirit among my students. I make sure they bond to each other as much as to me. Dundes taught me that: We're all in this together.

Prof. Dundes' and I fought like cats and dogs. We came from dramatically different social classes and we disagreed violently on money, sex, gender, social class, religion, theory – everything. We were not friends. Prof. Dundes didn't do all he did for me because he liked me.

Prof. Dundes did all he did for me because he was an excellent teacher, scholar, and leader. He knew how to fulfill his role in life, and he did so, brilliantly.

Prof. Dundes' ancestors came from Łódź, which he pronounced, as Polish Jews do, "L O D Z," to rhyme with "clods," not "W O O D J" to rhyme with "huge" as Polish Catholics do.

I have never had a relationship anything like I had with Prof. Dundes with a member of my own demographic, an American of Polish Catholic descent. Nor anything like the relationships I had with
Rabbi Laurence Skopitz, Prof. Antony Polonsky, Robin Schaffer, Arno Lowi, or Simon Stern. Or Stuart Balcomb – of Anglo-Saxon and Finnish descent.

When I was an unpublished house-cleaner, the daughter of an immigrant who also cleaned houses for a living, these Jewish people, and Stuart, told me that I was talented, and that I should publish. They nurtured my writing for years before I did publish.

The message I got from my own milieu, my fellow Polish Catholics, was that the most important thing for a woman to be is pretty, and since I was not pretty and I was blue collar, I should spend my life cleaning other women's houses.

Polonians don't need to learn how to like each other.

Polonians need better to function as mentors, leaders and activists. They need better to nurture and cultivate their own future.


We can use stories like those below to diagnose our flaws and to act to improve.

It is right and necessary to tell these stories now to you, the readers of this blog – you are people who care about Polonia. It is right and necessary for you to act in response to these realities.


I was a teenager. I was fascinated by all things Polish. While attending high school full time, I worked full time as a nurse's aid. I saved every penny, and entered an academic program about Poland. I met my very first Polish-American leader. The leader of this academic program was well known among Polish-Americans. I deeply admired this man's work, and I still do. It is essential to me.

He had an affair with one of my fellow students. The grapevine reported that this went on every session – that he always picked a student to make his lover.

What if we ran into his wife? No doubt he expected us to protect his lie. And were female Polish-Americans eagerly exploring their ancestry really nothing more than a stable of potential lovers for this famous Polish-American man? How could he regard any of us with any respect?

Years later, my work on Polish-American issues required me to contact prominent Polish-Americans. This man was one. He never responded to any of my communications to him, thus handicapping my work.


In 1981, General Jaruzelski declared Martial Law. Solidarity was crushed and Poland was in need. My friend Lauren and I went to a Polish-American organization in New York City.

We walked up to the Polish-American head of the organization and said we wanted to help support Poland.

The Polish-American leader said, "You are just two silly little girls who don't speak Polish. There is nothing you can do. Get out."

Lauren and I protested outside the NYC Polish Consulate ourselves. We made our own signs.

There we met a large number of other people who were protesting, including two young men who would later become our boyfriends: Mitch and Steve.

Mitch, Steve, Lauren, me, and dozens of others protested outside the Polish Consulate regularly. We got up before dawn and walked up and down the streets of Manhattan hanging fliers exhorting people to join our protest. We held meetings at night in a Greenwich Village union hall, planning our actions. We sold buttons and t-shirts saying, "Teach Yourself Polish: Strajk!"

There were tensions in the group. There was a loudmouth named N. whom no one liked. A man, his ex-wife, and her new husband were all group members.

We didn't focus on tensions. We didn't waste our time gossiping, backstabbing or settling personal scores over imagined slights. We kept our eyes on the prize: showing our support for oppressed Poles and Poland.

We were persistent enough, and dramatic enough in our protests, that film of our protests made it to the nightly news broadcasts.

Mitch, Steve, and most of the dozens of others involved in these NYC protests against the crushing of Solidarity were not Polish Catholics. They were Jews.

I asked Mitch, a native New Yorker, why he got up before dawn, went to meetings after work, and stayed up late organizing to help Poland. "My haht is wid de woikas," he replied, in his heavy New York accent. "My heart is with the workers."


My friend's luminous beauty stopped men in their tracks on the street. She, like me, was on fire with a passion for Poland. Her life's goal was to publish a book that honored her immigrant ancestors' story.

She came into contact with a prominent, older, Polish-American leader who promised to help her. The promises of this Polish-American man who had made it to the top in America looked like the stairway to heaven to my friend. When she arrived at the meeting, "He threw me up against the wall and fondled my breasts." He swore that she was especially talented, that he could help her, that they could do great things together for Polish culture. He would divorce his wife for her.

Eventually he dropped her, telling her that their affair posed a threat to his professional advancement.

She had a nervous breakdown. She never published her manuscript.

I know my friend should not have succumbed to this powerful, older man's blandishments.

I also know she was young, vulnerable, and emotionally burdened by the "Dumb Polak" image. She was on fire with a romantic dedication to create a lasting work of art for Polish-Americans like her own grandmother.


Recently, I was approached by an older, established, financially comfortable Polish-American professional woman with an advanced degree. She's at a point in her life when she is thinking about charitable giving to significant causes, and about passing on her values to future generations.

She had recently encountered a book that identified Poles and Poland as responsible for the Holocaust. She wanted to do something.

She attended a social event with a prominent Polish-American leader. She shared biographical details with this man – they were roughly the same age, from the same neighborhood, and the same immigration wave.

She approached him to touch base, to see if they knew any of the same people, and to see what she could contribute to matters of value to them both. She wanted to donate money, to volunteer, to advance Polish-American culture. She was in a position to do all of these things; her own children were grown, and she had more money than she knew what to do with. She had the time to devote to honoring her heritage.

This was a social and cultural event – the very kind of event where this kind of networking and schmoozing can take place to achieve concrete goals.

She approached the Polish-American leader, ready to shake his hand. Smiling.

The Polish-American leader would not make eye contact with her. Aggressively, he ignored her. She tried; he moved away. She followed; he moved farther away. He was working very hard at meeting with others at the event who had higher social status than she.

The woman was insulted and enraged. Her desire to become economically, culturally and politically active in service to Polish-American issues was thwarted.


I attended a formal dinner for Polish-American leaders. The dinner was funded by a concerned and generous Polish-American who wanted to contribute to Polonia. The food and setting were expensive. Almost all those at the dinner were Polish-Americans. Throughout the two-hour event, the Polish-Americans present shouted at each other: insults, statements of personal aggrandizement, denunciations. They yelled about matters that had nothing to do with the Polish-American issues that were on the agenda. Words like "idiot" and "fool" were used.

I silently shrank into myself, counting the minutes until this farce ended. I had been naïve enough to bring a guest, someone not interested in Polish matters. I peeked across the table at this person, mortified and heartbroken.

Here we were, all of us Polish-Americans who had done something in our fields for Polonia, and the only conversation we could have was an incoherent shouting match as if at the table of a family whose father is a bullying drunk.


A Polish-American leader told me, "There is so much our group would like to do, but we can't, because we don't have any funds."

"Why don't you have any funds?" I asked.

"Because we all sued each other, and that depleted our treasury."


I had not been published by Polish-American publishers, or in Polish-American publications.

I wrote to a Polish-American leader. By that point, I'd earned thousands of dollars from my writing, won prizes, and been well-reviewed. I asked how I could bring my writing to the attention of Polish-American readers and Polish-American publications – since I so often wrote and published on Polish-American topics.

This Polish-American leader wrote back to me, paraphrase, "Keep your day job. You just don't have what it takes. No one will ever publish you. You stink."

Editors who have published me receive similar denunciations from Polish-Americans. They often bring these missives to my attention, with a puzzled question, "Why is this Polish-American person writing to us to denounce you in this way: 'Her writing stinks! You should not publish her!'"

These communications are so bizarre, so irrational, I didn't know, at first, how to process them. Over time, I began to see a pattern.

I was talking to a Polish-American writer whose work I'd come to admire. This author got to the heart of Polish-American issues in a way that no other Polish-American writer's work did. I told this writer how much I admired her literary output.

The writer wrote back. I was shocked to discover that this author, over and over again, had sent work to Polish-American publications. These publications not only did not publish her, they didn't even bother to respond at all. This writer's output, which I admired so much for telling the heart of the Polish-American story, was published by non-Polish-American presses.

Further, this Polish-American woman writer had encountered resistance from Americans who harbored anti-Polish prejudices. She was stuck between Polish American presses and editors who wouldn't respond to her submissions, and non-Polish Americans who resisted her because of their anti-Polish bigotry.

Then I heard from yet another author. He was not Polish himself, but he wrote about Polish themes. He had struggled for years to get his work published. "Polish-Americans don't buy books," publishers told him. They liked his work, but feared that publishing it would be too great a financial risk.

Then I heard from another writer. She had been flagrantly and publicly insulted at a reading … by a Polish-American cultural leader.

And then yet another Polish-American writer. His prize-winning work had been memorably insulted … by a Polish-American editor.


In July, 2007, Rabbi Joseph Polak published "Silence Lifts on Poland's Jews" in the Boston Globe. The essay promulgated the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype.

In November, 2007, Fox TV broadcast this joke on its "Back to You" sitcom: "Bowling is in your Polish blood, like kielbasa and collaborating with the Nazis."

I wanted to respond.

After decades of work on Polish issues, of interacting with Polonians in real life and on the internet, I had no contacts, none, who would respond in an organized way.

No organizations. Not even an ad-hoc group. No networks.

On my own, I sent a response to the Boston Globe. Not only did they refuse to publish it, they didn't even respond to my submission till my Jewish ally, Rabbi Michael Herzbrun, wrote to them. The Boston Globe's response was curt and contemptuous. You can read my unpublished response to Rabbi Polak

The Boston Globe can do this. All American media outlets can do this. They can promote the Bieganski stereotype without fear because they know that there are no effective groups who will respond in any organized way that has any economic, political, or cultural impact.

Sure, they'll receive random letters from random individuals. So what?

In November, 2007, without any effective network, I sent a letter, as an individual, to Fox TV. You can see that letter
here. How much more impact that letter would have had on Fox TV had there been a national, or better, an international presence of mutually supportive Polonians, organized at the grassroots level and committed to consistent, effective action, behind it.


"Bieganski" was close to publication. I needed to check thousands of facts. Given the controversial nature of the book, I knew it was imperative that I get every fact scrupulously correct.

I tracked down phone numbers and email addresses and contacted historical players directly.

I had to contact many Jews, many of whom I have publicly criticized. Three notable names: Art Spiegelman, author of "Maus,"
a book I have repeatedly and publicly condemned in the harshest terms possible, Rabbi Avi Weiss, who planned and carried out the controversial protest at the convent near Auschwitz, which I criticized harshly, and Steven Pinker, a prominent scientist, then at Harvard.

In response to queries from me, a complete nobody, these Jewish men were courteous and professional. They answered my questions. They gave me permission to quote them. Not one negative word was exchanged between us.

I often had very different experiences when contacting Polish sources. Often, I received no response. On one memorable occasion, after I'd dialed a Polish-American professor at an Ivy League university, during normal business hours, I had to hold the phone away from my ear. The general message of his tirade: "I am a very important person, and you are nobody. Don't bother me."


"Bieganski" was finally published. It had been covered in front-page stories in the US and Poland, and won an award. The jacket included strong endorsements from world-class scholars. I had just returned from Poland, where I spoke about the book at a couple of museums and a university.

I sent out emails to American schools and cultural institutions offering to speak.

A US Jewish university immediately responded, courteously, with an invitation and an honorarium.

A Polish-American cultural leader to whom I sent
the exact same email responded by denigrating me, my work, and my peasant ancestry.


I've been poring over academic job listings for ten years. Painstakingly reviewing these job announcements in the vain search for a tenure-track job has taught me much. Academic job announcements in the humanities value some ethnicities more than others. African American and Hispanic American identities and/or areas of research and publication are most frequently cited as making a candidate attractive, or even as the bare minimum requirement, for academic employment.

After that, one earns points for Native American, Asian, Gay, Arab, Pacific Islander, Jewish, and, in a few rare cases, Italian, Irish, and even Basque identities and research and publication focus.

Never, not once, in ten years of looking at thousands of job announcements in a wide variety of humanities jobs, including teaching freshman composition, film, creative writing, folklore, world literature, and gender studies, have I seen any Bohunk ethnicity or focus listed as having any appeal to any employer.

Bravo to African American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, Arab, Gay, Jewish, Italian, Irish and Basque activists for making themselves visible and valuable in academia. For making their scholars employable. For making their stories known. For endowing their worldview with authority and respect.

Bohunks – Polish-Americans, Ukrainian-Americans, Slovak-Americans, etc, have not done the same work, and
they suffer for it. Their literature, film, experience, worldview, are disrespected, misrepresented, stuffed down the memory hole, trashed.

Drought. Altrendo Nature. Source.
Here's a secret: EVERY Polonian I've discussed these matters with one-on-one has said the same things I'm saying here.

Every last one.

"We don't know how to lead."

"We don't know how to organize."

"We don't support our own."

"We devote more energy to fighting among ourselves than to accomplishing concrete goals."

"Polish snobbery is still a problem."

"Polish self-hatred is still a problem."


Members of other groups recognize each other publicly, reach out, form bonds, and support each other. That reaching out and bonding are their source of strength.

Because I live in New Jersey, a very diverse state, I witness this on a daily basis.

Friday, November 4, I was standing in line at a supermarket. I'd met my cashier once before. He has bright blond hair and pale skin, but his nametag identified him as "Abdul." He was Muslim, but Circassian, a European Muslim group.

As I waited in line, the cashier from the next aisle called over to Abdul. "You're new?"

"Yes," Abdul replied.

"From the Middle East?"

"Yes," Abdul replied.

"Me, too. My name is Mo. I'm from Syria." He reached across me and shook Abdul's hand. "I've been here for a while," Mo said. "If you need help with anything, look for me."

It's a small moment. Through such small moments, in spite of resistance, Muslims have become successful political players, as evidenced by Governor Christie's controversial appointment of
Sohail Mohammed to New Jersey's superior court.


I regularly attend faculty training sessions. Semester after semester, senior African American faculty reach out to newly hired African American faculty. They take them out of the meeting, welcome them to campus, and offer to be guides, mentors, and friends.

My Hispanic colleague and fellow professor spends her weekends helping undocumented Hispanic immigrants.

At Indiana University there was an older gay professor who regularly mentored and guided young gay students. There was a gay Lutheran minister who went out of his way to make himself available to gay kids on campus. This minister saved my friend David's life when David was feeling suicidal.

I know of hiring committees who decide that a job, whether it is stated in the job announcement or not, will go to an African American or a Hispanic American.

Poor, white Christians – a group Bohunks are likely to belong to – are among the most underrepresented groups on elite college campuses. I've never heard any Bohunk professor make any supportive comment, ever, about his or her fellow Bohunks, certainly not as regards hiring or admissions.


Zora Neale Hurston was a very good writer, but lost. Few people read her.

She was an African American woman.

Television celebrity Oprah Winfrey resurrected Zora Neale Hurston. She championed her work, and brought it to a new generation of readers.


Indiana University scholar Henry Glassie inspired me to discover Anton Piotrowski, a Polish-American coal miner and poet. Glassie had encountered Piotrowski's poetry in an archive in Pennsylvania. Glassie spoke with passion about the power of Piotrowski's poetry to convey the Polish-American experience. Henry Glassie is not Polish. I think he is Irish-American.

I put a call out: "Where is Anton Piotrowski's poetry?" I asked reference librarians. I asked Polish-American organizations. I asked Polish-American scholars.

No one had heard of Anton Piotrowski.

One night, I received a phone call.

"Are you the person seeking Anton Piotrwoski's poetry?"


"I have his poetry."

"Great! Please share it with me!"



"I don't know what you plan to do with it."

"How can you be so suspicious?" I asked, exasperated. "I'm a Polish-American scholar.
My father mined coal as a little boy in Pennsylvania. This is unknown Polish-American poetry. I just want to read it."

"Maybe the poetry is not good enough," she said.

"Please!" I begged.
The poems were finally published in 1998.

They are excellent.

Are Anton Piotrowski's poems on any syllabi anywhere?

Is anybody reading these priceless records of Polonian experience?
The book has no Amazon reviews, and it is now out of print.


You've heard of the Brothers Grimm and you think their name synonymous with folklore. In fact,
the Grimm Brothers were phonies. They were German nationalists, not real folklorists; the Nazis easily exploited their work.

Still, Germany profits from and promotes the Grimms.
You can take "Brothers Grimm" tours in Germany.

Alan Dundes introduced me to
Oskar Kolberg, a real folklorist, and a Pole. Kolberg amassed one of the largest and most important folklore collections in the world. Dundes wanted to see Kolberg's work introduced to Americans. Have Poles even managed to translate Kolberg's work into English?

This uniquely important scholar is lost to the English-speaking world. Because no one has bothered to translate his work.

Jan Peczkis is an Amazon reviewer who seeks out books and other media by and about Poles and doggedly reviews them on Amazon. Bravo Jan Peczkis.


Are Polish people just plain cheap, uncaring, and vicious?

No, that's not the point.

In fact, Polish people are warm, caring, and generous.

Is the problem, then, that Poles cannot organize?

Poles can organize.
Poles brought down the Soviet Empire. They did this, not through melodramatic internet posts. They did this the way that Mitch and Steve and others protested against Martial Law in New York City back in 1981. Poles brought down communism through committed organizing.

I was in Poland 1988-89.
I protested. I attended Solidarity meetings with recognizable figures like Jacek Kuron. I protested with the KPN, Konfederacja Polski Niepodległej, or Confederation of Independent Poland, a nationalistic and irredentist group. I protested with the Pomarańczowa Alternatywa, or Orange Alternative, an anarchic and absurdist group. I protested with random punks with safety pins in their pierced nostrils. I protested with grandmothers. I was lucky enough to meet Lech Walesa, and to ask him face-to-face questions about activism in Poland.

When things got tense, Polish men I didn't even know reached out to me, asking, "Are you okay? Do you have friends? Do you know what to do if they start breaking heads?" I saw Polish priests protect protestors from Zomo riot police. When the Zomo tear-gassed us, unseen hands shepherded us into a medieval Krakow courtyard, where ministering angels – teen girls – held rags soaked with vinegar under our noses and advised us not to touch our eyes.

Poles can organize.


In 1994, I arrived at Indiana University to pursue a PhD. My first semester at IU, I received word that my father was dying.

I was working for a professor at IU. She said that I could not leave to say goodbye to my dying father because she would soon be hosting a conference and she needed me to type up the program. I left anyway. I lost four workdays to attending my father's funeral, who died just as my train from Indiana was pulling in to New York's Penn Station.

I returned to IU and the professor for whom I worked did some very bad things.

An IU dean told me that this professor had a history of abusive behavior, that she was, in fact, a "sociopath," but that no one would stop her, because they were afraid of being called "racist" or "sexist." She was a minority female.

I was a Bohunk.
Bohunks have no status on university campuses, so I was an easy target.

I was asked to testify against the professor, and I did, throughout the entirety of the spring semester.

My inner ear burst, perhaps in response to the stress of these events, and I became crippled. I was poor and could not get medical care – in any case, vestibular disorders are "orphan diseases" and no one has devoted research to discovering fool-proof treatment.

I wrote to Polish-American organizations. I received no reply.

No reply. Not "keep your chin up." Not "we are in your corner." Not "we wish you the best."

Certainly not: "We think globally and act locally. We recognize that these events constitute a statement about the value of Bohunk students on American campuses, and we will advise you through the legal, medical, cultural, ethical, and academic ramifications of these events."

Nothing. No reply.

Had I been an African American student who had been harassed by a white professor? I would have been supported by a number of African American groups. The story would have been covered in the newspaper.


A Polish-American official on the IU campus learned what happened to me.

I can't provide any details about this person. This person prefers to remain anonymous.

This official summoned me to her spacious – intimidating – office, with its spectacular view, and told me that she would help.

This official told me that the reason she was helping me was that she was also Polish-American. One, she wanted to help a fellow Polish-American in whose life she saw some of her own story, and, two, her Polish-American background caused her to be committed to struggles against injustice.

She defied university directives, contributed significantly to my ability to complete my PhD at IU, to research, write, and eventually publish "Bieganski."

She helped me in ways that were extraordinarily generous, brave, and strong. This is simply one of the most powerful, admirable people I've ever met.

She told me, in no uncertain terms, "I don't want to be publicly identified as Polish-American. I changed my name early in life."

In fact, she had an "adopted family" of a completely different ethnicity. She spent holidays, weddings and funerals, not with her natal Polish-American family, but with this other family, of a very different ethnicity.

She had grown up in very difficult conditions. There was drinking and extreme domestic violence in the family. Her family was culturally backward: no books or music in the house. The family was closed off to the wider world. She craved an intellectually, politically, and culturally active life.

She left home, never to look back. Outside the home, she experienced anti-Polish bigotry.

She adopted a WASP name, and dropped any public association with Polishness.

In short: when a Polish-American graduate student was being crushed on a university campus, Polish-American organizations sat passively by, as they would later when I was told by a potential publisher for "Bieganski," "You can't say this because you are Polish and Catholic."

In this vacuum of leadership, organization, and vision, a Polish-American individual was heroically brave and generous and made my completing a PhD, writing and publishing 
"Bieganski" possible.

And this person does not want to be publicly identified as Polish-American. And wants nothing to do with Polish-American organizations, which strike her as nationalistic and narrow – too much like the family she worked to escape.

We need to stop blaming the Jews.

Without denial or defensiveness, we need to look honestly at our own behavior, and adopt behaviors that result in the elusive success and power we all seek to eliminate the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype.


Next: PartTwo: Possible Causes for The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization andVision.