Thursday, April 26, 2012

Falling Star - Poland Through One Work of Art

"Spadajaca Gwiazda" "Falling Star" by Witold Masznicz
at the Nicolaus Copernicus Museum in Frombork. 

"twoj glos dla Solidarnosci krokiem ku wolnosci."
"Your vote for Solidarity is a step toward freedom."
Poster from Krakow, Poland, 1989.

Chrystus Frasobliwy or Worried Christ. Source.

Wood carving by Jozef Lurka. Source.

Below is an early version of an essay that appears in the April 15, 2012 edition of the Journal of American Folklore, volume 125, issue 496. I thank editor James P. Leary for supporting my work. Irish-American Prof. Leary is a champion of scholarship on Polonia. I also thank JAF co-editor Thomas A. DuBois, and JAF editorial assistants Hilary Virtanen and Anne Rue.

As per JAF guidelines, I do not post the finished version of this essay here. I am posting an earlier version. Those wishing to cite this material are advised to access the JAF, available through your library.

On Witold Masznicz's "Spadająca Gwiazda" / "Falling Star"

In the mid-1990's, I took a folk art class with Henry Glassie. Glassie asked his students to select one work of art from a given culture and explain how that artwork offers an entrée into that culture. Glassie gave us free rein; we could select an item of folk, elite or popular art.

I chose to select an artwork from Poland. As a child of immigrants, I had grown up with Eastern European folk art. I'd traveled to Eastern Europe several times, to study, as a tourist, and to live with family. I had lived in Poland for the eventful year of 1988-89, while studying Polish language and culture at Krakow's Jagiellonian University. I would travel to Poland again, to attend a scholarly conference, during my time as a graduate student at IU.

When considering which work of art to use as an entrée into Polish culture, I confronted an embarrassment of riches. I could have chosen a
Góral's, or highlander's, embroidered felt pants; a wycinanka or brilliant paper cutting from Łowicz; one of the szopki or miniature castles and cathedrals hand-crafted from metallic papers and displayed at Christmastime in Kraków. I could have chosen Jan Matejko's painting of Jan Sobieski after his 1683 victory against the Turks at Vienna, an event that Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis, post 9-11, identified as pivotal in Islam's relationship to the rest of the world. I could have chosen one of the films that won Andrzej Wajda an honorary Academy Award.

I could have attempted science, and chosen an item from Poland's geographic center, or from the Golden Age of folk art, by some estimates, the late nineteenth century, or one representing an art form common to Poland's varied populations, including peasants and nobility, Jews and Gypsies, and other regional or minority groups. I could have abandoned all hope of science, closed my eyes, spun the wheel, and pointed. There was the option to obey instinct, and to attempt to explain the powerful pull of the unarticulated.

During a yearlong visit in 1989, I was hiking through northern Poland. I stopped at Frombork, to pay respects to one of those Poles we Poles and Polish-Americans who engage in the unending struggle for dignity always cite: Copernicus. There I stepped into a small gallery. On the stone wall hung an artwork. I found myself staring at this artwork for a long time. Later, in the museum gift shop, I bought a postcard reproduction. The artwork was "Spadająca Gwiazda," "Falling Star," by Witold Masznicz. It was mixed media. An oil painting served as background; an unpainted, wooden, human figure occupied the foreground. From the few publications I have since found, I learned that Masznicz has displayed his works in various cities in Poland and the US, and that he has been influenced by medieval art. "Falling Star" was created in 1982, the year of Martial Law and the crushing of Solidarity. Another Polish artist, Witold Pruszkowski, also painted a "Spadająca Gwiazda" in 1884. Pruszkowski's oil painting has a dramatic, science-fiction look, very unlike Masznicz's. I don't know if Masznicz's artwork is a response to Pruszkowski's.

Since that hike in 1989, I've had twenty or thirty mailing addresses. I've long since given away as gifts all the paper cut-outs and carved wooden boxes I brought back with me from that trip to Poland. I have kept my flimsy little post-card reproduction of Masznicz's painting with me, though. Why? Searching in my mind for reasons for being so compelled by it, for keeping it for so long, I came to articulate why I had, intuitively, selected it as entrée into Polish art and culture.

The work is roughly rectangular, 23.5 by 20 by 9 centimeters, short sides top and bottom. The bottom is squared off, while the top rises to a curved arch, as in an altar triptych. The background is wood, painted midnight blue, with four white stars. A fiery yellow streak proceeds halfway down this sky. In the foreground lies an unpainted, human-like, wooden figure. This figure lies on a piece of wood which is lashed, by white cord, to the midnight blue background. The figure is lying in a fetal position, with its hands under its chin. Its joints are attached to each other, and also made mobile, by white cord. The grain of the wood is distinct; the grain runs vertically up and down the figure's legs, arms, and torso. The head is in the shape of an elongated sphere; here the wood's grain suggests, to the probing viewer, facial features. Perhaps one blotch is an eye, perhaps a streak is a nose? Nothing suggests a mouth. The figure lies directly under the fiery streak and looks to be its target.

This work is wordless, its principals gigantic and mythic. The human figure sports no clues as to sex, age, class, work, race, or even character. It assumes the
ur human form: a fetal position. It has no mouth. The sky, too, is represented only in the broadest strokes that allow the viewer to know that this is a blue sky and not a blue table: the placement as background, four stars. A raised circular area in the paint's surface hints that the painter may have originally included some heavenly body, either moon or sun, but thought better of it. The chatter of facts that communicate individuality and individual experience has been expunged from this work, or this work represents a time when such chatter had not yet evolved. The viewer is confronted with the big, old nouns and verbs without definite articles: human / heaven / collision / destiny.

The viewer can be sure that collision is inevitable. It is plain from the trailing tail of the yellow blob that this is a falling star. It is aimed directly at the human form, right for the heart. This is not an artwork in which pleasure comes from being made to guess: "What's going to happen next?" The viewer is being informed of that, bluntly. Freed of plot uncertainty, the viewer turns to questions of value and meaning. "Why is this happening? Is it good or bad? Are the two visible agents: heaven and human, in compliance, or is one acting without the knowledge, or counter to the wishes, of the other?"

These questions are a matter of some urgency. When regarding this taciturn work, surveying it in a search for meaning, the viewer immediately recognizes the figure in front as like him or herself. It is human in the way that the viewer is human; it is not human in ways unlike the viewer. It is not of a different race or culture or age or profession. No distancing factors communicate that its fate belongs to a different set of experience than the viewer's fate. The viewer begins an urgent search for clues. One must find the clues before plunging heavenly star makes contact with targeted human heart.

Scanning the sky of this artwork, searching for meaning, is familiar to the viewer; scanning the sky for meaning is something humans have been doing for as long as we have been. The viewer sees what has been seen before: a beautiful shade of blue, the blue of night sky and the blue of deep ocean, a blue associated with meditative calm and profound mystery. No other features, no clouds, no horizon, no constellation, help out by providing further vocabulary or narrative. The viewer must make of this sky what he makes of any sky. Sky, of course, has been and can be the map for a sailor, the cosmic order for an astrologer or astronomer, the last frontier for a nation with an exhausted manifest destiny, the source of ultimate fear and destruction for the audiences of
War of the Worlds and other films depicting attacks by space aliens. The viewer must make of this heaven what he makes of the heaven that is the metonym for fate, destiny, order, the heaven that is synecdoche for God. It is beautiful, informative, balanced, promising, terrifying, irrational, inexplicable, malicious, as the viewer holds in his own philosophy. Left only with mystery and his own forced conclusions based on insufficient data, the viewer turns to the human figure, hoping for more clues on which to develop or support a theory.

The figure is in a fetal pose. Is this the coil of new life ready to spring? A hologram for the helix? Is, then, the yellow streak sperm shooting from an
ur father? Is this figure so blank, so apparently passive, so without feature, because it hasn't happened yet, and is waiting patiently and trustingly for heaven to come to earth in a generous, divine quickening? Or, horribly, is this the fetal position of sleep? Is this human not patient, but merely unaware? Has he surrendered to the promise of rest only to be annihilated for his indulgent and foolish relaxation of watchful tension? But then a creeping suspicion arises. Is this figure awake? Does he know what awaits him? Is his posture dictated not by the spatial economy of wombs or the reflexes of sleeping muscles, but, rather, by conscious decisions to lie down where one might stand, to crouch and be small where one might stretch and take up space, to curl silently where one might bounce violently, shake one's fist, yell and holler and shout? Is this just another one of those irritatingly bovine Poles, like those observed in bread lines, Kafkaesque bureaucratic offices, staring one in the face like human roadblocks when one is trying to get something done? Is this not the coil of hope or the innocence of sleep, but the product of long training, the manufactured posture of waking resignation?

Should we be as annoyed by this figure as we are by the plodding peasant in a slow cart taking up the whole, damn road? This one thing human in the beautiful, mute landscape represents humanity, us, and is no action hero, but rather is taking no action to save or to be saved. Or, do we feel a different anger? This figure is lying under a blissfully beautiful sky. A comet speeds across it, plain as day. For those of us who have stayed up late or driven far to see Haley, Kohoutek, Hale-Bopp, or some other ballyhooed celestial fireworks, this figure's apparent obliviousness is an affront. "Get some eyes!" we want to shout. "Open them and turn around and look! Behind you! An Event!"

I am fully aware of my own inner ungulate, of my own tendency to chew my cud, or, like the figure in "Falling Star," to revert to what looks like a duck-and-cover routine, a wake-me-when-it's-over strategy, when I might be fighting for rights, building a house of brick, or performing an aerobically therapeutic dance for joy. Should I blame my parents? They recounted, as living memory, the tale of the peasants who stood out (he worked too fast or too slow; she was too pretty or too smart; they sang a patriotic song within earshot of the wrong person) and, for their troubles, were tortured in the public square. Or is laying low as a survival strategy, not Slavic, but universal? I certainly encountered it among skittish American grad students, eager as serfs to identify and please the powers-that-be. A common folk metaphor among Polish Americans is "strong like bull" (from "silny jak tur.") The ability of peasants to be strong – or to be bovine – is beautifully dramatized in Andrzej Wajda's 1976 film "Man of Marble." The title is at least a double entendre. Despair at Poles' stoicism in the face of injustice, and awe at Poles' superhuman heroism in the face of catastrophe, are constants in Polish literature. William Butler Yeats is almost as Polish as he is Irish in his poem "Easter, 1916," when he speaks of the birth of a terrible beauty among Irishmen he'd previously dismissed as "drunken, vainglorious louts." My own aching awareness of stoicism's rewards, costs, and surprises invests me – with some urgency – in Witold Masznicz's artwork.

We study the figure's features for evidence to support one or the other of the above-proposed conclusions. The figure is lashed to the sky by cord. Similar, though finer, cord attaches limbs to torso. The same force that binds human figure to mythic sky holds human figure together. Can it be that the forces that keep us here on earth and elements in the mysterious plot are merely mechanical, and to be equated with muscles and tendons? Or, are muscles and tendons the equals of more mysterious, invisible forces? And are these forces benign or malicious?

The figure looks bound. Figures restricted by ropes, vises, and walls were a common motif in Polish art during the communist era. This motif appeared on movie posters, street art, gallery art, and folk art. An example can be seen in Hans-Joachim Schauss's 1987 book
Contemporary Polish Folk Artists. Józef Lurka, a Polish wood carver, produced a sickeningly claustrophobic figure of a kneeling human, hands bound behind back, blindfold over eyes, imprisoned between two oppressive blocks of wood. In Lurka's view, the captive's suffering has meaning; a Christ-like figure watches over him. The obvious interpretation of the oft-repeated motif of human forms restricted by ropes, blindfolds, fences, vises and walls, was that the obstacles represented Russia's communist hegemony, or that of Poland's previous oppressors and occupiers, for example, the Nazis. Support for this can be found on a Solidarity poster from 1989, which featured a red chain-link fence with a hole broken in it and the caption: "Your vote for Solidarity is a step toward freedom." No symbols inform the viewer that communism is the sole referent in "Falling Star," or even one referent among many. For example, given that Martial Law was declared by the Military Council for National Salvation, whose acronym spelled the root of the word "crow," crows were sometimes used to symbolize communist oppression. This symbol had further resonance; during the Nazi occupation, Poles referred to the German eagle as a "crow." It would be easy enough to put a crow in the sky of "Falling Star," but there is none.

The figure in "Falling Star" looks bound, and being bound suggests oppression and absence of free will. Too, given that the figure is carved of wood, these cords suggest puppetry. Is this figure a puppet of some divine puppet master? On closer inspection and further reflection, however, it becomes evident that the figure is not tied up, but merely tied. The strings do not proceed directly to heaven, or to anything
outside the human figure. Rather, these strings, lashing joints, are the very elements that allow rigid wood the potential of movement, one of the requirements of, and evidence for, life. Yes, this figure could get up and run away, if it were awake, if it chose to. It could turn around and see. In any case, puppets in Eastern European folk tradition have not always been viewed as passive subjects of the manipulation of overwhelming force. In fact, puppets were potentially subversive enough that when Nazis arrested Czech puppet master Josef Skupa, they arrested his comic puppets, Spejbl and Hurvinek, also.

Perhaps this figure's posture provides clues. Take this rectangle, short ends top and bottom, and turn it on its right side. The figure is no longer fetal, rather, he is seated, with his head rested on his hands. Anyone familiar with Polish or neighboring Lithuanian folk art can tell you: this is the posture of the Worried Christ. "Chrystus Frasobliwy," variously translated as "Worried Christ," "Sorrowful Christ" or "Man of Sorrows," is the most frequently encountered male figure in Polish folk art. It can be found in roadside shrines and folk art shops, in several media such as wood, stone, or metal. Worried Christ shows Jesus at some point in his Passion, perhaps after being whipped. He is typically wearing a crown of thorns and a loincloth. He is seated, his head resting in his hands. He is weighed down by the weight of his suffering and his destiny, and yet the Worried Christ, his center of gravity low, is not without strength and dignity. This is a Christ who has been beaten, but who is not beaten. He wears his scars, even his humiliation, as a gravity that binds him closer to the powers of earth. He has been stripped of any distraction, any of the "unbearable lightness of being," as Czech novelist Milan Kundera put it in the title of his best-known work. No stray wind will blow him off course. His pose is meditative; it may be his own suffering that obsesses him, but, given the look of transcendent thought on his face, it may be experience itself. The seeker does not feel foolish coming to this semi-naked, whipped outcast to plead for intervention, does not feel selfish presenting personal woes to someone who so obviously has suffered himself.

The human form in "Falling Star" is not a Worried Christ. He wears no crown of thorns or loincloth; he is lying rather than seated. This form is, though, part of a tradition in which stoic inaction in the face of cataclysm has been represented as honorable, even mysteriously powerful. The tradition of the Worried Christ must be considered when assessing "Falling Star."

And so I look at it again. I have reported my speculations; I am "conclusion-free." This artwork rewards me at least partly because it contains enough data to inspire in me a bit of the sense of mystery I know when I ponder the night sky, or experience itself, and, like the night sky, like life, it provides me with no more data than that, certainly not enough to understand what anything means.

I selected this artwork as an entrée into Polish folk art and its wider culture not because it contains elements of folk art, although it does, for example, the arched, painted wood typical of an altar triptych, or a figure that may be compared to a puppet or to a Worried Christ, but because it symbolizes for me Polish artists, and the wider population there, and in all of Eastern Europe. Life anywhere is precarious and unpredictable; the precariousness of life seems underlined in Eastern Europe. Overwhelming and mysterious energies charge forward without let up: war upon war, the mass displacement of immigration, Nazism, communism, environmental catastrophe. The viewer questions: "Is this annihilation or spiritual opportunity?" No definitive statement has been formulated as yet. However, we have the art as testimony to what people can do, even with fire aimed at their hearts.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Wladyslaw Kowalski: Another Quiet Hero

Wladyslaw Kowalski. Source: Ha'aretz

Vered Bar-Semech, director of the Yad Mordechai Museum, next to Kowalski's grave.
Photo: Eliyahu Hershkowitz. Source: Ha'aretz.

Polish Colonel Wladyslaw Kowalski was born in Kiev in 1896. He earned a degree in agronomic engineering. He fought for Poland's freedom during World War One. His parents were killed by the Russians. When Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Kowalski headed the brigade that defended Warsaw. He was arrested by the SS. Because he worked for Philips electronics, he was released. During the war, Kowalski rescued forty-nine Jews.

From Ha'aretz:

"The first of them was Borel Bruno, a sick and hungry 17 year-old, who was wandering the streets of Warsaw outside the ghetto. In the summer of 1940 he encountered Kowalski and said: 'I am a Jew.' Kowalski took him home, looked after him and acquired a forged Polish passport for Bruno, as well as arranging a place for him to live and a job at the Philips plant. Because of this assistance, Bruno survived; after the war he moved to Belgium.

In August of 1941 Kowalski heard moans as he walked past a ruined building in Warsaw. From the building emerged a lawyer named Phillip Rubin, starving and frightened, who begged for help; his brother and sister were also inside the building. Kowalski took them all to his home…

In November 1943, he brought the Rosen family of four out of the ghetto in the city of Izbica, in the east of Poland, and brought them to safe haven with a friend in Warsaw. He also hid Jews in his own home and provided financial assistance to 12 to 15 others, for whom he organized hiding places in homes of acquaintances. Kowalski was interrogated by the Gestapo several times on suspicion of having helped Jews, but he never divulged information about those whom he helped. During the four months prior to the end of the war, Kowalski himself hid with 49 Jews in a bunker, with barely any food and water…

'I admit I saved only 49 Jews,' said Kowalski in 1961, when he addressed a conference of immigrants from Poland in Tel Aviv. 'I did not do anything special for the Jews and I do not consider myself a hero. I only did my duty as a human being toward people who were persecuted and tortured. I did not do this only because they are Jewish, but rather I helped every persecuted person without regard to race and origin.'

In 1963 he was awarded the title Righteous Among the Nations. One of the testimonies submitted to Yad Vashem supporting his candidacy stated: 'Mr. Kowalski saved many people through supreme personal sacrifice, of course without any monetary or other recompense. He worked and he devoted his salary to feeding or clothing the Jews he hid in his home. As the director of a firm in Warsaw, during the whole course of the war he did not allow himself to buy new clothes, he walked in torn shoes and he preferred to devote his income to saving people.'"

At age 61, Kowalski and his Jewish wife, whom he had saved during the war, immigrated to Israel. He worked at a grocery store. One of his final requests was that he be buried among Jews.

From Ha'aretz:

"The body of Polish Col. Wladyslaw Kowalski lay in the morgue of Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv for five days. Nowhere in the country could a cemetery be found that would agree to his final request to be buried 'alongside Jews.' The rabbinate was unwilling to compromise on its principles so that a Christian could be buried in a Jewish cemetery. The fact that he had been declared one of the 'Righteous Among the Nations,' who had saved some 50 Jews during the Holocaust, among them his future wife, was not sufficient to change that decision - nor was the fact that during World War II he had himself circumcised as a sign of identification with the Jewish people."

Finally, a kibbutz agreed to bury Kowalski.

From Ha'aretz:

"The anger felt by Artek Weineman, secretary of Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, over Kowalski's treatment after his death by the state and authorities was evident in the eulogy he gave:

'With mixed feelings we agreed to the request (to bury him at the kibbutz). On the one hand we saw this as our obligation toward this individual to agree to this request. On the other hand, we asked the hurtful and insulting question: Why has this person, who did so much for the Jews, not been laid to rest in a central locale where the survivors can visit him and honor the memory of this man? They have been too small to appreciate and understand the sublime motivations of this man, who risked his life in order to save the lives of tens of Jews from the preying claws of the Nazi animals. However, we are angry at those whose obligation it was to pay full respects to this person after his death and who saw it as an appropriate time to humiliate him in the eyes of the civilized world and his family.

'It is an honor to us that Kowalski's body rests in the cemetery of our kibbutz. His wonderful character and his great deeds will serve us and our children as a symbol of the good and the pure in the human race and will reinforce in us the belief and the hope that brotherhood of nations will ultimately overcome racial hatred and brutal nationalism.'"

From: "Mystery surrounds Righteous Gentile who saved dozens of Jews. Since Kibbutz Yad Mordechai agreed to bury Wladyslaw Kowalski - a Righteous Gentile who saved 49 Polish Jews in the war - in its cemetery in 1971, virtually no one has visited his grave and mysteries surrounding his life abound."
Ha'aretz April 20, 2012
By Ofer Aderet. Link to story on Ha'aretz.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"Bieganski": "Important," "Admirable," "Pioneering," "Incontrovertible to Any Fair Minded Person" Goska "Forces Open the Door"

"Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture," has been reviewed by editor, publisher, and bookseller Daniel T. Weaver in "Upstream Two: A Mohawk Valley Journal." Active and concerned Polonians and those interested in Polish-American culture will purchase, read, disseminate and support Upstream Two, as it focuses on Polish-American life and literature.

Weaver's review of "Bieganski" is one of the most accurate that the book has received so far.

All too often, those who speak about the Brute stereotype are Polish chauvinists or anti-Polish bigots. The Polish chauvinists insist that all Poles are heroes on horseback. The anti-Polish bigots insist that Poles are inherently flawed, or, more crudely, that Poles are all pigs. Neither group is correct. The Polish chauvinists have no use for my work, and neither do the anti-Polish bigots.

This skewed shouting match is worse than farce; it is a tragedy. The Bieganski stereotype is pervasive in elementary school classrooms, on university campuses, in the press and in films, in museums and in formal, state-sponsored "tolerance" efforts to come to terms with atrocity. It is a stereotype that is used to rewrite history, a stereotype that is used to lie to concerned human beings about what we need to do to meet our ethical responsibilities as members of the human race. Indeed, contrary to both Polish chauvinists and anti-Polish bigots, the Bieganski stereotype has deep and universal ethical implications.

Daniel T. Weaver is neither a Polish chauvinist nor an anti-Polish bigot. He is able to see and report with greater acuity than members of either group. He remarks that after the arrival of peasant immigrants to the US, the image of the Pole in America became "a brute, a man existing only slightly above the level of an animal…Goska shows that negative Polish stereotypes, unlike negative stereotypes of other national, racial, and ethnic groups, continue to be acceptable…Goska does an admirable job showing negative Polish stereotypes."

"Goska's book raises two troubling questions. Why, when the Germans planned and carried out the Holocaust, do so many people blame Poland and have a higher opinion of Germany than of Poland? Why, when both Poles and Jews were both victims of Hitler's racist theories, do some from both sides so despise each other?" The Bieganski stereotype, Weaver insightfully realizes, "Can alleviate Nazi guilt."

A reviewer in American Jewish History had the same epiphany as Weaver. Bieganski, this reviewer reported, "gives the illusion of absolving those who failed in their own test of humanity" during the Holocaust.

In his review, mulling over the questions Bieganski raises, Weaver mentions a woman I'd never heard of: Stella Kubler. Kubler was a Jewish woman who betrayed possibly thousands of Jews to the Nazis in Berlin during World War II. Weaver also mentioned the book, "The Cap: The Price of a Life," about Holocaust survivor Roman Frister, who had been repeatedly raped by a Jewish capo, and who stole a cap from a fellow prisoner, in order to facilitate his own survival, while dooming the victim of the theft.

"In the end," Weaver says, "Goska makes an honest attempt to employ [her] theories to explain the baffling reputation of Poland as the perpetrator of the Holocaust and the continued acceptance of negative Polish stereotypes in American culture and elsewhere…[Bieganski] forces the reader to think about issues he or she has not likely been forced to look at…Other writers must force open widely the door Goska has opened."

As much as I am gratified by Weaver's review, he missed a couple of very important points in the book, and his review contains two sentences that are terribly inaccurate. But I'm not going to quibble; I'm not even going to challenge him to a duel.

When I was writing "Bieganski," the hostility I encountered communicated to me that I was treading on dangerous terrain. Indeed, ten years out from my PhD and having published, as expected, in peer-reviewed journals, and garnered positive evaluations from students and peers, I am forced to consider leaving teaching forever. Being a "pioneer," as Weaver called me, writing a "groundbreaking" book, as Shofar Journal of Jewish Studies called "Bieganski," has had a ruinous impact on my life as a wage-earner.

But I learned something else, too. I realized that, eventually, someone would read "Bieganski," and would understand. Daniel T. Weaver doesn't understand the book perfectly, but his review shows that he understood a good percentage of what I was saying, and that is a gratifying feeling.

That's the good news. The not so good news is that Polonia has not yet taken action on the Bieganski stereotype. While I've spoken at Brandeis, at Georgetown, in museums, synagogues and in UU churches, I have yet to speak to a Polish group. The Polish embassy and the Kosciuszko Foundation have not yet addressed the book, Polish language publishers have not yet published it, and Polish-Americans are not purchasing it in significant numbers.

Meanwhile, one or two people do buy the book. I received a very heartening email from a reader of Bieganski who is neither Polish nor Jewish, but, in fact, proudly German-American. This reader understood the book, too. He understood its universal implications. His email:

"Say 'n - - - - r' and you're dead. Say 'Polack' and people stand there, smiling, waiting for the punchline.

Selective outrage against what should be equally immoral.

You know Bieganski isn't a fight for Poles & Jews, it's about evolving people's heads to where they see right and wrong, try to empathize with human beings struggling, past, present and future and learn from past mistakes."

I rejoiced when I received this email from this one reader. He got it. He understood the book. Thank you, one reader, thank you.


Upstream Two also contains an essay by me, "My Vow: I Will Never Be an Immigrant," and several poems. It also contains a review of Linda C. Wisniewski's "Off Kilter: A Woman's Journey to Peace with Scoliosis, Her Mother, and Her Polish Heritage," identifying it as a memoir the reviewer wished he could have written himself, and many other reviews of, or original contributions to, Polish-American culture. Again, concerned Polonians will buy Upstream Two, read it, and support it, as will anyone interested in Polish-American culture.