Wednesday, May 30, 2012

US President Barack Obama Mouths Bieganski. Polonia, Can You Hear Me Now?

Hope, Change, and Bieganski: As American As Apple Pie

Polonia is all a dither. On May 29, 2012, US President Barack Obama was supposed to be honoring Jan Karski, a Polish World War II hero, when Obama mentioned "a Polish death camp."

Now there will be a rapid flurry of outraged letters, some typed in all capital letters. These letters will point out that it was the German Nazis, not Poles, who built and maintained places like Auschwitz. Predictable sources will produce predictable outrage. Alex Storozynski at the Kosciuszko Foundation will huff publicly.

Polonia's response at moments like this is analogous to a parent whose child attends school during a town-wide head-lice outbreak. The parent finds one louse, kills it, and announces proudly and loudly, "There! I've solved the problem!"

Of course this parent has not solved the problem. The problem was not one louse. It was a much deeper-rooted phenomenon.

Waiting till you see the bug, killing it, and deciding that you've solved things doesn't solve the problem.


Bieganski, the Brute Polak stereotype is a deeply-rooted, long-lived, entrenched and widespread feature of Western Civilization. It is not a recent or limited invention, the fault of the Jews or the Communists, as a couple of recent books imply. (See reviews of those books here and here.)

Obama didn't invent Bieganski. But this man, a product of Hawaii, Indonesia, of Kenyan and Kansan descent, believes in Bieganski as much as any other American. Poles are brutes. Because we are brutes, we are responsible for the Holocaust – because only brutes, not civilized people, could have done something so evil. Even Jan Karski, one of the most heroic human beings who ever lived. Even Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, who was an Auschwitz prisoner and a member of Zegota has been smeared as a Bieganski.

Unorganized, undisciplined, reactive, self-limiting protests will not even begin to address Bieganski. Writing a letter to the White House protesting Obama's gaffe and telling him what a truly great man Jan Karski was may make the sender feel better, but in the long run it will not make a dent in Bieganski, the Brute Polak stereotype.


What do we need to do? We need to address the Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization, and Vision. We can do this, people. We just have to decide to do it.


  1. Polish media are talking about this all day long. I have checked on polish forums and there are a lot of angry posts but still much less than I've expected. Americans are popular in my country. For now.
    I've also read articles and posts on American sites. While articles are quite objective, most posts are not. I've never seen so much anti-polish slurs in my entire life. People with little knowledge of Polish or European history pretending to be experts. They live far far away, know two words in Polish (Kielce, Jedwabne), and they claim moral high ground. I know people who lived under German terror, I knew people who hid Jews (may they rest in peace). And when I read such posts I think That Americans are lucky. They are lucky because their country wasn't invaded. They are lucky because they weren't persecuted. They are lucky because they never were defensless. And most important, they are lucky because they never had to risk their lives and the lives of their families to save other human beings from merciless enemies. Because they would fail that test. Fail miserably. They are lucky. But not better. Not in their dreams.

    1. The New York Times just recently agreed to stop identifying the death camps as Polish. Obama may indeed be holding a Bieganski stereotype by using the word Polish to describe death camp while honoring Jan Karski, but it could just be a pc gaffe similar to his use of the word "retard" so thoughtlessly (as so many do unfortunately) not too long ago.

      But more importantly I think Lukasz is right about Americans being lucky in their history and time and place.

      I am also thinking of what happened to the native people of this continent. A holocaust, certainly.

  2. Lukasz, please feel free to share here any interesting posts you find. thank you.

  3. Not all Americans are insensitive to Polish history or feelings. I think we can unite on this - Obama is bad for America, bad for Poland, and bad for the free world. He is a communist and hates Catholicism, and it is 'get whitey' all the time. So let's get Obama, back to Chicago or Hawaii or Kenya or anywhere, but out of the White House in November.

  4. Just heard you on Michael Medfed and you did a commendable job. To be honest, I hadn't heard anything about this controversy until Medfed's show and even if I had heard Obama say this I don't know that it would have caught my attention.

    I am by no means an apologist for this president--on the contrary I welcome any kind of negative attention he receives that will cause him to lose votes in the next election--but I'm just wondering if perhaps Obama's statement was taken the wrong way. The way I would have heard it would be that Auschwitz was in Poland and for that reason described as Polish only from a geographic standpoint. The statement didn't come across to me as the death camp being endorsed by the Polish people or run by Polish citizens or government. I think most of us would acknowledge that the concentration camps were the built by, administered by, and the responsibility of the German Nazis.

    I'm just playing devil's advocate and by no means would want to be siding with the devil (oops!). Keep the negatives coming at Obama and maybe we'll be lucky enough dispirit his more ambivalent supporters and encourage them to place their votes elsewhere.

    Tossing It Out

    1. Hello, Arlee Bird. Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately the phone dropped the call so what I could say was limited. You will note that the caller before me identified Poland as the world's most anti-semitic country. Or perhaps Poles as the world's most anti-Semitic people.

      Arlee, with all due respect to you, you are wrong. I mean that in the nicest way possible.

      "Polish death camp" and "Polish concentration camp" are heavily charged terms and anyone who knows anything about Poland knows that.

      The president was meant to be honoring a Polish World War II hero. Obama's use of "Polish death camps" was no simple error. It was pouring kerosene on a fire.

      Again, the people who know this history and culture know this, and there's no way around it.

      I understand that this controversy is not known to the wider public. That's because Polonia has failed to make it known. but anyone qualified to prep material to honor Jan Karski would have known.

  5. I was just speculating on behalf of the average person hearing this. But you are right. Coming from the President of the U.S. this misstatement of facts is a gross error. So are you suggesting he said this intentionally for some reason or other? What would Obama's motivation be to say something to antagonize Poles to the degree that he has? I'm not defending the guy as I think he has a much more sinister agenda in mind that is not in the best interest of the U.S. I was just suggesting that his reference could have been misinterpreted in his own mind or that of whoever wrote the speech.

    But I wouldn't be surprised by any strategy used by this administration. Thank you for response.

    By the way, my step-father is originally from Poland. He came to the U.S. via Germany after WWII and then served in the U.S. Army. He is proud of America and quite an amazing man. I'm thankful that my mother found him after my father passed away as he has taken good care of her and is well liked in the community where they live.

    Tossing It Out

    1. Hi, again.

      You use the word "sinister" for Obama. I don't agree. I could be wrong. He strikes me, he has always struck me, as a narcissist, an empty suit, a player of the race card (in an ingenious way) and a phony. I know that I'm not making headlines by calling a successful politician a narcissist and a phony, but Obama has parlayed almost no experience or talent into the most important job in the world.

      I was no fan of George Bush as a president, either, ftr.

      Again, the "Polish death camp" phrase is hugely controversial. Anyone who knows anything about Poland knows that. That's what I know for a fact. The rest would just be speculation.

  6. Forget Obama the narcissist, the empty suit, and the player of the race card. I make no secret of my opposition to Obama as a radical leftist, socialist, and veiled anti-Christian. His Polonophobic remark is just icing on the cake. I hope that Polish-Americans who supported Obama in the past will finally wake up.

  7. I mistakenly deleted this comment from Lukasz:

    I've divided posts in two groups. Fair and Bieganski. I will post one out of each.
    "whatever one might say about Polish anti-semitism is not the point here. I understand it better than many as my dad is a survivor of a "Lost Jewish Community" in the Galicia section of Poland. But the Poles never did, nor likely would ever have, created the death factories the Germans built in their country that murdered Poles as well as Jews. yes- there were pogroms, sadly, even after the war, which was despicable. But the Death camps were German Nazi creations. Jewish cemetery destruction happened largely by Germans- not Poles. At Yad VaShem, the largest number of Righteous among the Nations were Poles as well. My father saw Polish anti semites beat his grandfather to death - BEFORE the war, but they never systemized it as methodically and systematically as the Germans did. Obama made a mistake- pure and simple, and he should make it right. This is not a political issue, it is one of speaking the truth. It can be made right and it should be and make public amends. It is the right thing to do."
    "One of the reasons is that all the camps that were explicitly marked "death camps" by the Germans (meaning that they specificly contained killing-apparatus) were in Poland!The Poles were NOT better than the Germans. It may be that the Germans offered the "infrastructure" but the Poles were more than eager helpers.To somehow claim that Poland was a fellow victim in the process of the Holocaust is not appropriate."
    Since I'm interested in Polish-Jewish dialog, I've decided to share posts made by people of Jewish backround. First one gave me hope. But that other one made me doubt.

  8. That post from Łukasz looks like it was written by two different people. Hard to comprehend really.

    I am in total agreement with everything Danusha stated in the main blog post above. I also think there is general political element to the speech in which the prejudiced error sneaked through. I think the speechwriting team and any subsequent proof readers had outreach to the Jewish community, where Pres Obama has some problems lately, as the primary motive to award Karski a medal as part of this particular ceremony which was otherwise dedicated to iconic leftists. The ignorant error about "Polish Death Camps" that was assumed to be true by the speechwriter just dropped in as the writer looked for more ways to emphasize the Holocaust in the speech. He even got FDR, with dramatic reading emphasis, into the Karski speech segment while not mentioning any other significant part of Karski's wartime service. Most Americans, including President Obama it seems, believe the death camps were only aimed at Jews, so the error carried through all the way to elocution. Who knows, maybe the writer even thought Karski was Jewish himself?

    That said, I think the reaction this time in all areas, from official and semi-official (twitter) Polish Govt channels and even some decent covereage in the US media has been strong and positive. The Obama campaign hopefully did not get their Jewish bounce and may have even blown off a few in Polonia, but Poland seems to have gotten some positive, if reactive, press coverage from this case.

    1. I've wrote my first post after reading a lot of ant-polish slurs. So please understand that my blood pressure was rather high. Later I took a deep breath and some time to think. About what I've read and about what I've wrote. I should have never let my anger get the better of me. I'm sorry of that hurtful comment.

  9. MB, just curious. Have you read "Bieganski" yet?

  10. Dear Danusha,

    That is an embarrassing and sensitive issue.

    I have not been in the US in nearly two years but that is not an excuse, just a stupid reason. I had planned on being in the US sooner and getting the book was one item on my list of US things to get. I will have someone in the US get it and send it to me soon.

    Don't ban me yet!


  11. Conformer with a CauseMay 31, 2012 at 1:35 AM

    My guess is that this comment is going to lead to many wise journalists writing their opinion pieces along the lines of "Barack Obama was wrong to call the camps Polish but..."

    This plus the fact that the Euro tournament kicks off next week should ensure that it is a big week for Bieganski.

  12. Yes. All should sign Kosciuszko Foundation petition. Worse yet is German media word "Polish death camp" here is link to article (written in polish. Sorry no time to translate) discussing it.,niemieckie-gazety-polski-oboz-w-sobiborze.html -Pozdrawiam serdecznie, Andre Sochaczewski

  13. I've spent nearly 2 days reading your blog, find it extremely interesting and have ordered your book on Amazon, however here I am disappointed. President Obama made a terrible mistake. The Polish Government reacted and an official apology was sent. I doubt that he will ever utter the phrase "Polish concentration camps again". The sidekick was that many Americans learnt about Karski. But why add US politics into this. For me it's like a caricature of right wing Polonia. You can be East European, Polish even, and have different political opinions. Malgosha

    1. Sorry to hear that what I wrote did not work for you.

      I hope you can let go of any anger you may feel and focus on what we have in common.

      Polonians need to work together.


  14. I totally agree that we should all work together. But let's do it calmly and let's not live up to the caricatures that are spread about us. Too often we are politically predictable. I realise that the Bieganski problem is much bigger in the States than in Europe, but maybe one way to combat it is to be less predictable. The Poles won a lot of sympathy in France when they turned the attacks on Polish plumbers into a joke with a poster of an extremely handsome plumber saying that he'll stay at home. I have always been extremely proud of my Polish origins, and it is maybe this outspoken pride that has protected me from being treated in a Bieganski way. Malgosha

    1. I'm glad to hear that your experiences have been good.

      Again I'm sorry to hear that what I have written, above, does not work for you.

      Perhaps we can move on.

      Thank you.

  15. I just wanted to say that reading this blog, which I find extremely interesting, I find the same stereotypes that are largely responsible for the vision we give of Poles to any foreigners and therefore I am not surprised that we have problems with our image. I feel that « Polonia » especially American « Polonia » has not moved beyond the cold war and are completely predictable in their opinions.
    During the WW2, the Polish President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs each went to see Churchill to tell him not to believe what the other one said. What kind of image were we sending the British ?
    We seem to have a talent of washing our dirty linen in public and an inborn incapacity of NOT agreeing on an agenda, except when we are in dire straights. What kind of reaction can we expect when we do not respect our President, or our government that were democratically elected ?
    When the ex-Communist Kwasniewski was elected, he wasn’t my choice, but he was the choice of the majority, and that is what democracy is all about. You can oppose, in fact a rational opposition is necessary, but there is NO need to say that he has no legitimacy.
    I was brought up in England where, during the 70s, the government changed every 4 years, and looking back, whether Labour or Conservative, they were the same.
    Since 1989, governments have changed in Poland, but luckily the country is moving forward, in spite of rumours that there are neo-Stalinists in power.
    Words have meaning. Stalin was a murderer, a tyrant. You cannot call someone Stalinist in today’s Poland. There are no political prisoners, and no one is being killed for his opinions.
    A little bit of calm and restraint would do us all a lot of good. Poland is doing fine. There is no need to send food parcels there any more. What is needed from the American Polonia is that they organise into a lobby, not to bring down the President or the Government (the Poles can do that themselves if they want to), but to help the mother country and themselves. Malgosha


Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
These themes include the false and damaging stereotype of Poles as brutes who are uniquely hateful and responsible for atrocity, and this stereotype's use in distorting WW II history and all accounts of atrocity.
This blog welcomes comments from readers that address those themes. Off-topic and anti-Semitic posts are likely to be deleted.
Your comment is more likely to be posted if:
Your comment includes a real first and last name.
Your comment uses Standard English spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
Your comment uses I-statements rather than You-statements.
Your comment states a position based on facts, rather than on ad hominem material.
Your comment includes readily verifiable factual material, rather than speculation that veers wildly away from established facts.
T'he full meaning of your comment is clear to the comment moderator the first time he or she glances over it.
You comment is less likely to be posted if:
You do not include a first and last name.
Your comment is not in Standard English, with enough errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar to make the comment's meaning difficult to discern.
Your comment includes ad hominem statements, or You-statements.
You have previously posted, or attempted to post, in an inappropriate manner.
You keep repeating the same things over and over and over again.