Monday, December 31, 2012

"Poland: A Living Deathscape of Diaspora Jewry"

Bieganski, the Brute Polak Stereotype speaks at length about March of the Living and other approaches to Poland that support the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype.

This blog has devoted several posts to March of the Living, including March of the Living: A Rabbinical Student's Sermon and March of the Living Responds.

A previous blog post addresses the work of Prof. Jackie Feldman at Ben Gurion University: Why Stereotype Poles? Why Distort WW II History? Here's Why.
Prof. Jackie Feldman's 2010 book, "Above the Death Pits, Beneath the Flag," is summarized on Amazon thus:

"Israeli youth voyages to Poland are one of the most popular and influential forms of transmission of Holocaust memory in Israeli society. Through intensive participant observation, group discussions, student diaries, and questionnaires, the author demonstrates how the State shapes Poland into a living deathscape of Diaspora Jewry.

In the course of the voyage, students undergo a rite de passage, in which they are transformed into victims, victorious survivors, and finally witnesses of the witnesses. By viewing, touching, and smelling Holocaust-period ruins and remains, by accompanying the survivors on the sites of their suffering and survival, crying together and performing commemorative ceremonies at the death sites, students from a wide variety of family backgrounds become carriers of Shoah memory. They come to see the State and its defense as the romanticized answer to the Shoah. These voyages are a bureaucratic response to uncertainty and fluidity of identity in an increasingly globalized and fragmented society. This study adds a measured and compassionate ethical voice to ideological debates surrounding educational and cultural forms of encountering the past in contemporary Israel, and raises further questions about the representation of the Holocaust after the demise of the last living witnesses."

In his review, prolific Amazon reviewer Jan Peczkis states that the book clearly depicts Poles being blamed for the Holocaust in a way that German Nazis are not. Jan Peczkis' review of "Above the Death Pits" is here.

I am grateful to Jan Peczkis for drawing my attention to the book.

Friday, December 21, 2012

New Poem by Christina Pacosz

There's a previously unpublished poem by Polish-American poetess Christina Pacosz on my other blog, here

Od Narodzin do Smierci: A Potential Last Minute Christmas Gift

This is real, raw, authentic Eastern European folk music. Most singers are recorded unaccompanied by instruments. There is the occasional fiddle or drum.

I have traveled in Eastern European villages and my older relatives came from there. This is music I remember from the village, and from older relatives in the US. When singing broke out at family reunions, it sounded like this.

The singers are not American Idol material. They are raw and totally committed to each and every lyric.

That's a plus -- their enunciation is superb. I'm able to make out quite a few vocabulary words of their folk poetry. The words are basic Polish words about life and death: Almighty God. Oh, my mother. The town, the cake (in Polish, they rhyme.)

What too many people think of as folk music has been polished beyond recognition in order to make it marketable. That's not what you get with this CD. What you hear here is pure heart, soul, and commitment.

Od Narodzin do Smierci is available for purchase at Amazon here

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mary Krane Derr: Don't Mourn, Organize!

Photo by Jonathan Hartzell. Source.

"Anti-Polish Jews should be shot at. You've been welcomed here for centuries. Not anymore. Go to hell."

The author of these words, found in response to an article on the internet about Polish-Jewish relations, self-identifies as a Polish Catholic. He gives his name as Daniel.

I reported these words to a group moderator and the author was ejected from the group.

I visited the man's facebook page and saw a fascist symbol and an interest in Wehrmacht motorcycles.

I wanted to rescue this young man from fascism, the way a folklore hero rescues a damsel from the mouth of a dragon. I practiced intellectual arguments against fascism, and thought of sending him these arguments.

But then I realized, people aren't attracted to fascism because of what they think, they are attracted to fascism because of how they feel. I could not communicate to him a sense of self-worth and empowerment, a sense of feeling a valued part of a valued human race, via an internet post.

The Nizkor Project lists the following factors in recruitment of young people by hate groups:

* "Disenchanted youth who are abused, angry, unemployed, dropouts or runaways, and who may be looking for someone to blame for their problems, are prime targets.

* Hate groups prey on lonely youth who are socially isolated by learning their weaknesses and drawing them into a group in which they feel accepted.

* They befriend students and invite them to meetings, making them feel wanted and important, providing membership cards, titles and a sense of belonging."

In other words, if a young person feels competent to address his problems, and if he feels that he is part of a cohesive, effective group, he is less likely to join a hate group.

Daniel said that nothing Poles had done to address negative stereotyping of Poles had worked so far, so more extreme methods had to be tried.

Maybe if Daniel could feel that he was a part of a cohesive, competent, vital, effective group of Poles fighting stereotyping in a civil way, he wouldn't have turned to fascism.


In response to a post by me mentioning stereotyping of Poles on National Public Radio, a facebook poster guessed that Jews were responsible.

This blog has repeatedly mentioned the Brute Polak stereotype as expressed by Dennis Miller – not Jewish. By Barack Obama – not Jewish. In a book published by the Catholic Orbis Press – very much not Jewish. And this blog has repeatedly mentioned Jewish support for Bieganski, the Brute Polak Stereotype. I just blogged about being invited to speak at the University of Wisconsin, Madison by the Jewish Studies Department there. Jews have significantly supported "Bieganski."

And yet still this irrational eagerness to blame the Jews.


A friend expressed frustration at the many incidences of the Brute Polak in American cultural life. She said that the best Poland could do would be to return to chauvinism. The chauvinism of someone like Roman Dmowski.


I said to the editor of a Polish American publication, "You know, I would like to read a Polish American publication, but I don't read yours. It's all about Curie and Chopin. Only about dead heroes I already know enough about. And then you have an article or two about polka dancers. I don't dance polka and I don't know anyone who does. I want to read about contemporary Polish Americans and their real lives, struggles, and accomplishments, on the stage of mainstream American cultural, political, and spiritual life."

He said that contemporary Polish Americans were not "Polish enough."


After Bieganski came out, I wrote to all the major Polish American cultural organizations with an offer to speak. None wanted me to speak. Some demanded free copies of the book. Some told me my work was meaningless because it was too dark and depressing and not about Polish heroes.

I used to think that that was just me … that it's me Polonia doesn't like. But then I started getting emails from other Polonian men and women, also working on stereotyping or World War II history or other contributions to Polonian culture, who also couldn't get invitations to speak, or who couldn't get their work published in Polish publications, or who contacted Polish groups in their efforts to protest egregious material like Maus, and got no reply from those Polish groups.


School syllabi record what students, from kindergarten to graduate school, are required, not just to know, but also to value. It is an open secret among teachers and students that many mediocre works of literature are on syllabi, indeed, have been admitted to the canon of "great" American literature, because those works are by members of variously defined interest groups who have pressed schools to include them.

If you are a member of one of these organized groups, you will be exposed to work by someone who is identified as a member of your group. You will be told that that work is great literature. You will be told that your group has produced geniuses. You will be told that your pain matters. That your worldview matters.

As far as I know, Polish Americans exercise zero power in determining what books American students read. Or don't read. Or how students react to those works. Polish Americans could organize and remove Maus as a text teaching WW II and holocaust history. Polish Americans could organize and demand that any number of books that present another point of view be included. Polish Americans don't.

All the disparate paragraphs, above, are connected.

Polonians are hurt and outraged by the prevalence of the Brute Polak stereotype. People who are hurt and outraged often seek someone to blame, and often seek redress.

Some Polonians choose to blame Jews, even though that blaming makes no rational sense. As "Bieganski" shows, if, God forbid, all the Jews in the world were to disappear tomorrow, the Brute Polak stereotype would still go strong.

Some Polonians, seeking some effective, organized, cohesive, mutually affirming group action, choose chauvinism, or, worse, fascism.

It doesn't have to get that bad. We could engage in the kind of rational, civil, organizing that is recommended in the series of blog posts entitled "The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization, and Vision."

Simple things.

Polonian organizations and Polonian publications could embrace and support contemporary Polonians working on Polonian issues. Polonians could work to get Polonian books on syllabi. Polonians could support Polonian authors. Simple things. Effective things.

Polonia is not engaging in these simple, effective, organizing strategies. And so we are targets. And so some of us conclude that only chauvinism or fascism can work. 

Mary Krane Derr and her beloved pet guinea pig, Gemma. Source
I learned yesterday that Polish American poet and writer Mary Krane Derr passed away. Mary sometimes signed her notes to me Marysia Kiszka, Kiszka, she told me, was her family's original last name before it was changed to "Krane."

Mary was a mother and a loving grandmother. She devoted a great deal of tender loving care to her pet guinea pig. Mary suffered from chronic health problems. She spoke of them openly on facebook. I was grateful to her for her frankness. Her frankness made it possible for me to be frank about my own life struggles.

Mary deeply loved her grandson, and spent a great deal of time with him. He was Polish, Irish, and African American.

Mary is representational of the Polonia I love and cherish.

When I lived in Poland 1988-89, one of my best friends was a gay man. One of my best friends was half Cameroonian, that is, half African, and half Polish. One of my best Polish friends now is a Jehovah's Witness. Two are atheist and leftist.

The Polonia that insists that Curie and Chopin and Catholics and dead heroes are the only Poles worth talking about is not a vibrant, living Polonia and it can't do anything to counteract the Brute Polak stereotype.

Polonia is alive with poets, writers, artists … who need only to be supported by their own.

Reject fascism.

Reject chauvinism.

After you finish reading this blog post, go to Amazon and buy a book or a DVD by a Polonian. And get it on a syllabus.

Don't mourn, organize.

Below please find the full text of a blog posting by my beloved friend, Mary Krane Derr. A Polonian every bit as worthy as Curie or Chopin.


Blog post by Mary Krane Derr. Mary's blog is here.

Wherever you have landed from, welcome here. Blessings upon you, of all sizes, shapes, colors, tones.

I am a poet of Polish-Celtic-Germanic descent from the United States, Chicago to be precise. I am not A Big Literary Celebrity. Nor am I a writer of such hip obscurity that hipsters fawn knowingly over the mere mention of me. I am not even in the know enough to know if hipsters still stride about in all-black clothes and behave all cerebral and ironic and anhedonic any more. I don’t even have any all-black clothes, except maybe some big ass cotton stretch pants from the sale bin.

So, what could an unfamous Midwestern dame in stretch pants possibly have to say? And in free verse at that?

Why, plenty.

Poetry writing is a calling that found me early, as a barely verbal, yet to be literate child. Within an often beset, even literally threatened life, one of multiple, serious chronic illnesses, I pursue it as much as I can.

Admittedly, though, I was too slow on the uptake to fully recognize and genuinely accept it until well into adulthood. Those sonorous words and phrases of mysterious origin that regularly emerged and chanted themselves to me? I did not know they counted and qualified as poetry, let alone my own poetry.

But judging from others’ responses, it is not all just my own personal crazytalk I had best keep entirely to my bad self.

I still have not published a chapbook or full-length collection, but am otherwise fortunate. My poems have appeared individually or in small groups in a number of publications from the US, Ireland, Great Britain, and India. I have read in the US, South Africa, and India. My poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, the Best of the Web Award, Best American Poetry, and Best Spiritual Writing, featured on public transit, and translated into Hindi, Farsi (Persian), and (soon) Odia (the prevalent language of Orissa State, India).

Some kindly listening souls have remarked on the “musicality” of my work. As well as a poet-in-transit-and-translation, I am a musician-in-progress. I studied voice for about three years (I’m a mezzosoprano) with the late Jane Sullivan. I am now learning composition and music theory. I have yet to discover any bright line, or dim one, for that matter, between poetry and song.

Much gratitude to the All-and-All, and everyone else on both sides of the veil, who all together now have brought me safe thus far.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Poland: May Its Name Be Blotted Out

"The Hebrew phrase yimakh shemo ימח שמו "May his name be obliterated" [often translated as "May his name be blotted out" from the book of life] is a curse placed after the name of particular enemies of the Jewish people. A variant is yimakh shemo ve zikhro ימח שמו וזכרו "Obliterate his name and his memory." Yimakh shemo is one of the strongest curses in the Hebrew language." From Wikipedia.

This phrase is illustrated with references to "to any abhorrent enemy of the Jewish people" including the biblical Haman, Adolf Hitler, Josef Mengele, and Poland. Here is their text exemplifying use of this curse in relation to Poland:

From Yair Weinstock's "Holiday Tales for the Soul: A Famous Novelist Retells Classic Tales with Passion and Spirit"

"The Poles would ferret Jews out of their hiding places and hand them over to the Nazi SS, beaming with pleasure when the Jews were carted off to the death camps. The words 'yemach shemam' ('may their names be erased!') were frequently on Meyer's lips – referring as much to the Poles as the Nazis themselves. 'There is no forgiveness,' he would declare. 'The Poles are the lowest and most despicable race on the face of the earth.'"

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Bieganski on NPR - For the Second Time Today!

"How many Polaks does it take to screw in a light bulb?" is the beginning of a famous Polak joke. I googled the question and found the above image. These kinds of jokes are acceptable on taxpayer-funded National Public Radio. 
Was just listening to the NPR program "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me." It's a humorous quiz show. Today's show included a Polak Joke. "How many Poles does it take to tear down a chateau?" Apparently some Polish workers tore down a chateau. Again, NPR is taxpayer funded. 

A previous post mentions another use of the Bieganski stereotype on NPR today, and includes links to previous instances. 

Only Polonian activism will change this. 

"Polish Concentration Camps" Bieganski on National Public Radio, Again

Some Polonians focus on the term "Polish concentration camp." They object to it because they feel it misrepresents Nazi Germany and its occupation of Poland during World War Two. This blog does not focus on the term "Polish concentration camp," feeling it is far too narrow a focus. Rather, this blog focuses on the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype that is used to distort WW II history, the Holocaust, and also racism and the history of immigration.

However, we are grateful to Otto Gross for sending in the latest use of the term "Polish concentration camp," this time by National Public Radio. Several previous blog entries focus on NPR's use of the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype. 

You can find the phrase "Polish concentration camp" as used by NPR here.

You can see Otto Gross' previous posts here and here

Previous blog posts on Bieganski on NPR are here, here, here and here.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Polish & Lithuanian Cleaning Women and Men in Iceland

Piotr cleaning at a university in Iceland. Source

Wisconsin University Folklore Professor James P. Leary is a great scholar and a generous friend of Polonia. He sent in a webpage devoted to folklore about work and workers. One of the pages is devoted to Polish and Lithuanian cleaning women and men in Iceland.

I have never been to Iceland and I wonder what conditions are like there for Polish workers.

The Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype mines disdain we feel for common laborers in order to fuel the placement of blame on Poles for the Holocaust, and, indeed, for all hate. "Primitive, backward" people – people who clean others' houses and do other manual labor – are easy to hate and blame. "Superior, advanced, evolved" people – like the Germans – are all too often depicted as Sexy Nazis.

Are there Polak jokes in Iceland? How are the Polish and Lithuanian cleaning women and men getting along in Iceland?

I would love to hear from anyone in the know. Please do write in if you have insight into conditions for Polish and Lithuanian laborers in Iceland.

The webpage devoted to Polish and Lithuanian cleaners in Iceland is here.

A piece by me, "Green Vase," about my own time as a cleaning woman, is at this link here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"Evil Bogus Poles Marched Jews to Their Deaths": Bieganski and Meat Trade News; Guest Post by Danuta Reah


Steven Fry

World War II is portrayed by the Western Allies as a straightforward fight: good against evil. Those who read more widely into World War I and subsequent social, political and financial chaos, see something different: the inevitability of a train racing towards a collapsed bridge, knowing there is no hero struggling towards the locomotive to pull the brake before the abyss. Those of us who understand history even a little feel a shiver of déjà vu as we contemplate the world today.

However, the basic chronology and the observable facts of the 39-45 conflict are clear and available. We know who invaded whom, we know the nature of the occupations and we know how many died and how.

You'd think so, anyway.

In 1939, Hitler and Stalin invaded and occupied Poland. The Nazi occupation of Poland was savage beyond belief. There are many accounts of that occupation. One recent book: "The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War." Around Over five million Poles died, including three million Polish Jews. Hitler's Nazis killed them by slavery, starvation and ultimately by shooting and gassing in the death camps. These were German, Nazi death camps, built on occupied Polish land.

It's a matter of historical fact.

But not for everyone. In 2009, Stephen Fry, the well-known British comedian, writer and pundit, said on the British TV Channel, Channel 4: "There's been a history, let's face it, in Poland of a right-wing Catholicism which has been deeply disturbing for those of us who know a little history and remember which side of the border Auschwitz was on." He seemed to think that the death camps were rooted in "rightwing Catholicism," rather than a creation of Nazi Germany, built, initially, to terrorise the Polish population in general. Fry did apologise for his comments, but he is much revered in the UK, both as an amiable man and a very well-informed and intelligent one. Things you say, when you are in such a position, cannot so easily be erased.

On December 1st, 2012, that well-known organ of historical research, the Meat Trade News Daily, published an article about the Polish government's ban on ritual methods of slaughter. The headline of the article (which has now been removed) gives its flavour: "These Evil Bogus Animal Lovers Marched 4 Million Jews to Death Camps God Forgive Them."

I e-mailed the site, pointing out politely that the Poles, far from marching Jews to their deaths had been victims of the Nazis themselves, and the death camps were not Polish, they were built by Nazi Germany. I received this prompt and measured response from one William Hayes:

"you have been claiming to be victims for 70 years its time you stood on your own feet

the court ruling was last Tuesday and today as a democracy you are responsible and get the government you deserve.

Therefore you are all culpable, before you talk about Kosher and Halal what about castrating all your Roman Catholic priests to stop them buggering little boys and girls in Poland

I would have their balls out in seconds now there is a good job for your courts"

Now what to make of this? Not much, really. I suppose I could contact David Cameron and ask him if we could legislate to have Roman Catholic priests castrated, as Mr. Hayes suggests but a) I have no animosity towards Catholic priests per se and b) I doubt David Cameron would see this as a proper use for our courts.

Clearly there are too many ill-informed people out there, and rather too many idiots. Beyond that, I conclude that eating too much meat is bad for brain development. If Mr. Hayes can be seen as an exemplar, it certainly doesn't lead to clarity of thought and the ability to formulate an argument.

Go veggie, Mr. Hayes.


For the record, Bieganski the Blog takes no stand on vegetarianism. It is opposed to the castration of Catholic priests, and even William Hayes or Steven Fry.

Bieganski the Blog has long recommended organized action as the best response to the pervasive Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype. Please read this series of blog posts on the Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization, and Vision.


Danuta Reah is a crime writer living in England. A review of her excellent book "Forest of Souls" can be found here.

A previous guest blog post by Ms. Reah addressing prejudice and demonization of the other can be found here.

Link to Meat Trade News Daily here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Thomas Jefferson, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, and Bieganski

Taduesz Kosciuszko, a true hero
Isaac Granger Jefferson, a slave at Monticello
Bieganski, the Brute Polak, is the world's worst anti-Semite. He may be the source of anti-Semitism. He may be the worst hater on the planet. When Willard Gaylin wrote a book about hate per se, he chose Poles as his archetypal haters.

"Bieganski" talks about how the image of the Brute Polak as the worst hater in the world has been applied to American race relations. In this use of the Brute Polak stereotype, Polaks and other working class white ethnics, not WASPs, not elites, are blamed for racism. White supremacy was a cherished dogma of the Old South, a land inhabited largely by WASPs. Economic elites profited from slavery, while it economically damaged poor whites, who could not compete with slave labor.

Somehow, though, Polish-Americans and other blue-collar ethnics can be demonized as the worst white bigots. This is epitomized by a critically acclaimed and economically successful 2001 film, "Monster's Ball," about white supremacy in the American south that features a main character with a Polish last name. The ultimate brute Polak, Stanley Kowalski from "A Streetcar Named Desire," was placed in the South. The American South is not a significant location of Polish American population. These hateful, hating Polak characters are not placed in the South as a reflection of any demographic reality. These fictional monsters are placed where they are placed because of the power of the Brute Polak stereotype. The Brute Polak stereotype serves to exculpate WASP and elite Americans of their racism, in the same way it serves to exculpate Nazi Germany.


Tadeusz Kosciuszko was a friend of Thomas Jefferson. Kosciuszko stipulated in his will that his money be used to liberate American slaves, including Jefferson's. Americans never carried out Kosciuszko's desire to use his legacy to liberate American slaves.

In October, 2012, Smithsonian magazine published a scathing depiction of Thomas Jefferson, slave owner. An excerpt from that article, below:


In 1817, Jefferson's old friend, the Revolutionary War hero Thaddeus Kos­ciuszko, died in Switzerland. The Polish nobleman, who had arrived from Europe in 1776 to aid the Americans, left a substantial fortune to Jefferson. Kosciuszko bequeathed funds to free Jefferson's slaves and purchase land and farming equipment for them to begin a life on their own. In the spring of 1819, Jefferson pondered what to do with the legacy. Kosciuszko had made him executor of the will, so Jefferson had a legal duty, as well as a personal obligation to his deceased friend, to carry out the terms of the document.

The terms came as no surprise to Jefferson. He had helped Kosciuszko draft the will, which states, "I hereby authorize my friend, Thomas Jefferson, to employ the whole [bequest] in purchasing Negroes from his own or any others and giving them liberty in my name." Kosciuszko's estate was nearly $20,000, the equivalent today of roughly $280,000. But Jefferson refused the gift, even though it would have reduced the debt hanging over Monticello, while also relieving him, in part at least, of what he himself had described in 1814 as the "moral reproach" of slavery.

If Jefferson had accepted the legacy, as much as half of it would have gone not to Jefferson but, in effect, to his slaves—to the purchase price for land, livestock, equipment and transportation to establish them in a place such as Illinois or Ohio. Moreover, the slaves most suited for immediate emancipation—smiths, coopers, carpenters, the most skilled farmers—were the very ones whom Jefferson most valued. He also shrank from any public identification with the cause of emancipation.

It had long been accepted that slaves were assets that could be seized for debt, but Jefferson turned this around when he used slaves as collateral for a very large loan he had taken out in 1796 from a Dutch banking house in order to rebuild Monticello. He pioneered the monetizing of slaves, just as he pioneered the industrialization and diversification of slavery.

Before his refusal of Kosciuszko's legacy, as Jefferson mulled over whether to accept the bequest, he had written to one of his plantation managers: "A child raised every 2. years is of more profit then the crop of the best laboring man. in this, as in all other cases, providence has made our duties and our interests coincide perfectly.... [W]ith respect therefore to our women & their children I must pray you to inculcate upon the overseers that it is not their labor, but their increase which is the first consideration with us."


The full text of the Smithsonian magazine article "The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson" is visible here.

The article's author, Henry Wiencek, responds to criticisms of his work, including his treatment of Tadeusz Kosciuszko's will, here.

"Green Vase." A Bohunk in the Ivory Tower, Continued


Some years back I received an interesting email from a senior Polonian leader. This person wrote to say that she loved my work, but that "powerful people in Polonia" didn't like me.

I was amazed by this. I didn't know that there were powerful people in Polonia. If there were, why did Polonia face so many intractable problems, not least of which was the pervasiveness and power of the Bieganski stereotype?

I was also amazed to contemplate that any powerful people in Polonia were even aware of my work enough to dislike it.

The email continued. The reason they don't like you, this person said, is that you are open about your parents being peasant immigrants. You talk publicly about being working class. They want to hear only about Chopin, Curie, and other high class Poles.


I don't know if what this person said was true, or just idle gossip. What we do know is that Poland was a majority peasant country well into the twentieth century. Heroes on horseback get a lot of attention, but most Poles' heroics, in the Old Country and in the US, consisted of working very hard under very tough conditions.

Integration of Poland's elites and its peasants and workers has always been a challenge, as students of Polish history know all too well.

Unfortunately, contempt for the Poles who earn their living by the sweat of their brow is not limited to aristocratic snobs. There are all too many Poles in Poland eager to denounce American Polonians as backward, unworthy embarrassments too stupid to read their Milosz, too eager to go bowling instead. I get emails from snobs telling me that lumpen Polish Americans are responsible for the Brute Polak stereotype because we are all, well, brutes.

What are ya gonna do?

I've been told that there are so many Polish cleaning women in the US that they introduced the word "klinowac" into Polish. It is constructed from the American verb "clean" and "owac," a Polish verb ending.

Like a great many Polish, Slovak, and other Bohunk women, I worked, often full-time, while a full-time graduate student.

Lunch Ticket, the literary journal of Antioch University Los Angeles, has just published a piece by me about my time as a live-in domestic servant and full-time graduate student. You can read that piece, "Green Vase," here.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Call It Genocide: "The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War" by Halik Kochanski, Reviewed

In my work on the Brute Polak stereotype, I attempt to explain why so many otherwise Politically Correct people, who find stereotyping of African Americans, homosexuals, and women to be utterly beyond the pale, feel free to engage in the most egregious stereotyping of Poles. One justification for anti-Polish stereotyping: "Poles have not suffered." Others have suffered, and they must be shielded from verbal assault. Poles, on the other hand, have not suffered, and deserve no such protection.

Poles have not suffered: that anyone could say this, never mind as an excuse for stereotyping, demonstrates that Poles have not adequately communicated their story on college campuses, in literature, through museums or in the political arena. In addition, there are pressures against Poles speaking the truth. In 1939, a week before the Nazi blitzkrieg in Poland, Hitler stated, "I put ready my Death's Head units, with the order to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of the Polish race or language." I was once told that I could not include that quote in a scholarly work if I wished to see my work published. Referencing Polish suffering, I was told, would be interpreted as an attempt to minimize Jewish suffering.

According to the Harvard University Press webpage, in "'The Eagle Unbowed,' Halik Kochanski tells, for the first time, the story of Poland’s war in its entirety." It's been a long wait, but now that Kochanski's book is here, one thing is clear: if the word "genocide" cannot be applied to Poland during World War II, then the word "genocide" has no meaning.

The sadism and suffering recorded in these pages is overwhelming. Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia invaded Poland in September, 1939. Both intended to erase Poland. Both explicitly stated as much. Both Germany and Russia had, for hundreds of years, tried to erase Poland. Both performed genocidal acts, including mass murder of non-combatant civilians, mass murder of political, religions, cultural, and military leaders, targeting children for persecution, outlawing education, outlawing Polish language, focused attempts to erase Polish culture, mass deportations, enslavement, and resettlement of former Polish territory with non-Poles. Both had clear and plausible plans for the ultimate elimination of Poland and Polishness; the German was named Generalplan Ost.

Polish priests in Dachau concentration camp; Polish professors in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp; Polish military officers mass murdered by the Soviets in Katyn; Polish children kidnapped by Nazis; some to be raised as Nazis, some to be gassed; Polish children starved to death in the Soviet Gulag; Polish villages destroyed by the Nazis; Polish villagers massacred by Soviet partisans; Polish villagers massacred by Ukrainians; Polish museums, factories, forests, libraries, artworks, burned, bombed, despoiled, crated up and carted away; Poland abandoned and betrayed by her allies France, England, and America: If the word "genocide" cannot be applied to this, the word "genocide" has no meaning. It does not belittle others' suffering to state that Poland was a victim of genocide during World War II. It demeans humanity to refuse to say so.

We've read bits and pieces of this history in other volumes. If Harvard's advertising is correct, this is the first English-language overview of WW II in Poland. It is the first such book I have read. Even though I am familiar with this history, reading it all in one sitting is an emotional and spiritual challenge.

Kochanski's style is brisk and no-nonsense. She covers a massive amount of material – addressing diplomacy, military maneuvers, espionage, torture – in the most efficient manner possible. She does not linger over the heartbreaking aspect of her narrative. She does select quotes that do the work of bringing to brief life the emotional impact of massive human evil. These quotes flame out on the page, and, like lit matchsticks, go out quickly, as we return to the forced march through hell. At times, Kochanski's text can be dry. This is especially true of the opening chapters that hurry the reader through a necessary introduction to Polish history. Even when discussing highly contested material, such as the role of Polish non-Jews in the Nazi genocide of Jews, Kochanski is dispassionate and quick. This book will never be a bestseller, but anyone who has any interest in Poland owes it to himself to read it, indeed, to soldier through it.

I am not a historian, and I am not qualified to assess this massive amount of data. I have read professional reviews of "The Eagle Unbowed" and been positively impressed. I've also read two critical reviews of the book, one by Antony Polonsky, the other by John Connelly. Polonsky praises the book on its handling of military history and the Second Polish Republic. Polonsky cites errors of fact, errors that could easily be corrected in subsequent editions. Polonsky faults the book for not citing recent work by Barbara Engelking, Andrzej Zbikowski and Jan Grabowski, including work that depicts Polish-Jewish relations during World War II in a less favorable light.

In his December 3 review of "The Eagle Unbowed" in The Nation, John Connelly mimes a tone of forced befuddlement. He doesn't understand how Poles can be sometimes stereotyped as noble, and, at other times, as base scum. Connelly's befuddlement might end if he read "Bieganski, The Brute Polak Stereotype." Ironically, Connelly chastises Kochanski for not being aware of current scholarship. This current scholarship, Connelly writes, demonstrates that Poles, inspired by their own anti-Semitism, collaborated with Nazis in the Final Solution. He also criticizes Kochanski for citing anti-Communism as the cause of Polish hostility to Jews, for example, in territory often occupied by the Soviets. In sum, Connelly writes, Kochanski is to be faulted because the Polish viewpoint prevails in her book.

No doubt historians will debate whether or not Kochanski is too soft on, or underrepresents, Polish anti-Semitism, and whether or not the book is representational. I am not an historian, and I can only watch from the sidelines of such a debate. No matter the outcome, the book as it stands now is one that must be read by anyone who wants to talk about Poland during WW II.