Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Single Sickest Thing I've Come Across in Reading about the Holocaust? Maybe. I'm Too Horrified to Think Clearly.

BrunoSchulz The Infante and Her Dwarves
The first time I went to Poland, I didn't go to Auschwitz. I was a teenager. I had flown on money I earned as a nurse's aide. When I was in high school, I made sure to be absent the day (yes really just one day) we were going to study the Holocaust and watch the film.

A lot of life had to happen before I was ready to write a dissertation that had anything to do with the Holocaust. Before I was ready to write "Bieganski." Basically, Indiana University happened. I saw so much darkness in my experience there. No need to go into detail here. Most people know the story. For those who don't there's the essay "A Small Miracle" online here.

So yeah Indiana University prepared me to write about evil and corruption.

I finally went to Auschwitz, watched the films, read the memoirs.

From my reading and listening, there are incidents that stay with me. I pray for the victims. Specific victims, people whose identifying features I remember. That one Russian woman, a suspected spy. What eight Germans did to her, before finishing her off with grenades. I pray for her, and others.

I don't read this stuff much anymore. I don't anticipate writing any further on the topic so I don't need to. It is a relief. I read and write about other things, now. Thank you, God.

As it happens, the other day I stumbled across what may be the single sickest thing I have read in my reading about the Holocaust and World War II. It happened accidentally.

Peter Sean Bradley, prodigious Amazon reviewer and Facebook friend, posted an article about an actor, perhaps it was Chris Pratt, saying that his Christian faith prevented him from doing sex scenes.

I said, oh, that's so silly. Sex scenes are essential to art. I reeled off a series of films that would be vitiated by the removal of their sex scenes, from "Coming Home" to "Gone with the Wind" to "Swept Away" to "Besieged" to "Schindler's List." There's a sex scene in "Schindler's List" that brings home to me how vulnerable women were.

Amon Goeth was the Nazi commandant of the Plaszow concentration camp. His dogs were trained to tear human beings apart. He shot random Jews from the window of his office. His victims, of course, included women and children.

According to Wikipedia, "On 13 September 1944 Goeth was relieved of his position and charged by the SS with theft of Jewish property (which belonged to the state, according to Nazi legislation), failure to provide adequate food to the prisoners under his charge, violation of concentration camp regulations regarding the treatment and punishment of prisoners, and allowing unauthorised access to camp personnel records by prisoners and non-commissioned officers."

Even the Nazis didn't like Goeth.

After the war, Goeth was tried for war crimes and for "personally killing, maiming and torturing a substantial, albeit unidentified number of people." His last words were "Heil Hitler."

Ralph Fiennes played the part of Amon Goeth in the film "Schindler's List." His performance was widely praised.

The sex scene in "Schindler's List" without which the movie would be so much less features Goeth harassing his helpless and terrified Jewish maid, Helen Hirsch. Hirsch was a real person. In the film she's played by Embeth Davidtz, very well.

Hirsch has retreated to the basement. She is wearing a light cotton slip. She is bathing so the slip is wet. Her body's contours are revealed. Goeth comes down and "converses" with her, though he supplies both sides of the conversation. He says he wishes he could connect with her. He fondles her. Then he brutally beats her.

I wanted to share that scene with Peter and so I googled the words "Amon Goeth" and immediately Google filled in the rest of the search for me with these words: "Amon Goeth Helen Hirsch fanfiction."

I wanted to puke right then and there.

Wanted to throw the computer across the room.

Fanfiction. Amateur authors writing romance novels about Amon Goeth and Helen Hirsch, and posting them online for others to read.

I clicked on only one: "Fallen." I skimmed some of it; didn't read the whole thing. What I read was pretty vanilla. In one scene, Goeth takes Helen into the woods to shoot her to death, but kisses her instead.

Okay, look. I wasn't born yesterday. I didn't just fall off the potato truck. I know there is some weird shit out there. I've read Andrea Dworkin's devastating article about Nazi-themed porn.

But this is just way beyond what I can handle. It disturbs in its very vanilla-ness.

Amon Goeth isn't some fevered fantasy. He was a real person and he was evil.

Helen Hirsch wasn't living the dream. She was innocent and robbed of what so many of us can take for granted – normalcy.

"Fallen" has received hundreds of comments. Maybe thousands; I didn't linger on the page. These aren't the type of people you could sweep under the rug. They sound like moms, housewives, school teachers maybe. Wanting a Nazi to kiss a Jew he just tried to kill.

I thought about this blog post for days. I thought, I really need to come up with some deep, complex analysis.

And then I thought, screw it, I can't. I just can't. 

An African in the Warsaw Uprising, and Many Slovaks, Too. Michal Karski's Krakow Post Article


Michal Karski, who has contributed many fine articles to this blog, wrote to share his latest contribution to the Krakow Post, "Foreign Fighters in the Polish Resistance." These fighters included Nigerian jazz drummer August Browne. There were also many Slovaks, who fought in their own platoon and under their own banner. 

You can read Michal Karski's article here.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Controversial Question Continued

Recently, on this blog, we discussed Chris Helinsky's interesting question. "So I was wondering if the wealth of Poland's Jews, whatever there was to be had, was based on the despoiling and exploiting the serfs?"

Several people addressed the question from various angles. You can read the replies here.

For what it's worth, here are my thoughts.

First, I am not an historian and "Bieganski the Brute Polak" is not a history book. It's a book about the stereotype of Poles as brutes and as the world's worst antisemites, and even the world's worst haters.

I answer Chris' question on that basis.

Here's my answer: When you look at the above photo, what do you see?

Do you see a rich capitalist oppressing a worker?

Do you see a man oppressing a woman?

Do you see an entrepreneur providing employment for a fortunate employee?

Do you see the talented rising to the top and someone who is just looking for a job she can do till she gets married taking advantage of that?

I can think of any number of people who would interpret this picture in one of these ways.

That's the answer, I think, to Chris' question. I think it's question of interpretation. It's a question of what glasses you are wearing when you look at the situation. Are they left-wing glasses, right-wing glasses, Polish Catholic glasses, Polish Jewish glasses?

Just today a Facebook friend from an aristocratic background talked about how badly her family was treated under communism. That life experience is going to inform how she sees things.

Me? I come from a peasant background. I see Poland's aristocracy as exploiters and oppressors of the peasantry. Jan Slomka, in "From Serfdom to Self-Government," talks about the master owning even the wind – the master controlled windmills. 

My grandmother never learned to read. One of my older relatives spoke of never being able to go to a doctor. Never. He remembered peasants being whipped. That level of oppression is abhorrent to me.

Yes, the peasants did the heavy labor. They benefited the least financially and they had the fewest options.

Yes, many Jews did profit.

Yes, the aristocracy profited even more.

Polish aristocrats and Polish Jews are on record as having had contemptuous attitudes to Polish peasants. Peasants were "bydlo," cattle.

Historians put aristocrats at the top of the social pyramid. Jews weren't at the top because they were a minority that was often threatened and even killed for their difference alone. We can say that Jews profited; we can't say that Jews ruled. 

And we must remain aware that while they profited, Jews contributed essential services to the Polish economy. As Andrew Schonberger pointed out, after the Nazis wiped out the Jews, the economies of EE floundered. There are many reasons for that, but the elimination of the economic middleman is one. That pattern has transpired in other countries where middlemen have been eliminated, often by communist or nationalist purges. See, for example, Uganda after the expulsion of Indians.

Some people bristled at Chris' question. I didn't find that bristling helpful. I think we can talk about difficult questions without assuming the worst of each other.

Polish peasant by Paul Szutzer

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Controversial Question. Please Feel Free to Respond in the Comments Section

I received a question in the comments section of a previous post. I'd love to see informed replies. 


Sorry for getting back to you so late. I purchased and read your book a few months ago and I was captivated. As you say in the book Jews have a mostly positive view of Germany both after and before the Shoah. What Leon Weliczker Wells said about his own family's affinity for German culture and your exploration of the contrast between the urban literate Jews and Germans to the mostly rural illiterate Poles is enlightening.

Another thing in your book stuck out to me but only in comparison to American history. In American a great deal of wealth was generated by the slave economy that existed. To a certain extent modern America would and its wealth would not exist if not for slavery. You mention the role that Jews played in Polish society and the economy as a middleman but also as agents of the aristocracy. So I was wondering if the wealth of Poland's Jews, whatever there was to be had, was based on the despoiling and exploiting the serfs?

Chris Helinsky 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Checking the Authenticity of a Photo of a Massacre of Polish Priests

Checking the Authenticity of a Photo of a Massacre of Polish Priests

I came across the photo, above, in a Wikipedia article on Persecution of the Catholic Church in Poland. You can visit that page here.

The caption reads, "Public execution of Polish priests and civilians in Bydgoszcz's Old Market Square on 9 September 1939."

I saw no support on the page for this caption. Wikipedia cited a source, Okupacja hitlerowska na Pomorzu GdaƄskim w Latach 1939-1945, but I knew that getting a copy of that book might take a while.

One must be wary of information on the internet. Through Facebook I have seen evidence of how gullible people can be. People circulate Barack Obama's Columbia ID card that identifies him as a foreign-born student, evidence that George Bush planned 9-11, and advice to keep a cut onion in your house to make you immune to influenza. It saddens me to witness people displaying their credulity and lack of critical thinking in response to these false memes.

The other day the above photo came through my facebook feed. The poster said it showed Michelle Obama texting during the national anthem. It's clearly not a photograph of Michelle Obama.

I wanted to know if the above Bydgoszcz photo and its caption were authentic.

I sent the photo to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Their researchers have been very helpful to me. They were again. They wrote back, "We do not have the exact copy in our catalog, however we do have an alternate angle, see attached. We also have other photographs of clergy from the Krone Prison. Please e-mail if you would like to receive reference copies."

Below please find the photo and the text that the USHMM sent me:

United States Holocaust Memorial Desig #509.10502 W/S #50837

Museum Photo Archives CD # 0032

This image is for reference purposes only!

Polish clergy and prominent citizens arrested by members of Einsatzgruppe IV, police, and German soldiers are held hostage on the Bydgoszcz market square. Just after the beginning of the German-Polish war on 3 September 1939, armed groups of ethnic Germans in the city of Bydgoszcz staged an uprising against the local Polish garrison. This was put down by the next day, one day prior to the entrance of German troops in the city on 5 September. 

A local command structure was quickly put into place by Major General Walter Braemer, and in response to continued attacks upon German personnel in the city, severely repressive measures were instituted in the following days. 

Assisted by Military Field Police Section 581, Einsatzgruppe IV under the command of SS-Brigadefuehrer Lothar Beutel, and the 6th Motorized Police Battalion, Braemer's troops assembled hundreds of hostages and executed hundreds more at various locations in and around the city, including the Bydgoszcz market square. 

As a result of these actions, at least 500 Polish civilians, many of whom were members of the local intelligentsia and clergy, were shot and over 1,000 more incarcerated between 6 and 11 September. On 11 September, Braemer moved his headquarters out of Bydgoszcz, placing Police Colonel Goesch, SS-Brigadefuehrer Henze, and Lothar Beutel in command. These men continued to order the execution of hostages, particularly of members of the intelligentsia and clergy, in accordance with instructions given by Heydrich and Himmler for the 'political housecleaning' of Poland.

Photo Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of

Instytut Pamieci Narodowej

Date: Sep 9, 1939 - Sep 11, 1939

Place: Locale: Bydgoszcz

[variants: Bromberg]

Region: Bydgoszcz

Country: Poland

Photographer: No photographer recorded

Source(s): 1. INSTYTUT PAMIECI NARODOWEJ; (59276) neg. 06358


Provenance(s): 1. Agnieszka Piatek

Medium/Format: bw print; 1 bw 120 neg.