Friday, April 15, 2016

ET TU, BRUTE POLAK? Bieganski Goes Shakespearean by Michal Karski


Bieganski Goes Shakespearean
By Michal Karski

Is This a Dumb and Brutal Pole I See Before Me?
Spot the Odd One Out

Did it all start with the immortal Bard, the 400th anniversary of whose death we are commemorating this year? In Act One, Scene One of Hamlet, Horatio says to Marcellus, both just having seen the ghost of Hamlet’s father:
Such was the very armour he had on
When he the ambitious Norway combated;
So frown’d he once, when, in an angry parle,
He smote the sledded Polacks on the ice.
‘Tis strange.

And has been strange ever since. The term has undergone some changes through the eighteenth century “Polander” to the present-day “Pole” and of course we all know how complimentary “Polack” can be when used today.
So much for Shakespeare. And now for the pictures.

Top left: Wojciech Bogusławski, known as the ‘Father of Polish Theatre’, was the director of the National Theatre in Warsaw during some of the most turbulent years in Polish history. He famously staged Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz’s political satire ‘The Return of the Deputy’ in 1791 and generally espoused nationalist and patriotic ideals during the time of the Great Sejm of 1788 – 92. He is said to have not only introduced classical tragedies to the Polish stage but to have “Polonized” Shakespeare. He also staged operas and founded a drama school. As well as directing he also acted and played King Lear in 1805. Known as the “Polish Molière”, this champion of Szekspir was certainly no dumb Polak.

Top right is Matylda Getter, Franciscan Sister of the Family of Mary, associate of the more famous Irena Sendler and credited, alongside others in the same order, with saving hundreds of Jewish children at the peril of her own life. Irena Sendler, incidentally, has at least once been called a German, clearly because of her married name   and perhaps because of its similarity to another saviour of Jews, the famous Schindler. Irena Krzyżanowska on the other hand, would be about as easy for English speakers to pronounce as Kościuszko. As for Matylda Getter, who did what she saw as her Christian duty, she is never likely to be the star of a Hollywood film, nuns being generally rather low in terms of glamour quotient. A good, pious and definitely far from dumb, Polka.

Bottom left is General Władysław Sikorski, subject of a recent extremely negative, indeed, defamatory article in The Scotsman and elsewhere which has been discussed on this blog, and which can only be described as a piece of character assassination. Some of the camps in Scotland where Sikorski placed his political opponents may have had brutal overseers, as tends to happen in prisons, but for all his faults and flaws, Sikorski himself was no brute and as one of the architects of the Sikorski-Mayski Pact, which saved thousands of Polish citizens from perishing in the frozen wastes of the USSR, most certainly no dumb Polak.

The odd one out is, of course, Wojtek the Bear, but not because he was a dumb brute Polish animal. As a matter of fact, he was said to have been remarkably clever. The reason for his being the odd one out is that he wasn’t actually Polish nor of Polish descent not had he even been to Poland. He may have thought of himself as Polish and understood the language, and although he was found and adopted by the Polish army in Iran, the country which extended such a warm welcome to the bedraggled evacuees from the USSR, nevertheless if bears had passports, his would probably have been Syrian.

(Exit, pursued by a bear) The Winter’s Tale, Act III, Scene 3


  1. Nice ending Michal. And I had never heard of Matylda Getter. Hollywood did make a film once called "Conspiracy of Hearts" about photogenic nuns saving Jewish children. They were Italian though. Not Polish (obviously).

    This blogpost reminded me of my own re-writing of Hamlet - inspired by the much lauded and applauded Professor Jan Gross and his "Golden Harvest", in which it turned out that along with all our other bad qualities, us Poles/Polonians are inveterate stealers of teeth.

    So, with a modest smile, here is the Politically Correct version of Hamlet:

    a tragedy in one act
    by Sue Knightspeare.

    Setting: The graveyard, Wawel Castle, Poland. Hamlet is glooming about, while a gravedigger is busy digging.

    Hamlet: (Picks up skull in melancholy manner). "Alas, poor Yorick! (Tosses skull aside). You're no good to me. I'm looking for rich Yorick, the guy with the golden teeth. Carry on digging, gravedigger."

    The End.

    1. And I hadn't heard of 'Conspiracy of Hearts'. There was a rather good 1983 TV film on a similar theme called 'The Scarlet and the Black' about an Irish priest in the Vatican during World War Two starring Gregory Peck. Nothing, as far as I know, about Polish nuns or priests.

      And I still haven't read any of J.T. Gross's books.

  2. Hello Michal - I love the title of your piece too! As I remember it, Conspiracy of Hearts was very sentimental, with beautiful nuns and photogenic children. But I can't really remember anything else about it. And hopefully it had a message beyond the one that suggests you are only worth rescuing if you are photogenic.

    No I haven't read any of Professor Jan Gross's books either. What warns me off is the sort of comments they elicit. For example there is this honest one from Deborah Gross:

    "While Poland had terrible and extensive examples of antisemitism [read Jan Gross' Neighbors or his more recent work Fear for compelling examples of this], nonetheless let's not confuse that with the German plan to wipe out European Jewry. [I reviewed Gross' Fear and may have myself gone a bit overboard in condemning an entire nation. ]"

    The "a bit" speaks volumes, but the point here is that she is acknowledging that reading the book caused her to condemn a whole nation. So, I have to assume, that is the purpose of the books.

    Which is why I haven't read them - for Psalm 37 reasons. It warns us not to let the evil in the world goad us and cause us to retaliate. But to leave it all in the safe hands of the God of Abraham, and try to keep on the narrow road that leads to life and happiness. And I fear that the Gross books could make me very angry indeed.

    Though I did write to the Professor about the way he painted all us Poles/Polonians as stealers of other peoples teeth. Dr.Goska has written very lucidly about that in this blog.

    He didn't reply - and lets face it, if you have been put on the "unter" page in the Handbook of PC your concerns can safely be ignored. But I did give him a small witness to the truth (Christianity being called "the way of the truth"), in harmony with the command to return good for evil.

    And there is nothing more precious that the good news of the incoming Kingdom of God.

  3. My email to ProfessorJanGross. And I see it was a very small witness indeed. I was trying to be tactful, but I wish now I had said a bit more.

    Dear Professor Gross, I emailed a question to you some months ago which is partly answered in the following article:

    A quote or two:

    "Historian Jan T. Gross is building a new history of the Holocaust, based on relations between Poles and Jews before, during and after World War II."

    That is startlingly direct. As I feared, a new history of the Holocaust IS being built.

    I can say: "See. I told you so!" But its not much consolation.

    Actually the media history of WW2 is spinning so much that I don't know what to think any more. Is this what happens in the wake of all wars?

    At any rate, the article tells me what I must officially think from now on, when it says: "What do a Swiss banker and a Polish peasant have in common? And the answer to this question would be, a golden tooth extracted from the jaws of a Jewish corpse.""

    So my father, from a working class Polish family, now stands condemned as a grave robber... and as rich and powerful as I suppose a Swiss banker is.

    I wonder what he did with the money? We had one of those poor but happy childhoods.

    Here is a deeply politically incorrect fact for you. My dear aged father was NOT a thief.

    And I am not happy about your wholesale condemnation of Swiss bankers either. I don't like these collective judgements.

    Yes, my father came from a working class Polish family who, though starvation poor at times, were not thieves. Both my parents had good moral standards, and taught us, their children, accordingly.

    Now I am prepared to admit that my father's teeth did wander a bit in his Alzheimer's years. In fact I think they were last heard of in a taxi - where they may have given the next passenger a nasty nip if they happened to sit on them. But that is the extent of his dental crimes.

    This Stalinist pressure to despise and denounce my father is painful - and increasing - but I hope I will always love and honour him no matter how great that pressure is. In fact, I think it makes me love him more and feel very protective towards him.

    You speak of young Poles and Jews coming to love one another. Well that is a good aim. But how is it to be achieved?

    If you would like to know how we - the human race - can be united as one loving family, then please ask me. I would be very happy to pass on to you what is being taught to me. But as I have said I am from a working class Polish background, so whether you would want to discuss it with me is another matter.

    You would be quite safe though if you want to risk an email discussion - we are in cyberspace after all - and what with my arthritis its hard enough to type this email, let alone wrench out anyone's teeth (shudder).

    My tooth-stealing days are well and truly behind me - if indeed they ever existed outside the Wonderful World of Political Correctness.


    Sue Knight (Mrs)

  4. Some interesting links there, Sue. Actually, I ended up watching 'Conspiracy of Hearts' and I thought it was pretty good. Perhaps one or two of the nuns, such as Lili Palmer, were more 'photogenic' than others, but, on the whole, it was a good effort. I wonder if it was actually based on real events? It was made by a British studio, by the way, and not Hollywood, but it seems I was wrong about Hollywood and nuns. There have been a few films featuring nuns, from Audrey Hepburn to Whoopi Goldberg, so the subject itself is not necessarily to be avoided. And the recent Pawlikowski film 'Ida' featured a nun as the main character after all.

    The question of whether Polish nuns or priests are likely to feature as heroes or heroines of mainstream western movies is something which can play into the theories of anyone who suspects an anti-Polish agenda or it can be explained away by the fact that Poland and Polonians themselves are simply not telling these stories so the world doesn't know about people like Matylda Getter.

    I don't want to get into a lengthy discussion about Jan T. Gross, for the reasons I've already given - the only thing I'd say is that he does give the impression of liking to say sensational things - but the concept of whether he has slandered the entire Polish nation or not would be difficult to establish in law, it seems to me, because there were undoubtedly criminals among the population in the times to which he refers. Perhaps he could be challenged on his statistics, which do seem incredibly exaggerated, but isn't that a question for academics rather than heavy-handed government interference?

    If the current Polish government really wanted to score a political point, they might concentrate on rebutting the real and specific slander of Sikorski and his wartime government. Sikorski did not intern his political opponents because of any anti-Semitism as the article clearly implies. As a matter of fact it was his government which first warned the Allies about what the Germans were doing to the Jews back in Poland.

    There are very few of the old generation left in Polonia abroad who might take on this fight and it is up to the Polish government of the day to clear the name of those who fought for their very right to exist.

    Forget about Gross. Deal with a case you can win.

  5. Sorry, Sue. My last remark was addressed to the Polish government and not to you. Gross has clearly upset you as he has many other people.

    1. Hello Michal - I haven't seen Ida either - and do not intend to as it does seem to be very on-message (I mean the Professor Jan Gross message) from the reviews I have read. Interesting what you say about Conspiracy of Hearts. I saw it so long ago, I can barely remember anything about it.

      I agree with you about Professor Jan Gross - and I would neither have awarded him any medals nor taken any away from him.

      I don't like what I read about his books or the glimpses of his interviews - but think they are a good indicator of the political agenda, in the way that they are so lauded and applauded by "the world".

      And of course the problem with being so on-message, going so far out on the PC-limb, is that when and if the politics change, as they can do overnight, you can be left stranded.

      I have had my say to him - politely, but straightforwardly - and am content to leave it at that. Though if he writes another in the series, I might possibly try another email, but this time with a more direct witness.

      IF I can use these occasions to give a witness to the truth, instead of being upset, I feel happy. Though only thanks to Jehovah, the God of Abraham, of course!

    2. Attempting to take away the undeserved award of Jan T. Gross is a form of belated justice, but is also counterproductive in that it has enables the media to make a poor martyr out of Gross.

      Personally, I am less concerned about Gross himself as I am about the adulatory coverage he gets in the media and in many influential Jewish circles.

      Most galling of all is the claim that he has been proved right about Jedwabne. He most certainly has not:


      "The testimonies varied and none of the participants or witnesses could have included all of what had occurred. AS A RESULT, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DETERMINE CONCLUSIVELY JUST WHAT THE GERMAN ROLE ACTUALLY WAS IN THAT LAST, MOST TRAGIC PHASE--THE BURNING ALIVE OF JEDWABNE'S JEWISH RESIDENTS IN THE BARN. The sources present contradictory and imprecise descriptions of the Germans' behavior, and historians' assessments also vary greatly.". (Volume 1, p. 491; emphasis added.)

      What could be clearer?

    3. The specific case of J.T.Gross aside - (I keep repeating I haven't read his books so cannot in fairness comment) - what worries me is that people seem to be very eager to believe the very worst of Poles. I believe this is essentially what Danusha Goska deals with in her book and on this blog. I'm reminded of the case of Jerzy Kosinski and his book'The Painted Bird' which was so quickly accepted by many as a genuine memoir, even though there were passages in it which were so grotesque that they were patently unbelievable. In the event, the troubled Kosinski, sadly, was revealed to be a fantasist.

      The example of the article about the Sikorski government which I gave above is a case in point. There have already been commentators, incredibly enough, who have described Sikorski himself as a war criminal(!!) on the basis of the article by Webb in the Scotsman and elsewhere. Whether Webb's piece is actually malicious or just ill-informed, it certainly has echoes of the kind of Stalinist wartime propaganda which attempted to discredit the legitimate Polish government and in which the Poles in exile were all dismissed as fascist and anti-Semitic reactionaries.

      Generally speaking, there have been one or two academics recently who have understood that the wartime situation regarding Polish Jews and Polish Christians was far more complex than has generally been portrayed by either side in the debate so far.

      Both sides need to be far more willing to admit that some terrible things were done. No-one has a monopoly on virtue and mutual recrimination will get us rapidly nowhere.

    4. Hello Jan - and thanks once again for all your sterling work.

      What could be clearer? Indeed. But when the facts don't fit the political agenda, which has to give way? Isn't it usually (always?) the facts?

      Of course if the agenda changes, then facts can be brought back on stage.

      To look at the positive side of this, I feel this is a constant reminder of the truth of the Biblical warning that the present system of things on the earth lies in the power of the one called "the father of the lie" - Satan the Devil - the one who told the first lie ever told, in Eden.

      But the rescue we pray for when we say the Lord's prayer is so close at hand now.

      And I agree with you that, whatever the rights and wrongs, these attempts to de-award ProfessorJG will be counterproductive. We need to be realistic about the politics.

      The best thing is to get quietly on with the Kingdom preaching work that Jesus left for his followers to do. And we can also, of course, highlight the increasingly blatant double standards, which show up the political agenda. We can do that without attacking anyone else.

      Dr.Goska has an excellent post in this blog about "Golden Harvest" which contrasts reportage on the looting of graves in the wake of war - showing how differently it can be spun, depending on which country it happens in.

  6. Here's a question for historians: considering the timing of the German assault on the Warsaw Ghetto which began on the 19th of April 1943, is it possible that the announcement of the discovery of the Katyn graves by Berlin Radio on the 13th of the same month was intentionally designed to divert the world's attention from the brutality which the Nazis were planning against the Jews of Warsaw?

    1. Hello Mr. Karski,

      Personally I think that it was just a coincidence. Katyń massacre was like an unexpected gift for the Germans. They just couldn't miss such an opportunity.
      Ghetto Rising was on other hand totally unexpected. Such a disgrace to the Herrenvolk to be ambushed by subhumans. Hence the brutality.
      Originally it was supposed to be another "operation". Swift. Efficient. Easy.
      West would not notice anything. Or it would not care.

      By the way, that picture of Wojtek really made my day. Thanks.
      In 2015 israeli student Marianna Raskin made short animated movie about Wojtek. Link below.

      The soldier bear was also honored on this website.

    2. Hey, Mr K - thanks for the links. That's a very nice little film. Wojtek is definitely a hero.

  7. It could be. The amount of spin attaching to WW2 still surprises me. The Official History seems to be a very flexible thing.

    But, on the other hand, in their philosophy would they have seen it as brutality? Wasn't the eliminating of all us "inferior" types a necessary duty in the Nazisphere?

    My thought is that now that Stalin had changed sides and Poland found itself fighting alongside Stalin, did they want to sow dissension among the Allies?

  8. They certainly sowed dissension among the Allies, to the extent that Stalin broke off diplomatic relations with the Polish government because of Sikorski's demand for a Red Cross investigation. What I had in mind was that the Germans might have turned some Polish Christians against Polish Jews in general by alleging that the Katyn crime was perpetrated by Jewish-led Bolsheviks, which was a staple of Nazi propaganda, of course. That was my reason for the question of dates. It is sometimes forgotten that Sikorski himself sent instructions to the Polish Underground that all help was to be given to the Jewish insurgents.

  9. That is quite possible Michal - war and politics are devious beyond belief. What I do know is that English Polonia tried and tried for a long time to get what happened at Katyn acknowledged and memorialised. They got there in the end, but it took a long time.

    To demonstrate the politics, the last objection I remember hearing to a memorial was that it "might frighten the pensioners who visited the local park". These "pensioners" were people who had endured two world wars calmly, and who lived in a town filled with war memorials.

    Stalin was so much "the good guy". He was of the Left, so he had to be good.

    As I said, they got there in the end - but of course not one of Stalin's willing executioners at Katyn has ever been brought to trial, let alone convicted of anything, as far as I know.

    And if there are any left alive, they are too old to be put on trial now. I would feel a bit like Stalin myself if I even suggested it, so I don't.

    I am content to leave it in Jehovah's hands, and in the hands of the one he has appointed as his judge, Jesus Christ.

    We are all in need of undeserved kindness from our Creator.

  10. Hello,

    I've read an article by Matthew Tyrmand in polish magazine WPROST. I've found the same article in English language. Link below.

    I just want to add that perpetrator of effigy burning was identyfied as Piotr Rybak. He's a political provocator for hire.

    Also "Jerusalem Post" quoted only part of Rabbi Schudrich's statement:
    "Poland has a new government and it appears that anti-Semites like ONR are under the belief that they have support from this new government for such actions. We are certain that this is not true but we also hope to hear clear and moral statements to this effect in the very near future."

  11. So who hired him and why? And do I really care? It seems to be a case of one faction trying to discredit another.

    One of the problems with the current Polish government is that they seem to be sending out mixed messages. On the one hand, President Duda said in his speech at the museum dedicated to the Ulma family that he condemns racism and anti-Semitism, meanwhile Jaroslaw Kaczynski uses rhetoric which clearly plays to the far-right gallery.

    The current furore about the possibility of prosecuting J.T. Gross is an example of this government's defensive posture. I don't often agree with Jan Peczkis, but he's right when he says that there is a danger of making Gross into a martyr.

    1. The main suspect is Gazeta Wyborcza. Too many reporters from that newspaper were present in one place at the same time.
      But you're right, it's irrelevant who hired him.

      As for prof. Gross, I think that he would enjoy crucifixion. But only a public one. He wants attention.

      I'm not a fan of Mr. Kaczyński, but by polish standards he's far from far-right. He doesn't need the support from margins of society. Some things that he says may appeal to the lunatic fringe. And shock many people in the West.

      It worries me that Western press always calls Poles nationalistic, never patriotic.
      We are patriotic.
      We simply love our country more.

  12. Actually, here's a brainwave. Since Gross's critics pounced on him for his statement in "Die Welt" claiming that 'Poles killed more Jews than they killed Germans', which has got be extravagant at the very least, if not actually slanderous as the government has it, and since he clearly managed somehow to forget the Polish armies both in the West and in the East, maybe he might like to do a bit of research on Sikorski and the Polish Government and Army in Exile. We might have a long wait for the Polish government to react to Webb's articles, since they seem preoccupied with all kinds of other things. But here, if Gross were to write about Sikorski - and he would surely be fair in his assessment - he might appease his far-right critics and Simon Webb's would not be the only voice to be heard in the matter. A win, win situation all round. Nie prawda?

    1. Or perhaps I'm being naive and Gross might paint Sikorski in the same unflattering colours chosen by Webb.

      Perhaps Lukasz is right. Maybe we're dealing with an attention- seeker.

    2. Rightly or wrongly, I would expect the worst if ProfessorJG should write about Sikorski and the Polish Government in Exile.

      If he ever wrote my biography - shudder - I expect it would turn out that I was personally responsible for Hitler's crimes. And my excuse that I wasn't even born until after the war would be shown up for the feeble thing that, in political terms, it is.

      Unless, that is, the PC/Zeitgeist does one of its sudden turns, and General Sikorski and Co are "our gallant allies, the Poles" once again. In which case, would my biography, as told by the PJG, be the story of a gallant resistance heroine parachuted into occupied Poland, where with One Mighty Bound...?

      I think I had better go and lie down. The spin is making me dizzy.

    3. It's those gallant Allies, as they used to be...

  13. Yes, Michal. Thanks for posting. It makes me think of my dear aged father when I see that.

    Does everyone's life seem sad in retrospect? It does seem so.

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Yes, Michal, I hope they are all held safe in "the everlasting arms" with a wonderful awakening from the dreamless sleep of death ahead of them.

      When they wake, they will open their eyes in an earth truly at peace.

  15. Sue - I mean well, but I have a feeling I owe you a big apology. Am I right? (I've scrubbed my previous comment since I clearly "mis-spoke" and was thinking of my own folks as well). I seem to remember reading that your father was in the Parachute Brigade. Did he serve under Sosabowski, by any chance?

    1. Hello Michal, I didn't see your reply - so don't know if I would have been offended or not. However, Jehovah teaches us not to take offence, given how imperfect we are ourselves, so I certainly hope I would not have done.

      Yes, my father was a para - and I ought to know if he served under Sosabowski... but I don't. I will ask my siblings and see if they know. There is so much we never asked him, and its too late now.

      When you are young, you look ahead not backwards. And even though we were born into post-war England and played in its rubble and bomb sites, and still had food rationing, the war was in the past. Then later as things began to dawn on me, I think I did not know how to deal with the things he would have to tell me. I didn't understand how to until it was too late to ask - in his Alzheimer years.

  16. Hello again Michal, I got this answer from the Oz branch of the family - about my father and Sosabowski.

    "I believe he would have done. He was in the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade, which trained at Ringway and then Scotland, and that was under the command of Sosabowski."

    All that we did not ask him...

  17. Actually, Sue - I can't remember the exact words I used in the comment I scrubbed but it was something to the effect of "the sadness comes from the loss but all our loved ones are in a better place" or something similar. And that's the comment I meant, which you must have seen because you responded to it. And then I thought, perhaps I got it wrong and your father was still alive?

    Anyway, your reply to me was very gracious and - yes - I think General Sosabowski was put in charge of the paras from the very beginning.

    So maybe time to make an exit. I leave you with what I think is one of Shakespeare's most beautiful passages:

    "The quality of mercy is not strained,
    It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
    Upon the place beneath: it is twice blessed;
    It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."

    Exit Karski. All the world's a stage.


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.
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