Monday, July 30, 2018

"Bieganski is one of the most intellectually and emotionally challenging books I've ever read" Review

In her book Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relationsand American Popular Culture, Danusha Goska produced one of the most intellectually and emotionally challenging books I’ve ever read. She takes prevalent tropes of Poles (the term “Bieganski” comes from an anti-Semitic Polish character in the book Sophie’s Choice) and examines them from cultural, sociological, historical and economic perspectives. From the range of references, it’s clear that Goska has done her homework and consulted with Jews, Poles and others who know the topics outlined in the book’s title—and who lived through the history behind the stereotypes. Goska heads directly into many incendiary issues: the development of stereotypes in the United States, what Jews have written about Poles, what Poles have written about Jews, what American politicians and Jews did (and did not do) during the Holocaust. She covers a lot of territory in a relatively short book.

Bieganski challenged me because I’m very familiar with the stereotypes and several of her source materials. She looks at books like Maus and Hitler’s Willing Executioners and movies such as Borat (which I turned off after five minutes, unable to stomach the whole concept) and The Apartment and points out themes that flew right by me. I’ll leave a detailed analysis of her critiques to scholars, but the book gave me a fresh way of looking at Poles in culture and history. In other words, Goska made me think—that’s the highest accolade I can pay for any book. She demands to be read and engaged on Jewish-Polish history and clashing perspectives on portrayals of the Holocaust. My copy of the book bears many highlighted passages that aptly summarized her views. One example:

"In the racist expression of the Bieganski stereotype, no narrative arch is possible. When a Pole exhibits what appears to be positive or neutral attitudes or behaviors toward Jews, that must be understood as a temporary failure of his anti-Semitic essence fully to express itself."

Bieganski constantly surprised me. Sometimes it discussed at length matters that are dated and felt tangential to her thesis, such as media responses to a 1993 speech by the Nation of Islam’s Khalid Abdul Muhammad. At other times, the book was compelling in ways I could have never imagined. For example, Goska compared A Streetcar Named Desire to The Apartment, a 1960 movie with Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray that won the Oscar for Best Picture. I saw The Apartment and any Polish content didn’t make an impression on me. I might have sensed strong characters, but I didn’t think of them in particularly ethnic terms. Goska draws out the positive images and themes of “Bohunks” (a term used to cover Eastern European groups).

The discussion becomes especially grim in the chapter “The Necessity of Bieganski: A Shamed and Horrified World Seeks a Scapegoat,” about Polish and Jewish narratives of the World War II, and American responses to the Holocaust. She writes,

"In 1999, Blanche Weisen Cook’s biography of Eleanor Roosevelt revealed that nearly sainted first lady to be an anti-Semite. Her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is widely considered “the best friend American Jews ever had.” Cook “curled in agony” as her research revealed that, again and again, when the Roosevelts and their friends, including their Jewish friends, had every reason, every bit of necessary information and power, and every precedent to speak out against the brewing Holocaust, and to act, they remained passive and silent, or indulged in anti-Semitism."

Bieganski will stay in my mind for a long time. It challenges conventional thinking, and gives me a new way to assess materials, such as the books of Princeton professor Jan Gross (Neighbors, Fear and Golden Harvest), Jan Karski’s Courier from Poland: The Story of a Secret State and Polish cinema (Katyń, The Zookeeper’s Wife). Its ideas are as relevant as ever, given new Polish laws regarding discussion of the Holocaust in the news these days. Even Sacha Baron Cohen, of Borat fame, is back with his Showtime series Who is America? The book forces me to ask myself: what do I think on a topic, and how much of that thinking is based on direct experience, and how much on materials passed by me that I accept—unthinkingly?

See Van Wallach's blog here

Sunday, July 29, 2018

NYT: Massive Increase in Antisemitism in France; Muslims Are Source; "Silent Ethnic Cleansing."

Etienne Laurent/European Pressphoto Agency Source
Shocking, depressing article from the NYT. Massive increase in antisemitic hate crimes in France. Criminals are Muslims, who often cite their religion as inspiration. In one case, an elderly Holocaust survivor was murdered by an assailant yelling "Allahu Akbar."

Crimes range from Muslims spitting on Jews in public to torture and murder. Neighborhoods are emptying out. Jews are planning to leave France or to live in ethnic ghettos where they can feel safe.

People are asking Muslims to address antisemitic passages in the Koran. Muslims decline to do so.

The government does not want to speak about this. Muslims resist accepting responsibility. Muslims quoted in the article insist that the problem is "Jewish Islamophobia." One claims that Jews control the world.

Read the full article, They Spit When I Walk in the Street: The New Antisemitism in France here

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Piasnica Massacres: Another Nazi Atrocity Against Poles You've Never Heard Of

The above photo came through my Facebook feed recently. I did a Google image search. The photo is identified as a record of the Massacres in Piasnica, Poland, 1939-40. 

Wikipedia reports

"The massacres in Piaśnica were a set of mass executions carried out by Nazi Germany during World War II, between the fall of 1939 and spring of 1940 in Piaśnica Wielka (Groß Piasnitz) in the Darzlubska Wilderness near Wejherowo. The exact number of people murdered is unknown, but estimates range between 12,000 and 14,000 victims. Most of them were Polish intellectuals from Gdańsk Pomerania, but Poles, Jews, Czechs and German inmates from mental hospitals from General Government and the Third Reich were also murdered. After the Stutthof concentration camp, Piaśnica was the largest site of killings of Polish civilians in Pomerania by the Germans, and for this reason is sometimes referred to as the "second" or "Pomeranian" Katyn. It was the first large scale Nazi atrocity in occupied Poland."

Inside Poland calls this massacres "the other Katyn." 

Inside Poland writes, " the autumn of 1939 began the Piaśnica massacres. Nobody, except ethnic, party-card toting Germans living in this part of Poland, was safe, and by the time the manhunts, summary shootings and mass executions were being wound down a year later, at least 16,000 people had died.

From the beginning, there was no doubt that Poles were the target of Nazi German aggression. Elżbieta Grot noted in her Genocide in Piaśnica (Ludobójstwo w Piaśnicy) that Albert Forster, Nazi Germany’s administrator of the region, roused crowds in Wejherowo, stating 'We have to eliminate the lice-ridden Poles, starting with those in the cradle… into your hands I place the fate of these Poles – you may do with them as you please.' Grot also notes that many ethnic Germans – some with Polish citizenship – who took part in the subsequent massacres later went on to become highly proficient members of the Nazi German SS."

I have nothing to add to these accounts. I am posting here simply because this photo crossed my path, and I did not want to delete it from my computer before sharing a commemoration of these innocent Polish victims of Nazism.

Re: comments. For some reason, I have not been receiving alerts about comments on my blogs, and there is a big backlog of unpublished comments. Please do comment, and I will do my best to make sure that appropriate comments are published. I apologize for the previous comments that got lost in the computer glitch. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


I haven't seen any comments for a while. I contacted a previous blog reader and asked him what was up. He said he tried to comment but his comment did not appear. Is anyone else having this experience? If so, could you contact me directly? The "contact" icon is somewhere on this page.

I just went to the settings page for the blog and found a bunch of backlogged comments. I went through and published them all. I have no idea what's going on. I will continue to try and figure it out. I apologize. I thought everyone died. I'm Polish. That's how we think. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

"The History of Jihad from Muhammad to ISIS" Robert Spencer's New Book

"The History of Jihad from Muhammad to Isis" by Robert Spencer

Friend, this is what you need to do. Go to your favorite brick-and-mortar store, or your favorite online site, and purchase a copy of Robert Spencer's, "The History of Jihad: From Muhammad to Isis." Producing this book was a tremendous act of courage by Spencer and Bombardier Books. The same opponents of Western Civilization who rioted over the Danish Muhammad cartoons, who slaughtered the team at French humor magazine Charlie Hebdo, who murdered 37 innocent Turks at the Sivas Massacre, and who stabbed and shot the Japanese and Italian translators, and the Norwegian publisher, of Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" – those same dark forces want to riot and stab and bomb and slaughter over the words on these pages. Spencer and Bombardier deserve at the very least your investment in its full purchase price.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Free Polish Books

I have about fifteen Polish books to give away. They are maybe about forty years old. They are from Poland, and Poland back then didn't have great paper, so the paper is brittle and yellowed, and they do smell like old books. 

Most of the text is in Polish. Some are in English. Topics include Polish folk tales, folk architecture, every day life, and a couple of basic readers for those studying the Polish language. Some are picture books. One is a novel. I want to send them all to one person. I don't want to provide any more details. If you want these books, you'd be getting a bunch of general, introduction-to-Polish-culture books from communist-era Poland. 

All I ask is that you pay for postage. I've not yet had them weighed so I don't know how much it would cost. I'm guessing about ten dollars but that's just a guess. Media mail is very cheap. 

Let me know. If' I don't hear in about a week, I will recycle them. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Interview about Bieganski

Recently I was contacted by Polish journalist, Aleksandra Rybinska. Her questions and my full answers are below. You can read the interview in Polish, here

I'm a Polish-American. I was born in the US of immigrant family. My parents were from peasant families. My dad was Polish. My mom was Slovak. My dad mined coal as a child. This was a typical job for Polish immigrants. My mom cleaned houses. This is also a typical immigrant job.

I went to graduate school and earned a PhD, which is not a typical thing for a Polish-American of my generation to do. I was supposed to become a house cleaner or factory worker.

In grad school, I was often treated with hostility and contempt. This surprised me. Professors insulted me openly in class, or one-on-one in private meetings. Not all professors, but plenty.

The insults' theme was that Poles are ignorant, bigoted, primitive, anti-Semites.

The prejudice I faced in grad school inspired my dissertation and book, "Bieganski, the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture."

In that book, I talk about how American, Western European, and Israeli culture cultivate and disseminate an image of Poles and other Eastern Europeans as brutes. We are supposed to be stupid, brutal, hateful, dirty, and anti-Semitic. This image is found in films, in novels, in TV shows, in poetry, in memoirs, in news accounts, and in academic writing.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Claude Lanzmann 1925-2018 by Filip Mazurczak

Claude Lanzmann 1925-2018 
by Filip Mazurczak 

French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, whose works primarily dealt with the Holocaust, has died at ninety-two. I don’t plan on evaluating the artistic merits of his work, but I would like to write a little bit about his corrosive effect on Polish-Jewish relations.