dialogue faces obstacles. One of those obstacles is an approach adopted by
some, not all, members of the latter group.
Let's give this approach a name. For
now, I'll go with the name Tyran.
I've encountered Tyran repeatedly over
the course of the thirty-five years I've been engaged in this dialogue.
How many Tyrans are there?
There's no way to know, because,
unfortunately, no one has funded the research to find out.
A simple questionnaire would provide
something like an answer.
So, Polonia, fund the research.
Tyran works like this.
Tyran denigrates the intelligence of his
interlocutor. "You're not quite as smart as I am. I will speak slowly and
simply You're not quite as educated as I am. Let me introduce you to the
material you need to read. I assume you don't know this material because you
are Polish and Christian, and I associate Poles and Christians with stupidity."
Tyran denigrates the humanity of his
interlocutor. "Let me shout at you one heartbreaking account after another
of horrific human suffering, suffering you don't know about, because you are
stupid, and suffering you don't care about, because you lack common decency."
Tyran erases the history of his Polish
interlocutor. "I need to shout heartbreaking anecdotes at you, because you
are not a member of my group, and I know for a fact that people like you have never
been tortured, have never been dispossessed, have never heard a knock in the
night and had to board a cattle train that would travel for days before
stopping, only to end in a concentration camp. People like you have never been
subjected to minor prejudices or historical genocides. So I have to shout all
this at you, because your life and your people's lives have been easy and
Tyran conflates anything bad that has
happened to his own group with one religion, and one religion only. "Two
thousand years! Two thousand years! You people have been doing this to us for
two thousand years! Nazism," Tyran insists, "was Christian!"
(Please, see here.)
Tyran is certain that that evil,
violent, bigotry against his faith is the be-all and end-all of Christianity,
and that Christianity has been a monolithic superpower for 2,000 years with
only one goal – oppressing people like Tyran.
In Tyran's history book, there are only blank
pages where should have been recorded the Jews who loved and worked for, or gave
their lives for, Poland. There is no Jurek Leder, no Mihal Landy, no Artur Rubenstein,
no Marek Edelman. There are only thick, black lines crossing out accounts of
those Jews powerful enough to hate and do damage; there is no Jakub Berman, no
Lazar Kaganovich, no Helena Wolinska-Brus. In Tyran's history book, the index contains
no entry for Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, the Ulma family, Sendler, Sister Cecylia
Maria Roszak; 7,177 people are erased, as are the thousands who helped them, as
are the thousands who died doing that work.
In Tyran's history book, there is no mention
of the popes who issued statement after statement condemning hate and enjoining
coexistence; in that history book there is no Sicut Judaeis, no Statute
of Kalisz, no Va'ad Arba' Aratzot, no Warsaw Confederation, no "Zydowie
polscy," no Eliza Orzeszkowa, no Esterka, no Council of Trent
condemning deicide – 417 years before Vatican II – no periods of relative peace
when people thrived and became, say, the House of Rothschild but also thousands
of less famous successful people, including a good percentage of Poland's
doctors, lawyers, and businessmen. An international proverb attested that "Regnum
Polonorum est Paradisus Iudaeorum" but also "Hell for the
peasants," that is, Christian, largely Catholic and Orthodox, peasants.
Tyran insists that Christianity has been
a world-class superpower for two thousand years. With this super power,
Christianity controls all and dictates all.
Tyran will not acknowledge that Pagans
were torturing and persecuting Christians for the first 300 years of Christianity's
existence. Tyran does not know that when Christians were an embattled minority,
Jews did participate in some executions. See for example, the Mamilla Pool
massacre of 614 AD.
When Jews had more numbers, there were
Jews who engaged in persecution. This is mentioned in the Book of Acts, the
Talmud, and Josephus. Hostility is recorded in the Birkat haMinim, the text
of which may predate any Christian persecution of Jews.
Christians acknowledge that there is no
excuse for Christian crimes against Jews. There is no escaping modern
Christians' responsibility to condemn and reject anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism
must never be minimized or relativized away.
Rather, the point is this. Tyran insists
that *only Christians* persecute and stereotype others, and that Christianity's
essence is one of persecution and intolerance. Tyran insists that his own
religion is pure, is tolerant, and has a pristine history of non-violence. The
facts prove Tyran to be wrong.
To confront hate and prejudice, we must
confront hate and prejudice in a clear-eyed, fact-based way.
The "two thousand year" myth
endows Christianity with a super power it has never possessed. Lithuania did
not officially adopt Christianity until 1387. The last Muslims were expelled
from Spain in 1609. Christianity was all but wiped out by Muslims in the Middle
East and North Africa, and millions of Christians, across Europe, were enslaved
by Muslims, for hundreds of years, up to the end of the eighteenth century. Jews
first arrived in Poland as merchants whose wares included Polish slaves. Poles and
other Slavs were enslaved and marched to Muslim Spain, and, later, the Ottoman
Atheism, Islam, and Neo-Paganism have
been steadily rising in Europe at least since the Enlightenment. Nazism's
ultimate goal was to eliminate Christianity and Catholic priests, especially
Polish Catholic priests, were tortured, killed, and sent to Dachau. Communism,
of course, is a major competitor for hearts and minds and a mass killer of
Christians. "About 200,000 clergy, many crucified, scalped and otherwise
tortured, were killed during the approximately 60 years of communist rule in
the former Soviet Union, a Russian commission reported this week," according
to 1995 a news report from the Religion News Service.
There's another significant historical
trend missing from Tyran's history book. Christians devoted extraordinary
amounts of energy to massacring each other. Europe saw two hundred years of
religious wars, not Christian on Jew, but Christian on Christian. Just one
chapter, the Thirty Years War, is summed up as "one of the most
destructive wars in European history … it was directly responsible for the
death of an estimated 4.5 to 8 million soldiers and civilians, with some areas
of modern Germany experiencing population declines of over 50%."
Tyran insists that Christianity is a
monolithic power obsessed with persecuting him. The facts suggest that human
beings have been doing atrocious things to each other since the expulsion from
Eden. Christians have been at the receiving end of atrocities from Roman
Pagans, Persian Zoroastrians, Muslims, the Golden Horde, Communists, and Nazis.
We need to understand the given circumstances behind any atrocity, and work not
to repeat those circumstances. False, simplistic histories muddle this effort.
Tyran does not know that Auschwitz was
originally built for, and originally inhabited by, Poles arrested and interned
as Poles. Czesława Kwoka has no place in Tyran's history book. Tyran does not
know about Generalplan Ost, or about Germanic and Russian attempts to
obliterate Polish identity in the centuries preceding the twentieth. Tyran does
not want to talk about 3.3 million Soviet POWs, captured by the Nazis, who died
under atrocious conditions, including by starvation, gassing, and shooting.
Tyran waves away Polish and Soviet POW
suffering under the Nazis as "incidental." The most notorious quote
in this series came from Barbara Engelking "For Poles, death was simply a
biological matter, death like death." As opposed to Jewish death, which is
"a tragedy, metaphysics, a meeting with the highest."
A Polish-American poet wrote poems about
his parents' experience. His mother's family members were tortured, raped, and
murdered by Nazis and Ukrainians. His mother was a slave laborer. His father
was in concentration camps. His poetry about these topics was dismissed by
Tyran as "distracting attention from the real victims."
Dhimmitude, the persecution of Jews and
Christians in Islam, is swept from view, or redefined as "tolerance" Imaginary
"Islamic tolerance" having been invented, Bernard Lewis wrote, to
shame Christianity. Pagan empires' wars against and persecutions of Jewish
populations, for example, Pagan Rome's destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and
its genocidal policies against Jews that followed, are redefined into
non-existence. Very non-Christian Japan's significant production of
anti-Semitic material, or anti-Semitism in the, again, very non-Christian
American, British, and French left must be ignored or somehow attributed to
Deborah, a nice woman, when Ukraine was
invaded, posted material on social media damning Ukraine as a hellhole. Ralph
took a similar tack.
Both Deborah and Ralph had previously sent
me Facebook friend invitations. They wanted contact with me – a Polish Catholic
woman. Before these incidents, they had been warm and friendly. They were willing
to sabotage contact that we both valued for the right to slander Slavic
Christians even as Ukraine is fighting for its life.
Ukrainians committed massive atrocities
against Jews in the past. Ukrainians committed massive atrocities against Poles
in the past. Here's one difference in how those atrocities are discussed.
In my experience, Poles don't talk about
Ukrainian atrocities against Poles as essential to Ukrainian identity. That is,
the Ukrainians who did bad things in the past did bad things because of a given
set of changing historical circumstances. Those circumstances have passed, so
one need not assume that Ukrainians today are going to start, as they did
eighty years ago, sawing Poles in half and crucifying them.
But Tyrans do talk about Ukrainian
crimes against Jews as timeless, as eternal, and as essential to Ukrainian
identity. For this reason, Tyran's argument goes, one should not support
Ukraine today, because Ukrainians alive today are identical to criminals who
lived a hundred or even four hundred years ago.
My Facebook friend Alex shared one of my
essays on his Facebook page. Two of his Facebook friends, Bonnie and Andrea, liked
my essay enough that they sent me friend requests on September 6th.
On September 8, I posted about Judy
Woodruff's anti-Polish comments. Here's what my post said: "Judy Woodruff,
powerful American PBS journalist, says Poles went along silently with Nazism,
and are complicit in the Holocaust."
The above single sentence is the entire
text of my post.
Under the link, to let people know why I
posted about this, I gave more info about myself. I mentioned that this blog
post was part of a blog that goes back more than ten years. I mentioned that
I've published books and articles addressing the topic. I posted a link to a
video talk, and a link to the intro to my book Bieganski.
New Facebook friend Bonnie wrote,
"You may find 'Shoah' enlightening if you've never seen it." Bonnie
subsequently posted a link to the Wikipedia page for Shoah.
I was astounded. I was insulted. I was
Was this woman, a woman I did not know
at all, who had sent me a friend request just two days before, really telling
me to watch Shoah? I had just identified myself as a scholar deeply
immersed in Polish-Jewish relations.
Of course I've seen Shoah, multiple
times. I've read popular and scholarly responses to it. I've attended
lectures. I've published on it.
And watching Shoah, Bonnie
assumed, would "enlighten" me? Because, she assumed, I was in the
After recommending Shoah, and
posting its Wikipedia link, Bonnie blocked me.
Andrea, who, like Bonnie, had sent a
friend request two days before, posted next. Andrea bashed me in a 416-word-long
post. From Andrea's post:
"Bonnie is a highly intelligent,
Ivy League-educated woman with a graduate degree. Bonnie not only understands
about the philosophy and historical rise of Nazism, as well as European and
Jewish history prior, during, and after the Holocaust, she is familiar with all
types of artistic expressions associated with the Holocaust. She has read from
a wide range of Holocaust literature, and she has viewed documentaries and
movies about the Holocaust, as well (this is not the extent of her knowledge).
She has made it her business to be
informed about this historical event, an event that was perpetrated as a
genocide against the Jewish people. This unmitigated and unmerciful slaughter
of Jews, this attempt at a 'final solution,' to finally rid of the world of the
Jew was performed by the Nazi regime, and, unfortunately, except for Righteous
Gentiles, far too many Jew-hating people living in the Nazi-invaded European
countries collaborated with the Nazi's [sic] in their attempts to rid the world
of the Jews.
This Holocaust was a first attempt at a 'final
solution' regarding the Jews, but it is only one in a long line of a
two-thousand-year history of Jew hatred, accusations of deicide, of mass
expulsions, of pogroms, of mass killings.
So, a highly-intelligent Jew, an
educated Jew, an informed Jew, an unprejudiced Jew may, and should, feel 'contempt'
for individual people, people from any country who collaborated with the Nazi
killing machine and who took pleasure from the slaughter of innocent Jews."
I didn't want to bash Andrea publicly,
as she had bashed me. I didn't want to return rudeness with rudeness.
I sent her a private message. This is a
cut and paste of what I wrote, "I value courtesy. Andrea, I know nothing
about you, and I'm willing to give you one more chance, but if you ever speak
to me that way on my page again, I will unfriend you. I do not allow people to
insult me on my page. Thank you." In response, Andrea, too, unfriended me.
I remember giving a lecture in Krakow in
the late 1990s. I had prepared for hours. I would talk about stereotypes. I
defined the stereotypes. I used multiple illustrations. Folklore, movies, the New
York Times. I vividly remember those pages in the New York Times in
my sweaty little hand.
The second I finished talking, the
audience exploded. One woman, from Israel, grabbed my New York Times from
my hand and shook it violently. "I am the victim, do you hear me? I am the
victim. I will always be the victim. You will always be the victimizer. I'd
rather be the victim than be a victimizer like you."
Mind: my lecture had addressed
stereotypes. I had been talking about artifacts like Woody Allen movies and ethnic
jokes. I had not addressed who victimized whom historically.
The Israeli woman hadn't heard a single
thing I said. I suspect she just attended my talk so she cold have that moment.
What could have happened on Facebook the
This could have happened.
Bonnie could have said, "Danusha,
you just accepted my friend request a couple of days ago. Thank you. I'll tell
you a bit more about myself. My name is Bonnie Last Name. I am from town name and
I am an occupation name."
Bonnie could have begun this way, by fully
introducing herself, to recognize that she is a person, and I am a person, and
we are two people about to discuss a difficult topic. When embarking on such an
endeavor, it is essential that people bring their entire selves, and behave
courteously. Anonymous hit-and-run is ugly. It is not courteous.
Bonnie could have said, "Danusha,
above you wrote, 'Judy Woodruff, powerful American PBS journalist, says Poles
went along silently with Nazism, and are complicit in the Holocaust.' Danusha,
you seem to find this statement objectionable. If so, why do you find it
objectionable? I saw a movie called Shoah. It convinced me that Poles
were passive in the face of Nazism, or maybe even approved of it, and were
certainly complicit in the Holocaust.
You say, above, that you have published
scholarly work on this issue. I'm guessing, then, that you have seen Shoah.
Please share your thoughts with me. What did you think of Shoah? Why do
you think Poles were not passive in the face of Nazism, or even approved of it?
Do you think Poles were complicit or not?"
And you know what? If Bonnie had been
courteous like that, a very interesting and mutually rewarding conversation
could have developed. Bonnie, Andrea, and Alex, along with Sue, John, Izabela,
and Otto, could have all joined in, sharing thoughts, feelings, sources, and
We could have all been human together;
we could have all felt good about each other. Through our courtesy and respect,
we could have made the world a less hostile place, and a more peaceful one.