Monday, December 5, 2016

Trying to Talk to Trump Supporters

Folks, I know I have not posted on this blog in a long time, and I apologize. The reasons are complex.

In any case, I am posting here an account of an encounter I had on Facebook. I don't mention Poland once in this essay, but astute readers will understand why I post this here, as well as on my other blog, Save Send Delete. 

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed. I read a post from a friend. I felt like I was reading someone else's vomit. I walked away from the computer and tried to forget. I knew if I responded I would not be heard. I knew if I responded I risked hurting someone. I knew that someone had already hurt me, and nothing would erase that post from my memory. Even as I tried to forget the post, a reply kept formulating itself in my head. The post, and its hate, were a puzzle. I was compelled to piece its disparate parts into a pattern in order to make better sense of the world I suddenly found myself inhabiting. The post was a diabolical labyrinth constructed of words; I need to craft my escape, marshalling my own words.

A woman for whom I feel genuine affection and respect re-posted a thousand-word rant by "Mark."

Mark was excoriating anyone who criticized Donald J. Trump. Trump's critics, Mark insisted, were intolerant, convulsive, tyrannical, dictatorial, reactionary, insidious, pablum-feeding lapdogs of left-wing academics and little snowflake students who are crippled by anxiety when viewing the American flag and therefore outlaw its display. These teachers and students want to force America into a homogenized, contrived, politically correct image. These inflammatory words are all Mark's, taken directly from his rant. The rant took special exception to any comparison of Trump to Hitler.

Mark identified the populations to blame for turning America into a dystopian nightmare: teachers, students and the press. He named no other individual or group as guilty. Not Bernie Madoff. Not Wall Street and the 2008 crash. Not drug dealers and the heroin epidemic. Not mass shootings like Newtown or absentee fathers or misguided wars or lead-polluted water or income inequality or Kim Kardashian. No. Just teachers. Just students.

One response to Mark's screed made mention of how Trump would protect America from "dangerous immigrants."

Nowhere in the screed did Mark mention by name any real critic of Donald Trump. Mark never cited a single article critiquing Donald Trump. Mark never quoted a single real teacher or a single real student or one real immigrant.

Mark said that leftists say that Trump is exactly like Hitler. Mark seemed to find it important to insist that Trump would never murder tens of millions of civilians.

I haven't seen any serious commentary by a significant journalist or other public figure saying that Trump is exactly like Hitler, and no serious critique suggests that Trump will murder tens of millions of civilians.

Clearly, Mark was not talking about real opponents.

Clearly, Mark was condemning the monsters plotting under his bed, the gremlins slithering through his nightmares, the worst possible imaginings of alt-right conspiracy theorists. He located all of America's enemies in classrooms and in media.

Mark's hatred of teachers and students reminded me of some great dialogue from Ship of Fools.

Siegfried Rieber: You know it is a historical fact that the Jews are the basis of all our misfortunes.
Julius Lowenthal: Of course it is. The Jews and the bicycle riders.
Siegfried Rieber: Why the bicycle riders?
Julius Lowenthal: Why the Jews?

Why the teachers? The students? The immigrants?

Mark was shadow-boxing a caricature of a fantasy of a right-wing man who hates students and teachers and people who didn't vote for Donald Trump.

This ritual erection and defeat of straw men, constant in Team Trump rhetoric, matters.

Straw men, imaginary enemies, stereotypes rather than flesh-and-blood persons: these are what you encounter in the Malleus Maleficarum, The Witches' Hammer, the go-to manual for witch hunters. You encounter straw men in the transcripts of Stalinist show trials, in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion: in propaganda that panders to and reflects the fears of the paranoid or merely misanthropic. Lies crafted to stir up hatred and make any reconciliation or even mere respect impossible litter propaganda.

Ethics require that we encounter real persons. Civics require that we encounter real persons. Truth requires this encounter. Solving problems requires it. Friendship is impossible without this encounter, as is compassion. You must encounter the person in front of you, not your imaginings about that person. Ecce homo. Behold the man. Not the man your imagination dreamt up – the man God created.

I wondered if Mark had ever entered a university classroom, or met a teacher or a student. I wanted Mark and my Facebook friend who shared Mark's screed to come to my classroom, to meet me as a teacher, as a child of immigrants, to meet my students. Flesh and blood. Real people.

Would they call me a "dangerous immigrant" to my face? Would they mock my students as "special snowflakes" to their young faces?

Would Mark look me right in my big blue eyes and call me a convulsing, tyrannical, dictatorial, concentration-camp-capo wannabe?

Why would Mark, a successful person, a published author, lie like this? Fantasize like this?  Catastrophize like this? And, at a moment of national tension, work to stir up hatred against his fellow citizens?


More on this question, below. Because I think I've found the answer, and it's probably not what you think. And you can tell me if I have it wrong.

Look, I said. No serious person is saying that Trump is exactly like Hitler.

But responsible people have pointed out that Trump is a demagogue, that he plays some of the same devious games that all demagogues, including Hitler, play.  

Patriots need to address this:  

The ADL report on the unprecedented flow of hate during the Trump campaign. See here:

Teachers report an increase in bullying at schools, bullying overtly inspired by Trump, e.g., "Trump is going to throw you over the wall." "Trump that bitch" is now a phrase. Students shout "Hail Trump" or merely "Trump, Trump" when harassing others. See here

Frank Navarro, a 1997 Mandel Fellow at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and a teacher with forty years' experience, pointed out some parallels between Trump and Hitler. And was promptly told he had to stop teaching.

Two-hundred fifty Jewish scholars, on November 15, 2016, released an agonized statement. They wrote

"As scholars of Jewish history, we are acutely attuned to the fragility of democracies and the consequences for minorities when democracies fail to live up to their highest principles … in the wake of Donald Trump’s electoral victory, it is time to re-evaluate where the country stands. The election campaign was marked by unprecedented expressions of racial, ethnic, gender-based, and religious hatred."

I mentioned celebrated Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt's stating that Trump's appointment of Steve Bannon was "a game-changer" in how decent people address bigotry.  

Facebook friend Otto Gross also felt compelled to speak up. Otto's essay "Ripples of Sin" describes growing up with parents who had been Nazis. His perspective is wise, unique, and worthy of respect. (Otto's essay here:

In response to our posts, Otto and I were called "presumptuous" "rotting," "corrupt," "anti-intellectual," "profoundly ignorant," and "violently anti-Semitic" "leftists." We "denigrated" the actual suffering of Jews in order to express "annoyance" at a "politician." We were told we had contributed to the "devolution" of the conversation, like drunks at a bar. We were "separate" from real "working class Americans" who would reject us like the deviants that we are.

We were told that we had just "called your fellow Americans Nazis" and that we had just said that "Trump is Hitler."

We had never called anyone a Nazi. We had not said that Trump was Hitler. Otto laughed at being called a "leftist." He's never voted for a Democrat in his life.

Working class? My father was a coal miner. My mother cleaned houses. Otto's father was a metal worker. His mother did farm labor. I have worked as a nurse's aide, carpenter, and live-in domestic servant. Otto has pumped gas and mopped up hospital waste.

The Facebook posters shouting at us that we are not "working class" live lives of wealth, power, and influence.

These objective facts made no difference to Team Trump. Team Trump was doing what Team Trump does: obstinately erecting and strenuously demonizing a completely imaginary straw man.

They could work up fuming outrage to condemn Otto and me, people who posed no threat to them, but could not even acknowledge the hundreds of hate crimes that spiked directly after Trump's election. (See here:

I threw in the towel and retreated. My friend was choosing a fact-free world in which I, a teacher and a child of immigrants, was the ogre.

Then something odd happened.

A couple of the participants communicated to me, in public and in private, virtual resumes.

In one follow-up, thousand-word post, the poster used the word "I," "me," and "my" fifty times: "I've done this, this, and this. I have this and this accomplishment. I have done all these important things! I have been well-assessed! I am a good person!"

I was confused. All of this "I" stuff struck me as complete non-sequiturs. Weren't we talking about the Big Picture? About our nation, the United States of America?

And then it hit me.

People who voted for Trump feel shamed. It's a stigma, a taint.

Those who feel shamed are doing two things:

First, they discredit those who note Trump's flaws as beyond the pale – as drunks, as extreme leftists, insidious, special snowflakes, anti-American, elitist. We are so bad our perceptions are worthless.

And they must distort any criticism of Trump into a parody – "You are saying that Trump is just like Hitler! That's ridiculous! Trump will never murder millions!"

When you distort critiques of Trump that badly, he comes out looking relatively good. "Hey! He'll never murder millions so he must be an okay guy!"

As a teacher, I struggle to play my part in keeping the American dream alive. That's why I keep trying to talk to Trump voters. So far, though, I have gotten nowhere. The Team Trump trademark post-truth approach pulverizes language and drives us all lightyears apart.

Mostly what I encounter are logical fallacies.

Ad hominem: "You are an insidious leftist."

Change the subject: "Hillary Clinton is Satan."

Outright lies. "Trump won in a landslide. The votes for Hillary Clinton were illegal. Hillary Clinton murdered JFK Jr!"

Now that Trump has won, it appears to be important to Team Trump to reduce all of us who didn't vote for Trump to a marginally inhuman status, and to dismiss any criticism of him as extremist violations of Godwin's Law.

I'm worried for my country. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Die Polish Scum. Hate Crimes Against Poles on Increase in Post-Brexit England

Polish workers on a street corner in West London. AP photo Source
National Public Radio reports:

"According to British police, reports of hate crimes in the United Kingdom rose in the months after the Brexit vote in June to leave the European Union. The most alarming case happened at the end of August - the beating death of a Polish man in Harlow, a town north of London.

Father Bogdan Kot presided over the funeral last month of Arek Jozwik, a 40-year-old factory worker. Surrounded by scores of Polish mourners, Father Kot asked the question on many people's minds.

'Why God allowed for this to happen? Why this good man, hard-working man, gentle man had to die?'"


"HIND: I mean, now I feel scared, obviously. My wife feels scared. We want to know what's going to happen next. After I've been here so long and, you know, contributing to the country, we don't feel welcome anymore.

LANGFITT: Police say reports of hate crimes in most of the U.K. have been up nearly one-third since the week before the Brexit vote. Some EU embassies told The Guardian newspaper they'd also seen an increase in abuse of their citizens. Most of the targets were Poles or people mistaken for Poles. And that's not news to Magda Grzymkowska.

MAGDA GRZYMKOWSKA: Every week, it's happening something like this. And every week, we have article in our newspaper.

LANGFITT: Grzymkowska edits Tydzien Polski. It's a Polish weekly based in London. She cited a case last month in the English midlands where a man ordered a student of Polish descent to speak English."

Read full report here

Poland Taught France How to Use the Fork

The BBC reports:

"Poland 'taught the French how to use a fork', a Polish deputy minister has said, amid a continuing row over a cancelled defence contract.

Deputy Defence Minister Bartosz Kownacki also accused the French of lacking 'class' after losing the multi-billion dollar contract to build 50 Airbus Caracal helicopters for Poland.

A Law and Justice party spokeswoman said the remarks were 'unfortunate'.

Poland is to buy US Black Hawks instead. Airbus has threatened to sue.

Speaking on TV, Mr Kownacki accused France of responding by withdrawing the offer of free accommodation and a car for the Polish delegation at a defence fair in Paris next week.

'They are a people who learned to eat with a fork from us a few centuries ago. So maybe this is why they are behaving in this way now,' he said.

MPs from the opposition Civic Platform party called for him to be fired."

Wikipedia gives a history of fork use, including this excerpt, which you can read in full here:

"The first recorded introduction of the fork to Western Europe, as recorded by the theologian and cardinal Peter Damian,[9] was by Theophano Sklereina the Byzantine wife of Holy Roman Emperor Otto II, who nonchalantly wielded one at an Imperial banquet in 972, astonishing her Western hosts.[10] By the 11th century, the table fork had become increasingly prevalent in the Italian peninsula. It gained a following in Italy before any other Western European region because of historical ties with Byzantium, and continued to gain popularity due to the increasing presence of pasta in the Italian diet.[11] At first, pasta was consumed using a long wooden spike, but this eventually evolved into three spikes, a design better suited to gathering the noodles.[12]

In Italy, it became commonplace by the 14th century and was almost universally used by the merchant and upper classes by 1600. It was proper for a guest to arrive with his own fork and spoon enclosed in a box called a cadena; this usage was introduced to the French court with Catherine de' Medici's entourage. In Portugal, forks were first used at the time of Infanta Beatrice, Duchess of Viseu, King Manuel I of Portugal's mother[13] around 1450. However, forks were not commonly used in Western Europe until the 16th century when they became part of Italian etiquette.[14] The utensil had also gained some currency in Spain by this time,[15] and its use gradually spread to France. Nevertheless, most of Europe did not adopt use of the fork until the 18th century.[6]"

My comment: "Poland taught France how to use a fork" is unhelpful boasting.

Thanks to Otto for sending this in.

Read the full BBC article here

Monday, October 10, 2016

Andrzej Wajda, Filmmaker, Genius. March 6, 1926 – October 9, 2016

Andrzej Wajda March 6, 1926 – October 9, 2016. Filmmaker. Genius. Every Polonian and every lover of cinematic art owes him a debt of gratitude.

Below, my reviews of two of his films, The Promised Land and Katyn.

If I had all day, I'd write about more of his films, all day. I'd write about how they changed my life.

I don't have all day. So just the two reviews, below, which I hope you will read.

Thank you.

The Promised Land is a visual feast, fast-paced, and every bit as ruthless as the cutthroat characters it depicts. The topic – the Industrial Revolution, and the characters – immoral greedy monsters – are ugly and mean, but Wajda's filmmaking is so virtuosic you watch just for the sheer craft, splendor, and runaway train of a plot. I find it hard to sit through movies where there are no sympathetic main characters and no possibility of a happy ending, but The Promised Land is addictively watchable. There's an orgy, a tiger, several mutilated bodies, fires, riots, history, and Wojciech Kilar's driving, award-winning score.

Anyone interested in the Industrial Revolution should see this movie. Fans of Dickens' "Oliver Twist" and Gaskell's "North and South" really must see it. I wish I could require my students to watch it. Wajda was determined to get every detail correct. In the DVD's extra features, an assistant director discusses a scene of indigent paupers receiving charity food. Wajda's team discovered that the indigent were fed from long, metal tables with bowls built right into them. They rebuilt such a table just for this scene, lasting a few minutes. They had special wooden spoons made, and then weathered them by soaking them in oil. The paupers' rags were similarly weathered. There is a lengthy scene where Anna (Anna Nehrebecka), a country aristocrat, travels to the city. The camera follows Anna and lays out Lodz before her in all its gritty, noxious detail: smoking chimneys, workers' funerals, fighting men, the Jewish quarter. The scene looks like documentary footage of a late nineteenth-century industrial city.

The Promised Land also takes the viewer into the mansions of Lodz, almost ridiculous in their sumptuousness, plunked down in so much filth, squalor, and despair. Ornate winding staircases, gilt-encrusted columns and ceiling murals lure on industrialists willing to wring every last penny from their desperate employees.

The Promised Land depicts Lodz's emergence as a textile manufacturing hub. Three friends, one a Polish aristocrat, one a Jew, and one a German, strive to build their own factory. They have few resources and must do dirty things to make their dreams of unlimited wealth a reality. Blond Karol (Daniel Olbrychski) has the face of a cherub and the soul of a serial killer. His entire being is omnivorous greed. Moryc (Wojciech Pszoniak) cheats another Jew to get his stake. After doing so, he practically collapses from the strain, and then breaks the fourth wall, winking at the audience. He's just an actor playing a part, he reminds us, as they all are, playing any part they want to get their highest ideal: cash.

The film also depicts workers and their plight. A dewy young mill hand is lured into prostitution. Others are consumed by the machines they work. Scenes of mutilated flesh are quite graphic, and yet not sensationalistic. This is the price poor people pay for bread, the film shows us. The camera does not linger. It keeps moving. Just like Lodz, just like men chasing cash, just like history.

There are a few characters who aren't utterly despicable. They appear, make small squeaks of decency, self-respect, and dignity, and are crushed by the inevitable. There is a stunning scene that is quite different from anything else in the film. The film moves quickly and purposefully, but in this scene men meet in a small room to play classical music. The scene is not at all essential to the plot. It moves with atypical languor. The scene seems to say, "Yes, people in Lodz had souls." That reminder makes the surrounding greed-induced frenzy all the more disturbing.

Some viewers protest The Promised Land as an anti-Semitic film, because of unpleasant Jewish characters. Indeed, there are unpleasant Jewish characters in the film. Virtually *every* character in the film is unpleasant – even the pretty, innocent child lured into prostitution. The film does not allow you to pity her, but implies that she was complicit in her own downfall. Further, every character is unpleasant in an ethnically- gender-, and socioeconomic-class-coded way. That is, the Polish peasants are unpleasant in a stereotypical way associated with peasants, the one priest is unpleasant in a way associated with priests. The men are bad men, the women are bad women. The priest is onscreen for minutes only, but he leers at a pretty factory hand. Anna has a big heart, but she is ineffectual and not smart enough to see through Karol. Other women are whores or idiots. The Polish aristocrat aggressively sells out every high ideal his ancestors held dear. He desecrates an image of Poland's icon, the Black Madonna of Czestochowa. The Germans are either sadistic and autocratic or lumpen and dull. The Polish peasant who manages to rise above his station is an insufferable, loud-mouthed boor. This film isn't anti-Semitic; it is brutally misanthropic. It depicts people at their worst.

Again, it is Wajda's virtuosic filmmaking that makes all this endurable. At a key moment, a rock flies through a window. That rock means much – the inevitable march of history that has brought industrialists high and might also bring them very, very low. Any other filmmaker would probably have handled the rock through a window as a crashing sound followed by a thud. Wajda films this scene with such skill and poetry that the rock becomes a character in the film. It demands, and gets, the viewer's full attention. Subsequent action is filmed *from the rock's point of view.* Poland is a small, distant, and much contested country. It's filmmaking like that that amply earned Wajda his honorary Academy Award.

I watched Katyn on a home computer screen. Even in that limited format, Katyn had an impact on me comparable to such cinematic greats as "Lawrence of Arabia." I cried throughout most of the film. I resolved that many of my relationships would be different. I remembered people I had known who reminded me of characters in the movie. After the film ended, I felt that I could not listen to the radio or read the newspaper or listen to anyone speak. I just needed to allow the film to sink into me.

Naysayers have critiqued Katyn as boring and dull. If you need a film to depict war, occupation, and atrocity as shiny, compact, and compelling as a sports car, then you should listen to those naysayers; don't watch "Katyn," rather, watch the very silly, teen fanboy-friendly Quentin Tarantino flic, "Inglorious Bastards." If you've seen enough Hollywood productions jam-packed with sexy Nazis and happy endings, and you want to take in a film that dares to depict, in eyeblinks, what war, atrocity, and occupation looked like and felt like to real people, then by all means see "Katyn." One of the many features that I admired: Katyn's Nazis are not sexy. They are not Tom Cruise, Liam Neeson, Christoph Waltz. Katyn's Nazis are brutal, repugnant thugs.

I respect this movie. There are too few movies about which I'd say that. It shows the courage not to attempt to weave an uplifting, feel-good atrocity narrative that leaves the viewer with a smile. This isn't "Schindler's List." "Schindler's List" is a very good movie, but this isn't that. It is, rather, very much like what World War Two and the subsequent Soviet occupation sounded like to me when I listened to my own older friends and relatives, who lived through both. This is disjointed narrative, stories that seem headed for redemption or even ecstasy but that end in random death, that end in aborted normalcy, aborted joy, aborted meaning. I felt, in watching these cold, pale, stoic characters, as if I were, once again, sitting across the table from older Eastern European friends and relatives. Yes, that's what they looked like. Yes, those are the facial expressions they assumed when they talked about the uncle who was rounded up and never heard from again, the daring, handsome lad who ended up in a mass grave – or when they pointedly did *not* talk about these people. The gravestone whose inscription dares to tell the truth; the tearing down of a propaganda poster; the Red Army soldier who struggles to do the right thing by a widow, who won't yet admit that she is a widow; the singing of exactly the right Christmas carol at exactly the right moment: those are exactly the heroic gestures that no one ever saw, that went unrecorded, that only one person lived to tell about, to tell me. Here they are, onscreen.

When a movie is named Katyn the viewer knows how it will end; it's kind of like a movie named "Auschwitz" or "Kolyma" or "Wounded Knee." There isn't going to be a surprise ending. I was still surprised by the ending, by how courageous and moving I found it. Once again, Andrzej Wajda managed to wow the filmgoer in me. And he managed to move the human in me.

See "Katyn." See a movie you can respect, a movie that is worth your time.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Good. The Bad, and Bieganski, by Michal Karski

The Good, the Bad and Bieganski

Michal Karski

BLONDIE: Hey, Tuco. What’s happening with the Nazi Gold Train? You got any answers for me, amigo?

TUCO: What are you after, you sly son of a bitch? I know your sort. Who sent you? The Fat Man? You self-righteous Polonistas drive me up the wall. Always complaining about something.

BLONDIE: You planning on teaming up with Angel Eyes? You remember what happened in 1934?

TUCO: Yeah, I remember what happened in 1934 and how he double-crossed me back in Nazi-occupied Poland. I wouldn’t team up with Angel Eyes if you made me president of the US of A. Now what do you want from me, Kowalski.? I’m a busy man, you know. I’m a journalist these days. Respectable. You can’t pin anything on me. I pay my taxes.

BLONDIE: Wrong film, Tuco. I ain’t Kowalski. And what’s that you just said about Poland? Did I hear you right? Did you hear that, Angel Eyes, or was I dreaming?

ANGEL EYES: Big mistake, Tuco. You are one ignorant hombre and you’re gonna pay for that. Everyone knows you should have said ‘German-Nazi-occupied Poland’.

BLONDIE: Both completely off the mark. ‘Cause Poland wasn’t occupied until 1939. I’m gonna make life hell for the both of you.

TUCO: Look – anybody can make a mistake. Gimme a break.

BLONDIE: I’m gonna have to give you and your journo friends some history books.

TUCO: History books? We don’t need no stinkin’ history books. We know everything there is to know.

BLONDIE: Do you really? Who was president of Poland in 1934?

TUCO: Er – Frederic Chopin?

BLONDIE: Try again.

TUCO: Was it Arch Stanton?

BLONDIE: Not even close.

ANGEL EYES: Paderewski?

BLONDIE: Getting warmer…

TUCO: I know. It was that guy with the moustache.

BLONDIE: Which guy with the moustache?

ANGEL EYES: I know. He means Pilsudski.

BLONDIE: And was Poland under Nazi-German occupation at the time of Pilsudski?


BLONDIE: Not only was Poland not occupied in 1934 but Pilsudski wanted to crush the German Nazis before they got too powerful. He had his critics of course but how many people know that he wanted a preventive war to stop Hitler back in 1933? If he had persuaded the Brits and the French to go along, we’d be calling him a hero today instead of accusing him of being a dictator. Read this.

ANGEL EYES: I didn’t know that, Blondie. Don’t shoot, amigo. I’ll take those history books…

TUCO: Blondie, old friend. I always knew Pilsudski was a good anti-Nazi president.

BLONDIE: Wrong again, Tuco.

TUCO: B-b-but what do you mean? Isn’t that right?

BLONDIE: Pilsudski wasn’t the president. He may have been the power behind the throne but the actual president was Ignacy Moscicki.

TUCO: That’s what I said. Mos Stanton. I mispronounced it a little…



Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype describes a stereotype of Poles and other Eastern Europeans as the world's worst anti-Semites. That stereotype is so powerful that it often supersedes, in people's imaginations, the reality of Nazi Germany.

People giving greater weight to the stereotype of Poles as quintessential anti-Semites and not attending to the reality of Nazi Germany is demonstrated frequently in classrooms, Holocaust education curricula, and in a recent news article that referred to 1934 Poland as a Nazi state.

The facts, as covered in Bieganski. Nazism was a German product, and a product of wider Western trends. You can read more about that at "Nazism's Foundations and Inspirations," here.

Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany in September, 1939. It was also invaded by Soviet Russia.

Nazis committed horrible crimes in wartime, occupied Poland, 1939-1945. To attribute those crimes committed against both Polish non-Jews and Polish Jews to Poland is inaccurate, to say the least.

Michal Karski, author of the above blog, writes:

A week or so ago, UK news outlet Yahoo News managed to describe Poland of 1934 – unbelievably -  as “Nazi Poland”. After immediate protests from Poles and Polonians, some of whom (unfortunately) insisted on the change to “Nazi-occupied Poland”, the article was amended in line with the complaints. The wording of the corrected version now made it seem that Poland was occupied by the Nazis in 1934. After more complaints, the editors of the article finally got it right

Is this material for satire? You be the judge… If we don’t laugh at the astounding ignorance of some of our western journalists, we’d only end up despairing.

Trump, Bieganski, and Anti-Semitism

My book Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype describes the stereotype of Poles and other Eastern Europeans as the world's worst anti-Semites.

The stereotype is not accurate. It exists, and will continue to exist, because it serves several purposes. One purpose: it deflects attention, blame, and discomfort away from antisemitism in other countries.

I am blessed to be an American. We have been blessed with relatively placid lives in America. We, including the poorest Americans, enjoy access to abundant food, mostly safe streets, clean air and water. No one who has ever lived in other countries, as I have, can scoff at these benefits.

We Americans tend to think, even unconsciously, that hatred could never reach a critical mass in our country, as it did in Nazi Germany, or Communist Russia, China, or Cambodia, or more recently in Rwanda.

Many of us have been shocked by the hatreds unleashed by the Trump campaign.

My first taste of that hatred. I knew very little about Trump when he first announced his candidacy. My Facebook posts voiced my "let's see what he has to say" approach. After I realized I could never vote for him, a Facebook friend accused me of being an "immigrant." I was born in New Jersey.

One of the more horrifying aspects of a horrifying campaign is the antisemitism among Trump supporters.

Please note: I have never called Trump an anti-Semite, and I don't recall ever seeing any such accusation in the press. I know that Trump's daughter Ivanka, who plays a high-profile role in his campaign, is married to a Jew. All of that is beside the point.

What is more pertinent is that overt anti-Semites have embraced and supported Trump in a way that is impossible not to notice and also impossible not to address.

A recent Haaretz article is just one of many articles addressing this phenomenon. 

This article, and many others, make abundantly clear that antisemitism is alive and well in the United States. Anti-Semites have power; if they did not, the Trump campaign would be more adamant in its condemnation of and distancing from them.

I'm shocked and horrified by how many organized anti-Semites there are in the US. The internet facilitates them: they can find each other, unite, organize, and make their presence felt.

Anti-Semitism is not acceptable in conventional social settings in the US. But antisemitism is part of the inescapable baggage of a powerful presidential campaign. That is sobering. Decent people will insist on addressing it.

Anti-Semites are using the internet in new and sophisticated ways. Those who oppose antisemitism must also use the internet in new and sophisticated ways.

One thing those who oppose antisemitism must do: stop using the Bieganski stereotype. It is a distortion of history and it is a distortion of antisemitism. One does not have to be Polish, or Ukrainian, Lithuanian, or any other flavor of Eastern European to be an anti-Semite. One does not have to be a peasant or a worker. One does not have to be a Christian or a Catholic. Use of the Bieganski stereotype does not advance, but rather weakens the fight against antisemitism.

The antisemitism and the anti-Semites among Trump supporters make this abundantly clear.

In the excerpts below, the reader discovers two fallacies: one, that antisemitism is of the past (and therefore easier to pin on "primitive" Eastern European peasants), and, two, that antisemitism is something that is exclusively associated with Eastern Europe, in this case, Russia.

Neither assumption is correct. Yes, a wealthy, Western, modern country, the United States, can harbor antisemitism. Yes, a modern invention, the internet, can foster antisemitism.

The author of the article excerpted below recommends that Jewish people acknowledge that antisemitism is a problem. Part of that acknowledgement is to abandon the belief that antisemitism was only of the past, and only of Eastern Europe. Both of those fallacies underpin the Bieganski stereotype. Both are wrong.

Below please find excerpts from the Haaretz article "I Hadn't Been Called a Kike Since Fourth Grade. Donald Trump Changed All That" on antisemitism among Trump supporters. 

"There's a reason why so many anti-Semites are going for Trump. It's not that he's an anti-Semite. He's something worse. He's an influential public figure who enables and tolerates and excuses and pumps Jew-haters, and who, most crucially, cannot afford to lose their votes.

I don't remember the first time I got called a kike as a kid. But I remember the last.

I was a fourth grader. I wound up in a short fight with a bigger kid. All I remember is that he was a guy with trouble at home and trouble inside, and harbored some grievance about our respective places in line for the movies.

The adult advice I got at the time was that anti-Semitism – of the long-ago type that had made changing our family's immigrant last name a key part of my dad's application process for college – was on the ropes. It would soon be extinct, I was assured, like polio. 'Just let it go, or it'll get worse.'

It was bad advice. It was bad advice then, and it's bad advice now…

Two weeks ago, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum wrote a piece titled 'In Poland, a preview of what Trump could do to America.'

The Breitbart news site – whose on-leave executive chairman is Trump Campaign Chairman Stephen Bannon – then ran an article which said of Applebaum that 'hell hath no fury like a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned.'

The attack on Applebaum followed a torrent of online abuse directed at Jewish reporters, or reporters with Jewish-sounding names, or reporters married to Jews, whose words were seen as uncomplimentary to Trump or his wife.

The attacks began in earnest early in the year, following the February South Carolina primary, when reporter Bethany Mandel was attacked as a 'slimy Jewess' and was told she deserved 'the oven' for writing about Trump's relatively large number of anti-Semitic supporters.

'My anti-Trump tweets have been met with such terrifying and profound anti-Semitism that I bought a gun earlier this month. Over the coming weeks, I plan to learn how to shoot it better.'

…In April, prominent feature writer Julia Ioffe published a profile of Melania Trump in GQ. Ioffe, who is Jewish, was barraged with death threats and crank callers, one of whom played recorded speeches of Hitler on her phone line, another who told her that her face would look good on a lampshade.

On Twitter, Ioffe was pictured as if interred in Auschwitz, with the caption 'Julia Ioffe at Camp Trump.'

…Ioffe, for her part, remarked, 'The irony of this is that today, when I was getting all of this horrible anti-Semitic shit that I’ve only ever seen in Russia, I was reminded that 26 years ago today my family came to the U.S. from Russia.'

'We left Russia because we were fleeing anti-Semitism,' Ioffe told the Guardian. 'It’s been a rude shock for everyone.'"

The full text of the Haaretz article can be read here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Needing Ania: An Old Polish Woman, a Rabbi, and Bieganski

Photo of an old Hucul woman, found online 
Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype treats stereotypes of Poles and other Eastern Europeans as brutes and violent anti-Semites," "worse than the Nazis." The book invites readers to reconsider this stereotype.

Excerpt, below, from Righteous Gentiles in the Hebrew Bible: Ancient Role Models for Sacred Relationships by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin. This excerpt contains a bit of the stereotype, and an encounter with an old Polish woman who helped author Rabbi Salkin overcome the stereotype.

I grew up in a middle class community … in Long Island. The working class Polish, Italian and Irish families lived on one side of the Long Island railroad tracks; we lived on the other side … Catholic-school-influenced bullies would wander far and wide and they found me – a tall, lanky kid with a newspaper route. Their custom was to accost me as I delivered my newspapers, throw my bicycle into the woods and my newspapers down the sewer. These acts all accompanied by taunts of "Christ killer!"

At this point, author Rabbi Salkin loses me as a reader.

Rabbi Salkin acknowledges that he grew up in a different socioeconomic class, in a different neighborhood, and following a different religion than the boys he identifies as his tormentors.

How, then, does Rabbi Salkin know that it was "Catholic school" that caused these boys to torment him?

Rabbi Salkin was born in 1954. He is a baby boomer like myself. He grew up in NY; I grew up in NJ. I went to Catholic School. I am Polish.

Number of times I beat up a Jewish kid: Zero.

Number of times nuns urged me to beat up a Jewish kid: Zero.

Number of times nuns taught me that Jews killed Jesus: Zero.

Number of times that *anyone* in my childhood taught me that Jews killed Jesus: Zero.

How I had to respond when I first heard about deicide: I had to research it and learn about it from books.

Further, I knew Jews. They lived on my block. They visited my home. I liked them. They appeared to like me. No fisticuffs.

After I grew up and left home and went to grad school, there were hostile encounters between Jews and myself.

Number of times Jews cornered me at parties and pelted me with offensive Polish jokes: several.

Number of times Jews told me I can't really be Polish because I think and read: several.

Number of times I read books or articles by Jewish authors that misrepresented my ethnicity in a way to arouse contempt: several.

What if I wrote a book and said that the Talmud, or rabbis, or Jewish religious instruction, created a "custom" of Jews insulting non-Jews in an arrogant and prejudiced manner? I'd never find a decent publisher. I wouldn't deserve a decent publisher. And yet a book that casually, and without any support, alleges that Catholic school mandates a "custom" of Polish boys beating up on Jewish boys finds publication and positive reviews.

This is further evidence of how unquestioned the Bieganski stereotype is.

Also, I am dubious. It was a "custom" to assault this child, and steal his bicycle and newspapers? On Long Island? In the 1950s / 60s?


Meaning it happened regularly?

Was this the Wild West?

No parents? No police?

Just asking.

I'm sure it happened at least once. Maybe even twice. But after that, wouldn't he at least have altered his route?

Me? I did beat up kids, and I got beat up, too. I used ethnic slurs, and ethnic slurs were used on me -- often by my best friends. Because kids do bad things.

But Rabbi Salkin goes on. Ania, an old Polish woman, lived with one of his Jewish friends, Ira Handleman.

Ania didn't speak a word of English, and I assumed that she was my friend's grandmother. "No," he corrected me, "she's the lady who hid my mother in a closet during the war. My mother was so grateful to her that she brought her to the United States with her."

Right after Ira became bar mitzvah, the Handleman family made aliyah (move to Israel), and we lost touch. Ten years later, I went to Israel for the first time. Within days of my arrival, I called my old friend's family and we became reacquainted. Within the first few minutes of our conversation, I jumped to the topic that had been on my mind for years. "And the old Polish woman? Whatever became of her?" I asked.

"When we decided to make aliyah," Mrs. Handleman told me, "we offered to buy Ania a house in New York and to support her for the rest of her life." But she said to us, 'Where else could I live? Who else could I live with? You're my family.' And so we brought her with us to Tel Aviv."

Somehow, I knew the answer to the next question even before I asked it.

"Is she still alive? She was already so old … "

"No, she died just a few years ago."

Where did you bury her?" I asked.

"Here in Israel. Where else?" I could hear her weeping through the phone.

I realized at that moment that I had needed Ania all along. I had needed her because her life was a one-woman refutation of the myth that all Jewish history was unrelenting darkness, a dark pageant of those who sought to kill us and often succeeded. She was a one-woman response to the version of Eastern European Jewish history with which I grew up – the one that suggested that all Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians gleefully danced around the mass graves of Jewish victims.

Ania was the first, and only righteous gentile that I had ever met. Years later, I would realize that her words to the Handlemans were an almost verbatim repetition of what the biblical Ruth said to Naomi" Wherever you go I will go." Ania, and so many like her, was a spark in the darkness. There were not as many of them as we needed, but there were more of them than we had known.

By the way, Rabbi Salkin refers to Pani Ania as "Anya." I think the proper Polish spelling is "Ania" so I have corrected it in this post.

I like and recommend the rest of Rabbi Salkin's book, linked above.

Rabbi Salkin read the above blog post and wrote back. He kindly granted me permission to share his response here.

Many thanks…..and thanks for the shoutout, even if you didn’t like that part.

Yes, it was my experience. Yes, I experienced first hand anti-semitism from ethnic Catholics – of all sorts. Yes, this was only a few years after Vatican II.

Did the nuns and priests encourage this kind of behavior? I would probably agree with you that they didn’t.

Did the un-redeemed teachings of the church about the Jewish role in the Crucifixion have any influence on the bullies who accosted me?

You tell me. They taunted me with: You killed our God.

Are you saying that there is no Polish historical experience with anti-Semitism?

I went to Poland last summer, and it gave me a new sense of the many subtleties in this shared history. And as we can both testify to, the anti-Semitism of the past, in Polish life, seems to be disappearing. Though when I worked with ADL in New Jersey, I experienced it anew and afresh – but this time, it was opposed by other Polish-Americans who were ready to fight that painful history.

And yes – I grew up hearing Polish jokes. I despise them. When I hear them, I remind the teller about Copernicus.

So, yes – it is complicated. Thanks