Friday, August 29, 2014

Article by me in Israel Hayom

Below is a link to an article by me, translated into Hebrew and appearing in the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom. 

A couple of other pieces by me have appeared in translation. A short essay I wrote on the Shroud of Turin was quickly translated into Italian, and my essay "Political Paralysis" has also appeared in other languages, including German. 

This essay first appeared in the American publication, "American Thinker." A short while after it appeared I was contacted by the Israeli newspaper. I grated permission for translation and it appeared a short while after that.

I hope someday that "Bieganski" is translated into Polish. I've been told that it would cost between four and eight thousand dollars for that to happen, to pay the translator. I hope that those funds are found. I think "Bieganski" would be a helpful and important book for Poles living in Poland, as well as Polish Americans living in the US, England, and Australia. 

Here is the link to my article in Israel Hayom.

Friday, August 22, 2014

"How Did Poland Transform from Hero to Villain?" Bieganski Review by Michal Karski


Equality for All? Well, Maybe Some Still Don’t Deserve It.

by Michal Karski

‘History is written by the victors’, goes the old adage (or, as it was put less solemnly by Winston Churchill; ‘history will be kind to me because I intend to write it’). There is no doubt that the losers are usually at a disadvantage. However, the recent German television series ‘Generation War’ seems to have turned that apparent truism on its head to the extent that the real villains of WWII seem to be not so much the Germans themselves, but rather thuggish and uncivilized Eastern European Nazi sympathisers.

The central European country of Poland has received particular attention in this respect for some time. After 1945 it suited the Communist regime to portray the takeover of the once-sovereign state as a ‘liberation from fascism’. Stalinist propaganda dismissed the Polish anti-Nazi  resistance as ‘fascists and reactionaries’ and this has found its way into Western perceptions.

But how did Poland, the country which was, after all, the first to offer military resistance to Hitler and fought against the Nazis on all fronts for the entire duration of the war, manage to become transformed from hero to villain?

Dr Danusha Goska provides the answer to this conundrum in this scholarly but immensely readable study of a prejudice which seems to surface with alarming regularity in the worlds of academe and media and which few influential agencies seem willing or able to tackle. She points to a pattern in American culture which has been able to denigrate immigrant Slavs in general and Poles in particular which would never have been acceptable with other ethnic groups. She gives the reason why this continues and provides numerous examples of negative stereotyping. The book discusses unflattering portrayals of Poles and other Eastern Europeans in films and also so-called ‘jokes’ based on ethnicity delivered by people who imagine they are being witty when they are otherwise being essentially racist. (May I say, on a purely personal note, since I did not grow up in America - even though I did have the good fortune to go to a superb American Forces school in Germany for quite a few years – that I have never been exposed to any anti-Polish prejudice. This does not mean, of course, that I am denying the existence of such prejudice and  the examples cited of Poles and other Eastern Europeans being regarded as inferior beings demonstrate that there is still some work to do in the USA in terms of combating ethnic prejudice. Some individuals clearly need to live up to the ideals of  the Nation’s Founders in what is otherwise considered by many people as not only the world’s foremost democracy but also one of the world’s most advanced societies).

Returning to the question of Poland being subjugated by the Communist puppet regime imposed by Stalin and the resulting image of the Poles as fascists which has found its way west. There is no doubt there was an extreme right which was active in pre-war Poland and there is also no doubt that the war would not have been won without the enormous sacrifice of ordinary men and women from all over the USSR (which included Polish contingents incorporated into the Red Army) – and it is only right and proper that their sacrifice is honoured. Unfortunately the flip side to the actions of the USSR which is rarely mentioned in the west other than in history texts, is the two-year Nazi-Soviet co-operation which resulted in the dismemberment of the Polish state. As I wrote previously on these pages, the pre-war multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nation, with all its faults and divisions, is extinct and lives only in the memories of a generation who are themselves fading away.

Given the prevalence of the Slavic stereotype, the question arises whether Danusha Goska’s study will do anything to mitigate the entrenched attitudes of some  Americans. The overall impression given in the book about attitudes to Poles looks fairly bleak at the moment, therefore all credit to Dr Goska for analysing  a controversial and difficult subject. The epithet which seems to come up most frequently in descriptions of this book is ‘necessary’. In this respect, Polonian organizations might consider offering Dr Goska the kind of support which a serious scholar of her calibre clearly deserves.

This is not to say that I agree 100% with everything that Dr Goska says. Personally I think the section of the book which demonstrates the way in which Hollywood has tended to portray Polish characters negatively could do with some balance. A few positive depictions ought to be mentioned, in fairness. Gene Hackman’s General Sosabowski, in ‘A Bridge Too Far’, for instance, is shown to have been one of the very few Allied commanders expressing serious reservations about the wisdom of Monty’s Arnhem plan; there are honourable and sympathetic Polish characters in Polanski’s ‘The Pianist’; Charles Bronson’s Danny Velinski, the ‘Tunnel King’ of ‘The Great Escape’ is quite positively drawn (albeit with potentially damaging claustrophobia); the whole tenor of Jack Benny’s ‘To Be or Not To Be’ (and its Mel Brooks eighties remake) is very much pro-Polish, so that the positives, although perhaps not outweighing the negatives, do appear from time to time.

The average American needs to be reminded that the vast majority of people of different religions and nationalities in pre-war Poland co-existed peacefully, flourished because of the cultural interchange, and are now in no position to defend their good name because they were either murdered by the Nazis for no other reason than their own ethnicity or, in very many cases, for trying to protect their Jewish friends and neighbours.

My single reservation about Dr Goska’s book concerns the cover painting and echoes what Sue Knight also referred to recently on this blog. People do, unfortunately, judge a book by its cover and the picture of Millet’s peasant with the hoe is rather off-putting (in my humble opinion), therefore may I suggest that perhaps a second edition would substitute the famous ‘Bociany’ by ChelmoĊ„ski, with its overtones of innocent simplicity rather than just brutishness, which would be an implied and pointed contrast to the book’s title? But otherwise, full marks for an excellent, extremely scholarly, objective and fair-minded work which would be a valuable addition to every American school syllabus in the on-going debate about ethnic stereotyping.  It would certainly serve as a stimulus to critical thinking and would also be a powerful counterbalance to entirely non-academic creations expressing purely personal viewpoints such as Art Spiegelman’s ‘Maus’ (which, for all its undoubted visual brilliance, is a rather controversial  example of an academic teaching aid, since, in my opinion, it reinforces, rather than challenges, ethnic stereotypes). Well done, Danusha.

You can read previous blog posts by Michal Karski here and here.

"Bieganski" is available on Amazon here

Monday, August 18, 2014

Poles are Complicit in the Holocaust - New Jersey. And Polonia is Doing What, Exactly?



Nasz Dziennik published an article alleging that in New Jersey students learn that Poles are complicit in the Holocaust. Of course Poles and Polonians are getting all upset. 

There is one scholarly book that addresses this stereotype of Poles as the world's worst anti-Semites. That book is "Bieganski." 

Polonia has not significantly supported the book. It is not used in courses, as far as I know. It has received few Amazon reviews and I regularly receive emails from Polonians telling me they don't want to buy it because they don't like the spend that much money on books, so why can't I give them a copy for free? 

I received one only invite from a Polish organization to talk about the book. I received more invitations from Jewish groups. 

I've repeatedly contacted Polish organizations and offered to speak. I've contacted the Kosciuszko Foundation. I get no replies. 

In short, there is a scholarly book that helps to explain and deconstruct the very stereotype that so troubles Poles and Polonians, and Poles and Polonians don't support that book, and get caught with their pants down and their hair on fire every time one of these scandals erupts. 

Frank Milewski responded to New Jersey educators. Does he mention the one scholarly book on the topic, a book that might help New Jersey educators to understand Polonia's position as something other than chauvinism? No, Mr. Milewski does not. 

A Polish publisher wants to publish "Bieganski" in Poland. He can't because he can't put together the few thousand dollars he would need for translation. 

Polonia, yes, people do associate you with Holocaust guilt. There's a book that addresses that. Read it. It might help. 

You can read about the latest of many similar kerfluffles here in Polish and here in English.

You will see Polonians going around and around, saying the same things they've said a million times, and making zero progress. God forbid they should study something, come to understand it better, and better equip themselves to fight it. 

And you can read more about how Polonia consistently shoots itself in the foot on these issues here.

***

Dear Polish American Congress,

I understand that the state of New Jersey is teaching that Poles are complicit in the Holocaust and that you are upset by that.

It may interest you to know that there is a prize-winning, scholarly book that addresses that very stereotype.

I am the book's author. I live in New Jersey. I am a teacher.

Why don't you make better use of the resources available to you, including my book and Polish American authors like me, John Guzlowski, Terese Pencak Schwartz and others who would be more than happy to have the opportunity to educate the public and refute stereotypes, if we received any support at all from Polonia?

Why don't you at the very least read "Bieganski" so that you can respond in an informed, sophisticated way to stereotyping?


Thank you. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Generation War from Netflix

The New York Times says that Generation War, which is now available from Netflix, airbrushes the Nazi era. You can read the article here.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

August 14, 1941


Review of "A Man for Others" by Patricia Treece

I was half way into this book when I felt the urge to send copies to everyone I know.

"There is no poetry after Auschwitz," people say. Others insist that there can be no God after Auschwitz, and no man either, at least not man as we had wished humanity to be. We live in an ugly world of mindless cruelty blasted into our minds by 24-7 news broadcasters. One atrocity after the other invites us to be cynical, to be selfish, and to think that our only satisfaction can be found in the next good meal or drug fix or other self-indulgent, transient pleasure.

Maximilian Kolbe, Polish Catholic priest and Auschwitz prisoner, was one of the most remarkable people who ever lived. His kindness, trust in God, and active compassion shatter our most cynical, selfish stances.

"A Man for Others" is an amazingly easy and engaging read. For the most part, the book consists of transcripts of oral recollections of Kolbe's life from his most intimate friends, family members, and fellow Auschwitz prisoners. The most profound truths are expressed in simple language. A middle school student could read this book, and then reread it later in life, and gain new understanding of its incredible story.

Maximilian Kolbe was born to a family so poor that they could not afford to send him to school, and under a foreign occupation so oppressive the colonizing powers refused Polish children the ability to study in the Polish language. He developed active tuberculosis and coughed up blood regularly. At times, his body was so weak, he felt himself close to death. In spite of hardships that have stunted many a life, Kolbe founded a religious order that prospered in Poland and in Japan.

While founding these orders, Kolbe, the man in charge, observed absolute poverty. He gave freely of whatever money he accumulated. He slept on bare floors under leaking ceilings. The Polish and Japanese peasants among whom he lived were poor, and he allowed no privileges for himself, in spite of his impossible work load and tubercular lungs. The people who knew him during these years, long before his fame spread throughout the world, observed that he was a saint in the making.

When Nazis invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, they targeted Kolbe, and all other priests, monks, and nuns. Kolbe was arrested on September 19. He and other priests were packed into train cars. When they asked for water, they were called "Polish swine" and told they were "destined for extermination." Prisoners were fed starvation rations and had to sleep on the ground in winter. In December, Kolbe was released. His followers encouraged him to flee Poland. They knew that with his high profile, his freedom was temporary. Given that he had had a taste of what it meant to be a prisoner of the Nazis, it is all the more remarkable that Kolbe decided to do what he did next: defy the Nazis further.

Kolbe made his headquarters, Niepokalanow, a shelter for refugees fleeing Nazi persecution, including an estimated two thousand Jews. Among Kolbe's last published words, and among the most inspirational words ever written, were the following, "No one can alter the truth. What we can do and should do is to search for truth and then serve it when we have found it." These were incendiary words in a Poland occupied by Nazis. Kolbe was arrested again, and sent to Auschwitz.

There is no need to repeat here what Kolbe endured in Auschwitz. The horrors of that manmade hell are all too familiar. What is unforgettable is Kolbe's behavior. This fragile, tubercular priest, by all accounts, went out of his way to be kind to all. Receiving only starvation rations, he gave his food away to others. He counseled fellow prisoners. He showed no hostility to Nazi guards. For all this, he was singled out for beatings and cruel tortures. A man of peace, deprived of all power, he still had the power of truth. Nazis were so intimidated by him they ordered him not to look at them. They could not endure the power of his eyes (228). After the war, Sigmund Gorson, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, testified of Kolbe, "Now it is easy to be nice, to be charitable, to be humble, when times are good and peace prevails. For someone to be as Father Kolbe was in [Auschwitz] … is beyond words."

Kolbe offered to take the place of a man condemned to death. He was stripped and held in a dark, bare-floored, foul-smelling, featureless concrete cell, with ten other men, with no food or water, until they starved to death. In the cell, Kolbe spent his final days praying, singing, and encouraging his fellow prisoners. It took weeks for him to die. Finally, the Nazis injected him with carbolic acid.

The bare facts of Kolbe's story inspire awe. The bare facts are not enough. You need to read this book, to get an intimate sense of Kolbe the human being. "A Man for Others" was one of those rare, special books that gave me the sense that I was acquiring a new friend. Kolbe comes alive in these pages. He is a man we need today.

Sadly, this must be mentioned. After Kolbe was canonized, professional atheist Christopher Hitchens, celebrity attorney Alan Dershowitz, superstar scholar Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, and Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen launched a tragically misguided smear campaign against Kolbe. Prof. Daniel Schlafly and Warren Green, director of the St. Louis Center for Holocaust Studies, debunked the smears, and the concerned reader is advised to study their full report.

“No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is the inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the hetacombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we are ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?”
― St. Maximilian Kolbe


"A Man for Others" at Amazon here