Sunday, July 4, 2010

Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture

If you are a Pole or Polish-American living in this country, you have probably been called a dumb Polak. You have also probably been told that Poles are stupid, lazy, anti-semitic, and brutal.

You have heard this from your friends and the people around you. When I was a four-year old refugee from Germany, I heard it from a boy my own age who lived next door to me. Later, I heard it where I worked and lived. And always, of course, I heard it from the media, from TV shows, movies, books, and music.

I never understood it. I saw Poles who were smart, caring, helpful, and idealistic, and I wondered where the stereotype of the brute Polak came from.

Danusha Goska's new book answers this question.

Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture is a daring and far-reaching study that examines the sources and prevalence of stereotyped images of Poles as brutal, subhuman creatures. Drawing on her extensive research in history, popular culture, and folklore, and also on interviews of Poles and Jews in America today, interviews of both stereotypers and victims of stereotyping, she teaches us all something profound about how the image of the Polak originated and why it continues to flourish.

Two decades in the works, and written and researched without institutional support, her study has been called "groundbreaking" and "brilliant."

Here are two more recent responses to this "groundbreaking" and "brilliant" book:

From John J. Mearsheimer, R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago

"Bieganski is a truly important book because it challenges and demolishes the widely held belief that Poles are nothing more than ignorant and brutish anti-Semites who played a central role in causing the Holocaust. Goska does a first-rate job of describing how Jews and Poles really interacted with each other over their rich history together. Let's hope that this book is widely read and helps change the conventional wisdom about Polish-Jewish relations."

From John T. Pawlikowski, OSM, Ph.D., professor of Social Ethics, Director, Catholic-Jewish Studies Program Catholic Theological Union, Chicago

"Stereotypes of Poles have been commonplace in Western society. Danusha V. Goska presents a comprehensive overview of such images in a balanced fashion. She offers no apologetic for genuine instance of Polish anti-Semitism. But she also exposes those rooted in outright prejudice with no foundation in fact. An important contribution to improved Polish-Jewish understanding."

From Dr. Michael Herzbrun, Rabbi Temple Emanu-El, Rochester, NY:

"In this most important work, Dr. Goska's style incorporates those necessary ingredients that justify writing as an art form: her grammar is impeccable, even while the pathways of her sentences can be unpredictable. Her imagery is robust, but yet it never gets in the way of the underlying premises of her arguments. Moreover, her thinking is crisp, and her knowledge of this very sensitive topic is thoroughly evident. Indeed, the reader cannot help but be persuaded by the logical unfolding of the positions she brings to this necessary work. Above all, she establishes that all-important trust in her readers: that while she may jostle their previously-held constructs, she will also protect them on a literary journey that could be harrowing and dangerous in lesser hands."


Dr. Goska has started a blog devoted to her work on Bieganski and other issues. You can see her blog by clicking here.


Maja Trochimczyk said...

I have not read the book yet, but it appears interesting, especially from a perspective of a Pole raised in an upper-class intelligentsia environment in Poland and having no relation whatsoever to Polish stereotypes in America, except that it is so different from the 1910s . I found it fascinating to read what Paderewski's contemporaries thought of Poland and Poles when he romanticized their image. For more, see my study of Paderewski's image, in Polish American Studies, Spring 2010 issue.

John Guzlowski said...

Thanks, Maja, is the Spring 2010 number of PAS out? Let me also tell people that it will be available at the History Cooperative.

Anonymous said...

If some Poles ARE 'anti-semites', how about a study on why they became this way? I see nothing but people going about saying that this point of view has to be wiped out, but no one speaks about its roots. WHY do some Poles dislike jews? Everything out there seems to point to some instinctual, or inherent need to dislike jews but no one talks about why or how they got that way...people don't just like or dislike people on a whim. Why are Poles portrayed as dumb? Where are these roots?

Anonymous said...

I wish I could read her book but budget wouldn't allow for that and asking the library to buy this won't work, either. I hate to add my two cents but actually I saw and heard quite a few Bieganskis in my Polish-American neighborhood in Detroit, and in my immediate extended family as well. I truly didn't see any of the cultured Polish-Americans while growing up. There were always negative racial comments made at any gathering and alcoholism and domestic vioence were rampant, too. Christina Pacosz

Anonymous said...

And I must add that the cousins who attended Orchard Lake Seminary came from an anti-Semitic family that expressed their hatred of the Jews often. So even the so-called cultured members of my family were not actually such people. They aged into racists, too, like their father, rumored to have had a Jewish mother, even with their fine educations. Christina Pacosz