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.