Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bieganski on the Michael Medved Show; Obama and "Polish death camps"

Michael Medved and the KF: A surprising difference between the two.

Yesterday, May 30, 2012, I spoke briefly on the Michael Medved radio show about US President Barack Obama's reference, during his Jan Karski Medal of Freedom ceremony, to "Polish death camps."

I am very grateful to Michael Medved for allowing me to speak.

I am very grateful to Michael Medved for honoring this important issue.

Medved's callers repeatedly insisted what many are insisting:

"The Barack Obama / Jan Karski / "Polish death camps" controversy is a tempest in a teapot …Poles are silly and overly sensitive … This is an issue that only Polish chauvinists could care about … Give it a rest … Poles are the world's worst anti-Semites, and Poland is the world's most anti-Semitic country."

I used my brief radio time to say that the "Polish death camps" controversy is an important matter, important to everyone, not just to Poles.

A reminder: Michael Medved is Jewish. And he cared about this. And he gave me his platform of a national radio show to talk about it.

Again, thank you Michael Medved.


My book, "Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture," points out that the brute Polak stereotype, root of terms like "Polish death camps," is important to all. Not just Poles or Polish-Americans. Everyone.


For years, Polonians who object to the Brute Polak stereotype have been doing two things:

1.) Signing petitions, like the Kosciuszko Foundation petition that addresses, exactly, the phrases "Polish death camps" and "Polish concentration camps."

2.) Writing letters to newspapers and websites that use the phrases "Polish concentration camps" and "Polish death camps."

What Polonia has not wanted to acknowledge is that all this petition-signing and letter-writing have accomplished absolutely nothing.

The Bieganski stereotype is stronger than ever. Not as strong. Stronger.

US President Barack Obama wants Polish Americans to vote for him. He wants to please Polish-Americans. That's why he was honoring Jan Karski!

Polonia's petition-signing and letter-writing have exercised so little power, so little influence, have attracted so little attention or allies to this worthy cause, that no one – not even White House staff trying to please Poles in order to get their votes – knows or cares about Polonia's petition-signing and letter-writing.

So, what is Polonia doing in response to US President Barack Obama's mentioning "Polish death camps" in his Medal of Freedom ceremony for Jan Karski?

Polonia is … signing more petitions. Polonia is … writing more letters.

I see it on the web now. Polonians circulating new petitions, writing new letters.

I see Polonians losing their tempers and calling those who disagree with them "idiots," "dogs," "morons."

I see Polonians insisting that this is all very important because it insults Poles and Poland.

And I see people who aren't Polish saying, "Who cares? Poland is not important. You Poles are too sensitive. Get over yourselves. And besides, Poles are the world's worst anti-Semites, anyway."

And I don't see Polonians able to communicate to others why the Brute Polak stereotype matters to anyone except Polish chauvinists.

In short, I see Polonia floundering. I see the message not getting out. And Poles calling others names on the internet, and not making the case in an informed way, just reinforces the stereotype: this is a trivial matter, Poles are too sensitive, only they care about this.

What does Polonia need to do to address this stereotype? Polonia needs to take up the hard work outlined in the three-part blog post on the Crisis in Polonian leadership, organization, and vision.


I am grateful that Michael Medved allowed me to speak.

I want Polonia to allow me to speak, as well.

Since "Bieganski" was published, I have spoken at Brandeis and Georgetown. I have spoken at the Jewish Museum of Galicia, in Krakow, Poland, and in Markowa, a village in Poland where the Ulma family was shot to death by Nazis for sheltering Jews. I have spoken in synagogues and Jewish student centers.

I have yet to speak to one Polish American group.

I have written to the Kosciuszko Foundation. They declined.

I have written to the Polish embassy in the US. They declined.

I have written to the Polish Museum. They declined.

I have written to Radek Sikorski, who never misses a chance to say how much he cares about stereotyping. No reply.

I wrote to a Polish group that sponsors talks by Polish American scholars. They responded: "there was no interest - with the subject being too heavy, too negative."

I'm glad Michael Medved let me speak, and cared about what I had to say – something of importance not just to Poles, but to everyone.

I'm glad Brandeis and Georgetown let me speak.

Polonia, please let me speak.

Again, Bieganski's message:

The Brute Polak stereotype is important to all.

It needs to be addressed for *everyone.*

It is not just a matter of oversensitive Poles or Polish honor.

We can change this, and we must. It is our ethical duty.

Invite me to speak to your group. Support the book. Combat the Brute Polak in an intelligent, informed way that communicates to other people who aren't Polish why they should care.

Thank you.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

US President Barack Obama Mouths Bieganski. Polonia, Can You Hear Me Now?

Hope, Change, and Bieganski: As American As Apple Pie

Polonia is all a dither. On May 29, 2012, US President Barack Obama was supposed to be honoring Jan Karski, a Polish World War II hero, when Obama mentioned "a Polish death camp."

Now there will be a rapid flurry of outraged letters, some typed in all capital letters. These letters will point out that it was the German Nazis, not Poles, who built and maintained places like Auschwitz. Predictable sources will produce predictable outrage. Alex Storozynski at the Kosciuszko Foundation will huff publicly.

Polonia's response at moments like this is analogous to a parent whose child attends school during a town-wide head-lice outbreak. The parent finds one louse, kills it, and announces proudly and loudly, "There! I've solved the problem!"

Of course this parent has not solved the problem. The problem was not one louse. It was a much deeper-rooted phenomenon.

Waiting till you see the bug, killing it, and deciding that you've solved things doesn't solve the problem.


Bieganski, the Brute Polak stereotype is a deeply-rooted, long-lived, entrenched and widespread feature of Western Civilization. It is not a recent or limited invention, the fault of the Jews or the Communists, as a couple of recent books imply. (See reviews of those books here and here.)

Obama didn't invent Bieganski. But this man, a product of Hawaii, Indonesia, of Kenyan and Kansan descent, believes in Bieganski as much as any other American. Poles are brutes. Because we are brutes, we are responsible for the Holocaust – because only brutes, not civilized people, could have done something so evil. Even Jan Karski, one of the most heroic human beings who ever lived. Even Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, who was an Auschwitz prisoner and a member of Zegota has been smeared as a Bieganski.

Unorganized, undisciplined, reactive, self-limiting protests will not even begin to address Bieganski. Writing a letter to the White House protesting Obama's gaffe and telling him what a truly great man Jan Karski was may make the sender feel better, but in the long run it will not make a dent in Bieganski, the Brute Polak stereotype.


What do we need to do? We need to address the Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization, and Vision. We can do this, people. We just have to decide to do it.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Books and Polish-Americans


Before posting this I went back and forth in my head one hundred times wondering whether I should post or not.

You are reading this now because I finally decided to post.

What I'm going to say, below, is difficult. I'm working on incomplete data. I may be wrong, and I'm willing to be told I'm wrong – that's what the comments section is for.


Poles and Polish-Americans regularly send me emails asking for free or low cost versions of my publications.

Given that we live in the age of Google, I can Google the senders of these emails, and find out something about them. In this most recent case, the sender has a web record as a white-collar professional. This is not, say, a homeless person in a cardboard box who would have to give up a week's worth of food to buy a book.

In another case, the person asking for a low cost or free copy of my publications was a facebook friend. In his other posts he was bold and confident, posting images of and updates on his expensive purchases and enviable vacations. In his message to me, he was meek and sad, presenting himself as a helpless pauper. I'm not saying this to be mean. I'm saying that when it came to buying a book, this otherwise financially comfortable man took on poverty consciousness. That is psychologically significant.

This is not an isolated incident.

Why do these people think of themselves as poor when it comes time to buy a book, and not when it comes time to purchase a speedboat, or a bikini wax, or a horse?

Here's the thing – I never get these emails from people of any other ethnicity. I do get emails from people of other ethnicities.

When "Bieganski" first came out, I received many congratulatory emails from Jewish friends, colleagues and acquaintances, who announced, unprompted by me, that they had just purchased my book. There was no anxiety in these announcements. No, "I just bought your book and therefore I will subsist on bread and water for the next six months." None of the drama about spending money on a book.

I've concluded, after years of this, that there is a culturally significant tendency among a critical mass of Polish-Americans to feel some alienation from the written word. Is this an accurate impression? I don't know. What am I missing? Tell me.


I did not grow up in a household that does not value books. My mother, a Slovak immigrant, was unable to finish school. Her father contracted emphysema in the coal mines and had to stop work. My mother, a young teen, took on the support of an entire family. She cleaned houses.

My Polish paternal grandfather was assaulted. My father didn't finish school. He mined coal as a child, and did blue collar labor as an adult.

In my own childhood, there were meals of government-issue surplus food and summers without shoes.

Books? We ALWAYS had books. Everywhere, in every room in the house, every nook and cranny, books of every kind. There was money for books in our house. There was respect for books.

Why is it that my mother, who knew poverty, and hard labor, could afford books, but a twenty-first century, Polish-American, white-collar professional, separated from his peasant ancestors by several well-fed generations in America, breaks into a cold sweat at the thought of spending money on a book, and writes an email to a complete stranger asking for a free copy?

No, I am not trying to be cruel. I am asking a real question.

Other questions.

I see very valuable books on Polish topics go unread, and go out of print. What books?

Just a few: Wladyslaw Bartoszewski's "Samaritans: Heroes of the Holocaust"

Jan Slomka's "From Serfdom to Self-Government: Memoirs of a Polish Village Mayor, 1842-1927"

"A Man for Others: Maximilian Kolbe: Saint of Auschwitz, in the Words of those Who Knew Him."

"And My Children Did Not Know Me: A History of the Polish-Americans" by John Bukowczyk.

"The Poems of Anton Piotrowski." Poems by a Polish-American coal miner.

These are not books that deserve obscurity. They are key, central books for us. They are either unavailable, or difficult to acquire.

I could make a much longer list.

Why aren't we buying and reading these books?

When I meet Polish-American young people, I mention to them key texts in their own history: "And My Children Did Not Know Me," or key authors like John Guzlowski. And they've never heard of this book; they have no idea that it even exists. They say, "Gee, I wish someone would write about the Polish experience under Nazism," and they've never heard of Guzlowski.

They DO know about markers of Polish culture: Polka, pierogies, and maybe Dyngus. They know how to say "dupa," or "ass," in Polish.

In short, they know about elements of popular culture: food, dance, curse words, and a peasant holiday.

I'm not just talking about any Polish American young people. Last year I went to Poland and met university students, even graduate students, interested in Polish culture. And they are unaware of the key books of their own culture.

More than once, I've met Polish people who share last names with famous Polish cultural figures. I ask them, "Are you related?" and they have had no idea that their last name was associated with a famous cultural figure. It's like meeting an American whose last name is "Hemingway" and the person has no idea who Ernest Hemingway was.

I associate with other Polish-American writers, editors and publishers. They moan to me about how hard it is to market their work.

A friend put two decades into getting his book on Polish topics published. Publishers told him again and again, "Polish-Americans do not buy books."

I know a Polish American writer through facebook. I feel a huge amount of admiration for this woman's work. I think that just by getting up in the morning, just by breathing, she is doing everyone a favor. I am honored to have contact with her.

From what I can see, Polonia ignores her and her work. She is shown no special deference or gratitude – by Polish-Americans. She does have readers from other ethnic groups, and I see them defer to her and thank her on facebook. Where are the Polish-Americans? Why can't they see in her work what others do?

When I see her interact with other Polish-Americans, there's no, "Oh, I read your work about that anti-Polish riot – work that covers material that no one else is covering! Thank you. I respect you. I'm sorry that you've been excluded from opportunities because you took a heroic stand. Your work means so much to me. Polonia owes you."

She's a Polish American writer, for God's sake. She is telling our story in publications. She has fought for her publications and she's paid the price. She has experienced bigotry and exclusion because she has taken public stands against the Bieganski stereotype.

I often visit an internet discussion group devoted to battling stereotypes of Poles and Polish Americans. Newcomers regularly post first messages in the group. Their introductory messages are often very similarly worded to hundreds of other introductory messages. They generally say:

"Hello, I am new to this group.

I am an American of Polish descent. (Or, I am a Pole living in Poland or France or England or Germany.)

I never noticed this stereotype of Poles and Polish Americans until I visited a museum … read a newspaper article … saw a movie … was mocked by my boss … had a bad experience at school.

This stereotype upsets me a lot.

I would like to combat it.

I don't understand this stereotype.

Where did this negative stereotype of Poles come from?

Why do people invest in, deploy, and believe this stereotype?

How can I defuse this stereotype?"

I've seen posts like that hundreds of times over the years.

Here's the thing – I've never, not once, seen someone say, "Hey, you've come to the right place. There is a book that attempts to answer all those questions. The Polish American Historical Association awarded this book a prize as the best book on a Polish American topic in 2010. The book is 'Bieganski.' Buy it. Read it. Study it. It will help you combat the stereotype."

Recently, in one of these internet groups where people talk about stereotypes of Poles, a poster mentioned a book she'd been reading to help her understand negative stereotypes. Her book? "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

This broke my heart. "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is one of the most evil books ever published.

A very well-meaning group member, a genuinely good guy, responds to stereotypes of Poles, not by advancing intellectual arguments, but by calling those who stereotype Poles derogatory names like "assholes" and "idiots."

This is not the best we can do.

Dupa. Polka. Pierogi. If that's all we have for our grandchildren, we all may as well pack up and go home.

In his book, "The Jews in Polish Culture," Aleksander Hertz talks about a division of labor in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Polish Catholic nobles and peasants understood Jews as the intellectuals, the readers, the people associated with books. Poles didn't see themselves that way. The world of books and reading was alien. Is that feeling, to any extent, still alive today?

I don't know.

If what I suspect is true, can we do anything about it?

How about a Polish-American ad-hoc organization devoted to creating a new holiday, two days after Easter? Easter, Dyngus, and then a holiday entitled, "Polonia Reads"? On that day, Polish Americans will celebrate by purchasing a difficult-to-acquire or out-of-print book on Polish topics, read it, post a review on Amazon, and engage in effective action to get the book onto the syllabi at local schools.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bieganski on WNYC, New York City's NPR Affiliate Radio Station

Laura R. Walker, President and CEO of WNYC
"Bieganski, The Brute Polak Stereotype: Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture" describes a pervasive, and entirely socially acceptable, stereotype in Western culture. This stereotype is not just of Poles, but of all Eastern European, Christian, peasant-descent populations: Lithuanians, Poles, Hungarians, Slovaks, Romanians, Yugoslavs.

This stereotype is the common cultural property of all groups in the West. Some Polish-Americans and even some published scholars attempt to scapegoat Jews as responsible for this stereotype. That scapegoating is factually false, morally wrong, and an embarrassment to Polonia. "Bieganski" details example after example of the Bieganski stereotype. A minority can be attributed to Jews. As someone who has worked on this issue for over twenty years, I can state without reservation that Jews are among those first in line to fight this stereotype with effective action.

In "Bieganski," I talk about an ad that WFIU, Bloomington, Indiana's, National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate radio station, used to run during their fundraising drives. In the ad, a demented Polish man attempted to take over WFIU and play nothing but polka music. Listeners were encouraged to donate to the station in order to fend off that horrible fate.

This morning, May 22, 2012, I was working at my desk, listening to WNYC, New York City's NPR affiliate. WNYC is now conducting a fund-drive. One of their fundraising ads asked listeners to contemplate what prize they would like to win. Perhaps they would like to win a trip to magnificent, seductive Hawaii. Sound effects played up this delicious fantasy. Then, though, the listener was invited to consider a much less valuable prize: a trip to Pennsylvania, America's polka capital. Sound effects, including the sound of polka music, were used to emphasize the horror of winning this prize.

National Public Radio fashions itself as the righteous alternative, the source and supporter of all things virtuous – Political Correctness, Tolerance, Multiculturalism. It fashions itself as the enemy of all big, bad things: racism, sexism, otherism.

We are all used to that. We Bohunks are used to being the people it is okay to hate and mock, even among people so holy that their own feet don't stink.

Of course I thought of the very righteous Barack Obama's notorious mention, to rich supporters in San Francisco, of the "bitter clingers" – the working class, white ethnics he so dreaded encountering in Pennsylvania, home to many Poles, Slovaks, and other Bohunks whose ancestors mined coal, forged steel, and danced polkas in towns like Pittsburgh, Scranton, and Allentown.

So what. Who cares. So empowered, virtuous guardians of Political Correctness make fun of Polaks and other Bohunks. What difference does it make?

"Bieganski" argues that it makes a very big difference. But you'd have to read the book to find out.

Meanwhile, what is Polonia doing? Nothing. Because in Polonia there is a Crisis of Leadership, Organization, and Vision. So I will feel this moment of discomfort of another unexpected encounter with the Bieganski stereotype, and wonder when, if ever, Polonia will take effective action. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Jerzy Kluger's "The Pope and I." A Review

The Pope and I by Jerzy Kluger. Source
Available now on Amazon. Buy here.

Anyone with a serious interest in Pope John Paul II, Polish-Jewish, and Christian-Jewish relations will want to read "The Pope and I: How the Lifelong Friendship between a Polish Jew and John Paul II Advanced Jewish-Christian Relations" by Jerzy Kluger. Kluger was Karol Wojtyla's childhood friend and adult confidante and colleague in changing Christian-Jewish relations.

Popular stereotypes of Poland in the interwar period (1918-1939) presume an anti-Semitic hellhole of regular pogroms where the Holocaust was a teleological inevitability. Anyone who has met a Jewish person who lived in interwar Poland, or who has read numerous memoirs, knows that this is not the case. Polish-Jewish relations are complicated. "The Pope and I" reflects this, and the tremendous intimacy of the Polish-Jewish relationship, as well.

Perhaps the intimacy and complication of Polish-Jewish relations are no better captured than in one line from the book. Pope John Paul II visited Israel. He said to Kluger, his childhood friend, "I have a strong desire to return to the Holy Land…There were so many Polish Jews there. It was like being home." Or this – when Kluger met Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, he reported, "What certainly put me at ease was the fact that I could speak to Shamir in Polish." Or this – Kluger's Uncle Wiktor lived with Countess Isabella, a Polish Catholic noblewoman.

Jerzy (Jurek) and Karol (Lolek) grew up in interwar Poland. Anti-Semitism in inter-war Poland was part of a worldwide upswing. Memoirists recount heartbreaking tales of economic boycotts, of being beaten up at universities and insulted in public. These incidents are reported more as shocking straws in the wind than as expected constants of daily life.

Polish Catholics who were not anti-Semites, along with their Jewish friends, struggled with this newly potent force. A student caught reading the banned "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" in Jurek's middle school was sent to the principal, and the principal "put strict measures in place." In another incident, anti-Semitic students announced that Jews were a "race" in conflict with Poles. Kluger looked for, and saw, disapproval on other Polish students' faces. A Polish Catholic principal helped Jewish students to circumvent quotas limiting numbers of Jewish students admitted to university.

Catholics and Jews together enjoyed a famous singer's performance in a synagogue: "there was a pure spirit of togetherness in that crowd, the mutual respect between the two communities that seemed to brook no exceptions in Wadowice." As Kluger puts it, "In Wadowice, news of the spread of anti-Semitism in Poland was less troubling because it seemed to come from so far away. Apart from an occasional flare-up, relations between Jewish and Catholic students were relaxed."

At a time when eighty percent of Polish Jews identified Yiddish as their first language, Kluger's father said "We're Polish, so we speak Polish." His father fought in Pilsudski's legions, when they were still clandestine, in order to liberate Poland. Kluger's mother made free lunches for poor children at the school. Most of these children were not Jews. Decades later, Kluger would meet one of his former Polish classmates at the Vatican. This son of a poor miner said to Kluger, "I never got a chance to thank her. God bless your mother" for the food he remembered her providing him.

As a small boy, Jurek was hypnotized by Lolek's father's accounts of Polish heroism: "We saw in our imaginations the vast plains of Poland being torn apart by the invading armies; from the captain's unique storytelling gift, we felt the warmth of the soldiers' bodies, we saw the unflinching Cossack fighters and the resigned determination in the eyes of the Turks, we heard the war cry of the Swedes, we smelled the putrid odor of defeat, and we saw the lifeless bodies after the frenzy of the battle."

There are wonderfully intimate moments that readers will not encounter elsewhere. In a childhood prank, Jurek and Lolek decided to test a sleeping soldier's sword to see if it is real. Jurek lingers over a description of his sister, Tesia. The reader might wonder why. After all, she is not an historical personage like John Paul II. This is why – Jurek's beloved sister, along with other family members, perished in the Holocaust. Kluger describes Tesia in such detail in his book as a way of commemorating her, and of bringing home to the reader the genocide of Poland's Jews.

One day, Jurek was looking for Lolek; he was told to find him in church. Jurek entered the church and an uncharitable woman told Jurek he should not be in a Catholic church. Lolek, just ten years old at the time, was outraged. "Jews and Catholics are all children of the same God!" Lolek said to the woman.

Lolek's rejection of anti-Semitism was very much part of his Polish nationalism. "Polish authors celebrated …Catholicism and Judaism." Lolek cited Pan Taduesz, the national epic poem, and its sympathetic treatment of Jankiel, a Jewish character. "Lolek quoted Andrzej Towianski, …referring to the Jews as older brothers." This concept of Jews as Christians' "older brothers" would become key to the future pope.

At university, members of the anti-Semitic National Democracy Party beat Jurek unconscious. Jurek's father removed him. The departure was so crushing that as his train was leaving Warsaw, Jurek burst into tears. Shortly after this, Jurek's father received a notice: He must be ready to fight, and of course, die, for Poland if and when Germany attacks. The irony is obvious.

Kluger lived through the Nazi blitzkrieg of Poland. He describes the German military unleashing its might on unarmed civilians. He evacuated east, where Soviets place him, his father, and 1.5 million other Poles in cattle cars. He was sent to a prison camp.

"The soldiers of the Red Army had a unique method for determining when it was too cold to work: one of them would spit, and if it froze fast enough … the prisoners had a day off." Kluger's gums bled; his teeth fell out. He struggled to rescue his feet from frostbite. The Anders amnesty arrived: Poles were let go so that they could fight the Nazis. While traveling to the front, thieves whom Kluger senior, a lawyer, had defended, protected the wayfarers. When Jerzy said goodbye to his father before reporting to the front, his final words, which bring tears to his father's eyes, were, "I promise I'm going to become a Polish officer!"

Kluger's father was appointed as a judge by the Polish military, and his cousin Adas joined the Armia Krajowa, or Home Army.

Kluger wondered about the fate of his sister Tesia and other family members back in Poland. He was slow to realize the truth. "All of the prewar rumors about Nazi anti-Semitism were, tragically, being proven true." Even as he says this, his friends insist to him that his family members are "fine" in a Nazi-created ghetto. One of his friends attempt to comfort Kluger – by singing the Polish national anthem. Eventually Kluger would discover that his family members were murdered in Auschwitz. His uncle Wiktor shot himself; his companion, Countess Isabella, jumped to her death.

Similarly, other Poles learned that other dark rumors were true. Kurt Rosenberg's father had been a captain in the Polish Army. "Like me, Kurt had no idea what happened to his family … But a horrible rumor had been going around for some time about the Polish officers who had been captured by the Russians—that they had been slaughtered in a forest near Katyn."

Kluger witnessed the huge toll Polish soldiers paid to drive the Germans off Monte Cassino: "I was walking amid an ocean of corpses…the many lives that had been lost made me think about the stories of Captain Wojtyla, Lolek's father. The bodies of the Polish soldiers lying in their own blood seemed to be those of all the other wars that our country had fought over the centuries for the sake of its freedom. I did what came naturally: I wept."

After the war, Kluger lived in Italy. He learned of a Polish bishop named Karol Wojtyla. Kluger found a phone number, and called. Within hours, he was reunited with the childhood friend he had not seen in decades. At their reunion, Wojtyla was so eager he almost fell over. He adjured Kluger to refer to him by his old childhood nickname, "Lolek." Wojtyla asked Kluger, you never returned to Poland? Kluger replied, "I go back every night, when I fall asleep."

Kluger describes a miraculous gift the pope gives him: Kluger's bilingual, Hebrew-Polish prayer book, the very book he had used as a child, complete with his own notes and a caricature of the rabbi. A neighbor, Mrs. Szczepanska, had been given the book by Kluger's mother before the Nazis murdered her. Mrs. Szczepanska preserved it, and then gave it to Wojtyla, to give to Kluger.

After Wojtyla was elected pope, he summoned Kluger. Headlines read: "Polish pope grants first audience to a Jew."

Kluger returned to Poland. Hearing voices singing in Polish "made me nostalgic for that heaven, that hell, from which I'd long stayed away." He met Cardinal Wyszynski, about whom he reports, "When he met a group of Jewish students who, after the 1968 uprisings, were forced to leave Poland, Wyszynski told them emotionally that he would pray every day for their return to the country."

The book goes off the track in chapter ten, "Two Thousand Years of Hostility." This chapter offers ADL representative Jozef Lichten's version of Christian-Jewish relations, Polish-Jewish relations, and Nazism.

Lichten insists that murderous hatred of Jews is rooted in Christian scripture. No other causative factor is mentioned. No other reading of Christian scripture is offered. The road to understanding Nazism is to immerse oneself in Christian scripture, while simultaneously ignoring Nazi writings justifying Nazi actions in agreement with Nazi ethics – writings that insist on the ultimate obliteration of Christianity as a Nazi goal. Kluger makes explicit his twinning of Christianity and Nazism: he imagines life under a medieval pope who ordered Jews to wear a distinctive badge, and relates that to Nazis carrying out the Holocaust, and he quotes a fascist, "the fascists were simply following the Jesuits, who were even more severe toward the Jewish people."

Muslims treat Jews better. When Christians gain power, Jews are murdered en masse. The Spanish Inquisition and blood libel are representational of Christian-Jewish relations. The only reason Jews became money-lenders was because Catholics pressured them to do so; for example, Jews always and everywhere in Christian countries were prohibited from owning land. Only in recent days have any Christians opposed anti-Semitism. Auschwitz martyr Maximilian Kolbe was an anti-Semite. Jews had good reason for fearing a Polish pope. Later in the book, Kluger states twice that the Carmelite nuns who moved into a theater near Auschwitz didn't care about the horrific memories the place held for Jews.

This narrative implies, but does not state, that Jews were Nazism's only victims. Not mentioned: Poles, Auschwitz's first inmates, Soviets, the first to be murdered with Zyklon B, handicapped people, the first and last to be mass murdered.

Lichten's, and, by extension, this book's theories are deeply flawed. Just one example: the book's description of Maximilian Kolbe bears no relation to that of the team of two scholars, Catholic Daniel Schlafly and Jewish Warren Greene, who investigated the slurs on Kolbe, or of Jewish Auschwitz inmate Sigmund Gorson, who testified that he would love Kolbe till the last moments of his life.

In the next chapter, Kluger offers a skewed version of Jewish history in Poland. "Because they were good at business and commerce, the Polish princes were generous toward them," he reports, a sentence that belittles the genuine commitment to the free exercise of religion expressed by Poles. In this history, Catholicism is responsible for anti-Semitism, "the church solidly established its presence" and priests "sparked popular uprisings." Poles were "jealous" of Jewish success. Not one reputable scholar of Polish-Jewish relations who would endorse this chapter as historically representational.

Kluger takes a similarly unfortunate approach to Israel and the Middle East. He summarizes history there in a way that many will find selective and objectionable. It isn't necessary for Kluger to do this. Rather, he should have focused on his area of expertise, what we are all curious about – what it was like to be best friends with one of the most powerful people in the world, the pope who recognized the state of Israel.

Jerzy Kluger is an historical figure, and his understanding of Christian-Jewish and Polish-Jewish relations are important. What this book needs is not a deletion of Kluger's take on history, but an introduction by a scholar who understands the stereotypes of Poles that the reader will bring to the work, and that educates the reader about genuine history. The publisher did not provide that introduction. One can understand why. Polonia is not doing the work it needs to do to take on the Bieganski, Brute Polak Stereotype. That work is outlined in a series of blog posts on the Crisis in Polonia Leadership, Organization, and Vision.

A final note. "The Pope and I" reminded me of another book, Edward Herzbaum's "Lost Between Worlds." Herzbaum lived much of the same wartime history as Kluger. Herzbaum was also a Polish Jew who witnessed the Nazi blitzkrieg, evacuated east, was imprisoned by the Soviets, freed in the Anders amnesty, and fought at Monte Cassino. Herzbaum mentioned meeting Jerzy Kluger in his diary. With all due respect to Jerzy Kluger, of the two, Herzbaum is the superior writer. Readers interested in "The Pope and I" should also give "Lost Between Worlds" a read.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold? Studies on the Fate of Wartime Poles and Jews" A Review

I recently reviewed "Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold" for The American Association for Polish-Jewish Studies. The review can be seen on their website, here. They've kindly given me permission to reproduce the review on my blog, and it is below.

Recent years have seen the deployment of a Brute Polak stereotype to distort World War Two and Holocaust history. The 2012 book, "Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold? Studies on the Fate of Wartime Poles and Jews," edited by Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, Wojciech Jerzy Muszynski and Pawel Styrna, published by Leopolis Press, promises to contribute to the battle against the Brute Polak stereotype and concomitant revisionist World War Two histories. The first words of the book: "Anyone who fosters hatred for the Polish people is committing a sin! … These people are glorious!"

The authors, obviously dedicated, have combed archives and retrieved valuable material. Good points, too rarely emphasized, are made: in the early days of the war, Poles had as much to fear from Nazis and Soviets as did Jews (47); Poland cannot be compared with Denmark (198); the Brute Polak stereotype relies for its power on diminishing the role of German Nazis (57). "Collective Rescue Efforts by Poles" by Ryszard Tyndorf is a forty-seven-page compilation. Tyndorf documents that while it took only one denouncer to kill a Jew, it took many more Poles to keep a Jew safe, and that the Polish Catholic peasants so demonized in the Brute Polak stereotype were quite capable of using their peasant skills and culture to protect Jews. Teresa Preker reports that one peasant, who refused to accept money from the Jews she helped, was sure to ask for the return of a mug because it was the only mug she owned (108).

Given the value of this material, it is all the more troubling that "Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold?" is not the book its Polonian readers wish it could be. Were this book to be presented in venues where the Polak stereotype must be battled – campuses, newsrooms, boardrooms, backrooms and houses of worship – its flaws could do more harm than good.

This book has more errors in basic English than any other scholarly book I have read. When authors, editors, and proofreaders – those eyes that view a document before scholarly publication – can't use so rudimentary a tool as spellcheck to catch "andf" for the word "and" (276) or "ingore" for "ignore" (281), the reader begins to assume that the entire text is suspect. The definite and indefinite article are misused consistently, either added where inappropriate, e.g. "Jews perished at the Polish hands" (55) or omitted where needed "Even under worst circumstances" (218). There are meaningless sentence fragments, e.g., "In his writings, Gross almost entirely overlooks the vexing issue of Jewish-Jewish relations, though they are." (45) The word "neigh" – the sound a horse makes – is used where the word "nigh" is required (49). "Man in not created equally," the book states (201). There are errors in punctuation, e.g. "a communist historian Czeslaw Madajczyk appreciated the disappearance" (61). There are mistakes in verb tense, e.g., "To what extent did the village primitives thought of themselves as Poles?" (62) and number "several others members" (291). There are errors in word usage, e.g. "complementarily" where "complementarity" is required (83). There are missing words: "an attempt light something on fire" (93) "The operative did not the source of the information" (136); "enable us to determine they bear" (234) "the massacre carried out the locals" (292); there are excess words, "twenty-seven of reports" (97). When discretion is most needed, there are distasteful jokes (294, 335) and purple prose "Every decision man makes is a battle" (202); "The Moloch of Death guzzled blood" (217). There is redundancy "Hitler's henchman accomplices" (219); "trying attempting" (301). I counted at least a dozen sentences stating that Jan Tomasz Gross is unscholarly before I stopped counting. The Brute Polak stereotype communicates that Poles are inept, uneducated, chauvinists. The many errors in this text could be used, in the wrong hands, to support that stereotype.

As readers will suspect, these errors are reflective of larger problems. Most grievously, "Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold?" accuses several prominent Polish-studies scholars of Stalinism. "The Neo-Stalinist Discourse in Polish Historical Studies in the United States" by John Radzilowski, smears Piotr Wrobel, Joanna Michlic, Malgorzata Fidelis, Padraic Kenney, Gunnar S. Paulsson, Jan Grabowski and John Connelly. In a related matter, in 2008, Piotr Gontarczyk, one of the contributors to "Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold?" accused Lech Walesa of being a Communist spy.

One of the accused scholars, Gunnar S. Paulsson wrote one of the best recent books about Jews in wartime Poland, "Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw 1940-1945." "Secret City" won the 2004 Polish Studies Association Orbis Prize and the Kazimierz Moczarski Prize. In fact, "Secret City" is extensively and approvingly quoted – in "Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold?" (e.g. 154-55). John Connelly wrote "Captive University: The Sovietization of East German, Czech, and Polish Higher Education, 1945-1956" an indictment of the destructiveness of Stalinism. Piotr Wrobel is the author of "Devil's Playground: Poland in World War II," a fact-packed, pithy introduction to a topic all Polonians wish people knew more about. Padraic Kenney is the director of the Polish Studies Center at Indiana University. These are not Stalinists. Squandering Polonia's energies in fruitless witch-hunts, using paranoia to turn one Polish-American on another, prevents Polonia from uniting and responding strategically to the Brute Polak stereotype.

"Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold?" repeatedly identifies Princeton professor Jan Tomasz Gross as the source of the Brute Polak stereotype. This is factually incorrect, and it disserves Polonia. Gross' oeuvre includes a previous work, "Revolution from Abroad," that educates the reader about the little-known Soviet occupation of Poland. Too, the Brute Polak stereotype existed before Jan Tomasz Gross was born. Andrzej Kapiszewski's work "Conflicts Across the Atlantic: Essays on Polish-Jewish Relations in the United States During World War I and in the Interwar Years" includes American press deployments of the Brute Polak stereotype from almost one hundred years ago.

"Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold?" implies that Jews and leftists are responsible for the Brute Polak stereotype (e.g. "historical discourse dominated by the Jewish voices" [sic] 13 and 239-53). Nothing could be further from the truth. Almost one hundred years ago, Madison Grant and Kenneth L. Roberts were just two of many anti-Communist and arch-Nordic Americans who disseminated immensely influential depictions of Brute Polaks. Today Christian publications deploy the Brute Polak stereotype. It is not helpful to Polonia to mislead well-meaning people into believing that Jews and leftists are their natural enemies, or to believe that conquering Jewish or leftist enemies will eliminate the Brute Polak stereotype. Those fighting the brute stereotype include Jews and leftists, and we sabotage ourselves by not recognizing this. Our best strategy is respectful education of colleagues and potential allies, not demonization of imagined enemies. "Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold?" describes Poles as powerless (13, 99). Again, this is not true. Poles and Polish-Americans have power; to succeed, we, like other stereotyped groups, must abandon self-pity, internecine feuds, conspiracy theories, a siege mentality, and scapegoating of others. We must unite, organize, and use our power strategically.

"Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold?" accuses Gross of being non-scholarly. Only two of the fourteen authors are PhDs currently employed at universities. The selections do not follow the paradigm of scholarly articles: they do not advance a single thesis and then attempt to prove that thesis through original, peer-reviewed research. Rather, the articles ramble; they are replete with rhetorical questions. Necessary citations are absent. The index is woefully inadequate. The authors comment on stereotypes in popular American culture, yet none are scholars of stereotypes or of American culture, and none cite previous research on stereotypes of Poles in America. A graduate student expatiates on the nature of good and evil and human equality (201-03). These are weighty topics. No discernible reason is given why this young lady's musings should be taken any more seriously than scribbles from the margins of her diary, especially given the unfortunate typo in the first sentence of her second paragraph, and her criticizing Gross for lacking "rigorous methodology" while exhibiting none of her own. The authors accuse Gross of cherry-picking. The authors engage in cherry-picking. Gross cherry-picks anecdotes that show Polish Catholics persecuting Jews. The authors select anecdotes that depict Polish Catholics aiding Jews – from books that, in other passages they don't cite, show evidence of Polish anti-Semitism.

In response to this cherry-picking, obvious questions arise, including the following. Which anecdotes are representational of the larger picture? Using a comparison of statistics of wartime survival of Jews in Poland and Holland, and the average number of Poles it took to keep one Jew alive, Gunnar S. Paulsson attempted to answer the representationality question in "Secret City," but no article in this book makes such an attempt. Another question: which anecdotes represent the essence of Polish culture? Scholar Brian Porter has pointed out that there is more than one strain of Polish identity; there are inclusive strains, and there are exclusive ones. Again, the authors here attempt no such answer, and do not cite Porter. Another question: to what extent did Polish anti-Semitism affect the Nazis' carrying out the Final Solution in Poland? "Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold?" flitters around that question in chapters about pre-war anti-Semites like Jan Mosdorf and Zofia Kossak-Szczucka (326-7, 337) who helped Jews during the war, but does not tackle it head-on, or address previous, high-profile works that addressed it specifically.

The book works very hard to produce the impression that Poles have "hearts of Gold" and that they weren't all that anti-Semitic before World War Two broke out, and that during the war Poles, for the most part, helped Jews. Perhaps the nadir of this aspect of the book is when the 1946 Kielce Pogrom is referred to using scare quotes that suggest either that the pogrom never happened, or that it was not really a pogrom (320). Ethical Poles have acknowledged since 1946 that the Kielce Pogrom happened, that it was carried out by Poles, and that patriotic Poles will resist the kind of anti-Semitism that produced it. Readers familiar with anti-Semitism in interwar and wartime Poland will not be able to accept the book's assertions of near total Polish innocence. Another low point in denial: the book suggests that peasants who committed atrocities against Jews weren't "really" Polish because they were too simple, illiterate, and uneducated to be Polish (150, 353).

What ethically minded readers want is some admission from Poles that, yes, anti-Semitism was a significant factor in interwar and wartime Polish life. It is the job of those dedicated to demolishing the stereotype to explain why the presence of anti-Semitism in Polish society does not justify the Brute Polak stereotype. "Golden Hearts or Hearts of Gold?" makes no such attempt. Poles have done much to address anti-Semitism. Many observers, including Jewish ones, laud Poles for this. These efforts to combat anti-Semitism before, during and after the war are all but unmentioned in "Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold?"

The book includes documentation of Jewish collaboration with both Soviets and Nazis, Jewish profiteering, Jewish betrayal of Polish neighbors, Jews who tortured and murdered Poles, a throwaway reference to pre-war Jewish pimps (66) and Jewish prostitutes in concentration camps (124). We know why the authors include this material. It is included in order to show that human failings are not the sole provenance of Polish Catholics; thus, the stereotyping of Poles is not logical. One wishes that this were always made clear. In some cases it is; in others, the material is thrust at the reader in a way that will offend many.

In writing this admittedly harsh review, I have worked to note what is valuable in the book. I have also hoped to present alternative strategies to mistakes the book makes. Truth and ethics, not to mention simple consistency, are on the side of those fighting against the Brute Polak stereotype. We cannot allow our understandable anger or pain to sideline us. With the right strategy, the truth will win out.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Terese Pencak Schwartz's "Holocaust Forgotten" Website and New Book - Why We Must Remember the Nazis' Non-Jewish Victims

Father Piotr Sosnowski before his execution by German security police
near Tuchola, October 27, 1939. Source

Years ago people kept telling me to check out the work of Terese Pencak Schwartz. I got the sense that Terese was someone special, and that she was doing important work, work from which I could learn.

If you read Terese Pencak Schwartz's biography on the Amazon page for her book, Holocaust Forgotten - Five Million Non-Jewish Victims, you can see that life prepared her for her work on non-Jewish victims of the Nazis.

Terese was born in Germany, in a displaced person's camp. She came to the US with her family, met, and married a Jewish man. After receiving her Catholic mother's approval, Terese converted to Judaism. At this point in her life, she reports, "I've been Jewish longer than I've been Catholic - but I still feel I have a foot in each door…I go out for Chinese food on Christmas Day and hike on Easter Sunday. I'm thinking that my success with being able to write so easily about the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust may come from both my Polish Catholic roots and my Jewish limbs."

It is my great honor to have recently contributed some comments to Terese Pencak Schwartz's groundbreaking webpage, Holocaust Forgotten. You can read those comments on Terese's webpage here, or below. I am very grateful and honored to have been included, in however small a way, in Terese's work.

Why Is Remembering the Non-Jewish Victims Important to All?

American Jews are often chastised for their focus on the Holocaust. They are criticized, as well, for their focus on Jewish suffering during World War Two, to the exclusion of the suffering of others targeted by the Nazis. What about the Nazis' non-Jewish victims, people ask? What about the communists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Gypsies?

An example of this exclusive focus: in 2003, Bozenna Urbanowicz-Gilbride resigned from the National Polish-American Jewish-American Council. Urbanowicz-Gilbride had referred to herself as a "Polish Catholic Holocaust survivor." The Council objected to Urbanowicz-Gilbride's self-identification. In supporting the Council's decision to refuse to allow Urbanowicz-Gilbride to refer to herself as a "Holocaust survivor," the Polish-American priest John T. Pawlikowski said, "The USHMM recognizes only the six million Jews as victims of the Holocaust." Urbanowicz-Gilbride had been interned in two Nazi slave labor camps. Her mother was in two concentration camps. One might conclude that it is unfair to insist on an exclusive focus on Jewish suffering and to reject recognition of Polish Catholic victims.

In fact, though, any fair assessment of American Jewish focus on the Holocaust, and on Jewish suffering during the Holocaust, will recognize several historical factors. First, before the Holocaust began, America and the Western World did not accord Hitler's rise, or his anti-Semitic threats, the attention that they deserved. One reason for that is that anti-Semitism and other forms of racism were widespread in the West. In fact, the American Scientific Racism movement, largely a response to immigrants to America from Eastern and Southern Europe, had supplied Nazism with key ideas, texts, laws, procedures, justifications and precedents. Hitler's threats against Jews, Slavs, communists and others were all too acceptable to too many in America, England, France, and other Western nations. People had been trained to view Jews and Slavs as inferior people, as troublemakers, who might benefit from the strong, disciplined hand of a superior race, the Germans.

During the war, the Holocaust did not receive the attention that it should have. One book addressing this is aptly entitled: "Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America's Most Important Newspaper." The title indicts the New York Times for the crime of not paying enough attention to the Holocaust of European Jewry while it was happening. Polish-Jewish novelist Jerzy Kosinski and historian Peter Novick bitterly observed that the American press and public accorded the Holocaust much more attention decades after World War Two ended than during the actual event.

One might think that the world would have put its anti-Semitism away and learned to show compassion to Jewish victims after the Holocaust. If US Army footage of the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp could not open human hearts, what might?

Sadly, the world was still anti-Semitic enough after World War Two that the most famous Holocaust account, the diary of Anne Frank, was tweaked in order to make Anne appear less Jewish. The excellent 2004 documentary "ImaginaryWitness: Hollywood and the Holocaust," describes Jewish Hollywood studio moguls who often chose, before, during and even after the war to pay scant attention to Jewish suffering during the Holocaust.

That's what was going on in the West. The situation was even worse under the Soviet Empire. From the end of World War Two until 1989, Auschwitz, as well as Birkenau, Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor, Majdanek, Chelmno, the Warsaw Ghetto, the Lodz Ghetto, all located in Poland, were all under Soviet influence. The Soviets were even less invested in representational, historical truth than the West. They blatantly manipulated the facts of the Holocaust to meet their own ideological needs, needs that changed as political winds changed. If the Soviet system demanded that the Jewish identity of Auschwitz victims be underplayed, or even erased, then that is what happened. Tourists who visited Auschwitz during communist days were told that Auschwitz's victims were "enemies of fascism."

Finally, there is a very good reason that Jewish suffering must be emphasized: the Nazis murdered Jews with a thoroughness that they did not devote to other groups. The Nazis murdered over sixty percent of the Jews in Europe. Poland was a cradle of European Jewish civilization. There, Jewish cultural and biological life was all but completely snuffed out.

American Jews who emphasize the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust are mindful of the above history. They know that the world did not pay enough attention to Jewish victims when that attention might have saved lives. They don't want the murderous anti-Semitism and indifference of the past to be allowed to continue. They want the world to know about the six million Jews murdered under Nazism, and it is right for them to work as hard as they can to get that message out.

Again, there are very good reasons for American Jews to focus on Jewish suffering during World War Two. A problem has resulted from this approach, however. After schoolchildren learn the number "six million," they sometimes learn another number, "eleven million." That number invites the inquisitive schoolchild to reflect: what about the other five million? Who were they? Why were they killed? What is their story?

The sad truth is, in the same way, as described above, that the facts of Jewish suffering under the Nazis have been politicized and distorted in order to meet ideological ends, the facts of the suffering of the "others" – the five million others – have also been politicized and distorted to meet ideological ends. Just one example: in 1989, Commonweal, a Catholic publication, ran an article, "Close Enough to Step on Toes," attempting to explain the then-current controversy over the establishment of a cloistered convent near the Auschwitz concentration camp. Leon Klenicki, "director of the department of interfaith affairs of the Anti-Defamation League and liaison representative to the Vatican" stated that, during World War Two, "Poles were killed by accident … there was not a national ideology leading to the destruction of the total Polish population." Commonweal offered no corrective to this false and misleading statement. One must not forget that Commonweal is a Catholic publication, that a Catholic publication participated in the distortion of Polish realities during World War Two.

Years later I received an instructive warning from an editor about to publish my own work addressing Polish victimization during World War Two. I had referenced Adolph Hitler's famous "Armenian quote," including these words, "I have placed my death-head formation in readiness – for the present only in the East – with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language." I mentioned, also, that the Nazis had stockpiled enough Zyklon B to kill twenty million people – much more than was needed to kill Jews alone. My editor adjured me to eliminate the Armenian quote, and the reference to the large amount of Zyklon B the Nazis had stockpiled. If it appeared that I was focusing too much on Polish suffering under the Nazis, I was warned, I would never publish, and never be read.

Into this dangerous breach steps the heroic Teresa Pencak Schwartz and her courageous and unique work on the Forgotten Holocaust, a name she has given to the five million non-Jewish victims of the Nazis. In spite of every considerable obstacle, including condemnation and marginalization, Pencak Schwartz has shown the remarkable determination to tell a story that must be told.

Why must this story be told, one might ask? Given that the Nazis' industrial slaughter of six million Jews is so historically important, and, indeed, so riveting of human consciousness, so important to our ethical conscience, why spend any time on non-Jews? Why not just write off the Nazi murder of non-Jews, as Commonweal magazine was willing to do, as "accidents"?

Sometimes people dismiss my own work on stereotyping of Poles as unimportant because, they insist, it really is just all about "Suffering Olympics." In fact, in the unfortunate, and yet typical, Commonweal article cited above, that's exactly how Polish suffering was written off: "It becomes a matter of perception, of saying 'I suffered more than you.'" The use of the word "perception" is interesting. This approach is often used when Polish non-Jews mention their victimization under the Nazis. Jews, it is acknowledged, really did suffer. Poles, "perceive" themselves to have suffered. James Carroll's "Constantine's Sword" won the 2001 National Jewish Book Award. In it Carroll wrote that "Polish Catholicism is particularly inclined to define itself around the idea of its victimhood."

Jews really suffered under the Nazis; Polish non-Jewish "perceive" themselves to have suffered; They "define" themselves as having suffered; They want to compete in a Suffering Olympics; They want to say, "I suffered more than you": Too often, any mention of simple historical realities about the Nazi victimization of non-Jews is dismissed using these denigrating tropes.

Another method used to dismiss and denigrate any mention of the suffering of non-Jews is to insist that the speaker is a chauvinist, interested only in "protecting Poland's good name," or, alternately, in "protecting Christianity's good name" or "Catholicism's good name." It is difficult to penetrate this thicket of hostility to the story of the Nazi victimization of non-Jews, but Terese Pencak Schwartz has done so, admirably. Pencak Schwartz's success is to everyone's benefit; without the kind of information that she insists on presenting, we cannot begin to understand what we do know of the Nazis, or of the Holocaust. .

The exclusion of the history of the Nazi victimization of non-Jews has resulted in a de facto revision of Nazi, World War Two, and Holocaust history, and, indeed, a de facto revision of immigration history and Jewish-Christian relations.

Every semester, I ask my university students, "What was the first and last group of people the Nazis mass murdered?" They are confident of their reply. "The Jews," they say, without hesitation. Some, adopting an air that indicates that they imagine themselves privy to information others lack, report "Homosexuals," or "Communists." No one ever gets it correct. I ask others, as well, including the PhDs among my colleagues. They don't know, either.

The first and last group Nazis mass murdered were handicapped people. When I tell my interlocutors this, they are shocked. They assume I am wrong. They promise me that they will google this question. How could they be so misinformed about something so important? Often they ask, "But what do Christians have against handicapped people?" They ask this because they believe, without question, that Nazism was merely an extension of Christian hostility to Jews. This idea is epitomized in Pastor A. Roy Eckardt's characterization of John's Gospel as "the road to Auschwitz."

Christian sins against Jews are legion and cannot be forgotten. But characterizing Nazism as an extension of Christianity is historical revisionism of epic proportions. This mischaracterization of both Nazism and Christianity prevents those blinded by it from seeing Nazism for what it really was.

It makes perfect sense for the Nazis to have mass murdered handicapped people first and last. That mass murder is entirely in line with Nazi ideology. The Nazis, as Richard Weikart demonstrated in "Hitler's Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress," founded their genocides on a consistent ethic. Their ethic was inspired by atheism, neo-Paganism, and Scientific Racism. Their ethic was voiced before Hitler ever rose to power, by the Scientific Racists in the US who reacted with horror to new, undesirable, peasant immigrants from places like Poland and Italy. Before Hitler, Madison Grant, an American Scientific Racist, argued for the "elimination of the unfit." Lothrop Stoddard, Kenneth L. Roberts, and Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, presented Scientific Racist ideas that were embraced by Ivy League universities, the mainstream and scholarly press, and American presidents. The one institution conspicuous by its resistance to Scientific Racism was the Catholic Church. For their resistance, Christians who protested against Grant's placement of a human being in the Bronx Zoo were denounced in the New York Times as behind the times and unaccepting of modern science.

We need to understand Nazism, and we will not do so until as many people who know the number "six million" also know the number "five million." We need to know that the five million were not killed "by accident" but very much in line with Nazi ideology. Terese Pencak Schwartz is a heroine in this battle for truth and understanding.