Friday, June 29, 2012

Miss Holocaust Survivor: Questionable Taste or Celebration of Life?

Questionable taste or celebration of life? I say, Party on, and God Bless These Women! 
Was the recent "Miss Holocaust Survivor" pageant in questionable taste, or was it a celebration of life? 

Me? I like the idea. I like the idea of thumbing one's nose in the face of horror. You may feel differently. If so, please feel free to comment, below. 

And ... if Bieganski the Blog, which often covers topics more weighty than Miss Holocaust Survivor contests, is of any value to you, please consider reading and co-signing this post. Thank you. 


USA Today

HAIFA, Israel (AP) — Grinning and waving, 14 women who survived the horrors of WWII paraded Thursday in an unusual pageant, vying for the honor of being crowned Israel's first "Miss Holocaust Survivor."
Billed by organizers as a celebration of life, the event also stirred controversy. In a country where millions have been touched by the Holocaust, many argued that judging aging women who had suffered so much on physical appearance was inappropriate, and even offensive.
"It sounds totally macabre to me," said Colette Avital, chairwoman of Israel's leading Holocaust survivors' umbrella group. "I am in favor of enriching lives, but a one-time pageant masquerading (survivors) with beautiful clothes is not what is going to make their lives more meaningful."

full article here.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Nominating Bieganski

Dear Stephen M. Leahy, Awards Committee Chair,

We, the undersigned, nominate Bieganski the Blog for the PAHA Skainy Civic Achievement Award. We understand that there is no cash prize for this award. We hope that the award will serve to highlight the important work of Bieganski the Blog, and encourage other Polonians to take up this work.

Bieganski the Blog is doing work that no other Polonian individual or entity is doing. It is refuting, in scholarly, publication-quality blog posts, the Brute Polak stereotype that is currently used to distort immigration history, race relations, Christian-Jewish relations, the Holocaust, and World War Two history. Bieganski the Blog has also presented an action plan for the wider Polonian community to take up this work. Bieganski the Blog is not just about politics. It has featured literary essays, poetry, and memoirs.

Bieganski the Blog has existed since 2010. The primary author of the blog is Danusha V. Goska, author of "Bieganski, the Brute Polak Stereotype." Access to the blog is free. Goska receives no financial or institutional support from any source.

The blog has also featured guest blog entries. "Ripples of Sin," by Otto Gross, details the roots of his Nazi father's hostility toward Poles, Catholics, and Jews. "Looking Down a Mine Shaft" by Chris Jaworski, is an average Polish-American's reflections on his father. UK crime novelist Danuta Reah's "Making Monsters" talks about the process of ethnic demonization.

Bieganski the Blog has been the springboard for protests against distortions of WW II and Holocaust history, see, for example, the open letter to Clair Willcox regarding the book "They Were Just People," a university press book that claims, inter alia, that the Home Army was an anti-Semitic organization that never did anything to help Jews. Bieganski the Blog was the first to initiate organized protest against the Pier 21 film "Oceans of Hope" that conflates Polish Catholic rescuers of Jews with Nazis. This protest began when Malgorzata Tarchala, a Polish activist living in Germany, contacted Bieganski the Blog.

Unlike all too many such initiatives that protest stereotyping of Poles and other Eastern Europeans, Bieganski the Blog is never chauvinist and it supports its protests with intellectual foundations. For example, in the blog post "Why Stereotype Poles?" Bieganski the Blog explained exactly why books like "They Were Just People" and films like "Oceans of Hope" work to discredit Polish Catholic rescuers of Jews. It has provided the intellectual foundations of the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype in the series of blog posts entitled, "Inside the Mind of a Bigot." Bieganski the Blog has celebrated Polish-Jewish amity and cooperation in a four-part series of blog posts entitled "Poland's Importance to Jews; Jews' Importance to Poland."

The blog has included literary essays that were eventually published in print media, for example "My Vow: Never Be an Immigrant," and it has reproduced poetry and essays by all-too-little-known Polish-American poets like Christina Pacosz and John Guzlowski, and it has drawn attention to the Polish-Jewish memoirist Edward Herzbaum. The blog has included updates from present-day Poland from Goska, during her 2011 speaking engagements there, and from Poles living in Poland. The blog has published scholarly analyses of brute Polaks in film, novels, and scholarly books. The blog has presented an action plan for Polonia in its response to the brute Polak stereotype in the post "The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization, and Vision."

Bieganski the Blog has refuted the tendency to lay blame for the stereotypification of Poles on any one ethnic group, including Jews, for example in blog posts entitled "Stop Blaming the Jews."

The blog has proved to be a place on the internet where concerned Polonians can meet, chat, reminisce, and talk strategy. Non-Polonians also read the blog, and have left comments on it attesting to their learning much about Polonia from the blog.

There is no other entity in Polonia doing the work that Bieganski the Blog does. The PAHA Awards committee can make an important contribution to Polonia by acknowledging the importance of the blog's work with the Skainy Civic Achievement Award.

Thank you.


Blog readers: if you would like to add your name to this request, please do so in the comments section. It would be greatly appreciated. Again, there is no cash award involved here. I would just like to see more Polonians and others engaged in the work outlined above, and one step toward that would be the bestowing of this award on the blog. Thank you.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Bieganski in Softcore Pornography: Harold Robbins' "79 Park Avenue"

Harold Robbins' "79 Park Avenue" is the single worst book I've ever read, and I read a lot of books. It was so stupid, so hateful, and so without any redeeming features such as humor or eroticism or even just interesting use of language that I often felt that merely to pick it up I should be wearing a Hazmat suit.

The books contains gems like the following:

"The ash-blond Polack hair that feel like shimmering gold around her face, the wild wide mouth slashed sensually with scarlet, the slightly parted lips and white teeth just showing beneath their shadows" (10).

And this:

"The hot Polack blood is still runnin' around inside yuh, and yuh can't change that" (194).

Robbins can't even manage to spell the simplest of Polish words. "Fluudjincki," his character's last name, doesn't exist in Polish, or in any other language, for that matter.

But to call Harold Robbins' Marja Fluudjincki a character would be like calling a blow-up doll a human being. Robbins moves his pen on the page, not to give life to real people and real issues, although he'd have you believe that.

Rather, he wrote of a large breasted (you're reminded on almost every page), long-legged, white-blond Polack female who is relentlessly tormented by a world full of men who are eager to hurt her, and do. Robbins' creation is molested by a shopkeeper, molested by a school chum, raped by her stepfather, screwed over by the criminal justice system, molested by a guard, forced to put on lesbian performances, betrayed by several fiances, her child is kidnapped and threatened . . . no need to continue. You get the idea. She is *not,* though, tied to a train track.

Please don't get the idea that this is a sexy book. It very much is not. There are no descriptions of humans engaging in sexual activity. None. The fewest number of words possible are used to inform the reader that Marja is about to be raped again, or has just been raped again. The only activity described in any detail are kisses, and these descriptions are flat and complete in four or five words.

Of course, the book offers zero verisimilitude. Robbins' inability to so much as find one believable Polish name for his character is reflective of a complete lack of reality on every page of the book.

Robbins repeatedly calls Marja "intelligent," or even, redundantly, "bright and intelligent" (10), savvy, and worldly wise beyond her years. Then, when he wants her, again, to be raped or mistreated or involved in some idiotic, easily cleared up misunderstanding that ruins her life, he gives Marja the IQ of an ashtray.

That's right. Though he tells us again and again how "bright and intelligent" this girl is, he never, in 406 pages of torments, gives her even the most basic IQ necessary to escape from the many torments he throws her way. This "character" who, in the previous paragraph, had displayed a wisdom of the world that mature adults might envy, appears to have had her entire brain erased, and she becomes the helpless, squirming, all too female female, ripe to be tormented again.

When it is convenient for Robbins to wrap up the book with a happy ending, again, he completely rejects any concept of verisimilitude and uses a crow bar to force a completely unbelievable happy ending into a text that, previously, had consisted solely of scenes of the humiliation and abuse of his heroine.

That nothing erotic ever happens in this book also speaks volumes. The erotic thrill Robbins provides and readers get has nothing to do with human pleasure; rather, it has everything to do with images of a helpless, squirming woman humiliated, disempowered, disappointed, and in pain.

The pivotal event that spirals young Marja's life into complete catastrophe, and removes her from her lifelines to any decency or hope, and the "nice guy" who loves her, is her rape and impregnation by her stepfather, an unemployed, lazy Polack drunk. Immediately after being impregnated by this rape, Marja is incarcerated, thus preventing her from terminating the pregnancy. It is this pregnancy, the book lets us know, that turns Marja from a teen tease who will probably settle down and marry her "nice guy" boyfriend into a full bore whore.

This episode, in this book, speaks volumes. For some, removing women from control over their own bodies and their own reproductive capacity is the supreme act of sexual sadism and misogyny.

Robbins provides this population with its ultimate sexual fantasy, not a fantasy involving mutual pleasure or life-affirming activities, but the control of a woman with too much power, that power being the inappropriate power over men her body gives her.

The ultimate control over female power is to deny her autonomy over her own reproductive capacity. Here, pregnancy is not a blessing, but, rather, enforced pregnancy is the ultimate prison and punishment for an uppity female who is too female for her own good.


I posted this review on Amazon in 2005. I thought of it again recently when a blog reader insisted that the 2010 Canadian film "The Shrine" couldn't possibly be an exploitation of the Bieganski stereotype because, after all, the name of the ostensibly "Polish" village in "The Shrine" is "Alvania" and "Alvania" is not really a Polish name.

But that's the whole point. People who exploit the Bieganski stereotype know nothing about Poland. They just know everything about the Bieganski stereotype. Polaks are brutes. They live in places with weird names like "Alvania." They have weird last names like "Fluudjincki." These names are not reflective of reality. They are reflective of a stereotype.

A previous blog post mentioning "The Shrine" is here.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

My Vow: I Will Never Be an Immigrant

My mother was an immigrant to America from Slovakia.
I've never drunk coffee or tea. People ask me why. I never tell them. 

My Vow: I Will Never Be an Immigrant

My final week in Poland, a movie scene kept playing on the screen suspended in my mind. Especially persistent was the soundtrack, a street accordion cranking out the wistful Piaf ballad, "La Vie en Rose." The scene is from Billy Wilder's 1954 film, "Sabrina."

Audrey Hepburn is Sabrina, the daughter of a chauffeur, in love with an unattainable rich boy. Her father has sent her away, to learn to cook. It's a Golden Age film, shot in a Hollywood studio; no one got anywhere near France. And yet, as classic films could do, "Sabrina" evokes Paris, makes you feel Paris, more intimately than many a modern film shot on location.

"Sabrina" conjures the City of Lights with a few, low-budget waves of a black-and-white magic wand. You see the Eiffel Tower rise outside the cooking school's artistically rounded, antique window. You hear a French accent from a chef in a tall hat who sadistically ridicules failed soufflés but worships well-made ones.

My last few days in Poland, I kept remembering this scene: Sabrina sits in the spherical halo of a desk lamp. Even though this is a black-and-white film, you know the lamplight is golden. Outside her window glow the ghostly, bulbous marble domes of the Sacre-Coeur Basilica. On the street below, a busker performs a bittersweet rendition of "La Vie en Rose."

You can tell from her erect and yet comfortable posture how serene Sabrina is, and you can tell that Paris has taught her this contentment. In a voiceover, Sabrina speaks the letter she is composing to her father. She has completed her schooling, and is about to return to America. She is plainly in love with Paris. She can handle leaving, though, because Paris has graced her, and she will carry that special Parisian grace within her for the rest of her life.

How did they lure my mother onto the flowered ox cart? A necklace of flowers around the ox – just like in a pagan child sacrifice. Did they admit to her then and there that she'd never again see her beloved grandmothers, the women who showed her love, love that, by all accounts, her own mother stinted? That, like millions of other peasants, up and down Eastern Europe, she was leaving the green and earth of home for American soot and smoke? Or did they lie, as adults and life so often lie to children, and claim that it would just be a short ride, little one, you'll be back in your own bed by nightfall?

One must not romanticize the village, or peasant life, but the village my mother left to come to American exploitation and coal really was paradise. She had not yet put in an eighteen-hour day in the fields. She had not yet been put in her place by the powers that be, either Hungarians or aristocrats or Nazis or Soviets. Her village was blue sky, a clean river where children swam, the cuckoo's call through dense woods, the castle, her grandfather's beehives, her father's sheep, the folksongs and the legends and the Hasterman who haunted waterways at night, the self-sufficiency of adults who could accomplish anything with their own bare hands, from treating tumors with garden herbs to building a house, and a love that enfolded her. She got to go to school in the village, and she scored the highest grades. She had a mind, and would accomplish impressive intellectual feats someday. She marched in pilgrimages and she was "the prettiest girl in the village."

Then the ox cart. The train station. The ship, the nauseating voyage, celery soup, soot, coal, no more school, cleaning rich people's houses. Slowly realizing that that would be her entire life.

Phone calls were impossibly expensive. When we finally visited, I don't remember any of our relatives actually owning a telephone. Calls were monitored by authorities on both sides of the Atlantic. I remember receiving censored letters. I remember receiving letters that intimated what could be said, and what could not be said.

All those memories. All that love. All that longing. All those immigrants and all those who loved them. Bottled up. Forced down. Choked back. Denied. Buried. Where did that energy go? No wires to transmit it. Unwept tears. What dam could hold them back? My mother dreamed of walking home with her brother across the Atlantic Ocean.

My mother buried two sons who died in the prime of life. I don't remember her crying. I remember her cleaning house on Wednesday, August 21, 1968. I remember her suddenly stopping and sitting in front of the television. My mother stopping work? Impossible. She didn't even sit down to eat. Even more impossible were these: tears on my mother's face. On the TV screen: tanks rolling into Prague. I stood still, and stared at my mother. The image emblazoned itself into my brain; I've never forgotten it. I learned a big lesson that day, and I can't put it into words, except these words: my mother, stopping work, and crying, as she watched tanks rolling into Prague.

There was no way that this could happen, but it did: I was alone with my mother when she died. Given our history, there were a number of portentous items on our agenda. What did I do, what did I say? I swept other themes aside. I spoke to her in Slovak – what little I know. I played "Fujara from Kokava," a cassette of Slovak folk music. I reassured her that she would soon reunite with grandmothers in black babushkas, chicken-thief uncles, the Jewish boy next door who saved her life when she was drowning in the river Nitra, that boy the Germans took away, her aunt who beat collaborators with her broom – with these she never stopped loving and had left irrevocably, forever ago, she would soon reunite. And she would return, too, I promised, to the prettiest girl in the village, the one with her future ahead of her, who would accomplish great intellectual feats someday.

During this summer's visit, I was stunned by how much Polish I remembered. I was stunned when Poles said a sentence to me, and I understood it, and then another sentence, and I understood that, as well, and then a third. I wondered if this were a trick my mind was playing on me. Before I left, I considered purchasing a phrase book so that I would be able to navigate train ticket kiosks and souvenir shopping. I was stunned when I could summon not just the words and even the grammar for "My name is," "How are you," "How much does that cost" and "Where is the toilet," but also for "Make yourself comfortable" and "It would be better if you could take advantage of this" and "You can order my book from Amazon." I was stunned when Poles asked me, "How did you know that difficult grammatical form?" I looked at them and said, "I don't know it. I don't speak Polish at all."

Remembering Polish meant remembering my life. Remembering my life before graduate school, the attack by the crazy professor, getting sick, being sick for years, losing my life savings, all of that white-collar evil that knocked my life completely off course. That was the last thing I did before graduate school – I went to Poland, and I studied Polish, my father's language, and I decided to make some contribution to scholarship about Poles and Poland. Funny how suddenly acknowledging that you know an obscure vocabulary word, or grammatical form, can force you into a confrontation with memories you survive by forgetting.

What would I remember if I suddenly began speaking French every day, the language I spoke in Africa? Or Nepali? I'm so intimidated by the prospect, I'm not even going to experiment.

I felt so at home in Poland. It was overwhelming. I kept waiting for the feeling to fade but it didn't fade. I felt an at-homeness that eludes me in America. That doesn't mean I don't feel at home in America; I do. It's just a different room of home. Poland is another room. A warm, and cozy, and imperfect room. The heat is too high. I try to open the window to let some fresh air in, and the woman with the child in her lap complains. The air becomes a bit stifling. But I am familiar with, at home with, that kind of air. I remember it from childhood, from my Aunt Tetka's house: too much antique furniture, rugs, knick-knacks, curtains, yet more curtains, too many meals, too little fresh air. But very good pastry. And if you can get them to sing, and the slivovice always gets them to sing, they know all one hundred verses of the folksong.

Does the internet make things easier? Or does it lure us onto new ox carts, into crying new tears? During this visit to Poland I spent time with Krystyna and Malgorzata, whom, previously, I had known only from the internet. I "met" Krystyna online, after reading the hauntingly titled "Lost Between Worlds," a memoir by her father, a Holocaust survivor.

One afternoon in Krakow, I received, too late, a handwritten note inviting me to meet Krystyna and her daughter Nikki for dinner. I rushed to the old town, knowing I'd arrive an hour after the time she'd suggested we meet. I had no idea what Krystyna looked like. The Rynek Glowny – main square – was thronging with tourists. I passed within four feet of two women. The little voice said to me, "That is Krystyna and Nikki. Greet them." I hesitated. I thought, that would be too weird. Approaching two strange women in this mob and saying – what? In what language? That my little voice told me that these were the women I was rushing to meet? The two women passed. When Krysytna, Nikki and I finally connected I realized that that indeed had been they. Whatever had transpired between Krystyna and me via the internet had created a connection strong enough that in a crowd of hundreds my path would skin hers and I would recognize her on sight.

We spent a couple days together; one evening we sat around laughing over pizza. It was the kind of night that's supposed to end with, "See ya later." But a canyon demarcated this evening. It was time for Krystyna to board her plane to France; Nikki would fly to England. I clawed at the minutes, greedily. I wanted these women as next-door-neighbors. I did not want just internet. I demanded in-the-flesh. We live in three different countries; I realized we might never again share gossip over pizza. We said goodbye on Ulica Florianska. I surprised myself by crying, and by actually wanting to hug. I'm one of those non-huggers; I usually just hug out of politeness. I wanted to hold on, not to let distance have them. But I had to surrender.

Malgorzata, a Pole living in Germany, found my work, by chance, through the internet. In Poland, we cooperated intensely on a public talk about my book. In just a few days, we had traveled together to three Polish cities. One Sunday night we stood in Rynek Glowny. Tomorrow she would fly back to Germany; I to the US.

"Yours is not a very sentimental goodbye," I observed, peeved.

"I am not a sentimental person," Malgorzata countered, briskly.

I am a writer. She is an accountant.

We were next to St. Mary's church. When the Mongols invaded in 1241, an arrow pierced the throat of the trumpeter in this church's spire. His warning call was interrupted. Ever since, the hour is tolled from St. Mary's church by an abruptly interrupted trumpet tune, the Hejnal.

Night was falling on Europe's largest medieval square; mist was rising from the cobblestones into the stoplight-haloed air. Malgorzata coolly departed.

And then, unsentimental still, she suddenly turned. "I love my country when you write about it." St. Mary's church bell struck the hour, and, just as Malgorzata's footsteps died away down a misted Ulica Florianska, the trumpeter began the Hejnal – that national song of heroism, of sacrifice, a song that always ends abruptly. This was Poland, and the country would insist on providing the atmosphere.

I reconnected with two people I had known when I lived in Poland the year of 1988-89. The man and I had not had any contact of any kind in twenty-two years. And here we were, seated at a sidewalk café on Ulica Juliusza Lea, blueberry pastry in front of us, dry lightning parting the July sky hanging over the fruit and vegetable stalls across from us, having the same argument we had in 1989, but using different words. I thought of a poem I had written to him that has remained ensconced in the cover of my diary for over two decades. Would I have the courage to voice that poem's exhortations now? The moment never really arrived for those words in 1989, and it would not come this afternoon. I wondered, did he realize that there had been dry lightning in our sky that night twenty-two years ago?

The hammer of my own heart and the whispered cautions of my own head were both too loud for me to register this renewed contact. He suggested that we meet again. I agreed. At least I could attempt to be fully present through our next encounter. But time and distance swallowed him up. We never met again. I remain in that place where the wave has taken you, and your heels are over your head, and you are waiting for the wave to pass, so your soles can nestle on ground, again, rather than expose themselves to unfamiliar sun. When I am once again perpendicular to earth, I will have to ask, Did we really even meet? What did we say? Was it good? Was anything resolved?

Later, I was seated on a bench outside the Piast student dormitory, chatting with Stephanie, a Polish-Greek-American from New Jersey. "Polish and Greek?" I asked. "Open a diner. The Germans will invade." Suddenly, in front of Dom Studencki Piast, there was Tenia, whom I had met in that very structure twenty-one years before. Tenia was with her three children. I had met their father in Dom Studencki Piast, as well. I remember his courting Tenia; I remember Beatrice Ekwa-Okoko, half Cameroonian, half-Polish, and I vetting this man as a potential husband for Tenia, right here in Dom Studencki Piast.

I jumped off the bench and embraced Tenia. I could hear Stephanie comment, "That is a very long hug." The world slipped away and it was just Tenia and I. You're only supposed to say that about romantic relationships.

We strolled Krakow. We sought makowiec, my favorite Eastern European delicacy: ground poppy seeds spiraled between layers of rich dough. My mother used to supervise me as I baked it, back before the war on drugs when poppy was still affordable and we owned a cast iron grinder for the seeds. That kind of heavy, specified kitchen utensil does not respond well to our rapidly moving world and I have no idea where the grinder is; I miss it every Christmas and Easter, and I miss makowiec, too. Tenia ran into two friends, and they joined our strolling salon. Tenia's attention was divided. I realized that she would soon have to cut her visit with me short.

Aware of that goodbye on the horizon, I tried to cauterize the pain. I stood up. "I have to go." I thought I'd escape the bakery quickly and cleanly. Tenia followed me out onto the street. Her large eyes were red and wet. Interspersing her hugs with little, aborted speeches, she hugged me once, two times, three – it almost became a comedy. Almost.

I returned to my dorm room at Piast and felt I'd been hit by a car. The pain didn't have any words attached. It was not, "I will miss her so much." It was not, "Remember that fight we had on that train trip to Bialystok when we ended up in Lodz."

Two of the toughest goodbyes in my life: the death of my brother Phil, and the death of my Uncle Jan Cerno. I sat and thought. What if I received a note, right now, stating that it had all been a mistake, that Phil or Jan had not really died, but had been alive this entire time, just completely inaccessible to me? And that one or the other was about to walk into the room and we were to reunite?

One might think that such a note would bring celebratory joy. The return of something very valued, but lost. Instead, I felt a sense of utter horror. Losing both of them had been so hard. Reuniting with them would torment me. Why did we lose all those years, all those years when we could have been together? Sealing over the wound with an insensible scar was too much work. That scar is my investment, and I will remain more loyal to it than to the promise of contact that might quiver with pain.

One of my best moments during this trip to Poland. I was rushing down Ulica Karmeliczka in the early morning hours. There were few people. A middle-aged woman, short, with short, dyed black hair, was walking toward me. She was shuffling items from her wallet. She dropped something, and moved on. Was she dropping
litter? That didn't seem like a particularly Polish thing to do.

I was rushing and not focused, but I felt I had to pick up the item the woman had dropped. I glanced at it. It was the size of a credit card, and it looked official. "Prosze," I mumbled, halfheartedly. The woman kept moving away from m
e. "Prosze pani," I announced, more forcefully. The woman turned around. I did not move toward her; I held out the item. She stepped closer, focusing on my hand. She sprang to life. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "How could I have?" She took the item from my hand, and, never looking at me, just kept saying, "How could I have lost this?" and "Oh!"

I don't think she ever realized that I was just a tourist. She had dropped something evidently important, and on the almost empty dawn sidewalk I happened to pick it up and return it to her, in response to an inner prodding. I kept walking my way, she, hers. If I had not traveled thousands of miles to that anonymous encounter, she might have lost that important item. I don't know.

I don't drink coffee or tea. People think it's weird. They ask me why. I never tell them. Here's why: I grew up in a town of immigrant laborers. My mother's friends would come to the house, sit around the table, drink coffee or tea, and the lament would begin. I remember isolated words: my old man, the kids, the priest, the boss, lousy rotten ingrates, cancer, what are ya gonna do? I swore: I'll never be an immigrant, and I'll never drink coffee or tea, because I don't want this pain.

So, I was never an immigrant. I never rode the one-way ox cart; I always purchased a round-trip ticket. But I always knew it would be my destiny to be a traveler. And that pain finds you, no matter how rapidly or glamorously you move.


I thank editor Daniel T. Weaver for including this essay in Upstream Two, available on Amazon here. Culturally aware Polonians will purchase Upstream Two; it is a celebration of Polish-American writing.

The website for Upstream Two is here.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bieganski in Sweden? "Morkt Vatten" or "Dark Water"

Blog reader Artur Szulc sent this in, and granted permission for me to post it.

"I do not know if you ever have studied the Bieganski stereotype in countries other than US, but I can tell you that it is alive and kicking in Sweden. One obvious example is the movie "Mörkt vatten" (in English, "Dark Water").

The movie is in Swedish cinemas right now.

It is about a couple of real estate brokers who go to stay in a big house which is up for sale. Their job is to check that everything is ok before the sale. Short after their arrival, a Polish craftsman presents himself and says he is to do some finishing jobs on that house. Of course, the man is a psycho. He is depicted as lazy, scruffy, thickheaded and as a Peeping Tom who stands outside and looks at the young couple in bed.

I have not yet seen the movie, only read reviews, and some of the Swedish reviewers are very harsh in their criticism, because the movie is based on prejudice against people from the East."

Neither Artur nor I has seen "Morkt Vatten." Has anyone out there seen it, or seen press about it, who might be able to tell us more? Thank you.

The trailer for "Mokt Vatten" is here.


I thank blog reader Mieszko for drawing our attention to a 2010 Canadian film, "The Shrine," that depicts cult-based human sacrifice in modern-day Poland. 

"The Shrine" exemplifies for me why I work on Bieganski, the Brute Polak stereotype in its entirety, rather than any one manifestation of it, and why any response to it must address the entire stereotype, rather than just one phrase (e.g. "Polish concentration camps") or one demonized, purported enemy (Jan Tomasz Gross.)

The Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype is culture-wide, it is pervasive, and it pertains to every aspect of EE Bohunk identity, not just discussions of the Holocaust, not just discussions between Poles and Jews. Blaming the Jews or the leftists, as two recent books have done (reviewed on the blog here and here) gets us nowhere. We must do the hard work of uniting, supporting each other, organizing, and acting strategically, not randomly, as described in this series of blog posts

If you are a Canadian and you want to make a film today about a scary place where weird cult members sacrifice human beings, your location of choice is Poland, exactly because of the Brute Polak stereotype.

As ever, I encourage people who want to better understand this phenomenon, and who wish to be intellectually equipped to begin to address it, to read Bieganski and this blog. 

Please have a look at the trailer for "The Shrine" here.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The State-Mandated Sterilization of a Polish-American Teenage Girl

Ewa Holody Pacosz with 4 of her living children, circa 1919. 
Walter Pacosz, Christina Pacosz's father, born in 1914, is in the sailor suit. 
Janina is a toddler in her mother's arms.

Aunt Janina
by Christina Pacosz

Janina Pacosz was the youngest of five living siblings and my father's sister. But not the very youngest. An unnamed baby girl died from meningitis or possibly flu in St. Louis and was buried in an unmarked grave after the family's flight from Leadwood, Missouri because of the 1917 Leadbelt Riot. My father was only four when that sister died and he couldn't recall her name.

But he never forgot his sister Janina who had been committed to the state institution for the mentally retarded in Lapeer, Michigan. She tumbled out of her high chair and was never right, my father said, afterwards. The official sterilization order survived the terrible fire that took Walter Pacosz' life October 16, 1987. My mother kept important papers in a fireproof, steel box.

The University of Michigan Bentley Historical Collection has the papers now.

My father told me his father, Antoni Pacosz, didn't know what he was signing, and when he did understand what he'd done, it was too late. Dated May 1, 1933 "The Order for Personal Service" (Sterilization Law
Act 28l, P.A. of 1929) declaring "Janine Pacosz" to be "an alleged mentally defective person" had already been carried out as ordered by Glen L. Hollenbeck, Judge of Probate in Lapeer County. Antoni Pacosz signed the petition and was her "duly appointed guardian ad litem". Her mother, my grandmother, Ewa Pacosz, was notified by registered mail. Two dates were noted in the official papers, April 13 and May 1, 1933. No one had a car or the ability to drive, so it is doubtful the family had any representation at either of the proceedings. Years later my grandmother signed her social security card with "her mark" – an X – and it is very likely she was illiterate in both of her spoken languages, English and Polish.

The paper my grandfather signed authorized Janina's sterilization, too. Unable to read English, he didn't fully understand what he was doing. Neither could my grandmother. Translators for official state business weren't required by law.

According to Philip R. Reilly in his book, "The Surgical Solution: A History of Involuntary Sterilization in the United States" (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991) more than sixty thousand mentally retarded or mentally ill individuals, most of them residents of large state institutions, were sterilized for eugenic reasons in the first six decades of the twentieth century. My Aunt Janina was in good company.

Documents regarding the sterilization and incarceration of Janina Pacosz at Lapeer State Training Home until she died.

Janina was filled with a highpitched excitement when we visited her. I went with my father, not just for the train ride, which I barely remember now, but for her, this aunt with the childlike simplicity and joy which exceeded my own. I was five or six, and mentally so was Janina, or possibly younger.

I'd take a favorite doll or teddy bear for company on the long journey. Janina and I would sit on the lawn beneath a huge elm – they weren't yet sick and dying from Dutch elm disease – and, screaming with delight, Janina tossed my bear into the air.

She was always dressed in institutional clothes. A green and white checked cotton dress, starched and pressed, its collar solid green, as were the short
sleeved cuffs. On her legs and feet, thick, cotton hose and brown oxford shoes. Janina looked like a waitress in one of the hamburger joints my mother took me to during our outings to downtown Detroit.

I don't recall what my father talked about with his sister but I do remember the sun pouring down through the leaves and the sweat beading her upper lip and her forehead. Her eyes were blue jewels that matched my father's and my grandmother's eyes. Bright and inquisitive as a bird she'd lean toward me, our faces just inches apart. When she laughed it was impossible for me not to.

Janina was locked behind red brick walls and died in that awful place. Sterilized. At fourteen. When I was fourteen my head was filled with the thrill of boys, though few paid attention to me. When I was fourteen, Janina was forty
one years old, just a year and a month from her death.

I don't remember ever setting foot inside the Lapeer State Home and Training School. We visited Janina outside, on the lawn. It was always summer and hot.

I can only imagine what it was like inside the state home and training school. Each day a dull repetition of the one before no matter the season. The stench of ammonia and urine. Of neglect and loss. The lack of privacy. The starchy sameness of the food. Making potholders for recreational time. The numbing gray paint on the scarred walls. The strong steel grills on the windows. The harsh, artificial light.

My father brought her home to our house on an outing once, after he had learned to drive and could make the long trip by car and back with her. She was lost outside her familiar surroundings, though she seemed happy enough to be with us. Busia was there, too, crying and smiling as she took this lost, stolen daughter into her arms.

I wonder what those visits cost my father who had spent ten years behind bars for petty crimes. The forcible and violent loss of rural community both in Missouri and then again in Modliborzyce, Poland with a decade-plus separation from his father in Detroit had left my father emotionally scarred. That family separation had been caused by U.S. anti-immigrant laws. He and my grandmother came back to the U.S. in December 1929. Not a good time for a fifteen- almost-sixteen year old boy seeking his own way in the world. He had been locked up when their father signed Janina's life away.

His being jailed may have been what led to scrutiny of the family and, ultimately, Janina being removed from the family home on Otis Street.

Included in the Order was the stipulation that an additional "order be made for an operation or treatment to render said Janine Pacosz incapable of procreation." And, also, "that the Court appoint two reputable physicians to make an investigation of the mental and physical condition and personal and family history of said Janine Pacosz." These individuals listed on the court documents were Dr. H.G. Merz and Dr. J.A. Spencer.

Eugenics was an up and coming pseudo
science and had its scientific community of devotees and adherents in most states across the United States and then later in Germany. Janina was an early victim of Nazi ideology, only she lived in Detroit, not the Third Reich, and she took a long time to die from the State's neglect.


The noon sun spills an abundance of gold on the green expanse of lawn beyond the shade of the elm.

Head tossed back, Janina brays with laughter, yellow teeth flashing. Her light brown hair, cut in a utilitarian Dutch Boy style, swirls across her rosy cheeks. She squeals and throws my brown plush teddy bear into the air; it falls into her lap.

Eyes gleaming like the first stars at dusk, she clutches the stuffed toy to her breast.

My father smiles at his sister's obvious delight and opens the brown paper bag of food my mother has prepared.

Beneath the elm, poised on the brink of blight and death, we eat our lunch: ham sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, potato chips.

Ignoring the crowded, bloody bed of our familial history, we tilt our heads back, and gulp fizzy Faygo strawberry soda.

Years later the phone rings late in the night. An anonymous call from a Training Home employee. Janina is dead.

No one in the family had been notified she was ill.

She died all alone in that place where the life was cut out of her by a knife wielded by the authority of the state.

Cause of death: encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain resulting in paralysis of the respiratory centers. According to the death certificate mental retardation contributed to her death.

That death certificate should have read: Abandoned, lost and lonely. Imprisoned.

She lay in her coffin, bright blue eyes shut forever.

I wanted to put a teddy bear beside her, some comfort for her long sleep in the earth. Instead, I kissed her cold cheek, remembering how she'd laughed during our visits.

This aunt who was not right, but never wrong, though the wrongs of the bloody bed blossomed red about her.

© Christina Pacosz

First published on the West Side Detroit Polish American Historical Society member newsletter, April 2012.

Christina Pacosz's new book of poems is published by Seven Kitchens Press. Ordering information here

Janina Pacosz in the middle with her mother Eva Miazga (r) and her sister-in-law Elizabeth Pacosz (l),
date unknown.

***   ***   ***

I'm honored that Christina Pacosz granted me permission to post her essay about Aunt Janina here.

The essay is especially timely.

There is a tendency among some Polonians to blame Jews for the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype. I've recently reviewed two books, one a rather good book, the other not so good, that either state or imply that Jews and leftists are either partially or fully responsible for the Brute Polak stereotype. One of those reviews can be found here, the other here.

I regularly receive emails, and see posts on Polish-interest internet discussion sites, naming Jews or Leftists as responsible for the Brute Polak stereotype.

This identification of Jews and leftists as responsible for the Brute Polak stereotype is wrong, and it must stop.

It is factually wrong. Jews and leftists are not responsible for the Brute Polak stereotype. This is demonstrated in "Bieganski."

It is morally wrong.

It is strategically wrong. It does Polonia no good, and much harm, to scapegoat Jews and leftists. It does Polonia no good, and much harm, to turn Polonians against each other: Catholics v. non-Catholics, right-wingers v. left-wingers, Christians v. Jews.

The Brute Polak stereotype is produced, supported, and disseminated by Jews and non-Jews, by left-wingers and right-wingers, and indeed by some Poles themselves.

The Brute Polak stereotype has been resisted by Jews and non-Jews, by left-wingers and right-wingers, and by some (but not enough) Poles.

A case in point. Art Spiegelman's book "Maus" is used to teach the Holocaust to young people. "Maus" depicts Poles as pigs. I've joined others in protesting the use of this book, for example here and here.

Several years ago, a Polish-American professor politely protested the use of "Maus" to teach English as a foreign language to visiting Japanese tourists. That professor lost his job. He had been teaching at St. Mary's, a Catholic institution. The person who defended his firing was Brother Craig J. Franz, a Catholic man of the cloth.

I could cite many such examples. In 2012, I was allowed to read a pre-publication manuscript from a Catholic publisher. The book addressed Polish issues. BIG Polish issues. The book was rife with errors about Polish matters. On other matters, the book was fine. When it came to Polish matters, from the smallest (borscht is made from turnips) to the largest (the source of anti-Semitism in Poland) the book was rife with errors. I blogged about this here.

Another example – Commonweal's treatment of Polish-Jewish relations and the convent controversy. I blog about this here.

Another example: Bill Tammeus, author of the Bieganski-style book "They Were Just People," covered in this blog post, is himself a liberal Protestant of German descent. He is now a blogger at the National Catholic Reporter.

Another example. James Carroll, as "Bieganski" describes, went out of his way to misrepresent Polish history in his own blockbuster bestseller, "Constantine's Sword." James Carroll is not just Catholic, he is a former priest.

These examples and others demonstrate that Catholics have been all too ready to support and disseminate the Bieganski stereotype.

In my own work, I can say that many Jews have supported me and my work financially, emotionally, academically, and in every other way they could.

Why I mention all this in relation to Christina Pacosz's heartrending essay about her aunt.

A few reasons:

Christina Pacosz is a leftist, and she is not a practicing Catholic. John Guzlowski, who has also supported my work on the Brute Polak stereotype is also a leftist and is not a practicing Catholic. Danuta Reah, who has also supported my work is a leftist and is not a practicing Catholic.

Every one of these people: Pacosz, Guzlowski, and Reah, have taken public stands against the brute Polak stereotype, and paid the price.

When it comes to religion or politics, I argue with leftists. I argue for Catholicism. I have argued with Pacosz, Guzlowski, and Reah.

When it comes to the Brute Polak stereotype, I put my political and religious arguments aside. I do that because Polonians can and should unite to eliminate this stereotype.

Aunt Janina was not victimized by a Jewish or a leftist ideology. Her story is not isolated. She is not one of thousands. She is one of millions of people victimized by Scientific Racism. "Bieganski: The Brute Polak" outlines this history. More Polonians need to read it. They need to understand the roots, rationalizations, and applications of the Brute Polak stereotype. The Brute Polak stereotype is more than the phrase "Polish Concentration Camp." When Polonia decides to educate itself, Polonia will be able to have an impact, and not before.

We Polonians need to overcome our failings, which I have outlined in a three-part blog post entitled "The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization, and Vision." You can read those blog posts here.

Blaming others for our failings, scapegoating leftists and Jews, is a no-win approach. We must reject it utterly. We must focus on victory against the Brute Polak stereotype, and unite with others similarly focused on victory.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

BBC: Poland's Achievements in Education

The role of Martial Law in today's educational reforms

Education Minister Zbigniew Marciniak
Poland Scores Late Goals in Education
By Bill Hicks
BBC Knowledge Economy
June 12, 2012

The eyes of the football world have turned to Poland, as it plays co-host to Euro 2012.

But the country has been winning international approval for a different kind of league table success - as Poland has become one of the rising stars in education.

Among eastern European, former-Communist countries, Poland has been the biggest education success story - following modernising reforms launched at the end of the 1990s.

It has also been more successful than most countries at one of the holy grails for education reform, equality of opportunity.

Poland's schools are succeeding, more than many others, in narrowing the gap between the weak and the strong, the gifted and the challenged.

No other European country has climbed the international education tables quite so consistently as this nation, which emerged so recently from decades of totalitarian rule and economic hardship.

Read the entire article here.

Thank you to the blog reader who sent this in.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

University of Missouri Press Slated to Close

Polish American author and poet Christina Pacosz wrote to report that the University of Missouri Press is slated to close. This is sad news, but all too typical of the times. University presses are sources of knowledge. They subsidize books that might never, otherwise, get published. That is a good thing. Many presses are in danger of closing today, given the rapidly changing publishing climate.

A less than stellar publication of the University of Missouri Press drew the attention of this blog. Bill Tammeus' and Jacques Cukierkorn's book "They Were Just People" resorted to the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype. That book's problems are outlined in an open letter to Clair Willcox. That letter can be seen at this blog post.

Interestingly, in the news article that Christina sent me, "They Were Just People" is cited as a worthy book, one that testifies to the worth of the University of Missouri Press. I am sorry that Polonia has not yet been successful in communicating to a wider audience the problems with a book like "They Were Just People."

Below please find an excerpt from the news article reporting on the slated closing of the University of Missouri Press.

Kansas City Star
June 7, 2012
"Supporters work to save University of Missouri Press University of Missouri plans to shut down 54-year-old publisher." by Blake Ursch

"Now the “Save the University of Missouri Press” Facebook page has more than 1,300 “likes” so far as supporters take the fight to their keyboards.

“I see this as an attack on everything that I care about,” said Bruce Miller, who created the Facebook page on Memorial Day. “It’s an attack on publishing, scholarly publishing, editors, authors and ultimately the citizens of Missouri.”

Miller, a publisher’s representative based in Chicago, sells titles from more than 25 university presses around the Midwest to bookstores.

Since its founding in 1958, the University of Missouri Press has published books on world history, philosophy and literary criticism, among other scholarly topics…In 2009, the press published “They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust,” by former Star columnist Bill Tammeus and Kansas City area rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn.

Read more here:"

Monday, June 11, 2012

Bystanders, Blackmailers, and Perpetrators: Polish Complicity during the Holocaust

A blog reader sent this in: "Bystanders, Blackmailers, and Perpetrators: Polish Complicity during the Holocaust": by Jacob Flaws. A thesis submitted to the graduate faculty in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in History at Iowa State University. Advisors: John Monroe, Major Professor, Kevin Amidon, Charles Dobbs. January 1, 2011.

Perhaps someone would like to read this thesis and report back with a summary. It Can be found here:

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Bieganski, the Brute Polak and Debbie Schlussel

Recently blogger Debbie Schlussel voiced the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype. You can read some of Ms. Schlussel's voicing of the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype here.

And Polonia is shocked, shocked.

Me? I'm not shocked.

I wrote a book on the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype. It describes how the stereotype came about, how it is used, and why this stereotype has so much power. I've devoted this blog to the stereotype. There is a three-part blog post outlining how Polonia can overcome the stereotype. That three-part blog post, entitled "The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization, and Vision," is here.

I don't understand why Polonia behaves as if it is shocked when the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype rears its ugly head. I don't understand why Polonia flounders desperately, and fails in its efforts to respond.

I don't understand why people say they care so much about this topic, and yet they tell me that they haven't read the only scholarly book on the topic, "Bieganski," and why when I suggest that they invite me to speak, they say it's too hard to do that. As one Polonian put it, "I can't invite you to speak. I live in New York and you live in New Jersey." (To my readers in Poland: New York and New Jersey are bordering states.)

I've spoken to Jewish groups, Unitarians, a Bruderhof, on university campuses … and never to a Polish-American group. One Polish American cultural leader told me that her "Board of Directors said there was no interest – with the subject [the Brute Polak stereotype] being too heavy, too negative, and too American-centered." Whom does this woman invite to speak? People who talk about Chopin and Kosciuszko and Marie Curie. How nice.

I don't understand why after years of trying, I am still unable to find a Polish publisher for "Bieganski."

How do Polonians respond to the Brute Polak stereotype? In ways that don't help. They write outraged letters, usually as individuals, rather than as organized groups, pounding their chests, saying how great Poland is, and how bad her enemies are. Newsflash: people who aren't Polish won't care. Further: the truth is much more complex than "Poland is really, really great and her enemies are really, really bad." Only sad old chauvinists, marginalized from, and utterly inconsequential to the mainstream of society, will embrace that message.

Further: the real truth of the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype is actually pertinent to all of humanity, not just Poles, not just Jews. Didn't know that, did you, you angry letter writers?

How else do Polonians respond to the Brute Polak stereotype? Polonians sign internet petitions. Newsflash: the Kosciuszko Foundation petition against the "Polish death camp" charge was so ineffectual that President Barack Obama, eager to curry favor with Polish-American voters, badly bungled an award to Jan Karski when he, Obama, voiced that very stereotype. Get it? The petitions have zero impact. Stop sending them to me.

How else do Polonians respond to the stereotype?

Polonians post sarcastic, obscene, and angry internet posts. One Polish man, in response to my suggestion on Facebook that Polonians might consider buying and reading "Bieganski" in order that they could respond to this stereotype in a reasoned way that would reach the widest possible audience and carry the most weight, said, merely, "Debbie Schlussel wouldn't know the truth if it bit her in the ass." No doubt he expelled some anger by typing up that obscene, angry internet post. No doubt he appeared manly to his fans. No doubt he accomplished nothing in the struggle against stereotyping. If anything, his resorting to obscenities, his inability to follow the drift of a conversation, his anger and his lack of self-control reinforced the stereotype.

What good do the strategies that Polonia has tried so far done? Debbie Schlussel, President Barack Obama, and commentators on the upcoming UEFA Euro 2012 soccer matches have all voiced the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype in the past month. And we stand by, helplessly.

So, no, I'm not going to post about Debbie Schlussel's voicing of the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype. I've already said everything I would say about this topic in the book itself and on this blog.

Concerned blog readers, though, have been sending me pages of incriminatory material about Debbie Schlussel. I invite those readers to post them in the comments section here, rather than sending them to me. If nothing else, more people will see your material that way. Thank you.

Gathering of material is a good thing. Maybe someday Polonia will be ready to take this struggle seriously, to unite, support each other, organize, and behave strategically. In the meantime, we can gather ammo. The intellectual kind.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Witold Pilecki "The Auschwitz Volunteer"

Buy this book!
Available at Amazon here

"The Auschwitz Volunteer" is the single most extraordinary tale of heroism I have ever read. Next to what Witold Pilecki voluntarily endured at Auschwitz, Sir Ernest Shackleton, the famously gritty Antarctic explorer, was enjoying a day at the beach.

To say that Witold Pilecki was a "man's man" is to understate the case considerably. We don't have words to adequately convey the kind of heroism Pilecki displayed. Language is a common possession and Pilecki was entirely uncommon. Witold Pilecki is one of the greatest heroes our species has produced. You're going to come away from this book wondering why Hollywood has not yet celebrated him. In fact that is a very good question to ask, and the answer reveals much about how stereotypes of Brute Polaks have been used to distort history.

"The Auschwitz Volunteer" belongs on the very short shelf of the classics of Holocaust literature, next to Anne Frank's "Diary of a Young Girl," Elie Wiesel's "Night," Primo Levi's "The Drowned and the Saved" and Tadeusz Borowski's "This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen." Most people, including most teaching courses on the Holocaust at US universities, have never heard of Witold Pilecki. This is a scandal, one Polonia is duty-bound to correct. "The Auschwitz Volunteer" must be on the core syllabus of Holocaust study.

Many readers who should read this book will shrink from it. I want to assure readers that, the entire time you are reading, you know you are in the hands of a heroically good man who endured everything he endured because he was committed to a higher cause: serving humanity, his country, and his God. Indeed, in describing events in 1943, when he had been in Auschwitz since 1940, Pilecki wrote, "Above all, I was a believer." Pilecki described how his belief in God, and his commitment to service to Poland, got him through. Pilecki is proof that as low as humanity has sunk, the light shone in the darkness. When humanity scoured the depths of depravity, it also reached the heights of heroism. In this, Witold Pilecki is like Jan Karski, Maximilian Kolbe, Irena Sendler and thousands of other heroes, who, knowing the risk they were undertaking, defied Nazism.

Captain Witold Pilecki was a forty-something officer in the underground Polish resistance movement during World War II. He was in what would eventually coalesce into the Armia Krajowa, or Home Army. Pilecki came from a long history of Polish resistance: his grandfather had been exiled to Siberia, and Pilecki formed resistance groups as a youth, and fought against the Russians in 1920, being twice decorated. He fought again when the German Nazis invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and again against the Russian Soviets when they invaded Poland on September 17, 1939. When open, armed struggle became impossible, Pilecki co-founded a group that eventually would become part of the Home Army.

In 1940, Pilecki volunteered to be imprisoned in Auschwitz. He did so to serve his country, and humanity. Pilecki was a prisoner in Auschwitz from 1940-43. The entire time he was there, he organized prisoners, gathered information, and planned to work for the Nazi defeat.

Pilecki's report is an eyewitness, journalistic account of everyday life in a concentration camp. The material is highly disturbing, of course, but it is also fascinating. Pilecki describes the tortures the Nazis and their minions resorted to, but he also describes moments when he felt happy because he was able to overcome some obstacle, including the spiritual obstacle of the temptation to succumb to despair. These moments truly are examples of the arguments about human nature that Viktor Frankl, another Auschwitz prisoner, made in his classic, "Man's Search for Meaning."

One objective fact follows another in Pilecki's account: accounts of torture and mass murder, how Auschwitz handled its mail, sewerage, and lice infestations. How male barbers reacted to shaving the bodies of women. How prisoners being sent to their deaths greeted their former comrades they passed on the way to execution.

Pilecki's report was written in 1945, before the world had assimilated the Holocaust, before that word was even widely used, before accurate tallies of the dead had been drawn up, before powerful forces began to dictate the approved World War II narrative. His report was written for military and humanitarian purposes. His style is journalistic. He strives to provide the facts, in an unemotional manner.

His humanity seeps through nevertheless. As Pilecki himself put it, "They have told me, 'The more you stick to the bare facts, the more valuable it all will be.' Well, here I go. But we were not made of stone. It sometimes seemed as if even a stone would have broken out in a sweat."

The book is not crafted to provide the rising suspense, climax, and denouement one gets from reading a modern American bestseller. There is no Hollywood ending.

All these features of Pilecki's report, which some will assess as drawbacks, are actually the great strengths of the book. Pilecki's writing is utterly raw. He writes as someone who is confronted with atrocity first-hand would write, before he had been to grief counseling, before he had been through the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder workshop, before a committee of academics went over his document with a fine-toothed comb in order to make sure that his treatment of demographics and statistics and religions and ethnicities meets the current guidelines of Political Correctness. This is what the Holocaust looked like to an Auschwitz prisoner, on the ground, watching it happen. This is not Hollywood's or even American academia's Holocaust.

Jarek Garlinski's translation of Pilecki's work is peerless. The language is smooth and appropriately idiomatic. Garlinski is himself the son of an Auschwitz survivor. The book contains much supportive material to aid the reader. There are maps, many photographs of Pilecki and his family before, during and after the war, his underground comrades, his fellow prisoners and his Nazi tormentors, and Auschwitz. There are introductions that walk the reader through Pilecki's life story, and several appendices and an excellent index. Aquila Polonica has every reason to feel very, very proud of this book, of its substance, its style, and its unique importance.

Given how important Pilecki is, one must ask, why is he unknown? I think much of the answer can be found in my own book on the importance of the Brute Polak stereotype in Western culture.