Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Markowa Project. An Invitation to Polonia.

Wiktoria Ulma and her children, as photographed by Jozef Ulma.
From Mateusz Szpytma, The Risk of Survival, The Institute of National Remembrance 2009. With permission of the author

I've been lucky enough to travel the world. When I visited Markowa, in July, 2011, I knew I had happened upon a very special place. I am very grateful to Malgorzata, Mateusz Szpytma and the citizens of Markowa for making the visit possible.

Markowa is where the Ulma family, during WW II, were massacred by Nazis for helping Jews.

When I prayed in Saint Dorothy's church, when I visited Ulma family homes, and when I stood beside memorials, I felt a transcendent, spiritual peace.

I wanted to contribute to making the Ulma family story better known in the wider world. I wanted to engage the current conversation in the US on multiculturalism, tolerance, and peace. I envisioned a documentary that would take the microphone away from extremists on both sides in the Polish-Jewish dialogue and put it into the hands of good, everyday people on both sides of the Atlantic. I wanted to engage, not identity politicians, ready to hate, with an ax to grind and a zero-sum game to "win," but experts in win-win, civil discourse. Dialogue facilitators would be compassionate professionals from the field of conflict resolution who would ensure that both sides were respected and heard.

I wanted to tell this story in a manner that would emphasize its universal appeal, not its value only to a narrow, parochial audience of chauvinists on either side. I wanted a final product that would communicate profoundly to Poles and Jews and also to the African American, Muslim, and Hispanic kids I teach and live among. Poland has much to teach the wider world.

Thus, the Markowa Project.

I returned from Poland and got to work writing up a project proposal. I presented the proposal to university personnel experienced in the kind of material that is likely to be funded.

They were excited. The proposal had the markings of a project that would likely pick up significant funding.

Problem: the year and a half since I return from Markowa has been an excessively eventful one for me. I (and the rest of New Jersey) was stricken by two hurricanes which meant evacuation, living in emergency shelter, and going without heat, power, electricity, or even potable water. There have also been health crises severe enough that for the past year and a half, there has not been a single month that I have not had several hospital visits.

During the periods when I was indisposed, I sought help, support, guidance, and team members from within Polonia. I didn't want to see the Markowa Project die.

I heard the same answers I heard when I was working on "Bieganski."

"It's impossible! There is no money! No one has any money! There's barely enough money these days for simple scholarships! Help you meet a deadline with research or grant writing? I'm too busy! It's impossible!"

For the most part "
Bieganski" was a one-woman show. The price I paid to do it all myself was very high.

The Markowa Project could not be a one-woman show. It would require teamwork from committed, reliable team members. I've worked with teams on projects for education, for gay rights, for peace activism. That kind of teamwork is required here.

I don't see any of these on the horizon.

Maybe a Polonian will read this and realize that something valuable is being lost and decide to change that.

Maybe someone who wants to see something done to combat the Brute Polak stereotype would jump in and contribute skills to building this project: research, grant writing, networking. Contacting possible funders like Martha Stewart, Barbara Piasecka Johnson and Steve Wozniak. Maybe someone who wants actually to do something – would actually do something.

Polonians insist: "We want more books telling our story on library shelves! We want more books telling our story on course syllabi! We want more documentaries on television and in movie theaters telling our story! We want more speakers and events telling our story!"

In fact, Polonia is richly blessed with storytellers.

Poet Christina Pacosz told the story of the Leadwood anti-Polish riot. She told that story
here. Mishael Porembski made a terrific documentary about her Polish dad's experience of World War II. A review is here.

And of course there is "

Polonia, you have been richly blessed with storytellers, filmmakers, researchers, poets and scholars. It's up to you, Polonia, to put our books on library shelves, on course syllabi, to purchase tickets for these documentaries, to invite us to speak and sponsor and advertise our events. Hire us to teach your children.


I have a picture of the Ulma family taped to my refrigerator. It's been there since I returned from Poland in 2011. I "promised" the Ulma family that I would do what I could to make their story more widely known.

I think, in this tumultuous year, I've done all I can, and, with great sorrow, I have to give up.

Ulma family, I am sorry I was unable to get the Markowa Project off the ground. I tried. Perhaps this blog post will pave the way for a miracle.


I'm hesitant to say this, because no one knows what the future will bring, but chances are this will be my final substantive post in Bieganski the blog.

I hope to continue to post the occasional brief post about manifestations of Bieganski the Brute Polak, or significant to Bieganski.

I would love to post guest blog posts. If you'd like to see your writing posted here, please contact me.

For reasons the perceptive reader will understand, I think this may be the final substantive post.

Letting Go. Banksy 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Markowa Project. Proposal.

Wiktoria Ulma photographed by her husband, Jozef. Source



Pulitzer-Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman famously called today's world "hot, flat, and crowded." Globalization and technology have brought humans of diverse cultures into contact with each other. We need to learn how to co-exist.

Poland is an example of the gifts, challenges, and curses of multiculturalism. We can learn much from Poland, if its wisdom is spoken clearly to the world.

The Markowa Project would bring together Poles living in Poland and Jews living in the United States for dialogue. Dialogue would be conducted with respect for both sides. Moderators would be proven experts in civil speech and conflict resolution committed to win-win paradigms. Chauvinists who exploit Poland's tragic history in order to score points in zero-sum, ethnic identity games would play no role. The final project would be a documentary distilling the wisdom of people committed to respectful, peaceful coexistence. The wisdom of Poland's Jews and Catholics, its citizens and those whose ancestors lived in Poland, would be available to the world.


Terminology: "Poles" is generally used to refer to people living in Poland or their descendants who were not Jewish. "Jews" refers to people living in Poland who are Jewish, or who were Jewish, or their descendants. Everyone in the field uses these terms, as rough and as inaccurate as they may be.

Polish-Jewish relations matter to the wider world for the following reasons. Both Poles and Jews suffered and died under the most notorious regime in history: Nazi Germany. Poles and Jews are responsible for maintenance of Auschwitz, a world heritage site.

There's more to it than that. Poland, as Ewa Hoffman has put it, is an example of multiculturalism avant le lettre – that is, Poland was multicultural before the term "multicultural" was invented.

Poland offers inspiration, and cautionary tales, to anyone invested in multiculturalism and coexistence.

In the Middle Ages, Poland warred with the Germanic Teutonic Knights. In that struggle, Catholic Poles united politically and militarily with Lithuanians, when Lithuanians were still significantly Pagan. King Casimir the Great invited Jews into Poland. According to legend, Casimir had a Jewish mistress, Esterka, by whom he fathered several children. The boys were raised as Catholics, the girls as Jews. Muslim Tatars settled in Poland; their descendants live in Poland to this day. What is today Unitarianism got its start in Poland.

These historical forces, all rooted in the Middle Ages, produced a Poland-Lithuanian Commonwealth that celebrated what Polish aristocrats called their "golden freedom." People living in Poland might be Catholic, Muslim, Protestant, Pagan, or Jewish – following Judaism in all its permutations, with thriving, significant communities from Orthodox to Karaite, from Reformed to Hasidic. Poland was known throughout Europe as the "paradise of the Jews." After Martin Luther's historic break with the Catholic Church, Poland became known as a "state without stakes" because Poles were, theoretically, allowed to follow any religion they wanted to, at a time when other European countries were burning dissidents.

The 1573 Warsaw Confederation declared, "We swear to each other, on behalf of ourselves and our descendants, in perpetuity, under oath and pledging our faith, honor and consciences, that we who differ in matters of religion will keep the peace among ourselves, and neither shed blood on account of differences of faith, or kinds of church, nor punish one another by confiscation of goods, deprivation of honor, imprisonment or exile."

Fast forward. History intervened. History's most notorious genocide took place, largely, in Poland. The Nazi death camps were, for the most part, located in Poland: Auschwitz, Birkenau, Treblinka, Sobibor, Chelmno, Majdanek, etc.

It isn't just World War Two and the German Nazis, though, that introduced anti-Semitism to Poland. Interwar Poland, between the end of World War I in 1918 and the start of World War II in 1939, saw an upsurge of anti-Semitism. One prominent anti-Semite was the Darwin-inspired Roman Dmowski, leader of the National Democrats. Chauvinists wanted the Polish "race" to win and the Jewish "race" to depart.

What happened? People who study Polish-Jewish relations try to understand how a country that was a model of multiculturalism became less tolerant.

Citing the scholarly work of Edna Bonacich and Amy Chua, "Bieganski" offers an answer to the "what happened?" question that is not unique to Polish-Jewish relations. In fact, this pattern, of multicultural societies adopting chauvinist stances, has occurred again and again, for predictable reasons, and it is occurring today. Humanity can benefit from the historical and ethical lessons Polish-Jewish relations, properly understood, offer.


Unfortunately, the two groups who tend to hog the microphone when Polish-Jewish relations are discussed in academia and in the media are not interested in advancing the human, universal search for understanding, healing, and co-existence. Rather, all too often, those who speak publicly about these matters are narrow chauvinists attempting to corner the market on national dignity and score points in a zero-sum game.

Chauvinist Poles voice a conspiracy-theory, us-against-them approach. On internet discussion boards, it is not uncommon to encounter Poles who voice the opinion that "They," "organized, wealthy Jews" control discourse. Poles, in this view, are helpless victims who can do nothing to tell their own story.

When confronted with evidence of Polish anti-Semitism, chauvinist Poles respond with three tired excuses: Poles suffered a lot during World War II, Poles produced heroes like Jan Karski, and Americans were anti-Semitic, too.

Poles did suffer a lot during World War II, Poles did produce heroes like Jan Karski, and Americans were largely anti-Semitic decades ago, but these rationales for Polish anti-Semitism are intellectually shallow and ethically bankrupt. They are not the best response to the challenge of Polish-Jewish relations. When chauvinists are the only ones representing the Polish side in public discourse, Poles inevitably come across as being a nation of chauvinists. Their effort to "protect Poland's good name" is inevitably self-defeating.

On the other hand, there are people who never question their own conviction that Poles are the world's worst anti-Semites, and that anyone who disagrees with that is just a typical Polish anti-Semite who is in denial. While anti-Semitic Polish conspiracy theorists may exist on discussion boards, those who think that all Poles are anti-Semitic brutes are given free access to college classrooms, peer-reviewed publications, and mainstream media.

When accusations of Polish anti-Semitism arise in the press, all too often they are followed by the public spectacle of the worst extremists from the above two camps screaming past each other.

One yearns for a better developed public conversation on Polish-Jewish relations. One yearns to take the microphone away from chauvinists and hand it to people who have deeper, richer more universal and timeless things to say.

Markowa skansen, or open-air museum.

Markowa. Source


Markowa is an agricultural village in the Sub-Carpathian Region of Southeastern Poland. Population four thousand; it was founded in the fourteenth century. The nearest city is Lancut, five miles away, with a population of 18,000. Markowa marks the border between plains and the Carpathian Mountains. It is a scenic spot. The region is largely agricultural and thirty-five percent wooded. A national park, home to bison and wolves, takes up much of the Sub-Carpathian region of which Markowa is a part.

During World War II, in Markowa, Nazis shot to death the entire Ulma family for helping Jews. Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma were devout Catholic peasants. Jozef was a prominent citizen. He adopted advanced agricultural methods, and he also was a photographer. Many beautiful photos exist of Wiktoria, the children, and the Ulma farm.

Poland was the only country in Nazi-occupied Europe where any help to a Jew meant death for an entire family, for generations. Thus, the Nazis killed not only Jozef and Wiktoria for helping Jews, but also the Ulmas' seven children. The parents were killed first in front of their screaming children. The children were then killed.

The citizens of Markowa today are quite aware of this history, and are working very hard to commemorate the Ulmas, and their larger lesson of love in action, to the point of giving up one's life. Markowa features a villager-created-and-maintained skansen, an open-air museum that preserves traditional, pre-industrial, peasant life. There are a windmill, looms, and other pre-industrial peasant technology and products.

I've spoken about my book, "Bieganski," at a synagogue, a few universities, including Brandeis and Georgetown, libraries, and churches. I've never had an audience better than the audience I had in Markowa. The citizens of Markowa, contrary to a sophisticated, urban person's expectations of agriculturalists in an out-of-the-way village, revealed a truly special combination of commitment without chauvinism, compassion and love without self-righteousness, and intellectual inquiry without bitterness or arrogance.
See source for higher resolution of Conflict Resolution Skills Ladder


Below is a very brief sketch of the project.

Through technology, the Markowa Project would bring Markowa's residents together with American Jews.

Through friends and ads on outlets like facebook, it would locate American Jews who would like to have a dialogue with the Polish, Catholic Peasants about which they have heard so much.

The Markowa Project would recruit citizens of Markowa who would like to have contact with modern American Jews.

Members of both groups would be interviewed. They would be asked their story, what they think of members of the other group. Why they care. Their worst fears. Their greatest hopes. No interruptions, no corrections. Just record these interviews, on camera. Interview questions would be similar to those questions used in the ethnographic interviews recorded in "Bieganski."

Interviews would be commented on, not by experts in Polish-Jewish relations, who, all too often, have an identity-politics ax to grind, but by experts in civic communication, conflict resolution, win-win paradigms and the universal, human search for understanding, peace, and human dignity.

Next, through technology, bring members of both groups together. Conduct, if not face-to-face conversations, screen-to-screen conversations. Record this meeting as it is happening.

Finally, after this meeting takes place, do follow-up interviews. Again, ask participants, How was it for you? Did you change your mind about anything?

Relate everything that has been said to the larger, humanity-wide problem of multiculturalism and diversity.


The follow-up to this blog post is here


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sacrifice in the Green Brier Review

Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio. Source: Wikipedia 
The Green Brier Review features an essay by me entitled "Sacrifice." The essay retells a story readers here know already; my experience of grad school and the conditions under which I wrote "Bieganski." You can read "Sacrifice" here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Invitation to Join a New Facebook Group

Polish Rider by Rembrandt source: Wikipedia 

A blog reader, who chooses to remain anonymous, has begun a facebook group. He extends the following invitation:

To all who are interested in discussing the Bieganski stereotype and ways to defeat it:

On Danusha Goska's blog I have read many incredible stories by many authors. Danusha's articulation of the concept of Bieganski brings clarity to many questions that most of us have had for our entire lives. The authors who contribute to her blog, the guest writers and members, can share their stories with a wider audience. Facebook is possibly the widest audience on the internet. I will do my part to spread awareness of this group to spark discussion on the internet.

Perhaps some of our other readers and contributors on this blog may be interested.

If Bieganski rears his brutish head, we can archive and save the posts for posterity. We can have a 'Hall of Shame', a compendium of trolls and their pathologies. We can show audiences across the internet how sad they are, what sadness drives them to hate.

It will affect people as it has affected me; remember, I was not so aware of Bieganski for most of my life, it seemed so uncanny, that it couldn't be real, it couldn't be true that so many people could hate, fear or disparage a person for being a Bohunk. But it is true.

Anyway, we can also archive positive discussions too. We can archive hopefulness and optimism and education and awareness and dignity.

If anybody here is interested, please comment and discuss with us on Facebook here.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Opinion Poll: Austrians Think Nazis Could Win in 2013


"A poll published this weekend by 'Der Standard' newspaper found that 42 percent of respondents said that 'not everything was bad under Adolf Hitler,' while 54 percent of the 502 respondents said a Nazi party would have some success in democratic elections today, and 61 percent supported the concept of a 'strong man' as leader."

From: Austria marks annexation by Germany 75 years ago
By George Jahn, Associated Press
March 11, 2013
Full text here

Original source:

Umfrage: 42 Prozent sagen "Unter Hitler war nicht alles schlecht“
Conrad Seidl, 8. März 2013, 18:24
Der Standard, here

Also see Huffington Post, here

Friday, March 8, 2013

Why Poles -- And Other Bohunks -- Have No Right to Speak Up About the Bieganski the Brute Stereotype

Oh, shut up. Source

I just posted a blog post about "Song of the South," a 1946 Disney film that is a combination of live action and animation. It is a controversial film. It depicts Uncle Remus, an elderly black man, telling African-based trickster tales of Br'er Rabbit to a lonely white boy. Disney has never released a DVD of the film. Fans love it and want the DVD; opponents feel that the film is racist.

In my blog post I don't take a stand one way or the other. I think both sides make good arguments. I like some aspects of "Song of the South," and I find other aspects of the film cringe-inducing. I honestly have no idea what impact a release of the DVD would have on young viewers.

Immediately after I posted the blog post, I realized that someone would comment on the blog post to say, "You don't have a right to talk about this, because you are white, and as a white person, you have no authority, no intellectual insight, and no moral right to comment on an issue of pertinence to African Americans."

Sure enough, someone did post a response saying more or less that very thing.

And then I realized something else.

When I first began working on stereotypes of Poles, I was told: "You have no right to speak about stereotypes of Poles, because you are Polish, and that means you have no authority, no intellectual insight, and no moral right." I've been told that again and again.

Please note the contrast in conventional PC speech, the kind of speech that dominates on college campuses and in polite American discourse. Only African Americans have the authority, the intellectual insight, the moral right, to speak about stereotypes of African Americans.

Polish Catholics, on the other hand, are refused the authority, the intellectual insight, the moral right, to address stereotyping of Polish Catholics.

Obviously both positions can't be objectively true. Either ethnic identity qualifies you to address stereotyping, or it does not.

But in the topsy-turvy "logic" of Political Correctness, one group is empowered, the other is disempowered.

When an African American expresses concern that a given cultural product – a Disney movie, a politician's speech, a joke – is racist, we know we must listen with polite and engaged concern and a commitment to action.

When a Polish Catholic expresses concern that a given cultural product misrepresents or denigrates Poles, we know we must mock that Polish person, dismiss their concern, and write them off as narrow, hypersensitive Polish chauvinists whose worries have nothing to do with us, or anything of any importance.


My best guess: Because Polonia has not done the work that African Americans have done. African Americans worked very, very hard to make their concerns the academy's, and the wider society's, concerns. Polonia has not done that work, and it is silenced.

Polonians can begin to address that silencing by following the suggestions in the blog post entitled "The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization, and Vision." That blog post is here.

For what it's worth, I think the identity argument is not only wrong, I think it is evil. I do not believe that morality, intellect, or authority are distributed by ethnicity, and I think that the belief that they are is a step back into the dark evils of racism, rather than away from those evils. I'd rather listen to an intelligent and moral man address misogyny, rape, childbirth, and motherhood than a stupid and immoral woman. I'd rather read Antony Polonsky, a Jewish scholar, on stereotypes of Poles, than an uninformed, chauvinist, and belligerent Polish Catholic.

The blog post on "Song of the South" is here.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

American Artist Charles Krafft Alleged to be a Holocaust Denier

The above two items are from Charles Krafft's webpage, here
The American public radio program, Studio 360, hosted by Kurt Anderson, broadcast a segment alleging that American artist Charles Krafft is a Holocaust denier. The program included a discussion of whether or not Krafft's work should remain in museums. 

If I were a museum curator, I would not want a Holocaust denier's work on display. 

But ... I still value films by Roman Polanski, a man guilty of rape. And I like Wagner's music. I don't have the final answer. This work, though, I would not want in a museum. I don't think it fills an artistic need, and I think it can too easily be understood as being pro-Nazi. 

Link to the Studio 360 broadcast here.