Friday, 17 June 2016

False Premises: "Freedom of..." precisely what in America?

In America the sort of hate-mongering represented by Rabbi Friedman and his Rambam boys is considered acceptable ( Justin Worland, 'Westboro Baptist Church Plans to Protest Funerals for Orlando Shooting Victims' Time June 17, 2016).
The notorious Westboro Baptist Church said it will protest the funerals of victims of the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando that left 49 victims dead. The anti-gay church—known for protesting the funerals of U.S. service members and notable gay people—said in a statement posted on its website that “God sent the shooter.” Orlando Police confirmed on Twitter that the department had received a letter from the church saying they planned to come. Despite universal condemnation across the political spectrum, local authorities have little recourse to stop the church’s protests. The Supreme Court upheld the group’s right to free speech in public places in 2011.

The Supreme court then needs to get itself a proper definition of the difference between freedom to express an opinion, and deliberately and obtrusively intruding on the freedom of others with inflamatory hate speech. In reality a "church" which calls its website "" is obviously a gathering of the same kind of disturbed homophobes as the disturbed individual that "expressed" his opinion by shooting up a nightclub in Orlando. I hope on the bus down to Orlando the "Church" considers the Prayer of St Francis "Lord, make me the Instrument of Thy peace". Of course "peace" is not what these jackasses want any more than Rabbi Friedman really wanted any kind of dialogue with anyone about his false claims.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Goska's book in Polish

I received today my copy of the Polish translation of Goska's book "Biegański, stereotyp Polaka bydlaka w stosunkach polsko - żydowskich i amerykańskiej kulturze popularnej".

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Friedman's Press Release

Here is the press release announcing the organization of the School's protest in New York. Poland is compared to North Korea:
PRESS RELEASE: Rally on Holocaust Memorial Day, Thursday, May 5th @ 1:00PM
Rally Against Polish Government to Protest Attempt to Deny Polish
War Crimes During the Holocaust
Approximately 200 students including children and grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors will be holding a rally on Holocaust Remembrance Day to protest attempts by the Polish government to rewrite history and deny the significant role that Polish citizens had in perpetrating the Holocaust.
Dr. Jan Tomasz Gross, a world-renowned historian and former professor of history at Princeton University, authored an earth shattering book, Neighbors, where he highlights the significant contribution of ordinary Polish citizens to the destruction of European Jewry. He writes in graphic detail how, in the Polish town of Jedwabne, Polish peasants, rounded up their neighbors, 1300 Jewish residents, and forced them into a wooden barn, locked the door and set the barn ablaze. This heartless and brutal crime was one of the first documented historical accounts of Polish anti-Semitism in World War II. Dr. Gross’ book was a National Book Award Finalist.
The Polish government has long maintained that this event was an isolated incident.
Recently, Dr. Gross mentioned in a recent interview that in his opinion, “Poles killed more Jews than Germans.” Responding to this statement, the Polish government reacted in an uproar. Charges were filed against Dr. Gross for “insulting the state” and a movement to strip him of his “Order of Merit Award” has been advanced. He also has been threatened with prison time for these “crimes.” The investigation is currently ongoing.
According to rally organizer, Rabbi Zev Friedman, “I’ve heard many survivors speak of the glee that their Polish neighbors had when Jews were being mercilessly persecuted. It was reported that eyewitnesses in the Warsaw ghetto saw Poles watching approvingly or even helping out, acting as spotters as German soldiers shot Jews. Today’s rally calls on the Polish government not just to drop charges and exonerate Dr. Gross but to admit their history and take full responsibility for what its citizens did to their own neighbors during the Holocaust. The attempts of the government of Poland, which holds itself out to be a democracy, to stifle the free speech and historical documentation of an internationally acclaimed professor of history, smacks of charges one would expect to hear emanating from North Korea and other totalitarian regimes.”
Place: Polish Consulate to the United Nations: 233 Madison Ave, New York, NY, 10017
Time: Thursday, May 5, at 1:00pm
Contact: Rabbi Zev Friedman, Dean of Rambam Mesivta High School [...]
Poland has the right to have a say in the writing of the history of Poland, surely. The history of the Second World War is self-evidently not just the history of the Jews which is what the Ranting Rabbi wanted to make it here.

Which Poles were IN the Warsaw Ghetto when it was being cleared? There was a wall around it to keep the Jews in and the Poles out. References please Rabbi. If there were Poles collaborating with Nazi occupiers, would it be an exception among the occupied countries of Europe? There were no collaborators in France, Denmark, the Channel Islands? Yes there were, of course, wherever somebody sees social advantage in changing sides, there will be those who do. In France the repression of the Jews under German occupation also involved French citizens, whether "gleeful" or not we cannot say. I assume that on Holocaust Remembrance Day 2017, the ranting Rabbi will take his pliable tagalong students to the French Embassy.

We are told the kids that will be involved are "children and grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors". He does not say if they are the descendants of Polish, French or Hungarian Jews, but there were survivors from Poland too. The number of surviving Jews who have memories of Poland is a witness to the size of the Jewish community concentrated in precisely that country - which may be seen as testimony to many decades and centuries of relatively peaceful co-existence. Rabbi Friedman goes beyond all ethical bounds as an educator, expounding in his teaching his vision of hatred in opposition to a more balanced approach.

No "charges" have been pressed against Jan Gross, so there is nothing to "drop". His historical conclusions continue to be a matter of discussion of both scholars and society in Poland and beyond, but Rabbi Friedman wishes himself to shout down views which differ from his own and the Jewish community he aims to represent. It is not clear how the "Polish government" is |stifling" either the free speech of a writer working in the USA, still less how they are "stifling" his |"historical documentation". Any historical documents concerning the Holocaust which Jan Gross may have in his private possession need to be deposited in public archives where they can be used by other scholars too.

Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' seeing surge of popularity in Europe

Rick Noak, 'Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' seeing surge of popularity in Europe', The Washington Post June 12, 2016
Few would have imagined that Adolf Hitler’s autobiography “Mein Kampf” would again become a bestseller in the 21st century. But that’s exactly what happened earlier this year with the expiration of a German state copyright that had been used to prohibit reprinting of the book. [...] “Mein Kampf” has been available in German bookstores since January – but only in an annotated version that is supposed to point out inconsistencies and lies in Hitler’s arguments. There are more than 3,000 additional comments in that version. According to German law, publishing the book without annotations would be considered seditious. But that is what right-wing publishing company Schelm is now planning to do. Prosecutors are investigating the plans and could file charges even before the book gets published. [...] If published, the unannotated book would primarily have to be sold online, as most German bookstore chains would likely refuse to put it on their shelves. The majority of German bookstores had ordered only a handful of copies of the annotated version in January, despite massive interest among readers, which later made it a bestseller within weeks.
Here's an article (in Polish) about the January edition . There has recently been criticism of an Italian newspaper which has distributed copies of the book
The Italian newspaper Il Giornale distributed copies of the book to readers of its Saturday edition – a decision that drew heavy criticism from Jewish groups in the country.[...] But the center-right daily, which is owned by the family of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, says its version of the text was annotated by an Italian historian and was distributed with the goal of preventing the mistakes of the past from being repeated. [...] Alessandro Sallusti, the paper’s director, in an editorial said [...] “Because with certain winds that blow here and there in Europe and in the Middle East it is necessary to understand what shapes the evil can take – in order not to repeat a fatal mistake,” Sallusti wrote, referring to Hitler’s rise to power.
I wonder how many of the critics have actually read the book. Actually going through it with a commentary would indeed reveal the true nature and worth of the "ideas" it represents. More of a mystery is why contemporary readers did not see through it straight away. On the one hand, I think the book needs to be read, people need to think about it, giving it the status of forbidden literature simply increases the power it may exercise over feeble minds. On the other hand, there is the issue that not everybody who gets a copy would read it with the same critical eye. These people for example:

One wonders how literate and critically-thinking any of them actually are. But then is that sufficient reason to postulate a paternalistic state which would keep the book from the public domain? In fact, you can download copies as an ebook from the Internet, get secondhand copies of bootleg editions in markets.

There was no Polish edition of the book before 1939. Similarly there were no publications during the period of the People's Republic and the book was forbidden and withdrawn from libraries. After 1989 there were in fact just four editions in Polish. The total number of copies of the Polish versions is not known, but probably is less than ten thousand for all of the editions together:
  • SCRIPTA MANENT publisher, Krosno 1992, ISBN 83-900029-0-6 – translated from the german.
  • Werset publisher, Kraków 1992, ISBN 83-900029-0-6 – translation from the English translation (!) with stylistic corrections, for example unnecessary repetition is cut.
    XXL 2005
  • XXL Publisher – "Wydawnictwo Książki Niezwykłej”, 2005, ISBN 83-921822-0-0.
  • A fourth publisher UZVARA in Daugavapils (Latvia) published a translation in Polish. This appeared in at least two different formats (covers and endpages) looking very much like they were intended to mimic the original 1940s edition.
In 2005 the publisher XXL was taken to court by Bavaria for the breach of their copyright over the text of Mein Kampf. They demanded the book be withdrawn from sale. The case dragged on for a few years, and in 2009 the publisher received a three months suspended sentence and a fine of 10000 zloties and the whole remaining stock of the edition was destroyed.

There is not currently an edition of the Polish translation of this book in print.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Poland's Forgotten Past as Haven for Jews

Friday, 10 June 2016

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

The book by Dr Danusha V. Goska  [William Paterson U., Wayne, New Jersey], 'Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture' (Academic Studies Press, July 1, 2010) is of relevance to what Rabbi Friedman and a lot of other US Jews are saying. I do not suppose the ranting Rabbi will have read it or any other academic Press book on Poland. The Author has a blog: "Bieganski the Blog" which contains a lot of interesting and related material. I do not expect the Ranting Rabbi's tagalong students have been there either. I've not yet read the book (got it ordered), but here are some reviews:
"Bieganski is a truly important book because it challenges and demolishes the widely held belief that Poles are nothing more than ignorant and brutish anti-Semites who played a central role in causing the Holocaust. Goska does a first-rate job of describing how Jews and Poles really interacted with each other over their rich history together. Let's hope that this book is widely read and helps change the conventional wisdom about Polish-Jewish relations." (John J. Mearsheimer, R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago)

"Danusha Goska's daring and far-reaching study examines the sources and prevalence of stereotyped images of Poles as brutal, subhuman creatures. Drawing on her extensive research in history, popular culture, and folklore, and also on interviews of Poles and Jews in America today, interviews of both stereotypers and victims of stereotyping, she teaches us all something profound about how the image of the Polak originated and why it continues to flourish." (John Guzlowski, author of The Third Winter of War: Buchenwald and Lightening and Ashes)

"'Bieganski' is the name of an anti-Semitic Polish character in William Styron's 1979 novel Sophie's Choice. Goska [...]  confronts the stereotypes conveyed in Polak jokes and conflations of them with other East European Christians, e.g., in the 2006 film Borat.* Based on interviews with American Jews on storytelling support of the Biegenski trope; analyses of portrayals of Poles and Jews in American media; prewar and post-Holocaust Jewish thought and literature; the middleman minority theory; and parallels between stigmatized minorities, she examines how Poles and Jews have historically defined themselves as opposites. The author, a Polish Catholic, acknowledges the support of many Jews in addressing this discomforting theme." (Annotation ©2010 Book News Inc. Portland, OR)

"Goska shows that negative Polish stereotypes, unlike negative stereotypes of other national, racial, and ethnic groups, continue to be acceptable…Goska does an admirable job showing negative Polish stereotypes...Other writers must force open widely the door Goska has opened." (Daniel T. Weaver, Upstream Two: A Mohawk Valley Journal)

“Goska makes an important effort to demolish the ‘dumb Polack’ stereotype and the view that Poles are brutish, ignorant, and anti-Semitic by analyzing the image’s origins in Europe and its adoption and perpetuation in US culture. . . . Recommended.” (R. K. Byczkiewicz, Central Connecticut State University CHOICE (February 2011))

The book has been published this year in Polish "Biegański: Stereotyp Polaka bydlaka w stosunkach polsko-żydowskich i amerykańskiej kulturze popularnej" (Danusha V. Goska, publisher Wysoki Zamek, 2016).
Książek, artykułów czy opracowań dotyczących polskiego antysemityzmu publikuje się w Stanach mnóstwo. Antypolonizm, na którym skupia się Goska, to temat, o którym mówi się rzadko albo wcale. [...] Skłonność amerykańskich elit intelektualnych do postrzegania Polaków z perspektywy polish jokes i ich stereotypizacji z wyeksponowaniem antysemityzmu jest przedmiotem szerokiej analizy przeprowadzonej przez autorkę Biegańskiego. To szokująca lektura, która może zmienić nasze myślenie o amerykańskim śnie.
* the comedy figure Borat of course is supposedly from Kazakhstan, which is a little east of "Eastern Europe".

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Europe’s largest convention on Jewish heritage opens in Warsaw

International conference on Jewish heritage opens in Warsaw 08.06.2016 12:41
Artists, educators, museum curators and exhibitors are gathering at Warsaw’s Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews on Wednesday for a three-day conference dedicated to Jewish cultural heritage. The event is to provide a platform for exchanging experience, inspiration and practices, says conference coordinator Małgorzata Owczarska. “The goal of the conference is to gauge the progress of work on Jewish cultural heritage, to assess what role it plays in modern-day Europe and determine how we envision the future for projects of this kind in the coming years,” Owczarska said. Billed as Europe’s largest convention of experts specialising in the field, the conference will be attended by prominent academics such as Diana Pinto, from the London-based Institute of Jewish Policy Research, and Michael Peter Edson, from the UN Live Museum for Humanity. On Friday, institutions will have the opportunity to present their projects and ideas for promoting Jewish heritage at an event accompanying the conference. The so-called Project Park, located outside the museum, will host a series of film screenings, workshops and interactive installations. The event is open to the public. For more information on the conference, entitled Jewish Cultural Heritage. Projects, Methods, Inspirations, go to the museum’s website.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Legal Measures Sought to Fight Ignorant "Polish Death Camp" Snipes

 The ranting Rabbi and his tagalong flock might do well to be careful what they say in future: International law firm to help against "Polish concentration camps" PAP 6th June 2016
The Dentons international law firm will help Poland in its battle against the use of the phrases "Polish concentration camps" and "Polish death camps" by international media. A letter of intent in the matter was signed by Polish Culture Minister Piotr Glinski and Dentons chief Elliott Portnoy in Warsaw on Monday. Commenting the move, Glinski reminded that Dentos was the world's biggest law firm, and stressed that it offered to aid Poland in the matter free of charge. Glinski said Poland had undertaken various measures against the use of the phrase "Polish concentration camps", but admitted that support from Dentons may prove "very useful in fighting this shameful practice". In this context he reminded that World War Two death camps in Poland were set up and run by the Germans and stressed that Poland will not agree to suggestions of its co-responsibility for Nazi Germany's wartime crimes. "We are stating this clearly: we will not allow Poland's good name to be trodden upon, and for us to be attributed with (...) co-responsibility for the genocide that was caused by (...) the German state. Those were Nazi-German death camps", Glinski stressed. He added that Poland had undertaken various measures in the matter but admitted that help from Dentons could prove "useful". "We in Poland are trying to combat this lie in various ways (...). But of course legal aid from an office with over 100 branches worldwide (...) will be very useful in fighting this shameful practice", the minister said, adding that Dentons will now "strive together with us to protect Poland's good name". Glinski also informed that the law firm promised to compile a report on the use of the questioned phrases.
It will be interesting to see what in fact Denton can do if, for example, a journalist in Kazakhstan uses the phrase. Of course they can send a sternly worded cease and desist letter and threaten legal action is no retraction is published, but actually putting that threat into action might be a chastening experience. Who, precisely, is slandered by the phrase? The accused entity is the authority ruling Poland in 1942 (or would that be 1939?) to 1945 (or since some camps were used later to inter other prisoners, would that too be extended later?). In what way is the present Polish government a side in the conflict around what the Polish authorities did or did not do in that period? Under which national or international legislation will such legal judgement be sought?

In any case, such a case would have to first prove intentionality. If one says African shipwrecks, it is clear that we are talking about wrecks of ships now in or near African territorial waters, not that all ships under the water were African in origin, some are Dutch, some English, some are Byzantine....

The banner
Back home there has just been a ruling which puts this attempt into some perspective. During a Legue match with Piast Gliwice fans of the Warsaw football club Legia hung a banner on the stadion: threatening the Committee for the Defence of Democracy, the Nowoczesna political party, the staff of the liberal newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, liberal journalists Tomasz Lis, Monika Olejnik and "other whores"  ("KOD, Nowoczesna, GW, Lis, Olejnik - inne ladacznice, dla was nie będzie gwizdów, będą szubienice!") for you the gallows are waiting! Some of the people thus threatened referred the matter to the Polish state Prosecutor who ruled that no crime had been committed as this was just "polemics" (see here in Gazeta Wyborcza).

It seems to me that with the sharp rise in recent months of hate speech and intolerance of other groups coming primarily from the right wing (often supported by members of the Polish Church), Polish Culture Minister Piotr Glinski would do far better to spend more time on the culture of Poles in today's Poland rather than what far-off journalists write about events in the 1940s.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

'Rescuing Warsaw's overgrown Jewish graves

The position of the Okopowa cemetery in 1945 (black outline)
just outside the Ghetto flattened by the Nazi occupier,
 superimposed on the modern city (Google earth)
Alex Duval Smith, 'Rescuing Warsaw's overgrown Jewish graves' BBC News, 5th June 2016
Nature has taken over some of Poland's Jewish cemeteries. But a group of volunteers is trying to ensure those buried in them aren't forgotten. Alicja Mroczkowska, one of the organisers, hands out gardening gloves. We've a choice of rakes and shears for implements. Alicja says the less energetic ones among us can do the railings. She decants black rustproof paint into small pots. Our little band of a dozen volunteers heads off into Warsaw's main Jewish cemetery, past the statue of Janusz Korczak - the orphanage director who died at Treblinka after he refused to be parted from the children in his care. Okopowa Cemetery lies behind a high red-brick wall, right in the centre of the Polish capital.  But it is a million miles in space and time from the city's slick glass towers and ticking pedestrian crossings. Birds dart between tall acacias and maple trees. Nature has got the upper hand on once-imposing 19th Century sepulchres. In some places, sandstone headstones look like they're drowning in waves of pale green creepers. Time, here, is measured by the speed at which ivy grows. The cemetery is vast. So far, enough of it has been cleared for 82,000 names to be entered into a database. But up to 200,000 bodies may have been buried here in the past couple of centuries.
The Jewish community is struggling to maintain such sites in good order, and many out-of-use cemeteries are derelict which is why in some cases their Polish neighbours help in their upkeep.
There are 1,400 Jewish burial places in Poland. Under restitution laws, these are gradually being returned to the Jewish community. But according to the country's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, there are only 40,000 Jews living in Poland today. There is no money to maintain the graveyards. Hence our little army of plucky volunteers with packed lunches, a wheelie bin and a wheelbarrow.
Why are they doing this? Volunteer Karol Sawicki cleared the section around six strangers' graves
I ask him if he's Jewish. ''I have no idea,'' he says. "I have my suspicions, like thousands of Poles. My granddad was an orphan. He had three birth certificates with three dates from different villages in Ukraine.'' Karol is a manager for a children's retail clothing chain. I ask if he takes part in the cemetery clean-ups because of a faint Jewish voice inside himself? ''Maybe. Probably,'' he says. These are matters that, until recently, were not easily discussed in Poland. The post-war Communist years didn't mark an end to anti-Semitism. The present nationalist government applies so-called "memory politics".  It's a policy that frames Poland's history around two things - the heroism of Catholics who saved Jews and the wartime deaths of three million non-Jewish Poles. Such a weighty agenda does not leave space for some of the by-products of genocide - collaboration, greed, betrayal - and that which Karol calls ''the kinds of things that go on in all families'' [...] Karol would like to see the state of Israel contribute to the survival of Okopowa. ''We can only do so much. Even a ruin needs maintaining. But Israel won't help. Israel wants people to go and live there. It considers Poland to be a closed book - history, finished,'' he says.
"The volunteers at central Warsaw's Jewish cemetery are fighting a losing battle against the creeping of time and of ivy. But Karol and Monika aren't discouraged. It's their history, too. Image caption Student Krystyna Botkina was relieved to find some graves commemorating long life In just a few hours, Karol has cleared a section of six graves. He's meticulously raked the ground around them. For a short while, until the weeds grow back, the sun can brighten the blackened concrete tombs of six strangers who died in the ghetto".