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

Marek Jan Chodakiewicz (author), Wojciech Jerzy Muszyński (editor) and Pawel Styrna (editor

Leopolis Press, Washington DC 2012

ISBN 10-9082488 15 (hardback); 12-978-0-4888-12 (pbk.)


Reviewed by Danusha Goska


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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