Right on, Sam Francis (“The Ruling Class,” January 1997)! And if you want to get an idea of who the oligarchs are, look at the list of those who put up the two billion dollars for the recent election. Barbra Streisand, the Raidys, etc. As to when the great American experiment of self-government started falling apart, Henry Adams places it with the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant. That, he said, was when the good people left Washington, never to return. If there was any hope at all, it died when what was constitutional became whatever effusions happened to issue from Justice Brennan on any particular day.

Mr. Francis’s use of the term “elite,” however, bothers me. The OED defines this as the “flower of society” in the current usage (originally, but obsoletely, “the elect,” which would indeed be appropriate). Some flowers! There is still a tiny, diminishing real elite out there. People who were brought up in homes of good taste, and who are old enough to have been around when you could get a decent education. Believe it or not, even though I live in New York City, I actually know such a family. But with Gresham’s Law at work, what good there is left will certainly be driven out in a generation or two as weeds overcome an untended garden. Where can their children get a decent education? To whom can they look for enlightened role models?

We can take some perverse comfort in considering the trash this tasteless and ill-educated “elite” wallows in. They have no idea of what is good. Look at the art they buy, the music they listen to, the clothes they wear, and the quality of the company they must keep. Who would want to be part of such an elite?

On the other hand, one takes little comfort in Mr. Francis’s conclusion that the American oligarchy will be sent to the graveyard. If they are driven out, it will be by persons who wish to take their place. Who will have been their role models? Where will they have been educated? Those new oligarchs will, if history can be taken as a lesson, be an even trashier bunch than the current crowd.

        —Winslow Maxwell
New York, NY

On Polonophobia

I read with great interest Paul Gottfried’s analysis (“Polonophobia,” January 1997) of the anti-Polish tenor of the mainstream American media in the post-1989 period. Gottfried is right on the mark when he sees in the current wave of Polonophobia “the fingerprints of the Soviet Empire.” As the Polish historian Andrzej Nowak reminds us, since the late 18th century, the dissemination of a skewed image of Poland’s history and culture has been a tenet of Russian, then Soviet propaganda (“Russo-Polish Historical Confrontation,” The Sarmatian Review, January 1997). With few exceptions, American academics and journalists have internalized this warped Russian and Soviet view of things Polish.

Like ideas, phobias have consequences. A case in point is the marginalized status of Polish Studies at American colleges and universities. During the Cold War, the teaching of Polish language, history, literature, and culture was tied to a field labeled “Russian and Eastern European” or “Soviet and Eastern European Studies.” Nomen omen, the label reminded us what comes first, while relegating Poles, Lithuanians, Czechs, Hungarians, and other “Eastern Europeans” to a regional sideshow. What we sowed in the Cold War era, we now reap: an overabundance of academies specializing in Russian with a concomitant dearth of academics trained in the languages and cultures of Central and Eastern Europe, this at a time of significantly increased student interest in the latter area. One example of this state of affairs can be found at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The student/faculty ratio in Polish and Russian classes offered in the spring 1994 semester at the University of Illinois at Chicago was: Polish 38/1; Russian 24/1. In the spring 1996 semester, the ratio was Polish 57/1; Russian 22/1. Despite this discrepancy in student load, the university administration feels no need to provide its Polish program the level of faculty resources supporting Russian or analogous language programs. One of the merits of Gottfried’s article is that it helps us understand how cultural phobias enable elites to perpetuate policies that marginalize those cultures, languages, and histories deemed less worthy.

I urge Chronicles to give due attention to the predicament of European studies in general: in the current academic climate Italian and Irish studies fare no better than Polish. Your January issue is an excellent start.

        —Alex S. Kurczaba
Department of Slavic and Baltic Languages and Literatures
University of Illinois at Chicago

I am grateful to Paul Gottfried for articulating in “Polonophobia” one of the taboos of American public discourse. There is nothing in the article with which I disagree except Gottfried’s statement that Polish-American responses to the charges against Poles on behalf of some WASP scholars and leaders of Jewish organizations have been “measured.” They have been cowardly. With one exception, the leaders of Polish-American organizations have eagerly competed with the WASPs Gottfried describes in their obsequious servility toward their accusers, blaming their ancestors for attitudes—if not crimes—that would have made the NKVD propaganda doctors proud, and accepting as fact racist movies such as Shtetl (whose producer was saved by Polish Catholics he so despises). One spectacular provokatsiia the NKVD staged in Poland, the Kielce pogrom, appears in the American holocaust museums as an example of Polish anti-Semitism. When the president of the Polish American Congress, Edward Moskal, dared to protest, the leaders of the American Jewish Committee pulled out of the committee working on improving Polish-Jewish relations.

Gottfried is thrice right in saying that much of the anti-Polish hostility is due to the communist version of history that lingers on in leftist circles in America, be they WASPish or Jewish. Ever since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the left in America has put Poland and what it stands for—Catholicism, agrarianism, consciousness of national identity—on the “disappearance” wish list. And ever since Rosa Luxemburg (a Polish Jewish Marxist), the left’s policy has been to eliminate or minimize Poland as an independent nation, and thus weaken the philosophical and social ideas which are associated with its history. The left’s distrust of these values has outlived the communist empire. Poland is seen as a retrograde bastion of Roman Catholicism, which halted the westward spread of the Marxist revolution in 1920 and now continues to produce troglodyte clergy who stand in the way of reform in the Catholic Church. In that battle, the leftward-looking Polish intellectuals, both in Poland and in Diaspora, have often been co-opted as sergeants-at-arms, confirming and lamenting their countrymen’s backwardness.

A related problem Gottfried does not mention is that American Jews see their Eastern European history mostly through the eyes of Russian interests, which supplied a fundamental source of that dislike of Polish culture that is part of the Jewish self-image in America. Many secularized American Jews do not want to know of their Polish or Ruthenian roots, of the fact that the Polish state in the 18th century was home to 75 percent of all Ashkenazi Jews, that Jewish self-rule in Poland was only destroyed by the partitions, and that a good number of Polish Jews before World War II were strictly Orthodox and did not know the Haskalah. Such Jews as those portrayed in Eliza Orzeszkowa’s Meir Ezofovitch or Maria Dabrowska’s Nights and Days are, I feel, an unwelcome memory for sophisticated American Jews. They are remembered as victims of the holocaust but not as part of the Polish nation, American Jews of Eastern European descent do not wish to know that they matured as a political entity within a mid-sized Catholic nation in East-Central Europe, a nation which did not run its own affairs very well and eventually was swallowed up by its neighbors.

As regards Messieurs Weiss and Dershowitz, their eagerness to shout about Polish dirty laundry is a preemptive attack, in view of the fact that during the Soviet period there accumulated quite a bit of Jewish dirty laundry in Poland, starting with Jakub Berman, éminence grise of Stalin’s security police in the 1940’s and 50’s, on whose conscience lie the tortured deaths of some 20,000 Polish Home Army soldiers. Berman died in his bed.

John Sack points out that, after World War II, the institutions of the State Security Office were “full of Poles, 150,000 Poles from the antecedents of Solidarity. In places like Gleiwitz, the Poles stood against the prison wall as Implementation tied them to big iron rings, said, ‘Ready!’ ‘Aim!’ ‘Fire!’, shot them, and told the Polish guards, ‘Don’t talk about this.’ The guards, being Poles, weren’t pleased, but the Jacobs, Josefs and Pineks, the Office’s brass, stayed loyal to Stalin, for they thought of themselves as Jews, not as Polish patriots. And that’s why the Good Fairy Stalin, the man who didn’t hate the Germans but who abhorred the Enemies of the People, the Agents of Reactionary Elements, the Oppressors, Imperialists and Counterrevolutionaries, be they the Germans, Russians or Poles, had hired all the Jews on Christmas Eve, 1945, and had packed them into his Office of State Security, his instrument in the People’s Republic of Poland.

“And now, 1945, the Poles went to war with the Office, shooting at Jews in Intelligence, Interrogation and Imprisonment, the Jews concluding that the Poles were antisemitic, the Poles contending that no, they were only anti the Office.” Intimidated out of their wits, the Poles in this country do not even dare to mention in public this dark chapter in Eastern European history. The recent book on the subject by Jewish author John Sack, An Eye for an Eye, has been greeted not with rebuttal, but with silence. It is a remarkable fact that the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe has brought forth nothing like a Nuremberg commission. The Nazis ruled Poland for six years, the communists for 45; arguably the communists ruined even more lives than did the Nazis. But any investigation of the terror apparatus in Poland would yield such a disproportionately high number of secular Jews that Poles dare not undertake it. The search for justice, which Sack rightly notes as a hallmark of Judaism, is a luxury which the Poles cannot, under the circumstances, afford.

But Professor Gottfried has taken a big step toward seeking a just presentation of the Polish nation, a nation which he clearly understands far better than do some Polish intellectuals today. His article is more than a mitzvah, and if the Poles are ever granted breathing space to build their own Yad Vashem, the name of Paul Gottfried should feature prominently on the roll of the righteous.

        —Ewa M. Thompson
Professor of Slavic Studies
Rice University
Houston, TX

Paul Gottfried’s “Polonophobia” in the January issue was a pleasant surprise. Gottfried is right; Poland has become a “whipping boy” for the American media.

It is not the tendency to find more and more reasons to speak badly about Poles and Poland that bothers us at the Polish National Alliance, but the tendency to rewrite the real history of World War II, both prewar and postwar. As Professor Richard C. Lucas (author of The Forgotten Holocaust) stated: “History is no longer a science, but a tool of the partisan views, indeed, the propaganda.”

Professor Gottfried has touched the tip of the iceberg. For the past several years we have tried to respond in a civilized way to the false accusations and attacks based on false presumptions, to the lack of real knowledge and, in most cases, the cumulated ethnic hatred toward the Poles and Poland, from people who are not historians and who have personal grudges and faulty memories. The case of Yaffa Eliaeh and her anti-Polish campaign and the list of new accusations in the summer editions of the New York Times based on twisted facts and totally wrong assessments (Polish Home Army and the Government-in-Exile in London as perpetuators of Hitler’s plans) demonstrate that what we are dealing with is a kind of maniac obsession haying nothing to do with “new discoveries” in history but a lot to do with dirty psychological compensation.

        —Dr. Wojciech A. Wierzewski
The Polish National Alliance
Chicago, IL