Bieganski: The Brute Polack Stereotype in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture

Bieganski: The Brute Polack Stereotype in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture


Danusha Goska

Series: Jews of Poland
ISBN: 9781936235155 (hardcover)
Pages: 344 pp.
Publication Date: July 2010

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Winner of the 2010 Halecki Award for Outstanding Book on the Polish Experience in America       

In this study, Goska exposes one stereotype of Poles and other Eastern Europeans. In the “Bieganski” stereotype, Poles exhibit the qualities of animals. They are strong, stupid, violent, fertile, anarchic, dirty, and especially hateful in a way that more evolved humans are not. Their special hatefulness is epitomized by Polish anti-Semitism. Bieganski discovers this stereotype in the mainstream press, in scholarship and film, in Jews’ self-definition, and in responses to the Holocaust. Bieganski’s twin is Shylock, the stereotype of the crafty, physically inadequate, moneyed Jew. The final chapters of the book are devoted to interviews with American Jews, which reveal that Bieganski—and Shylock—are both alive and well among those who have little knowledge of Poles or Poland.

Danusha Goska (PhD Indiana University, Bloomington) is an experienced teacher and award-winning writer of numerous articles, essays and fiction in Polish Studies.

To some Polish Jews, especially Holocaust survivors outside Poland, a mythical Pole like Bieganski seems more real than imagined. Danusha Goska, an American scholar of Polish descent, examines this skewed perception of Poles in Bieganski the Brute Polak [sic] Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture ... The topic she addresses in this wide-ranging book is of considerable interest because Jews and Poles have compiled a long record of coexistence in Poland.
— Sheldon Kirshner, The Times of Israel, 5 Feb 2017
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, in CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, February 2011
In this most important work, Dr. Goska’s style incorporates those necessary ingredients that justify writing as an art form: her grammar is impeccable, even while the pathways of her sentences can be unpredictable. Her imagery is robust, but yet it never gets in the way of the underlying premises of her arguments. Moreover, her thinking is crisp, and her knowledge of this very sensitive topic is thoroughly evident. Indeed, the reader cannot help but be persuaded by the logical unfolding of the positions she brings to this necessary work. Above all, she establishes that all-important trust in her readers: that while she may jostle their previously-held constructs, she will also protect them on a literary journey that could be harrowing and dangerous in lesser hands.
— Dr. Michael Herzbrun, Rabbi, Temple Emanu-El, Rochester, NY
A powerful, provocative, ultimately profound work of scholarship regarding the stereotypification of Poles and its implications not only for Polish-Jewish relations in the Old World and the New, but also for anyone wishing to fathom the interworkings of class and ethnicity in an America that has all too often fallen short of its promise.
— James P. Leary, folklorist, University of Wisconsin
Stereotypes of Poles have been commonplace in Western society. Danusha V. Goska presents a comprehensive overview of such images in a balanced fashion. She offers no apologetic for genuine instance of Polish anti-Semitism. But she also exposes those rooted in outright prejudice with no foundation in fact. An important contribution to improved Polish-Jewish understanding.
— John T. Pawlikowski, OSM, Ph.D., professor of Social Ethics, Director, Catholic-Jewish Studies Program Catholic Theological Union Chicago

Table of Contents


Chapter One:
Bieganski Lives
Chapter Two:
Bieganski in the Press
Chapter Three:
Bieganski Takes Root in America
Chapter Four:
Bieganski in American Cinema
Chapter Five:
Bieganski as a Support for Jewish Identity
Chapter Six:
The Peasant and Middleman Minority Theory
Chapter Seven:
The Necessity of Bieganski:
A Shamed and Horrified World Seeks a Scapegoat
Chapter Eight:
Chapter Nine:
Bieganski Lives — Next Door to Shylock
Chapter Ten:
Final Thoughts
References Cited