Anti-Polish sentiment

Anti-Polish sentiment

The terms Polonophobia, anti-Polonism, antipolonism and anti-Polish sentiment refer to a spectrum of hostile attitudes toward Polish people and culture. These terms apply to racial prejudice against Poles and people of Polish descent, including ethnicity-based discrimination and state-sponsored mistreatment of Poles. This led to genocide during World War II, notably by the German Nazis and Ukrainian nationalists.

Anti-Polish sentiment often entails modern-day derogatory stereotyping.


Use of the term in scientific writing

The term "anti-Polonism" (a loanword from the Polish: antypolonizm) was coined in Poland before 1919. It was used by progressive Polish thinkers such as Jan Józef Lipski during the Solidarity years in connection with allegations of Polish antisemitism.[1] It reappeared in Polish nationalist circles in the 1990s and eventually entered mainstream use, reflected in leading Polish newspapers such as Gazeta Wyborcza.[2] In recent years, anti-Polonism, or Polonophobia, has been studied at length in scholarly works by Polish, German, American and Russian researchers.[3][4]


Forms of hostility toward Poles and Polish culture include:

  • organized persecution of the Poles as a nation or as an ethnic group, often based on the belief that Polish interests are a threat to one's own national aspirations;
  • racist anti-Polonism, a variety of xenophobia;
  • cultural anti-Polonism: a prejudice against Poles and Polish-speaking persons—their customs, language and education;
  • stereotypes about Poland and Polish people in the media and popular culture.

A historic example of Polonophobia was polakożerstwo (in English, "the devouring of Poles") — a Polish term introduced during the 19th century in relation to the annexed areas of Poland. It described the forcible suppression of Polish culture, education and religion, and the elimination of Poles from public life and from landed property in Eastern Germany under Otto von Bismarck, especially during the Kulturkampf and up to the end of World War I.[5] Similar policies were implemented, mainly under Tsar Nicholas II,[6] in the Polish territories that had been annexed by the Russian Empire.[7]

Historic actions inspired by anti-Polonism ranged from felonious acts motivated by hatred, to physical extermination of the Polish nation, the goal of which was to eradicate the Polish state. During World War II, when most of Polish society became the object of Nazi genocidal policies, German anti-Polonism led to a campaign of mass murder.[8]

At present, among those who most often express their hostile attitude towards the Polish people are various Russian politicians and their far-right political parties who search for a new imperial identity.[9]

The persecution of Poles (to 1918)

Anti-Polish rhetoric combined with the condemnation of Polish culture was most prominent in the 18th century Prussia during the partitions of Poland. For instance Johann Georg Forster, a German beneficiary of the Polish Commission of National Education at Vilnius University,[10] dismissed the idea that the Poles were a part of European culture, comparing them to primitive tribes in his "scandalized" writings,[11] and portraying Poland as an underdeveloped, uncivilized land awaiting the importation of Kultur from "truly civilized countries". Such views were later repeated in the German ideas of Lebensraum and exploited by the Nazis.[12] German academics in the 18th – 20th century attempted to project, in the difference between Germany and Poland, a "boundary between civilization and barbarism; high German Kultur and primitive Slavdom" (1793 racist diatribe by J.C. Schulz republished by the Nazis in 1941).[13] Prussian officials eager to secure Polish partition, encouraged the view that the Poles were culturally inferior and in need of Prussian tutelage.[11] Not surprisingly, such racist texts published from 18th century on, were republished by the German Reich prior to and after its Invasion of Poland.

Frederick the Great nourished a particular hatred and contempt for Polish people. Following his conquest of Poland, he compared the Poles to "Iroquois" of Canada.[14] His all-encompassing anti-Polish campaign was exemplified in that even the nobility of Polish background living in Prussia were obliged to pay higher taxes than that of German heritage. Polish monasteries were viewed as "lairs of idleness" and their property often seized by Prussian authorities. The prevalent Catholicism among Poles was stigmatized. The Polish language was persecuted on all levels.

When Poland lost the last vestiges of its independence in 1795 and remained partitioned for 123 years, ethnic Poles were subjected to discrimination on two separate fronts: the Germanization under Prussian and later German rule, and Russification in the territories annexed by the Imperial Russia.

Being a Polish person under the Russian occupation was in itself almost culpable – wrote Russian historian Liudmila Gatagova. – "Practically all of the Russian government, bureaucracy, and society were united in one outburst against the Poles." – "Rumor mongers informed the population about an order that had supposedly been given to kill [...] and take away their land."[7] Polish culture and religion were seen as threats to Russian imperial ambitions. Tsarist Namestniks suppressed them on Polish lands by force.[3] Russian anti-Polish campaign, which included confiscation of Polish nobles' property,[15] was being waged in the arenas of education, religion as well as language.[3] Polish schools and universities were being closed in a stepped up campaign of russification. In addition to executions and mass deportations of Poles to Katorga camps, Tsar Nicholas I established an occupation army at Poland's expense.[6]

The fact that Poles – unlike the Russians – were overwhelmingly of Catholic faith, gave impetus to their religious persecution. At the same time, with the emergence of Panslavist ideology, Russian writers accused the Polish nation of betraying their "Slavic family" because of their armed efforts aimed at regaining independence.[16] Hostility toward Poles was present in many of Russia's literary works and media of the time.[17]

"During and after the 1830-1831 insurrection many Russian writers voluntarily participated in anti-Polish propaganda. Gogol wrote Taras Bulba, an anti-Polish novel of high literary merit, to say nothing about lesser writers." — Prof. Vilho Harle[18]

Pushkin, together with three other poets, published a pamphlet called "On the Taking of Warsaw" to celebrate the crushing of the revolt. His contribution to the frenzy of anti-Polish writing was composed of poems in which he hailed the capitulation of Warsaw as a new "triumph" of imperial Russia.[19]

In Prussia, and later in Germany, Poles were forbidden to build homes, and their properties were targeted for forced buy-outs financed by the Prussian and German governments. Otto von Bismarck described Poles, as animals (wolves), that "one shoots if one can" and implemented several harsh laws aiming at their expulsion from traditionally Polish lands. The Polish language was banned from public, and ethnically Polish children tortured at schools,[20] just for speaking Polish (see: Września). Poles were subjected to a wave of forceful evictions (Rugi Pruskie). The German government financed and encouraged settlement of ethnic Germans into those areas aiming at their geopolitical germanisation.[21] The Prussian Landtag passed laws against Catholics.[22]

Toward the end of World War I during Poland's fight for independence, Imperial Germany made further attempts at taking control over the territories of Congress Poland, aiming at a population transfer of Polish and Jewish people which was meant to be followed by a new wave of settlement by ethnic Germans.[23][24][25] In August 1914 the German imperial army destroyed the city of Kalisz, chasing out tens of thousands of its Polish citizens.

The persecution of Poles (1918–39)

After Poland regained its independence as the Second Republic at the end of World War I, the question of new Polish borders could not have been easily settled against the will of her former long-term occupiers. Poles continued to be persecuted in the disputed territories, especially in Silesia. The German campaign of discrimination contributed to the Silesian Uprisings, with the Polish workers openly threatened with losing their jobs and pensions if they voted for Poland in the Upper Silesia plebiscite.[26]

In inter-war Germany, anti-Polish feelings ran high.[27] The American historian Gerhard Weinberg observed that for many Germans in the Weimar Republic, Poland was an abomination, whose people were seen as "an East European species of cockroach".[27] Poland was usually described as a Saisonstaat (a state for a season).[27] In inter-war Germany, the phrase polnische Wirtschaft (Polish economy) was the expression Germans used to describe any situation that was a hopeless muddle.[27] Weinberg noted that in the 1920s–30s, every leading German politician refused to accept Poland as a legitimate nation, and hoped instead to partition Poland with the Soviet Union.[27]

The British historian A. J. P. Taylor wrote in 1945 that National Socialism was inevitable because the Germans wanted "to repudiate the equality with the peoples of eastern Europe which had then been forced upon them" after 1918.[28] Taylor wrote that:

"During the preceding eighty years the Germans had sacrificed to the Reich all their liberties; they demanded as a reward the enslavement of others. No German recognized the Czechs or Poles as equals. Therefore, every German desired the achievement which only total war could give. By no other means could the Reich be held together. It had been made by conquest and for conquest; if it ever gave up its career of conquest, it would dissolve."[29]

The largest ethnic shooting and deportation action during the Great Terror in the Soviet Russia,[30] known as the Polish Genocide in the Soviet Union,[31] occurred approximately from August 25, 1937 till November 15, 1938. According to archives of the Soviet NKVD, 111,091 Poles, and people accused of ties with Poland, were executed, and 28,744 sentenced to death-ridden labor camps; amounting to 139,835 Polish victims in total. This number constitutes 10% of the officially persecuted persons during the entire Yezhovshchina period, with confirming NKVD documents.[32] The coordinated actions of the Soviet NKVD and the Communist Party in 1937-1938 against Polish minority living in the Soviet Union, representing only 0.4 percent of Soviet citizens, amounted to an ethnic genocide as defined by the UN convention, concluded historian Michael Ellman.[33] His opinion is shared by Simon Sebag Montefiore,[34] Prof. Marek Jan Chodakiewicz,[35] and Dr Tomasz Sommer among others.[36][37][38][39] In a typical Stalinist fashion, the murdered Polish families were accused of "anti-Soviet" activities and state terrorism.[40][41]

World War II

Germans execute Poles against a prison wall, Leszno, Poland, October 1939

Hostility toward Polish people reached a particular peak during World War II, when Poles became the subject of ethnic cleansing on an unprecedented scale, including: Nazi German genocide in General Government, Soviet executions and mass deportations to Siberia from Kresy, as well as massacres of Poles in Volhynia, a campaign of ethnic cleansing carried out in today's western Ukraine by Ukrainian nationalists. Millions of citizens of Poland, both ethnic Poles and Jews, died in German concentration camps such as Auschwitz. Unknown numbers perished in Soviet "gulags" and political prisons.

Soviet policy following their 1939 invasion of Poland in World War II was ruthless, and sometimes coordinated with the Nazis (see: Gestapo-NKVD Conferences). Elements of ethnic cleansing included Soviet mass executions of Polish prisoners of war in the Katyn Massacre and at other sites, and the exile of up to 1.5 million Polish citizens, including the intelligentsia, academics and priests, to forced-labor camps in Siberia.

In German and Soviet war propaganda, Poles were mocked as inept for their military techniques in fighting the war. Nazi fake newsreels and forged pseudo-documentaries claimed that the Polish cavalry "bravely but futilely" charged German tanks in 1939, and that the Polish Air Force was wiped out on the ground on the opening day of the war. Neither tale was true (see: Myths of the Polish September Campaign). German propaganda staged a Polish cavalry charge in their 1941 reel called "Geschwader Lützow".[42]

Poland's relationship with the USSR during WWII was tricky. The main Western Powers, the US and UK, understood the importance of the USSR in defeating Germany, to the point of allowing Soviet propaganda to vilify their Polish ally.[43] During World War II, E. H. Carr, the assistant editor of The Times, was well known for his leaders (editorials) taking the Soviet side in Polish-Soviet disputes. In a leader of February 10, 1945, Carr questioned whether the Polish government in exile even had the right to speak on behalf of Poland.[44] Carr wrote that it was extremely doubtful to him whether the Polish government had “an exclusive title to speak for the people of Poland, and a liberum veto on any move towards a settlement of Polish affairs” as well as that the “legal credentials of this Government are certainly not beyond challenge if it were relevant to examine them: the obscure and tenuous thread of continuity leads back at best to a constitution deriving from a quasi-Fascist coup de Etat”.[44] Carr ended his leader with the claim that “What Marshal Stalin desires to see in Warsaw is not a puppet government acting under Russian orders, but a friendly government which fully conscious of the supreme impotence of Russo-Polish concord, will frame its independent policies in that context”.[44] The western Allies were even willing to help cover up the Soviet massacre at Katyn.[45] Even today Katyn is not accepted in the West as a war crime.[46]

Postwar era

With the conclusion of the Second World War, Nazi atrocities perforce ended. However, Soviet oppression of the Poles continued. Under Joseph Stalin, thousands of soldiers of Poland's Home Army (Armia Krajowa) and returning veterans of the Polish Armed Forces that had served with the Western Allies were imprisoned, tortured by NKWD agents (see: W. Pilecki, Ł. Ciepliński) and murdered following staged trials like the infamous Trial of the Sixteen in Moscow. A similar fate awaited the Cursed soldiers. At least 40,000 members of Poland’s Home Army were deported to Russia.[47]

In Britain after 1945, the British people initially accepted those Polish servicemen who chose not to return to a Poland ruled by the Communists. The Poles resident in Britain served under British command during the Battle of Britain,[48] but as soon as the Soviets began to make gains on the Eastern Front both public opinion and the Government of the UK turned pro-Soviet and against the Poles.[48] Supporters of the socialists made the Poles out to be “warmongers”, “anti-Semites” and “fascists”.[49] After the war, the trade unions and Labour party played on the fears of there not being enough jobs, food and housing. There were even anti-Polish rallies.[49]

In 1961, a book was published in Germany entitled Der Erzwungene Krieg (The Forced War) by the American historical writer and Holocaust denier David Hoggan, which argued that Germany did not commit aggression against Poland in 1939, but was instead the victim of an Anglo-Polish conspiracy against the Reich.[50] Reviewers have often noted that Hoggan seems to have an obsessive hostility towards the Poles. His lies include claims such as that the Polish government treated Poland's German minority far worse than the German government under Adolf Hitler treated its Jewish minority.[51] In 1964, much controversy was created when two German right-wing extremist groups awarded Hoggan prizes.[52] In the 1980s, the German philosopher and historian Ernst Nolte claimed that in 1939 Poland was engaged in a campaign of genocide against its ethnic German minority, and has strongly implied that the German invasion in 1939, and all of the subsequent German atrocities in Poland during World War II were in essence justified acts of retaliation.[53] Critics, such as the British historian Richard J. Evans, have accused Nolte of distorting the facts, and have argued that in no way was Poland committing genocide against its German minority.[53]

During the political transformation of the Soviet-controlled Eastern bloc in the 1980s, the traditional German anti-Polish feeling was again blatantly exploited in the East Germany against Solidarność. This tactic had become especially apparent in the "rejuvenation of 'Polish jokes,' some of which reminded listeners of the spread of such jokes under the Nazis."[54]

References to Nazi German death camps in occupied Poland by Western media

German concentration camp patch with the letter "P": required wear for Polish inmates

The expressions offensive to Poles are attributed to a number of non-Polish media in relation to World War II. The most prominent is a continued reference by Western news media to "Polish death camps" and "Polish concentration camps". These phrases refer to the network of concentration camps operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland in order to facilitate the "Final Solution", but the wording suggests that the Polish people might have been involved.[55][56][57]

The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as Polish organizations around the world and all Polish governments since 1989, condemned the usage of such expressions, arguing that they suggest Polish responsibility for the camps. The American Jewish Committee stated in its January 30, 2005, press release: "This is not a mere semantic matter. Historical integrity and accuracy hang in the balance.... Any misrepresentation of Poland's role in the Second World War, whether intentional or accidental, would be most regrettable and therefore should not be left unchallenged."[58]

On April 30, 2004, a CTV News report made reference to "the Polish camp in Treblinka". The Polish embassy in Canada lodged a complaint with CTV. Robert Hurst of CTV, however, argued that the expression, "Polish death camp", is common usage in news organizations including those in the United States, and declined to issue a correction.[59] The Polish Ambassador to Ottawa then complained to the National Specialty Services Panel of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. The Council did not accept Hurst's argument and ruled against CTV stating that the word ""Polish"—similarly to such adjectives as "English", "French" and "German"—had connotations that clearly extended beyond geographic context. Its use with reference to Nazi extermination camps was misleading and improper". CTV broadcast the decision during prime time.[60] The Polish Ministry of Foreign affairs has stated. "That example of a successful campaign against the distortion of historic truth by the media – and in defense of the good name of Poland – will hopefully reduce the number of similar incidents in the future."[60]

Also cited as a similar example of anti-Polish sentiment[who?] is the phrase "Polish Nazis" used in relation to non-Polish paramilitary groups operating on Polish soil during World War II,[61] disseminated by Norwegian State Broadcasting Corporation, NRK.[62] The Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem officially considered this claim by NRK a falsification "offensive to historical truth".[61]

Hostility today


Adam Michnik, the editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, has argued that the French Left has hypocritically condoned Soviet crimes against Polish citizens. In an essay on the French Left and its views on Katyn massacre as well as Polish-Jewish relations,[63] he wrote: "Katyn is the first film about the Soviet crimes and its aggression against Poland, committed in alliance with Hitler. This issue has been a taboo for the French Left. For years they were silent about the Soviet aggression against Poland..." Michnik condemned the French Marxist attraction to Stalin and their selective memory: "I learned from Le Monde that "Wajda presents a strange confusion of the Katyn crime with the extermination of the Jews," as if the massacre of Polish officers by the Soviets was a part of the Nazi German Holocaust.[64]


In 2005, continued attacks on Poles in Moscow prompted the then Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski to call on the Russian government to stop them. "In my capacity as president of the Polish Republic – Kwaśniewski said in an official statement – I address, to the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, an appeal calling on the Russian authorities to undertake energetic action to identify and punish the organizers and perpetrators of the assaults."[65] An employee with the Polish embassy in Moscow was hospitalized in serious condition after being beaten in broad daylight near the embassy by unidentified men. Three days later, another Polish diplomat was beaten up near the embassy. The following day the Moscow correspondent for the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita was attacked and beaten by a group of Russians.[65]

United Kingdom

Since EU enlargement in 2004, the UK has experienced mass immigration from Poland (see Poles in the United Kingdom). It is estimated that the Polish British community has doubled in size since 2004. The process has been remarkably friendly and successful. However, there have been some instances of anti-Polish sentiment and hostility towards Polish immigrants. The far right British National Party argued for immigration from Eastern Europe to be stopped and for Poles to be deported.[66][67]

In 2007 Polish people living in London reported 42 ethnically motivated attacks against them, compared with 28 in 2004.[68][69] The Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski said that the increase in violence towards Poles is in part "a result of the media coverage by the BBC" whose reporters "won't dare refer to controversial immigration from other countries."[70][71][72][73] Kawczynski voiced his criticism of the BBC in the House of Commons for "using the Polish community as a cat's paw to try to tackle the thorny issue of mass, unchecked immigration" only because against Poles "it's politically correct to do so."[70]

In 2009 the Federation of Poles in Great Britain and the Polish Embassy in London with Barbara Tuge-Erecinska, raised a number of formal complaints – including with the Press Complaints Commission – about news articles that defamed Poles. The PCC arranged a deal between the Federation and the Daily Mail, which ran the articles.[74][75][76][77][78][79][80] The Embassy also questioned the veracity of The Guardian report by Kate Connolly about an alleged "storm of protest in Poland" in response to a film about a Jewish underground resistance movement.[81] The Polish Embassy stated on March 11, 2009, disproving the claim: "This embassy has been in touch with [the film's] only distributor in Poland, Monolith Plus, and we have been told that this film has not experienced any form of booing, let alone been banned by any cinemas."[82] The Guardian was also forced by PCC to publish an admission that another article by Simon Jenkins, from September 1 – which accused Poles of wartime suicide – "repeated a myth fostered by Nazi propagandists, when it said that Polish lancers turned their horses to face Hitler's panzers. There is no evidence that this occurred."[83][84]

The Guardian has been noted for a number of other controversies. On October 14, 2009, Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff vilified the Polish nation in World War II by alleging that: "the second world war narrative [...] has been distorted since independence and the transition to democracy to make it more palatable to their electorate and to minimize the role of local collaborators in Holocaust crimes."[85] On October 20, 2009, The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland said: "We are meant to be friendly towards the newest members of the European Union. But the truth is that several of these "emerging democracies" have reverted to a brand of ultra-nationalistic politics that would repel most voters in western Europe. It exists in Poland". In response to the above attacks Timothy Garton Ash wrote in the same paper on 23 December: "In my experience, the automatic equation of Poland with Catholicism, nationalism and antisemitism – and thence a slide to guilt by association with the Holocaust – is still widespread. This collective stereotyping does no justice to the historical record."[86]

Writing in The Guardian, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband described Poland's conservative Law and Justice party as "far right".[87][88] His language sparked a protest by Daniel Hannan of The Daily Telegraph, who said on October 29, 2009, that the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband should apologize to the people of Poland. Hannan wrote that Miliband's "increasingly unhinged allegations have been greeted with horror in Poland."[89] However, more diatribes reminiscent of wartime propaganda included also The Daily Telegraph's own article by Julian Kossoff who wrote on November 13, 2009, about the alleged "anti-Semitism embedded in Polish history," an "episode of Polish bloodlust and nightmarish slaughter" and "the unspeakable guilt of the Polish collaborators."[90] The Daily Telegraph's Gerald Warner complained about Kossoff's "insulting attack on Catholics and Poles which grotesquely misrepresents historical fact and which, if leveled at almost any other targets, would probably be characterized as a 'hate crime'."[91]

Also in 2008 the Polish ambassador sent an official protest to the Press Complaints Commission about The Times.[92] On July 26, 2008, columnist Giles Coren had a comment piece published there with the racial slur 'Polack' used to describe Polish immigrants. He accused Poland of complicity in the six million Jewish deaths of The Holocaust,[93][94][95] prompting not only an official letter of complaint to The Times, but also an early day motion in the UK parliament, followed by an editorial in The Economist.[96][97][98][99][100] The ambassador, Tuge-Erecinska, explained that the article was "unsupported by any basic historic or geographic knowledge," and that "the issue of Polish-Jewish relations has been unfairly and deeply falsified" by Coren's "aggressive remarks" and "contempt".[92][101][102] Coren reacted by telling The Jewish Chronicle: "F*** the Poles".[103][104][105] The case has been referred to the European Court of Human Rights.[104][106] The editor of The Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, commented on August 6, 2009: "There are few things more despicable than anti-Semitism, but here's one of them: using a false charge of anti-Semitism for political gain."[107]

On October 6, 2009, Stephen Fry was interviewed by Jon Snow on Channel 4 News[108][109] as a signatory of a letter to British Conservative Party leader David Cameron expressing concern about the party's relationship with the right-wing Polish Law and Justice Party in the European Parliament.[110] During the interview, Fry stated: "There has been a history, let's face it, in Poland of a right-wing Catholicism which has been deeply disturbing for those of us who know a little history, and remember which side of the border Auschwitz was on..." The remark prompted a complaint from the Polish Embassy in London, as well as an editorial in The Economist and criticism from British Jewish historian David Cesarani.[111][112][113][114] Fry has since posted an apology on his personal weblog, in which he stated: "It was a rubbishy, cheap and offensive remark that I have been regretting ever since... I take this opportunity to apologize now.[115] On October 30, 2009, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, complained about this new British political row playing on a "'false and painful stereotype that all Poles are antisemitic', whereas the truth was that the problem was around the same there as elsewhere in Europe."[116]

United States

Sign in Germany, prohibiting overnight stays in cars in a public parking lot - note that the sign is only in Polish, not in German.

On November 14, 2007, Fox aired the episode of Back to You, "Something's Up There", which contained a controversial Polish slur. The slur involved Marsh trying to convince the show's lone Polish-American character, Gary, to go bowling after work by saying: "Come on, it's in your blood, like kielbasa and collaborating with the Nazis." Fox later apologized on November 20, 2007. They vowed never to air the line of dialogue again in repeats and/or syndicated broadcasts. Fox stated that, "The line was delivered by a character known for being ignorant, clueless, and for saying outlandish things. Allowing the line to remain in the show, however, demonstrated poor judgment, and we apologize to anyone who was offended."[117]

"Polish jokes"

"Polish jokes" belong to a category of conditional jokes, meaning that their understanding requires knowledge of what a Polish joke is. Conditional jokes depend on the audience's affective preference—on their likes and dislikes. Though these jokes might be understood by many, their success depends entirely on the negative disposition of the listener.[118]

Presumably the first Polish jokes by German displaced persons fleeing war-torn Europe were brought to America in the late 1940s. These jokes were fueled by ethnic slurs disseminated by German National Socialist propaganda, which attempted to justify the Nazis' murdering of Poles by presenting them as "dreck"—dirty, stupid and inferior.[119] It is also possible that some early American Polack jokes from Germany were originally told before World War II in disputed border regions such as Silesia.[120]

There is debate as to whether the early "Polish jokes" brought to states such as Wisconsin by German immigrants relate directly to the wave of American jokes of the early 1960s. A "provocative critique of previous scholarship on the subject"[121] has been made by British writer Christie Davies in The Mirth of Nations, which suggests that "Polish jokes" did not originate in Nazi Germany but much earlier, as an outgrowth of regional jokes rooted in "social class differences reaching back to the nineteenth century." According to Davies, American versions of Polish jokes are an unrelated "purely American phenomenon" and do not express the "historical Old World hatreds of the Germans for the Poles. However Hollywood in the 1960s and 1970s imported the subhuman-intelligence jokes about Poles from old Nazi propaganda."[122]

For decades, Polish Americans have been the subject of derogatory jokes originating in anti-immigrant stereotypes that had developed in the U.S. before the 1920s. During the Partitions of Poland, Polish immigrants came to America in considerable numbers, fleeing mass persecution at home. They were taking the only jobs available to them, usually requiring physical labor. The same ethnic and job-related stereotypes persisted even as Polish Americans joined the middle class in the mid-20th century. "These degrading stereotypes were far from harmless. The constant derision, often publicly disseminated through the mass media, caused serious identity crises, feeling of inadequacy, and low self-esteem for many Polish Americans." In spite of the plight of Polish people under Cold War communism, negative stereotypes about Polish Americans endured.[123]

Since the late 1960s, Polish American organizations have made continuous effort to challenge the negative stereotyping of the Polish people once prevalent in American media.[123] The Polish American Guardian Society has argued that NBC-TV used the tremendous power of TV to introduce and push subhuman intelligence jokes about Poles (that were worse than prior simple anti-immigrant jokes) using the repetitive big lie technique to degrade Poles. The play called “Polish Joke” by David Ives has resulted in a number of complaints by the Polonia in the US.[124] The "Polish jokes" heard in the 1970s were particularly offensive, so much so that the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs approached the U.S. State Department about that, however unsuccessfully. The syndrome receded only after Cardinal Karol Wojtyła was elected pope, and Polish jokes became passé.[125] Gradually, Americans have developed a more positive image of their Polish neighbors in the following decades.[123]

In 2010, a documentary film, Polack, explores the source of the Polish joke in America, tracing it through history and into contemporary politics (see the Polack webpage for this film about Polish jokes.[126])

Use of the term in a modern political context

The term "anti-Polonism" is said to have been used for campaign purposes by political parties such as the League of Polish Families (Polish: Liga Polskich Rodzin) or Self-Defense of the Republic of Poland (Polish: Samoobrona Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej)[127] as well as by Polish far-right organizations such as Association against Anti-Polonism led by former presidential candidate and leader of extremist Polish National Party Leszek Bubel.[128] Bubel was taken to court by a group of ten well-known Polish intellectuals who filed a lawsuit against him for "violating the public good". Among the signatories were: former Foreign Minister Władysław Bartoszewski and filmmaker Kazimierz Kutz.[129]

According to writer Joanna Michlic the term is used in Poland also as an argument against the self-critical intellectuals who discuss Polish-Jewish relations, accusing them of "anti-Polish positions and interests." For example, historian Jan T. Gross has been accused of being anti-Polish when he wrote about crimes such as the Jedwabne massacre. In her view, the charge is "not limited to arguments that can objectively be classified as anti-Polish—such as equating the Poles with the Nazis—but rather applied to any critical inquiry into the collective past. Moreover, anti-Polonism is equated with anti-Semitism."[130] Publisher Adam Michnik wrote for the New York Times that "almost all Poles react very sharply when confronted with the charge that Poles get their anti-Semitism 'with their mothers' milk'." (see: Yitzhak Shamir's outburst in an interview with Jerusalem Post, 1989-9-08.) Such verbal attacks – according to Michnik – are interpreted by anti-Semites as "proof of the international anti-Polish Jewish conspiracy".[131] For the 1994 anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, a Polish Gazeta Wyborcza journalist, Michał Cichy, wrote a review of a collection of 1943 memoirs entitled Czy ja jestem mordercą? (Am I a murderer?) by Calel Perechodnik,[132] a Jewish ghetto policeman from Otwock and member of the "Chrobry II Battalion",[133] alleging (as hearsay) that about 40 Jews were killed by a group of Polish insurgents during the 1944 Uprising.[134] Unlike the book (later reprinted with factual corrections), the actual review by Cichy elicited a fury of protests,[133] while selected fragments of his article were confirmed by three Polish historians.[135] Prof. Tomasz Strzembosz accused Cichy of practicing a 'distinct type of racism,' and charged Gazeta Wyborcza editor Adam Michnik with 'cultivating a species of tolerance that is absolutely intolerant of antisemitism yet regards anti-Polonism and anti-goyism as something altogether natural'."[136] Michnik responded to the controversy by praising the heroism of the AK, while asking "Is it an attack on Polish people when the past is being explored to seek the truth?"[137] Cichy later apologized for the tone of his article,[138] but not for the erroneous facts.[133]

The notion of anti-Polonism has been used in some instances as a justification for Polish antisemitism. Cardinal Józef Glemp in his controversial and widely criticized speech delivered on August 26, 1989 (and retracted in 1991)[139] argued that the outbursts of antisemitism are a "legitimate form of national self-defence against Jewish 'Anti-Polonism'."[140] He "asked Jews who 'have great power over the mass media in many countries' to rein in their anti-Polonism because 'if there won't be anti-Polonism, there won't be such antisemitism among us'."[141] Similar concerns, but with less display, were echoed in Rethinking Poles and Jews by Robert Cherry and Annamaria Orla-Bukowska who noted that anti-Polonism and anti-Semitism remain "grotesquely twinned into our own time. We cannot combat the one without combating the other."[142]

See also


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  2. ^ (Polish) Jacek Pawlicki, "Brytyjska Polonia walczy z antypolonizmem" (British Polonia to combat anti-Polonism) Gazeta Wyborcza 2009-01-10. Access date: July 16, 2009.
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  4. ^ Bozena Shallcross, Polish Studies Center, Bloomington IN, September 2000, "Polonophilia and Polonophobia of the Russians" stored at the Internet Archive. Access date: July 16, 2009.
  5. ^ Ośrodek Myśli Politycznej::
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  10. ^ (German) Heinrich Reintjes, Weltreise nach Deutschland, Progress-Verlag, Düsseldorf 1953. Note: Johann Georg Forster became Chair of Natural History Department at Vilnius University in 1784 thanks to generous job offer by Polish Komisja Edukacji Narodowej
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  • Koźmian, Stanisław "O działaniach i dziełach Bismarcka" ("On Bismarck's Acts and Deeds"), Przegląd Polski (Polish Review), September 1875, pp. 356–88, and October 1875, pp. 110–23
  • Lukas, Richard C. and Norman Davies (foreword), Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation 1939-1944, 2001
  • Lukas, Richard C.: Forgotten Survivors: Polish Christians Remember The Nazi Occupation
  • Lukas, Richard C.: Did the Children Cry: Hitler's War Against Jewish and Polish Children, 1939-1945
  • Mikołaj Teres: Ethnic Cleansing of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia, Alliance of the Polish Eastern Provinces, Toronto, 1993, ISBN 0-9698020-0-5.
  • Ryszard Torzecki: Polacy i Ukraińcy; Sprawa ukraińska w czasie II wojny światowej na terenie II Rzeczypospolitej; Warsaw, 1993.
  • Wiktor Poliszczuk: Bitter Truth. Legal and Political Assessment of the OUN and UPA, Toronto-Warsaw-Kiev, 1995.
  • Władysław & Ewa Siemaszko: Ludobojstwo na ludności polskiej Wołynia 1939-1945 (eng: The Genocide Carried Out by Ukrainian Nationalists on the Polish Population of the Volhynia Region 1939-1945., Warsaw, 2000.
  • Filip Ozarowski: Wolyn Aflame, Publishing House WICI, 1977, ISBN 0-9655488-1-3.
  • Tadeusz Piotrowski: Genocide and Rescue in Wolyn: Recollections of the Ukrainian Nationalist, Ethnic Cleansing Campaign Against the Poles During World War II, McFarland & Company, 2000, ISBN 0-7864-0773-5.
  • Tadeusz Piotrowski: Vengeance of the Swallows: Memoir of a Polish Family's Ordeal Under Soviet Aggression, Ukrainian Ethnic Cleansing and Nazi Enslavement, and Their Emigration to America, McFarland & Company, 1995, ISBN 0-7864-0001-3.
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