Friday, December 6, 2019

New book tells of city’s Poles including — łał! —Jews




     I believe I owe an apology to Dominic Pacyga, whose book, “American Warsaw: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Polish Chicago” was recently published.
     Before I even cracked the book open, I asked a question that was also a judgment:
     What if he ignores the Jews?
     Because if I have learned one thing from reading my mail, it is that being Polish and being Jewish are often viewed as mutually exclusive, at least by the former. Having a grandfather born in Bialystok — definitely in Poland — and other grandparents from Galicia and Belarus, which are sometimes Polish, sometimes not, means nothing. 
     If Pacyga overlooked Jews entirely, what would I do? Confront the distinguished history professor? I had so enjoyed his “Chicago: A Biography.”   

     Should I even venture into this realm? Polish Chicagoans can have a ... choosing my words carefully ... finely calibrated sense of outrage. I’ll never forget their indignation when I came back from Vilnius after interviewing the Lithuanian president. Vilnius being the nation’s capital led me to the ignorant blunder of assuming it is therefore Lithuanian, and not, as I was informed with various degrees of asperity, a Polish city under occupation.
     Still, I plunged in.
     I’m glad I did. Pacyga starts debunking untruths about Chicago on page one: “The city often proclaims itself as Poland’s second city, with only Warsaw containing a larger Polish population ... it is a myth...”
     Turns out my question echoes the book’s central premise.
     “Just who is a Pole,” Pacyga asks. “Could a Pole be an Orthodox Christian, a Protestant, a Jew, or an atheist? Was a Pole anyone who believe in a free and independent Poland, even if their first language was Yiddish?”


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14 comments:

  1. This review itself told me more about the Chicago Polish community than I ever knew. Prof. Pacyga's "Chicago: A Biography" remains an excellent resource for tour guides like myself, as does, btw, "You Were Never in Chicago." I recall some fine tidbits on the Wrigley Building from it that I incorporate into my river boat tours. One always values TRUE detail. I'm researching the plethora of myths that get regurgitated by even big-name tour companies because people love them (& they sell tickets). So much crap! Don't get me started on Insull's non-existent opera singing mistress. Mind you, I find that more people believe Mrs. O'Leary's cow started the Great Fire than believe we reversed the river. From experience, I never bought the "more Poles anywhere outside of Warsaw" line. So it goes. I'll give "American Warsaw" a try then.

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    1. I've taken a few river tours. The highlight of my first and second tours was the joke about the river reversal, i.e. that St. Louis got even with Chicago for sending its polluted water down the Mississippi by putting the water in cans and shipping it back to Chicago as Budweiser. On subsequent tours, I was surprised and a little disconcerted that the tour guide did not tell that joke.

      john

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    2. I used that line on every tour I gave while working summers at Wendella. Now that I'm retired, I use it on tours I lead at the Chicago History Museum.

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    3. Aye, there's the rub. I like that riff, but we got too many consistent complaints from St. Louis guests (they're like Green Bay guests). Perfect example of stuff most people LOVE, unless it's a joke on them. I tended to favor riffs on NYC. They can take the heat pretty well most of the time.

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  2. Whoa, what?

    Looks like you people are going to dispel more than a few myths I have rattling around. Please be gentle.

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  3. Poland is arguably the biggest single victim of World War II. Its invasion started the war, it was occupied longer than any other nation, and it went straight from being brutalized by Hitler to being brutalized by Stalin.

    That said, it is indeed annoying that they get so huffy and defensive about their historical role in the Holocaust, culminating in that ridiculous law Neil cites. The French, among others, have long since come to terms with the reality of their collaboration with the Nazis. Poland should grow up and do the same.

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  4. Possibly a bad idea for me to dip my toe in this water, but it is my impression that Polish Catholicism, more than other branches of the Church has been anti Semitic, and probably still is to some extent. David Kertzer, in his "The Pope and Mussolini," describes the baneful influence of Wiodimierz Lodochowski, the Polish head of the Jesuit Order in pushing the Vatican to publish virulent anti Jewish propaganda in its official publications all through the 1920's and 30's.

    Tom

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  5. Have you read Pacyga's book "Slaughterhouse"? An interesting look at the history of the Union Stockyards by a guy who worked there in its final days.

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  6. About the myth of population size it may have originated from information in "The Polish Peasant in Europe and America," a sociological classic published in the 1920s by W.I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki. They cited a figure of 350,000 Poles in Chicago at the turn of the century and claimed it to be the third largest concentration of Poles in the world. The work is of mostly historical significance, but what remains in popular use is the notion of the self fulfilling prophesy, originated by Thomas.

    Tom

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  7. I'm not only Jewish, but my paternal grandfather was born in Poland...the part where you checked the flagpole when you woke up in the morning, to see what country you were a citizen of.

    In the late Seventies, Evanston still had its very own small Polish enclave, along Greenleaf, between Asbury and Dodge. I dated a Polish girl from that neighborhood...and I would honk the horn of my Beetle and wait for her to come running out to the car.

    Yes, I know that sounds tacky, but when her Polish Catholic father learned that his daughter was seeing a Jew, he wouldn't even allow me to step onto his porch and ring the doorbell, let alone enter the house. His German shepherd dog didn't like me either. So much for ethnic unity and solidarity. His daughter was Catholic, and I was Jewish, and that was all that mattered.

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    1. I attended St. John Brebeuf in Niles with mostly Irish, Italian and Polish Baby Boomers.From the nuns, I came away convinced I was a member of a Jewish sect, as we had accepted the Messiah while your people had murdered him. Since I grew up in close proximity to many of your cousins I also realized they were just American kids like me. Your girlfriends father was shortsighted in rejecting a possible mate with strong family ties, Grizz. On another note, the Polish migration seems to continue. Spend a day at the mall and you will hear many people speaking languages that I have trouble identifying as Polish or Russian.

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    2. Naaaah. We were just hanging out and having a few laughs. It was never anything serious. I got tired of her weed and booze habits...she was just using me in order to cop another buzz. As for strong family ties, don't make me laugh. I had plenty of cousins (my father had six brothers), but they were all various kinds of nuts and when one of them died a couple of years ago, nobody bothered to tell me until the night before the funeral. Did I bust my ass and make the six-hour drive anyway, out of loyalty? No way. What loyalty? Jews are known for their supposedly close kinship ties. My family must have been shorted a few parts when they came off the assembly line. Now my generation of that family is scattered all over the country like dropped marbles on a carpet, and nobody ever talks to anybody else. Sad.

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    3. Another shattered stereotype!

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  8. Still a big Polish footprint in Chicago. When I called the tag bureau in Chicago to change the title of my car to my son’s the recorded message gave me an option of what language I preferred. One was Polish. Not making that up. Try it.

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