God’s Playground: A History of Poland, Vol. 1: The Origins to 1795 by Norman Davies
Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis. My rating: 5 of 5 stars.
Norman Davies—Noted British Professor Denied Tenure at Stanford University Because of His Objectivity on Polish-Jewish Events
This 1982 book, now dated, is most remembered not for its content but for the shabby breach of academic freedom that surrounded it. [See the ADDENDUM at the end of this review]. But what exactly did historian Norman Davies say about the Jews that so excited the Jewish faculty members at Stanford University?
——The following [except the subtitles in CAPS] are direct quotes—–
NORMAN DAVIES ON THE BOGUS 1918-ERA MASSIVE POGROMS IN POLAND
Press reports in the West of ‘Pogroms in Poland’, though accepted by Jewish commentators, were repeatedly discredited by the investigations of independent British and American observers. (p. 262).
NORMAN DAVIES: CONFLICTS BETWEEN NATIONALITIES IN POLAND MUST BE PLACED IN PROPER CONTEXT
The fires of Polish nationalism were fuelled by the fact that the ethnic minorities were so large. According to the linguistic criteria of the 1931 census, the Poles formed only 68.9 percent of the total population. The Ukrainians with 13.9 percent, the Yiddish-speaking Jews with 8.7 percent, the Byelorussians with 3.1 percent, and the Germans with 2.3 percent, made up nearly one-third of the whole. (p. 404).
NORMAN DAVIES: DO NOT RELATIVIZE POLISH CONDUCT WITH THAT OF OTHER NATIONS AT THE TIME
If there was hardship and injustice in Poland, there was no starvation or mass killing as in Russia, no resort to the bestial methods of Fascism or Stalinism. For example, to compare the rigors of the Polish internment camp at Bereza Kartuska (where seventeen persons are thought to have died) with the Stalinist purges which killed tens of millions, or to hint that the discomforts of the Jews under Polish rule were in some way related to the horrors of Auschwitz, is absurd. (p. 426).
NORMAN DAVIES: DO NOT ENLIST POLAND IN THE ROLE OF “PRACTICE HOLOCAUST” IN ANTICIPATION OF THE GERMANS
In view of the Holocaust of the Second World War, it is all too easy to be wise after the event, and to suggest that the tribulations of 1918-1939 were a preamble to the ensuing tragedy. (p. 260).
By 1939, no satisfactory solution to the deteriorating problem had been found; and the future was indeed bleak. But historians who glibly state that ‘the writing was on the wall’, or that the Polish Jews were standing ‘on the edge of destruction’, or who quote a Warsaw rabbi to the effect that ‘We were waiting for death’, are mouthing a very partial view of Polish affairs. As Isaac Cohen, of the AngloJewish Association pointed out, Jews who imagined they were maltreated in Poland did not have long to wait for conditions which made Poland look like paradise; and as Sir Horace Rumbold, British ambassador in Poland was quick to stress: ‘It is of very little service to the Jews to single out for criticism and retribution the one country where they have probably suffered least.’ (p. 263).
NORMAN DAVIES: WHY THE “INACTION” OF THE POLISH UNDERGROUND, ON BEHALF OF JEWS
The Polish Underground failed to oppose not only the actions against the Jews, but equally, until 1943, all the executions and mass deportations of Polish civilians. In the earlier years of the war, it was simply too weak and too disorganized to attempt anything other than local diversions. With the one exception of the Ghetto in Lodz, which survived till August 1944, the Final Solution was all but complete by the time the Underground was strong enough to take action. (p. 265).
NORMAN DAVIES: FACTS ON THE EXPULSION OF THE JEWS IN 1968
The crisis of 1968 was thus the result of accumulated failures. It was foreshadowed in the previous summer when a group of Polish officials and Army officers had reacted to the Israeli victory in the June War by celebrating the triumph of ‘OUR Jews over THEIR Arabs’. By this act, a link was forged between political dissidence and pro-Israeli (and anti-Soviet) sympathies. The point was not lost on General Moczar who saw the prospect of denouncing his rivals as subversive ‘Zionists’. (p. 588).
——-End of direct quotations—-
THE JANUARY 1863 INSURRECTION
One item of particularly lasting interest, in this book, is a detailed map of the main battles, along with hundreds of locations of guerrilla combat. (p. 355). Although most of the combat occurred in Russian-occupied Congress Poland, a substantial fraction of it occurred in the Kresy (and not only in Lithuania).
OBJECTIVITY IN ACADEMIA, ON POLISH-JEWISH MATTERS, IS A SHAM
THE CHILLING EFFECT, OWING TO PROFESSORS BEING DENIED TENURE OVER IDEOLOGICAL NONCONFORMISM, IS OBVIOUS: ANY PROFESSOR BETTER NOT SEEM TOO CONGENIAL TO POLAND!
Smith, Burke. 1988. Davies Case Exposes Tenure Process to Public Scrutiny. THE STANFORD DAILY 199(25), p. 2. (March 9, 1988).
“Although Stanford recently won the legal battle waged by former Visiting Prof. Norman Davies against the University, many leading historians agree that the History Department mistakenly denied tenure to a scholar considered the world’s leading historian on Poland.”
“According to Davies, the political controversy stemmed from claims by Jewish members of the department that his work was insensitive to the plight of the Polish Jewry during World War II.”
“…Zbigniew Brzezinski…Other Davies supporters include noted MIT political scientist and linguist
Noam Chomsky; Aloysius Mazewski, president of the Polish National Alliance of the United States; Antony Polonsky, prominent Jewish historian of Poland; and Israel Shahak, chair of the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights.”
“Critics of ‘God’s Playground,’ however, call it ‘uncritical,’ ‘advocatory’ or ‘non-explanatory’–all terms which imply that the work is unscholarly.” [CODE WORDS FOR WORKS THAT DEVIATE FROM THE STANDARD NARRATIVE.]
“Although Davies’ reputation appears to contradict the History Department’s decision, it is difficult to uncover reasons for his rejection.” [BECAUSE THEY ARE BOGUS.]
“…observers agree that it was the closest, most acrimonious tenure decision of recent years. Sheehan characterizes the decision as an honest appraisal of Davies’ total scholarship, but Davies’ court complaint quotes History Prof. Lewis Spitz as calling the ‘Jewish issue’ the reason for the decision.”
“Though University Provost James Rosse claimed that the faculty did not focus solely on the controversial chapter, Slavic Studies Prof. Richard Schupbach confirmed in memo that all criticisms at the meeting were in fact ‘directed specifically at [Davies’ treatment of Polish- Jewish relations].’”
[Abraham, Matthew. 2011. THE QUESTION OF PALESTINE AND THE SUBVERSION OF ACADEMIC FREEDOM: DEPAUL’S DENIAL OF TENURE TO NORMAN G. FINKELSTEIN.
Arab Studies Quarterly 33(3/4)179-203.]
“Upon the publication of THE HOLOCAUST INDUSTRY, Finkelstein promptly lost his long-term instructor position of political science at Hunter College, City University of New York. Despite possessing an outstanding teaching record and three internationally recognized books to his credit at that time, he was let go under the pretext of a budgetary cut within the political science department.” (pp. 193-194).
“Despite the sound and the fury around his tenure denial, Finkelstein ultimately praised DePaul University upon reflecting on the unique set of pressures that eventuated in his unjust dismissal: ‘For the record, I did not begrudge DePaul’s decision to deny me tenure. It has always been my belief that no one except me should have to bear the costs of my political convictions. The sustained pressures exerted on a middle-tier Catholic institution vulnerable to charges of anti-Semitism would probably have proven intolerable.’” (p. 180).
“Since Finkelstein’s compelling indictments of American Zionism in books such as THE IMAGE AND REALITY OF THE ISRAEL-PALESTINE CONFLICT, THE HOLOCAUST INDUSTRY:
THE EXPLOITATION OF JEWISH SUFFERING, AND BEYOND CHUTZPAH: THE MISUSE OF
ANTI-SEMITISM AND THE ABUSE OF HISTORY could not be rebutted by serious counterarguments, his ideological nemeses resorted to attacking Finkelstein’s tone, writing style, and personality, effectively shifting the terms of the debate from the Israel-Palestine conflict to issues of civility and behavior.” (p. 191).
Published with the author’s permission.
The title image: „God’s Playground: A History of Poland, Vol. 1: The Origins to 1795″ by Norman Davies – the cover.