Monday, April 6, 2015

Chapter 55 - Poland Fights: Part 1 - Introduction

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent. 

Since the start of the war, Korzybski had followed with great personal interest the news from every front; he had students just about everywhere that American soldiers were stationed. But he had a special concern for what was happening on the Eastern Front in Europe, especially in Poland. By January 1943, the news had become rather grim. He had gone to the Chicago Arts Club for a luncheon meeting of the Chicago Chapter of the American Friends of Poland. Michael Kwapiszewski, the minister plenipotentiary of Poland to the United States, talked to the group on the situation in Poland. The January 31 issue of The Chicago Sun gave a brief account of his presentation:

A phrase which brought sighs was his mention of the systematic extermination of Polish culture which the Nazis have undertaken for the three years past. “Men of science and learning have been exterminated,” he said. “All schools except primary have been closed. For the first time in 600 years Cracow University, founded in 1364, has been closed and looted.” (1)

There seemed little Korzybski could directly do. In letters to various influential individuals, he continued to ask for governmental support to bring together experts in human behavior (including those trained in his methods) to deal with war-related issues of morale, propaganda, etc. He remained adamant about the need for the allied powers to support investigating the sanity of Germany’s rulers and publicly advertising the results. But no one seemed to take this seriously. He was willing to offer his services if someone did.

Since the beginning of the war he had kept in touch with a number of Polish organizations connected to the Polish government-in-exile in London and to the Polish Underground. These groups included the Polish Labor Group, which two times per month published a newsletter Poland Fights, with news and reviews. This group also published a series of pamphlets, which Alfred obtained, on various activities of the Polish Underground. He also received publications from the Polish Information Center, the American Friends of Polish Democracy, Tygodnik Polski: The Polish Weekly published in New York City, and another weekly The Polish Review, among others. These, along with his daily consumption of other newspapers and magazines, radio reports, and material Mira and others found, kept him more informed than most people about the Germans’ “criminal destruction of Poland”. As indicated by letters to Mira at this time, this news distressed him terribly.

As with other Poles of the ‘progressive’ stripe, the fate of Jews at the hands of the Nazi Germans seemed to him linked with the fate of Poland, where the Nazis were committing the major portion of their attempted genocide of the Jewish people. Reports of the Nazi mass exterminations tended to get buried in the back pages of America’s leading newspapers, but those looking for this news could find it. Korzybski sought it out and, unlike many, did not consider it beyond belief. He filled file folders labeled “Jewish”, “Jewish Problem”, and several labeled “Poland”, with newspaper and magazine clippings, pamphlets, and other materials about the outrages in his homeland. Mira, who also felt an affinity with Jews and Judaism, gathered such material for him too. She received regular bulletins from a number of Chicago synagogues and occasionally went to their programs, if not their religious services. I don’t know if Alfred ever attended any of these functions, but at least he got the synagogue bulletins from her, which he marked and filed.

Regarding the fate of the Jews, since the mid-1930s he had contemplated writing a fundamental article on ‘the Jewish Question’. From a civilizational point of view, a non-aristotelian analysis of this had long seemed essential to him. Antisemitism seemed to him basic to the Nazi German ideology, which he had railed against for a decade. (Nazi/Fascist promotion of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, with which he had profound familiarity, qualified as the perfect paranoid projection of Germany’s own program of world conquest.)

He had also spoken publicly and positively about the Jewish role in the development of a higher, non-aristotelian civilization (although he habitually misconstrued the notion of ‘the chosen people’ as understood in traditional, normative Judaism). In the summer of 1938, at the first Institute of General Semantics seminar, he had told his students:
...A gifted race called the Jews had extremely good organization among themselves; high culture. They established a doctrine that they were ‘chosen people’, by which they meant really that they were a superior race, according to what they saw around. Others did not like them. Then in about 300 years what did they establish? A rabbinical institution, which was strictly a brain institution. The rabbis were taken care of, and all they did was think for the race. The institution, as such, is sound. The rest in the world keep the thalamus throbbing, but not thinking. We are undoing the historical tragedy. The Jews applied thousands of years ago the scientific method of today. Applied scientific method to verbiage; tremendous spread of words. Later turned out to be the Talmudistic movement. They had the guts and the institution to do it thousands of years ago. (2) 

Alfred had had many Jewish students whose difficulties seemed bound up with the painful history of antisemitism—a history that now pressed in upon both them and him with un-speakable enormity. Some of them had urged him to write about these issues, but lack of time and money had prevented him from doing it—so far. As 1943 progressed, he felt he had to do something.

In April, news had already begun leaking out of Poland about what was happening in the Warsaw Ghetto. The last remaining Jews there—who had not yet been sent to Treblinka, a German-run death camp in Eastern Poland—were engaging in pitched battle with their Nazi tormentors with help from the Polish underground. Korzybski undoubtedly read the sparse newspaper accounts of the uprising, only about a half-hour walk north from where he had once lived on Wilcza Street. By mid-May, the Warsaw Ghetto had been destroyed along with most of the Jewish fighters there. Only a few ghetto residents escaped. Those who remained were captured and sent to their almost certain deaths. The July 5 issue of Poland Fights had more details about “The Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto”. The report began, “The 35,000 Jews [more like 40,000-50,000] remaining in the Warsaw ghetto took up arms in an heroic struggle against annihilation by the Germans.” Alfred underlined the rest of the opening paragraph in red pencil: “They did not fight for their lives, for their fate was known in advance. They fought to let the world know that they died as soldiers of the fighting Polish Underground.”(3) 

Some of Alfred’s clippings reflected an interest in how Jews in America were responding to the news from Europe. One could see in these accounts a mixture of despair, resignation, and resolve to do something—along with a profound confusion of goals and means. The American Jewish community, however small, had many groups and interests. These groups had difficulty working cooperatively to influence the U.S. government to do anything to aid the Jews of Europe. Many of the leaders of the major Jewish organizations, like the Reform Rabbi Steven S. Wise, who had connections with the Roosevelt administration, seemed profoundly hesitant to speak out for fear of encouraging more antisemitism, already rampant in the U.S.

Other groups and individuals appeared less willing to go along with F.D.R.’s policy of “rescue through victory”—the idea that nothing could be done for the Jews being slaughtered in Europe except for the allies to win the war against Germany. For example, Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook) and a small group of other Palestinian Jews, who had come to the U.S. as colleagues of Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky in the Revisionist Zionist movement, were working along with people like screen-writer Ben Hecht, and Congressman Will Rogers, Jr. to publicize to Americans the terrible news from Europe. They sought to mobilize public opinion to push the Roosevelt administration into some substantive action. Alfred’s February 25, 1943 copy of The Sentinel, a Chicago “weekly newspaper devoted to Jewish Interests”, carried a dramatic full-page advertisement by the Bergson group with the headline “For Sale to Humanity 70,000 Jews Guaranteed Human Beings at $50 a Piece...” The Romanian government, at this time in the Nazi camp, had actually expressed its willingness to save these Jews—then in concentration camps—and deliver them to Palestine for that price. 

With “Action—Not Pity” as their motto, the Bergson group, at this time calling itself the “Committee For A Jewish Army Of Stateless and Palestinian Jews”, was lobbying American Jews and the American People-as-a-whole to prod their government to do something. Korzybski had a clipping about the Bergson group’s dramatic pageant, “We Will Never Die,” which came to Chicago in May for one performance at the Chicago Stadium. As evidenced by later clippings in his personal files, over the next few years Korzybski followed the efforts of various groups associated with Bergson like the New Zionist Organization of America. Korzybski had clipped a full page ad from that organization out of the Chicago Daily News of 4-17-44. Its headline pleaded “OPEN THE DOORS OF PALESTINE”. I have not found any specific statements by him about Bergson or the Revisionist Zionists. However, it seems to me that given his sympathy for Zionism, his preference for blunt honesty, and the way that he followed reports about Bergson, et al, in the papers, he probably looked favorably upon their efforts.

If he could do little else, Korzybski as a Polish nobleman could show his solidarity with the Jewish people. In May, while the Germans were finishing their ‘liquidation’ of the Warsaw Ghetto, Korzybski decided to have the Institute issue a mimeographed edition of “The Essence of Judaism”, the 1934 article from The American Scholar he had long recommended. This version included a foreword of some four pages by Korzybski where he stated, “We reprint here the article of Professor Hans Kohn, who deals with the ‘space’ versus ‘time’ orientations, because this article is unusually valuable for getting a glimpse of modern scientific trends.”(4) To Korzybski it made sense that Nazi Germany would demonize the Jews, whose tradition, to him, represented an unusual, early, non-aristotelian outcropping of Western culture. The ‘beastly’ Nazis, on the one hand, had raised ‘lebensraum’—the space-binding, power-based conquest of territory for German dominance over lesser ‘races’—as their supreme ideal. On the other hand, Jewish culture—more consciously ‘time-binding’ in its basic orientation—elevated progress not through ‘space’ but through ‘time’, knowledge, and ‘history’; and was an exemplar for “creative individuals all over the world, who have a ‘feel’ for life, [and] have also a ‘time’ process orientation in some degree, as there is no sanity in science or life without it.”(5) Mimeographing provided the least expensive way of making Kohn’s “unusually valuable” article, with Korzybski’s commentary, available for distribution. (Never published elsewhere in Korzybski’s lifetime, Kendig nonetheless gave the article, with Korzybski’s “Foreword”, the place of significance it deserved in Korzybski’s Collected Writings.)

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
1. “Events of Week”. The Chicago Sun, 1/31/1943. AKDA Scrapbook 41.214. 

2. Transcript of IGS 1938 Summer Seminar, p. 69. IGS Archives. 

3. “The Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto” in Poland Fights, 7/5/1943. IGS Archives.

4. Korzybski, “Foreword to ‘The Essence of Judaism’ by Hans Kohn”, in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 403. 5. Ibid.

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