Jewish Professor Who Declined Honorary Polish Doctorate Because of Anti-Semitic Attacks is No Stranger to Discrimination

August 22, 2013 10:58 am 14 comments
University of Leeds Professor Emeritus Zygmunt Bauman published 57 books and more than a hundred articles, in a long career that flourished despite anti-Semitic pressure hounding him to this day. Photo: Screenshot / The Bauman Institute at University of Leeds.

University of Leeds Professor Emeritus Zygmunt Bauman, 87, has published 57 books and more than a hundred articles in a long career that flourished despite anti-Semitic pressure hounding him to this day. Photo: Screenshot / The Bauman Institute at University of Leeds.

University of Leeds, U.K. Professor Emeritus Zygmunt Bauman, 87, author of Modernity and The Holocaust, turned down an honorary doctorate from the University of Lower Silesia, in Wroclaw, Poland, after the announcement of the special award ceremony sparked anti-Semitic attacks against him online, London’s Jewish Chronicle reported.

According to press reports cited by the Jewish Chronicle, the anti-Semitic comments included,“I cannot stand the Jewish Bolshevik,” “Death to the Zionist plague of mankind,” and “Down with Judeo-Communism.” In a letter declining the honorary doctorate, cited by the Jewish Chronicle, Professor Bauman expressed his desire to protect the university from an “unnecessary uproar.”

The hate speech directed against Bauman may have been particularly upsetting for the retired professor, a Polish war hero, who was forced to flee Poland because of an anti-Semitic campaign against him in 1968. The anti-Semitism in this case is also somewhat ironic, in that neither he nor his parents ever actually practiced Judaism, and some of his scholarly work is considered to be particularly anti-Zionist.

Born in Poznań, Poland, in 1925, Bauman fled with his family in 1939 to the Soviet Union after the Nazis invaded, according to an interview and book review published by The Guardian, in 2007. He enlisted in the Polish First Army, working as a political education instructor for Military Intelligence, then fought in the battles of Kolberg and Berlin, and, when the war concluded, was awarded the Military Cross of Valor.

For the next eight years, Bauman served as a political officer in the Internal Security Corps (KBW), a military unit formed to combat Ukrainian nationalist insurgents. In 1953, Bauman, who had by then risen to the rank of major in the KBW, was dishonorably discharged after his father approached the Israeli embassy in Warsaw to learn about emigrating to Israel, something which Bauman was very much against, standing in direct opposition to his father’s Zionism.

While serving in the KBW, Bauman began studying sociology at the Warsaw Academy of Social Sciences, then went on to study philosophy at the University of Warsaw. There, his teachers included Stanisław Ossowski and Julian Hochfeld, who would later be named vice-director of UNESCO’s Department for Social Sciences, in Paris, in 1962, when Bauman would inherit his faculty chair. Bauman completed his master’s degree and in 1954 became a lecturer at the University of Warsaw, where he remained until 1968.

In 1968, after a vicious anti-Semitic campaign led by Mieczysław Moczar, the Chief of the Polish Communist Secret Police, Bauman was compelled to renounce his membership in the governing Polish United Workers’ Party.  The government campaign against Jews began in 1967 in parallel with the Soviet Union’s ending of diplomatic relations with Israel after the Six Day War, according to a 2005 report funded by the American Jewish Committee called “The Anti-Zionist Campaign in Poland of 1967–1968.” Factory workers across Poland were forced to publicly denounce Zionism and the subsequent purges within the communist party resulted in the expulsion from Poland of thousands of Poles of Jewish ancestry on whom the secret police functionaries then blamed for all of the crimes and horrors of the Stalinist period. Before the end of 1971, almost 13,000 Jews from Poland had moved abroad.

The campaign cost Bauman his chair at the University of Warsaw. He gave up his Polish citizenship to be allowed to leave the country, then emigrated to Israel, where he taught at Tel Aviv University, before accepting a chair in sociology at the University of Leeds, where he worked until his retirement. In his honor, in 2010, the University of Leeds created The Bauman Institute to further his work in sociology.

His work in the 1960s and 1970s was on the subject of class and social conflict. In the 1980s he moved into writing about the relationship between modernity and bureaucracy, rationality and social exclusion, which is where he first tried to codify the Jewish experience in Europe and how modernity paved the way for the Holocaust.

Following Freud, Bauman saw European modernity as a trade off, meaning society agreed to forego some freedoms to receive the benefits of increased individual security. Modernity, in what Bauman later came to term its ‘solid’ form, involved removing unknowns and uncertainty, controlling nature, creating hierarchical bureaucracy, establishing rules and regulations, control and categorization — all of which attempted to gradually remove personal insecurities, making the chaos of human life appear well-ordered and familiar. However, what Bauman then argued was that society’s focus on creating order from chaos would never have the desired results. In fact, by ordering so much, what he found was that there were always groups who couldn’t fit into the generic boxes.

In his book Modernity and Ambivalence, Bauman uses the allegorical figure of “the stranger,” drawing upon sociologist Georg Simmel and philosopher Jacques Derrida. In a consumer-oriented economy, the strange and the unfamiliar is always enticing; in new food, fashion or tourism, it is the allure of what is unfamiliar that attracts us. The negative side is that the stranger, because he cannot be controlled and ordered, becomes the object of fear; the potential mugger, the outsider who is constantly threatening the seemingly secure structures society maintains.

In Bauman’s most famous work, Modernity and the Holocaust, he draws upon Hannah Arendt and Theodor Adorno to argue that the Holocaust should be seen as deeply connected to modernity and its order-making efforts, rather than a one-off event. Division of labor into unrelated tasks, the assembly line approach, a focus on taxonomies, and a focus on following rules, however arbitrary, all contributed to the mentality that fed the Holocaust, he argued. What he sees as very dangerous today is that modern society still views the Holocaust — to use Bauman’s metaphor — like a picture hanging on a wall, rather than the outcome of the mechanization of war into tiny parts and the dehumanization of the stranger par excellence in Europe, the Jew. The Final Solution was an extreme example of a society excising the uncomfortable and indeterminate elements within. Along with philosopher Giorgio Agamben, Bauman sees the same processes of exclusion at the core of the Holocaust still unresolved in the modern world and playing a role in many of today’s conflicts.

In the 1990s, Bauman’s work began to focus on what he terms the problems of “liquid modernity” in societies built around consumerism. Society’s fears have become more amorphous, more liquid, and are harder to protect against, such as pedophilia or terrorism, but equally haunting and vilified as the stranger.

14 Comments

  • "Anti-semitism"

    Ah, anti-semitism. The catch-all phrase to hide behind. It definitely is handy to deflect all criticism with your ethnicity. It’s sad to see journalists constantly fall for it without ever digging deeper.
    The protests had absolutely nothing to do with his Jewish roots. Prof. Bauman was a communist collaborator who worked in an NKVD unit responsible for tracking down the members of the former WW2 Polish resistance – who were then punished by death.
    Painting him as a Polish war hero, as the article attempts to do, is absolutely disgusting, considering his job was tracking such people down to lead them to the noose.

  • I grew up in Poland until 1957.There were only 60 to 70 thousand of Jews that survived. Children are typically very sensitive to a hostile attidudes of people around them.
    I lived in Lodz the second largest city with a population of around 30,000 , those proud enough to not change their names to Polish sounding names.
    I was in Jewish School IL Perec.Most teachers were gentiles.We faced openly snap comments from most of them like: “Physics teacher that deliberately distorted our family names to end with “…gowno”…means shit We complianed to him and he respomded ” I dont know how to read “Goldberg”.Our Principal Pan Blumenkranc did nothing after our complain. He knew that replacing the hating teacher with another one would not change much..the others were likely hostile antisemites.30,million Poles felt no compassion for survivors of Holocaust. The majority of Poles were indifferent witness to the destruction of Jews they witnessed.When Dr.Adolf Berman approached the Minister of Security Radkiewicz to stop the violance and pogroms (Largest was in Kielce) Radkiewicz said :” What can I do, I can’t arrest 25 million Poles (The population of Poland after 1945.
    Poles did not set uo and organized the Holocaust. But, They were in absolute majority indifferent observers. After the war there was violance against survivors and pogroms in Rzeszow, Krakow and Kielce.(1945 and 1946) . Poland was the only country in Eastern Europe that expelled Jews. Google and read the speach by the Party Head, “Wieslaw” Gomulka.who asked,in a televised speech in 1968, to leave Poland.(Passzporty are ready for you “Zionists” to leave Poland!

  • I agree Prof. Bauman is a lier as “Dron” notice it is nothing about his ethnicity. He served for KBW, organisation which was created to kill polish soldiers from independent army.

  • Lies! The protests have NOTHING to do with his ethnicity, there are Jews protesting against him as well! He’s a COMMUNIST that took part in battles, catching “bandits” (that’s how communists called the Polish patriots during the occupation). Please edit your text.

  • This is a lie. Bauman kills Poles. Bauman was a communist.

  • In case of death camps built in Poland by the Germans…
    In 1939 when Germans nad Soviets invaded Poland there was the biggest Jewish population in there. Much bigger than in all other european countries put together that time. Jews have lived in Poland for over 700 years, because unlike in other countries there was no persecution based on faith, race, wealth or gender. (Women up to day i.e. are kissed in hand for welcome).
    That’s why Germans built in Polish theritory not so many, but the biggest concentration camps. German nazi murderers saved money on transport that way. It was much easier for them to bring other Jews from Europe to Poland, than to transport Polish citizens to other destionations. By the way Germans built in the whole occupied Europe from 1933 to 1945 about 12 thousand labour or concentration camps.
    All in all at the time of WW II there was killed 5.5 million Jews including 3 million Poles with Jewish roots and also they killed 3 million Poles with native Polish, Ukrainian, Belarus, Silesian and other origins.

    In case of Mr Bauman…
    Another 3 million Poles were murdered by soviet security service e.g. NKVD and Internal Security Corps (KBW) – the NKVD equivalent in Poland at the time of war and after WW II. It’s worth mentioning, that KBW was in fact fully controlled by NKVD. (Polnad was occupied by Soviet Union from 1944 to 1989). Zygmunt Bauman was a member of these FELONIOUS organisations (NKVD, KBW) at the most darkest times in their history.
    He is responsible for persecution and killing Polish patriots in the name of new comunist Moscow-driven order. He even got a medal for such a “dedication”. From 1944 to the time of Stalin’s death in ’53 people like Bauman were involved in killing about 50 thousand Poles that didn’t want to conform comunist puppet government.
    It was literary a full scale terror.
    Poles will never forget this horrible time and people, like NKVD’s communist criminal major Bauman.

    And his Jewish origin has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with it. It’s not the matter of anti-semitism, but it’s all about his crimes. Europe doesn’t know a thing about it, but definitely shoud.

  • There was no coincidence as Poland was home before the Germans exterminated them to the largest population of Jews in Europe.

    It is also no coincidence that Poland refused to ally with Germany, there was no puppet Polish government working alongside the Germans, no Polish volunteer SS division, Poland has the most righteous i.e. those that saved Jews, etc.

  • This is perfidious lie. Protests against Bauman is due to the fact that he was a member of the gang who murdered Polish patriots. He was a member of organization, wchich was considered to be criminal and totalitarian. He is communist criminal. His origin has nothing to do with it.

  • It was no coincidence that most of the concentration camps were in Poland.

    • Because there were a lots of Judenrat available?

      • Hello Dr.Heintz and Rafael, I have noticed that in the Current Media Version of the war, the Evil Axis Powers now seem to be Poland, Poland and Poland. Yet my father and his gallant colleagues in the Polish Free Forces fought on the Allied side, against Hitler, and made a significant contribution to the Allied victory. Their reward? Betrayal the moment the war ended, and vilification ever since. It is, I suppose, a sharp lesson in the wisdom of staying out of these wars and staying neutral. Though I’m not quite sure how Poland could have managed that, with Hitler and Stalin ranged against them. I’m truly sorry that Professor Bauman should have been driven out of Poland by the communist government, but Poles never voted for or wanted that government.

    • Polish people also were in these german concentration camps. German people build concentration camps in Poland, because there was big Jewish community, which live in Poland from hundreds of years. Germans belived, that Jews and Poles are not the same/equal people as Germans, so they closed them in camps. And we don’t protest against Bauman because he’s Jewish, but because he was member of communist and totalitarian gang which murdered Polish patriots.

    • of course the camps were in Poland, due to the fact, that most Jews lived in Poland, and the Germans did not have to transport them far from their homes. It is so obvious.
      I always thought, that some intelligence was necessary in order to become a rabbi…

    • Would the estimed rabbie Reintz mention how many Jews lived in Germany in 1939 ?
      In Poland lived in that times 3 million 120.000 Jews.
      The point of logistic, even for the rabbie should be evident why the extermination took place “in situ”.
      Polish anti-Semitism is an other story.

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