On one of those phone-in quiz shows, as reported by Private Eye, a contestant, when
asked to name the capital of Poland, replied with great confidence: “Auschwitz”. I don’t know exactly what proportion of the British public would subscribe to this notion, but I
would guess that it is largish. The ignorance compounded, of course, by referring to the place by its German, rather than Polish, name. The problem is we do not know enough about the Poles now
working in our country; despite having their exiled government here during the last world war, and plenty of Poles zipping over to the continent in Spitfires, we still do not know the name of their
capital city or what to call them in an insulting manner when they displease us.
This was evident in a tribunal case this week in which a Polish chap won £2,250 for having been called, by his English workmates, “Borat”. Borat was the creation of the comedian
Sacha Baron Cohen and was intended to be a Kazakh, his country of origin some 2,000 miles away from Warsaw. One of Borat’s defining characteristics was a rabid anti-semitism, and yet there is
no great evidence of anti-semitism in Kazakhstan. There is, however, in Poland, according to both the survivors of that aforementioned non-capital city and indeed the German SS guards working at
the place (I refer you, m’lud to the works of Gitta Sereny and Primo Levi). So perhaps the Polish chap’s English workmates were groping towards a larger geopolitical truth. Either way
it would be pleasing if our milder forms of racism were based upon stereotypes which had some sort of relationship to the truth, don’t you think?