The devil on this issue’s cover is, as the folk saying goes, not as black as he is portrayed. However, should we comment the undemocratic, anti-Ukrainian, anti-Israeli and anti-Polish amendment of the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance, or should we pack our suitcases in anticipation of another Great Emigration or an umpteenth Aliyah?
There is no doubt that the provisions of the new law are detrimental to our nation. They threatenour international relations, inhibit freedom of speech, and pose a threat to civil society and social movements, especially those associated with initiatives — personally important to me — aimed at investigating the gaps in our history, and the related remembrance projects. They also deepen the divisions and internecine conflict between different groups in Poland, providing grist for the mill of both increasingly polarized parties.
At an oral history seminar eleven years ago, I timidly asked the German organisers about the professional ethics of researchers working with testimonies. My question arose at the end of the three-day event because our discussion on people’s attitudes to the Holocaust had been limited until then to a discussion of good Germans, Polish szmalcownicy, and indomitable Jews. I inquired about the choice of war-time characters because, I believed, the proposed educational format should contain clearly and accurately stated facts concerning the responsibility for crimes and should contain, too, the full spectrum of attitudes, including the inhumane and disgraceful behaviours of people of various nationalities. When the last war-time witness dies and we are left only with video and audio testimonies in which the selected material presents only the positive behaviours of one nation, the responsibility of the perpetrators of the Holocaust will become blurred. I did not get a reply from the organisers, even though my colleagues silently nodded in agreement. I could understand that they did not want to speak out; they had in mind future projects funded by the German partner. Consequently, I found myself on the blacklist and was refused an invitation to a subsequent conference in Berlin. No explanation given. My question, however, remains relevant: In the prevailing atmosphere, how can we protect from abuse and manipulation the collected testimonies, the witnesses themselves andour fellow researchers? And how can we protect those who are not members of the “right” party of scholars or artists?
I will save the suitcase for another time. I am staying.
So far, debating dates and figures has been the job of historians. Today, historians are being replaced by politicians who act with extraordinary zeal and without a basic knowledge of history. It does not bode well, that’s for sure. Bizarre things start to happen when a nation cannot agree on a canon of commonly accepted facts. Think aboutSix Kings’ Day,for example.
Therefore, we suggest lookingbeneath the surface to gain insight into concrete microcosms and figures (Joseph Roth in Dawid Szkoła’s essay and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in Anna Jawdosiuk-Małek’s text), landscape (essay by LotharQuinkenstein), pictures from the past (Mira Ledowska, child of the Holocaust) or important books (sketch by Łukasz Marcińczak).
The thing is, the closer such ideas about the politics of memory get to the Turkish-Hungarian model, the more important it is to remember other events and anniversaries, shifting focus towards the heroes of everyday life. Even more so because the centenary of Polish Independence (as well as other countries) will not be this year’s sole theme. Incidentally, the last book read by Marshal Józef Piłsudski(a statesman viewed as a founding father of the Second Polish Republic) was Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim. We revisit this novel in the essay written by Professor Jadwiga Mizińska.
From time to time, we will bring more difficult subjects to your attention in order to examine the workings of evil and the need to share responsibility. We will also “give the floor” to witnesses of the massacres in Volhynia and Galicia (this year marks the 75th anniversary) and advocates of Polish-Ukrainian dialogue (30th anniversary of the passing of Józef Łobodowski). Indeed, in this issue we discuss the Holodomor. Eighty-five years have passed since the genocide perpetrated by the Soviet regime on the Ukrainian people (see excerpt from Anne Applebaum’sRed Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine). We also present here a discussion of the Russian context, without which understanding the present-day situation in Ukraine would be difficult (see feature story by MykołaRiabczuk and Andrzej Szabaciuk’s analysis of migrations).
It is a time of anniversaries. Many are unknown or inconvenient to some people. We cannot ignore the topic of emigration stemming from the events of March ‘68, the torching of Orthodox churches, or the annexation of Zaolzie.
When I started to compile this issue, the media frenzy had not yet begun. Rev. StanisławDadas, whom I cite as an example during my trips to Ukraine, was still alive then. This priest was taking care of the former Ukrainian church in Suchawa, and we were working with him to organise remembrance events in the local community, including a program about the Orthodox and Jewish residents.
The literary record of Mira Ledowska’s memories was still in a drawer in sunny Tel Aviv.And in my free time I was on the road trekking, as usual.
The Jewish cemetery in Chęciny lies on the gentle eastern slope of Góra Zamkowa. If you walk through the forest, you will notice the shape of a World War One trench. To reach the cemetery, you have to go up a steep incline, passing the earthwork among the trees. Continuing downward and to the right, you see a football field. The place is usually empty but that day we met a family from Israel. They were looking for traces of their past. The second — and as the age of the girls would suggest — third generation Jews with Polish-Jewish ancestry were standing among the headstones. And we Poles were there too in search of our historical heritage. Surrounded by headstones, we talked for a long time. The Jewish national holiday of Hanukkah had just begun. We shared with each other our mutual stereotypes and talked about our troubled past. In order to get out of the cemetery to the southern side of the hill, we had to climb a steep slope. For balance, we grabbed each other’s hands, supporting each another so that we could return safely to the main path. When it was time to go our separate ways, I waved goodbye and exclaimed: “Remember! You have many friends in Poland!”
And let us remember that we also have friends in Israel. And in Ukraine.
18 February 2018
InstytutPamięciNarodowej, IPN – government-affiliated research institute specialising in investigating the 20th century history of Poland.
 The emigration of thousands of Poles, particularly members of the political and cultural elites, after the failure of the November Uprising against the Russian Empire (1830-1831).
 Jewish immigration from the Diaspora to Palestine.
 Pejorative slang word describing people who blackmailed Jews in hiding or blackmailed Poles who were helping the Jews during the German occupation of Poland in World War Two.
 Reference to the widely publicised linguistic blunder of RyszardPetru, former leader of Nowoczesna party, who famously spoke about Six King’s Day while in fact he meant Three Kings’ Day (Epiphany).
Translation and endnotes by Slawomir Nowodworski.