24 January 2010

German-Polish Reconciliation

Władysław Bartoszewski has just published his new book O Niemcach i Polakach. Wspomnienia. Nadzieje. Prognozy (with the help of Rafał Rogulski and Jan Rydel, Cracow: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2010) potentially roughly translated into About Germans and Poles. Memories. Hopes. Prospects. Few people have such credentials to write about Polish-German contacts as this survivor of Auschwitz, veteran of the Warsaw Uprising and activist in the underground Council to Aid Jews during the Second World War and later professor at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in the 1980s, Poland’s foreign minister in 1995 and currently the Polish government’s representative for Polish-German relations. His book traces the evolution of the interactions between the two nations from the war, through the visits to Poland of East German activists of Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste (an organisation confronting the legacy of Nazism) and the West German aid to the Polish Solidarity movement, to the Polish-German cooperation after 1989. As reviews of the book suggest, Bartoszewski confirms in it his reputation as a perceptive observer and great story-teller. One can find few more insightful pictures of how much changed between Poland and Germany in the last seventy years. A review of the book can be found here.

06 January 2010

Poles and Jews during the Second World War

The passing year brought further contributions to the discussions about the attitudes of Catholic Poles towards the Jews during the Second World War, perhaps the most complex and controversial topic in modern Polish history and one of the most painful and politically charged aspects of collective memory in the country. After the most thoroughly researched Polish study of the Warsaw Ghetto (Barbara Engelking and Jacek Leociak, Getto warszawskie: przewodnik po nieistniejącym mieście, 1st edn. Warsaw, 2001) became available in English owing to the translation by Emma Harris for Yale University Press (The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City, New Haven, 2009), its co-author, Barbara Engelking, the director of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research, together with Dariusz Libionka, the director of the Research Department of the Majdanek State Museum, turned her attention to the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Their book Żydzi w powstańczej Warszawie (Warsaw, 2009) explores the place of Jews and Polish freedom fighters’ attitudes towards them during the doomed attempt of the Polish Home Army to liberate Warsaw from the Nazis before its capture by the Red Army. As the authors explain in an interview with the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, their aim was to show “the entire spectrum of [Polish] responses” to the Jews (“My staramy się pokazać całe spektrum postaw”). They conclude that during “the last battle for free Poland, nobody had time for the Jews” (“Rozgrywała się ostatnia bitwa o wolną Polskę, nikt nie miał głowy do Żydów”). The interview can be found here on the website of Gazeta Wyborcza.