The Israeli daily “Haaretz” hit the Polish-Israeli agreement on school trips. The newspaper and its commentators do not like the fact that Israeli children will visit the museum of the Ulma family and the memorial site of the Cursed Soldiers. How would You comment on this?
Prof. Jan Żaryn: From the political point of view, first, and not from the historical point of view, this is probably the result of internal rivalries in the Israeli state between parties and circles that today have an impact on the distribution of the electorate in Israel. Especially when it comes to the aversion to the Cursed Soldiers, it may be the result of the will to exploit post-Soviet Jews, whose number is unfortunately increasing in Israel. So the authors of the article refer to certain pro-communist emotions or to the Soviet, Stalinist historical policy, which in itself is obviously embarrassing, but in conditions where lies and truth are equally used by the journalistic world, unfortunately, such articles should be expected. When it comes to the Ulma family, looking at it also in the political context, it is an appeal to the anti-Polish Jewish electorate. As we know, especially Jewish circles with claims towards Poland have a completely different image of the Holocaust, where the righteous were presented only as a small group in the case of Poles who had to be most afraid of their compatriots, i.e. other Poles, de facto co-responsible along with unknown, not entirely identified Nazis, for the Holocaust of the Jews. That’s how I would see it politically. What Israeli journalists write is quite barren intellectually, because it fits into a rather boring, lying story about Poland.
However, when it comes to the historical context, of course what happened is very important, that is, the Polish-Israeli agreement, because thanks to it, it is a tool for the Polish side to be, at least to some extent, a donor of the historical message in accordance with the Polish historical policy of an independent state, given to tourists, in this case Israeli students, who come to our country. There is, of course, no reason for these Israeli tours to be constantly exposed only to the message of anti-Polish historical politics. Let Israel possibly apply such a historical policy in schools, or wherever this independent country wishes, but not necessarily in another independent country, which is Poland. Also from the historical point of view, the attack is, of course, the result of the fact that the Polish government considers itself the rightful owner of Polish land.
And it did not fit into this haggadah, because it has little to do with history as such. I am talking here about the fact that according to some Jewish historians, as well as this newspaper, more Poles handed over Jews to the Germans than saved them, which is not true.
This is not only untrue, but here we have a certain civilizational discomfort. Our Latin civilization, although obviously very imperfect today, nevertheless tells us that the purpose of both science and policymaking, in this case historical, is the pursuit of truth, i.e. to discover what history has authentically experienced and people in this history. On the other hand, an alternative view of history suggests that the utilitarian treatment of the past is the essence of its existence in the current space. This is the so-called post-truth that accompanies this utilitarianism, i.e. only such historical theses will be formulated – regardless of whether they are true or false – that are adapted to the contemporary needs of the functioning of a given society, a given community. These are the two irreconcilable visions we are witnessing. In these two visions we live without the possibility of looking for any agreement, because there is no such thing.
In Haaretz we read that Józef Kuraś, also known as “Ogień”, participated in the murder of Jewish men, women and children in Poland. What are the facts?
The facts are that, of course, the Cursed Soldiers are people with complicated biographies. In the case of Józef Kuraś, we are primarily dealing with his great personal tragedy during World War II. As a partisan, first of the Tatra Confederation, one of the most extensive underground structures of the Second World War, and then of the Home Army, he lost his family: his wife and child. Undoubtedly, this had its consequences in terms of his hardness of character and ability to make decisions in times of war, where there is a zero-one reality, because in his opinion, after his return to the underground in 1945, the war in Podhale was to continue and this zero-oneness, just like during the German occupation, continued to be implemented by him. In this zero-oneness, the communists and all those who collaborated with these communists were undoubtedly on the side of Poland’s enemies. It so happens that undoubtedly among the communists there were also – and in a noticeable way – Jews as members of the PPR, or the Security Office, or the militia, although in the latter formation the least. According to historians, first of all prof. Maciej Korkuć as Kuraś’s biographer, these murders committed by Józef Kuraś himself or his soldiers concerned sentences against communists, and they were also of Jewish origin. Were they always right? This is of course a difficult question. Among other things, a well-known Tatra guide was shot, but not because he was a Tatra guide, but because he was a member of the Polish Workers’ Party. So that is the question of what influenced the decision to be made.
However, when it comes to the murder of the Jewish family, we know today that most likely this unit – because not Kuraś himself, but one of his units – was mistakenly recognized by the fleeing Jews as the Border Guard. They opened fire because they were in possession of weapons, and therefore shots were fired from the other side and those Jews trying to escape from Poland were shot. Whether it was an unfortunate mistake or not, it is difficult to fully judge, but according to today’s knowledge, as part of this pursuit of truth, we can discover so much in these accounts. You can always research the story further. Of course, only the truth is the most interesting and the most important, and let’s not shirk it, because of course there have also been times when the Cursed Soldiers, specific, behaved in an unworthy way. Please remember that they lived under extremely serious stress where they had to make zero-one decisions, just like under German occupation. Undoubtedly, Józef Kuraś is known to us primarily for his glorious deeds, such as the liberation of prisoners from the Krakow prison in 1946, just as the soldiers of the Home Army are known to us for the fact that they killed Kutschera, and not because it happened that some soldiers or even officers of the Home Army mentally could not withstand the pressure of time, which of course happened.
It’s just that these clearly single, individual cases were projected onto the entire underground army. Jan Grabowski, quoted by Haaretz, says about the Cursed Soldiers that they were “ruthless murderers of Jews during and after the war.”
He lies and that’s it. There’s no point in talking to liars. As I said, undoubtedly this historical message of this newspaper does not fit into the classical understanding of the pursuit of historical truth. This is the choice of journalists who want to use lies, and at most one can look for reasons that are not historical, but political, which I mentioned at the beginning.
Despite all this, Poles and Jews have a beautiful common history. It was on Polish lands that the nationalist Jewish organization Bejtar was born and developed. You may wonder why this common history is so little exposed?
No. I think that there are many museums in Poland, various institutes, as well as research projects that expose various threads of common and separate Polish and Jewish history. Of course, a separate story dominated, although on a common territory, and this is the reason for the uniqueness of these relations. However, these relations in the space of the First Polish Republic, the period of partitions and then the 20th century were definitely more separate than common. In fact, the assimilation of Polish Jews never took place, at least in terms of quality, so that it could be said that a significant part, for example, during the Second Polish Republic, out of the more than 3.5 million Jews, decided to accept Polishness with their heart and mind, that is, they devoted themselves to for the further promotion of the Polish raison d’état. The example of Beitar is also a proof of this. It was an organization modeled on Piłsudski’s Legions, but not to liberate Poland, but to liberate Israel. And it was a choice that, of course, as Poles we respect and we are glad that we could help the Jewish Zionists in this respect. Just as we undoubtedly helped as Poles, and specifically the commander of the later II Corps, i.e. General Władysław Anders, that he did not apply the provisions of the law on desertion, and even extended an amnesty to those who decided to leave the army and escape and find themselves in Palestine not for a Polish purpose, but for a Jewish one, that is, to fight for one’s homeland. I think that the Jewish side has a problem with this broadly understood gratitude for the fact that we were not a place on earth that forced them to stand up for Poland, both in the First and Second Polish Republic, but gave Jews the right to their own identity, separate life.
The more so that the First Polish Republic actually saved Jews from all over Europe, persecuted in Western countries.
Yes of course. But the Polish nobility also undoubtedly benefited economically from this cooperation. It was not only a policy of mercy, but also undoubtedly of mutual interests. However, Jews of the Mosaic faith were not forced to be dependent in their legal status on whether they converted to Catholicism or not. Their well-being as Jews of the Mosaic faith was undoubtedly maintained in the First Polish Republic.
Interview by Anna Wiejak