The Jan Karski Educational Foundation and the crisis in Polish Jewish relations
FROM: Andrzej Rojek, Board Chairman, New York, February 5, 2018
Like many of you I had spent last week on the phone, „attached” to the computer screen, reading, discussing and analyzing news from Poland and Israel. The recent legislation in Poland, amending the constitution of IPN (Institute of National Remembrance - Instytut Pamieci Narodowej) caused a lot of worries. My friends, colleagues, sometimes people I have not heard from in years called and asked for explanations, wanted to share their views and asked what is there to do?
This crisis is NOT about the "Polish Concentration Camps". It is also not about ascribing the guilt for Holocaust onto the Polish nation and Polish people. For years a fairly effective action commenced by The Kosciuszko Foundation, supported by the Polish Foreign Ministry lead to a minimal usage of this deeply flawed statement. "Styles books" of the media were corrected and necessary clarification issued. When President Obama used it, while bestowing the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Jan Karski I cringed. While the politicians wavered, I remember the immediate reaction of Daniel Rotfeld, Lee Feinstein, Robert Kupiecki and others working hard to correct this obvious Presidential mistake. The speech writer was reassigned, Obama apologized to President Komorowski and it is clear that we have dealt with a mistake. There was no malignant intention of lying or besmirching Poles and Poland. This was an educational process.
This crisis is NOT about historians, artists and journalists writing about Holocaust. There are no David Irvings on the Polish soil (or almost anywhere else). Writers and historians who spoke at our conferences or events we supported, who taught classes and delivered seminars in schools and colleges presented very well the truth about Karski, his (and ours) understanding of the Holocaust. Recall our conference in Warsaw "Memory and Responsibility" (it is available on YouTube) with excellent speeches, which are as valid now as they were three years ago. Slawek Grunberg's film "Karski and the Lords of Humanity" is being screened in Poland and in America. It needs to be watched . The educational work continues and obviously our efforts need to be redoubled.
We are now observing a crisis in consciousness and civility. The explosion of antisemitism in social media and generally in Polish media, aggressive tones in commentaries around the world reflect primarily a lack of education and collapse of ethical and moral standards. Since when it was even possible to use the world "Righteous" and "Szmalcownicy" (those who reported the Jews to the German authorities in exchange for a commercial reward) in the same sentence? So this crisis is about the TRUTH. The truth about what happened seventy years ago and the facts, which are still disputable. There would be no concept of "political history" (polityka historyczna) if the facts were established beyond reasonable doubt. So, it is a bad game to let politicians play with historical facts. But we do know - beyond reasonable doubt - that there were and there are heroic Poles. They need to be recognized and they are. We also know that they were and there are terrible characters, criminals, liars and little people aiming to obtain splendor and "fifteen minutes of fame:" at the cost of selling their souls for political or other benefits. Those need to be singled out and their activities revealed. There are also people who just want to know, want to discuss their doubts and opinions, good, moral and ethical people. And this last group suffers today, disoriented, confused , upset and deeply concerned. Our role then is to reach out again, and talk, explain and convince. These actions have to reach teachers, I educators, journalists and artists. We give them materials through our publications, educational materials, videos, books and pamphlets. And during this process freedom of speech has to be preserved, while expressing - in the search of truth - opinions and doubts that cannot be criminalized.
There is obviously also a - strictly Polish - political aspect of this crisis. I will not comment on that.
We have not called the Board meeting - and have not developed a statement by the JKEF/FEJK so please consider the above remarks as reflecting my personal views and reflections. Please call or comment at will.