An address, delivered by Wladyslaw Bartoszewski,
Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, on 5 April 2001,
At the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC
Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am starting in this way because I see only friendly people in this hall. I think the unfriendly ones have simply stayed at home. The authors of the anonymous letters I often receive regard me as a Jew. They think that is a way to offend me, but it isn't. I wonder why they do it? Do they want to show that there are some vigilant individuals who classify the views of others according to origin? Apparently that's how things must be - not only in totalitarian systems.
Those who know me realize that I regard all people as friends regardless of their origin or religion. That does not mean that in practice I equally love all Jews or all Poles. But I do equally love all decent people. If I am convinced someone is decent, then the genealogy of his grandmother or great-grandmother is something of secondary importance to me.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
When the programme of my official visit to the United States was being arranged, whose main points were to be meetings with Mr. Powell and
Ms Rice, I made a special effort to have a chance for at least a short meeting at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I attach tremendous importance to
this meeting. More than one long lecture could be delivered on problems of common interest to us. Unfortunately, this is not possible at present.
A book in English ("Thou Shalt Not Kill. Poles on Jedwabne", published by Wiez) has recently come out in Poland. It has been laid out in the lobby and everyone is welcome to help themselves to a copy. It contains a cross-section of voices and views on topics that greatly interest us and which pertain to the events revealed at Jedwabne. The texts contained in this book run only as far as early April, but the discussion in Poland continues. We simply did not want to delay publishing the book. I wish to call your attention to the fact that it contains the words of professional historians, journalists and random individuals as well as a Catholic archbishop and Jewish activists. It is prefaced by one of the most distinguished of Warsaw Jews -- Professor Israel Guttman of Jerusalem.
In a moment, Mr. Andrzej Przewoznik, Secretary General of the Council for the Protection of Monuments to Struggle and Martyrdom, will acquaint you with the investigation now being conducted by the proper judicial and historical authorities. He will also present an already approved project to commemorate the tragedy of Jedwabne.
Before he takes the floor, however, I should like to say the following: First of all, on 26 February I had the opportunity to privately converse for 45 minutes with the Pope. I raised the issue of Jedwabne because I regard it as very important. He listened to my remarks and opinions with interest. He indicated that he was anxious for the commemoration to be timeless in nature, so that it would still be relevant 50 and 100 years from now. The Supreme Pontiff conceives of fratricide, crime and suffering in universal biblical terms. The Pope?s closest associates told me on that day that of all His trips, His visit to Jerusalem had made the biggest impression upon Him. And that impression has remained with Him.
The Catholic world now numbers a billion people world-wide. It is important to have such an ally, even though not everyone listens to Him with equal attentiveness.
Secondly, I wish to allude to a matter of a completely different kind. I should not like it to be forgotten that it was Poland that put on trial and justly executed such criminals as Auschwitz commandant Hoess, west Poland gauleiter Greiser, whose territorial jurisdiction included the Lódz ghetto, the executioner of the Lódz ghetto Bierow, the executioner of the Kraków ghetto Goeth and the executioner of the Warsaw Ghetto Stroop. Crimes did get prosecuted and a great many collaborators ended up in jail. But that wasn?t sufficiently written up or publicized. The principle then in force was that one could write only about nazi Germany but not about other perpetrators. That was the prevailing principle in the Poland of that period -- a Poland which was not of our making!
But one should take into account the fact that in 1949 those who had committed crimes in certain localities, including Jedwabne, and had fallen into the hands of the police did go on trial. Public opinion was not informed of that fact, however. Newspapers did not write about it on their front or even second pages. That is not to say, however, that no-one was interested. But the moral and educational lessons were not drawn there from and everything got put away in archives. Only once we were free could a true discussion get under way.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We Poles who under nazi occupation were helping Jews were afraid at that time of certain Poles. What we were doing was certainly not written on our faces. A uniformed German walking down the street could not know it, but a Polish neighbor could. That neighbor could have been a normal, decent person, but he might also have been a traitor. That does not mean that Poles are evil. There have always been honest and dishonest people. Is it not strange that for entire decades in Poland the attitudes of those who had acted decently were not fully appreciated? Only recently did Poland?s parliament grant World War II veterans? privileges to those who had rescued others at the risk of their own lives. Earlier that had been the case only in Jerusalem. It was there, not in Warsaw or Kraków, that righteous Poles were honored. It was therefore not surprising that nothing was said about post-war court trials, when certain matters were not to be raised in public at all. The truth can come out only under the conditions of freedom and democracy. The truth cannot be discussed under the conditions of a totalitarian system. It is striking that only recently have hundreds of names of people from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus been added to the List of Righteous Among Nations. Only now can such people be located and their honest and brave deeds -- identified. That was not possible when the Soviet Union was in existence. And yet, those people had lived and been amongst us all along. On 28 October 1963, when I planted my tree in Jerusalem, there were only some 30 Polish trees there. Now there are about 6,000, and each tree often symbolizes a family of three or four. Therefore at least 10,000 people were involved.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I believe in God, our common God. That God once said Sodom would be saved if ten righteous people could be found. They could not be found there and then. But thousands of righteous individuals have been found in other infernal situations -- and that is no small number. But, on the other hand, just ten unrighteous people are enough to deface the picture of beautiful, noble deeds. Today we must therefore consider how to transform hat terrible evil, that crime into good, how to bring home to people that they can choose whatever the different situations they are confronted with.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let us follow the example of Americans who have grappled for years on end with the problem of wartime abuses in Vietnam. They have made films and written books about the crimes; they themselves have written about it, about their young soldiers. They have torn open their wounds for the sake of their nation?s health. That is the proper attitude to have. That is why America is regarded as a great country. If America had denied, negated and lied, nobody would have considered it a great country.
I wish my own small country such moral greatness!