Introduction to Interviews with Wladyslaw Bartoszewski

Below you will find original interviews accorded in 1999 by Professor Wladyslaw Bartoszewski to Irena Bellert, president of the Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation. Professor Bartoszewski is a historian who authored numerous books on World War II. During the German occupation of Poland, he was a prisoner in Auschwitz and later a co-founder of 'Zegota', a clandestine organization devoted to saving Jews. He was a member of the Home Army and participated in the Warsaw Uprising. After the war he spent seven years in communist prisons.

Among several other awards and distinctions, he has been recognized as one of the Righteous among the Nations and was granted honorary citizenship by the State of Israel.

In the interviews, he responds to several questions selected by members of our Foundation as typical of those that are most often asked. These questions reflect an insufficient knowledge of the history of Jews in Poland, which often leads to mutual accusations. We hope that these interviews will help clarify the most c ommon misunderstandings and promote an honest dialogue.

Interview # 1. Jews in the 19th century

How did the Jews and the Poles relate to each other and to the partitioning powers in the 19th century?

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski replies: The issues concerning Polish-Jewish relations in the 19th century and the attitude of each group toward the imposed rule are complex. There are no simple explanations here. We do know, however, that the 19th century brought a new social and cultural environment; a level of education and communication different from that of the 18th century, when the Polish State had still been in existence.

Interview # 2. The Bund and Zionism.

What was the influence of Jewish organizations like the Bund and the Zionism on Polish-Jewish relations?

The Zionist movement first developed predominantly in the Russian-annexed part of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth before the First World War. During the last decades of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, Jews had suffered largely negative experiences in the Ukraine and in Russia.

Interview # 3. Under the Soviets

Is it true that the Jews in eastern Poland overwhelmingly supported the Russian-Soviet invader?

The issue should not be understated, but, at the same time, it should not be examined only from the Polish point of view. One has to understand the situation of the Jews who lived east of the Bug and San rivers. In 1939, these territories were occupied by the alien Russian-Soviet power...

Interview # 4. Jews in Poland under Communism

Why did so many Jews belong to the communist party, the Security Service (secret police) and participate in other centrally controlled public institutions in the Polish People's Republic?

Yes, statements of this nature are often heard. If you have a minority, not only religious but also political and, which moreover serves the communist party of the Soviet Union, a perceived enemy of Poland, that minority can expect a negative attitude from the majority.

Interview # 5. Zegota

Why are the actions of Zegota, the clandestine Council for Aid to Jews, and other help offered to the Jews by Poles in Nazi occupied Poland virtually unknown in the West?

This question should not be addressed to a Pole from Poland, certainly not to a Pole who wrote hundreds of pages on the subject. The answer, though, is quite simple.