Mateusz Wyrwich talks with a historian prof. Andrzej Nowak

MATEUSZ WYRWICH: – Reading Your texts, one can notice that in fact we are fighting for freedom, independence, nearly continuously. Starting with the Confederation of Bar or Kosciuszko insurrection….

PROF. ANDRZEJ NOWAK: – The word ‘independence’ appeared in the Polish political vocabulary in 1733, when two corpuses entered the area of the Polish Republic in order to impose a candidate of the neighbouring courts on the Polish throne. Independence was openly, much more than earlier, trampled. And then Stanislaw Konarski, in letters written in Latin, used the term of independence and developed it – distinguished from freedom, from individual freedom, which was perfectly understood by nobility. Independence was a term which our ancestors had nearly started to learn. Immediately, through their own experience and with the need of its defence. Then, one can say, the first uprising broke out – Dzikowska confederation from the year 1734, which was followed by: Confederation of Bar, Kosciuszkio insurrection, etc. It is not a kind of Polish craziness, but an answer to dangers connected with this not another neighbourhood, in which the Providence placed us. We are the biggest ethnic, cultural and historical community in Central-Eastern Europe. Whereas we are between significantly bigger than us, the most powerful European communities on the continent: eastern Slavs (orthodox) and the German. Between these two millstones it is not easy to obtain peace. And it is so, that for a hundred years we have been struggling with this challenge.

– When these millstones started grinding, we had to stand in defence of independence again. After the invasion of Germany and Soviet Russia into Poland, as the only ones we created an underground country during the Second World War. Civilian and military structures. So, we have our own statehood, despite the partition. These structures decide about undertaking a fight with an occupant, among the others, about starting the Warsaw Uprising. There is different opinion about the sense of undertaking the fight in August 1944…

– You reminded about the term of the underground country. I would refer to it in order to point to the strength of influencing of some tradition: the Polish tradition of fight for freedom and independence in conditions of the lack of the Polish country. The first example of the underground country was the one created before the January Uprising. It had a strong influence. This ‘magics’ of the seal of the National Government made people give money for the underground government. The tradition of the January Uprising was extremely important for Józef Piłsudski, for the whole generation to which Wyspianski, Dmowski, Zeromski and Malczewski belonged…. The reborn Second Polish Republic brought up two sons in the spirit of belief that it is necessary to fight for freedom, that it is necessary to refer to the examples of 1863 if a new war occupation arrives. The Underground Country which was established in 1863 and was reactivated after the year 1939 – appeared in newer and richer forms – it would not have made any sense for its creators, for hundred thousands of people engaged in its establishment if it had not been for the overriding purpose which was the fight for freedom. Summing up, it served to the resurrection of Poland. Resurrection of Poland against invaders. This was the sense of the underground country, conspiracy, action of Poles for the sake of independence. It was supposed to prepare the society in an organizational way for military actions and make people realize the fact that the Polish country lasted all the time.
The decision about the Warsaw Uprising was a logical continuation of the underground country. Its underground citizens could not wait till other invaders arrived and replaced one seizure with another. This specific country, that is, National Army and the underground government were supposed to prepare the fight for freedom. Another task was to organize diplomatic help so that circumstances of the uprising would be as best as possible. There is a question here, how much the underground country, connected with the government of the Polish Republic in exile, was prepared for it.

– We had a right to rely on allies who had promised to help…

– Unfortunately, it was not possible to provide beneficial political-operational conditions to start the uprising. It was not possible. However, what was more important, was the belief that there is underground country and engagement of hundred thousands of underground people, not to be passive at the moment of replacing one war occupation by another one. The moment of an extremely difficult decision which had to be made by commanders was when the message was confirmed that armored spikes of the Belarusian frontier had got to the gates of Prague. Commanders of the National Army had to decide what to do in that situation. There is no guarantee for the help from the West. It is obvious that the Soviet will not help. So, what is an option? The Soviet are entering, occupying Warsaw. And if in such a moment there is no decision about the uprising, so what do nearly twenty thousand soldiers of the National Army concentrated on Warsaw think about it? And a few hundred thousands of them in whole Poland? And other several hundred thousand focused on the structures of the underground country? They think that everything what they have done so far, what they have served to so far – was unnecessary. It served to nothing. Because now the Soviets are occupying everything. We lost without any fight…Will we allow them to seize us or kill us? Did the Polish underground country disappoint? ….There would have been such thoughts, such doubts, such beliefs of hundred thousands of Polish patriots, if the National Army had not done anything but only observed the invasion of new occupants into the capital city and introducing a collaborative team by them. Certainly, there would not have been the tragic experience of the Warsaw Uprising then…

– Such an attitude would have been a negation of the sense of existence of the underground country which had been organized since 1939….

– The sense of existence of the National Army which did not fire off, did not work. And it would have also been a negation of the whole tradition of the fight for freedom. The one reaching back to the year 1863, earlier uprisings. If we get prepared for a fight, we must make a decision at one moment: either we fight or we decide that we are a different community. Not the one to which the January insurgents belonged. Or the November insurgents. Or insurgents of Kosciuszko. Or confederates from Bar and from Dzików.

– Whereas the Soviets are entering Prague and are setting up filtration camps on the suburbs of Warsaw, whereas in the current Secondary School of Wladyslaw IV there is the Martial Tribunal of the Red Army, sentencing Poles to the exile to the Soviet Union. However, to death penalty in most cases.

– We could have not revolted but waited till the Soviets invaded. Until they started the fight with the National Army and the Polish underground country. But what was the moral situation like at that time? Someone may burst with laughter: a moral situation? And what is it? But I will repeat it: a moral situation of the National Army, Poland, generally speaking, would have become tragically weak at that moment. What is more, it was heroic September ’39. What is more, it was Monte Cassino. Only this big revolt of the capital city showed that we wanted to fight for freedom against Germany which had brought us so much evil; that it was our enemy number one. An enemy recognized by the whole free world at that time; and that Poland is not passive towards this enemy, but fought against it. If Stalin fought against Poland, shortly speaking, his position towards the western allies was a bit more complicated. Well, as we know, Stalin managed with it perfectly. But the Warsaw Uprising was significant for the way of treating Poland by Stalin. Facing the uprising, he could not play cards towards the world: Poland – a collaborator of Hitler. He had to justify legitimization of the communist authority with extra arguments, beneficial for Poland in some sense. No imposed authority can resist only on bayonets, even if these are bayonets of the Red Army and have the shape of war tanks T-34. Stalin had to present also a positive offer. After the Warsaw Uprising this offer had to be better. Prog. Bogdan Musiał found a map of borders drawn by Stalin after the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising. At that time Stalin determined the western border of Poland in a beneficial way for us. This benefit for Poland which was broadening the borders by the Western Lands, remains a permanent benefit. Moreover, nothing suggests the fact that if there had not been the uprising, Warsaw would not have been destroyed during the fights of the Soviets with the Germans. We should use the argument lying in the ruins of Poznan at that time, not mentioning Wroclaw or Gdansk.

– Opponents of the uprising say that there would have been less victims in cultural and patriotic elites, focused in Warsaw, if there had not been the uprising…..

– Yes, surely much less civilian people would have been killed. But I dare to say that there would not have been less victims among the most aware and patriotic youth, the most engaged in the fight for independence. Only it would have been murdered by the new Soviet occupant whose examples we had after the war.

– Can it be said that our independence, no matter what it would be like, was gained by the insurgents of 1944?

– We do not fully see the significance of the Warsaw Uprising. It may be in a few dozen years. As the significance of the January Uprising was beautifully noticed in November 1918. Although it had been criticized for the apparent nonsense, stupidity, for an immature decision. It was defended by one of the most prominent historians – Henryk Wereszycki. He said that he had been lucky to belong to that generation which had survived till the victory of the uprising; that the January Uprising won on 11 November 1918 and that on 15 August 1920 because it had an enormous mobilizing strength. It is a beautiful sentence said in 1945 by the colonel Ignacy Matuszewski, a creator of the Polish intelligence of the Second Polish Republic, a man of the generation which gained independence in 1918 and whose only child, a daughter, was shot dead for bringing help to insurgents of 26 September 1944. He said that there is no doubt what comes from the Warsaw graveyard: whisper that we cannot give in. Never. It is just the effect of the uprising. We must not give in. Why? Because – Matuszewski says – at that time they, all heroes, who devoted their life in the uprising (including his daughter), will die for ever. This heroic spurt and victims entailed in it, have the power of commitment through many generations. And this is terribly worrying for liberal-leftist groups.

– Once you said to these groups that they promoted ‘patriotism of forgetfulness’. What is it?

– It is criticism of uprisings, fight for independence, deriving from a willingness to destroy this Polish patriotic tradition. In whole. In every aspect. This is criticism which wants us to forget about our history, so that we would not argue about it; so that we would condemn it with one term that ‘Polishness is abnormality’, that our whole tradition is ‘a Polish hell’ and that we should reject it and forget about it. We hear a lot of such opinions. We hear them because they are supported by powerful amplifiers, not because this is a desire of Poles….

– You mean the amplifiers from Russia, Germany….

– Certainly, I mean outer amplifiers, but also the ones from Poland. These are the most powerful electronic media. But I want to emphasize again that the power of this powerful tube which is owned by some television stations or newspapers does not mean that most people accept this nihilistic clamor which they are trying to impose. At present I see that on the side of supporters of the ‘patriotism of forgetfulness’, as I call it so ironically, there is a growing sense of fear that they are losers….that despite the shout through their loudspeakers active for 24 hours that their ‘Polishness is abnormality’, that ‘silk’, people still find also their ‘Westerplatte’….Well, it is worth remembering about Polish crimes because they happen in every nation. But if there was an attempt to cover the whole Polish history with the memory about those crimes, disrupt its real sense and its proportions, we see that this kind of an attempt fails. Most young people is surely passive, are not interested in the past but the active minority will decide about the future of Poland. And a definite prevalence belongs to those who will not allow to be persuaded into the opinion that our history is only the ‘Polish hell’. On the contrary – they are still discovering the sense of a fight for Polish freedom, Polish independence, they are discovering the sense of a fight of insurgents, Soldiers the Outcasts, finally Solidarity. This sense reaches young people; those who will create the future of Poland; therefore those who hold media tubes with the caption ‘Attention, Poland’ are scared that their 25 years of work did not give the result which they had expected.
In this perspective one can notice the still lasting impact of the Warsaw Uprising. It did not end. When today we see aggressive actions of empires, which are realizing their interests at the cost of the weak, then we can refer to this example which we also see in Ukrainian Majdan today. This example exists, it did not die; the example of not insurgent madness but of normal fight for freedom. In the persistent fight for our freedom (and maybe just ‘ours and yours’?) there is the biggest rationality of the Polish history towards those two millstones which are trying to smash everything into dust what is between them. The geographical situation of Poland has not changed. The only worthy answer to it remains a fight to be and maintain freedom. Not to allow for being smashed. We can understand it just thanks to the examples of other uprisings. Uprisings and organic work which lasts between them. These two things cannot be opposed to each other. They create together the sense of the Polish resistance to slavery.


"Niedziela" 30/2014

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl