Anna Skopińska talks with archbishop Marek Jędraszewski – the metropolita of Łódź, a deputy of the chairperson of the Polish Episcopal Conference about steadfast archbishop Antoni Baraniak, attitudes which give strength, about forgiveness and remembrance

ANNA SKOPIŃSKA: – Doomed heroes, steadfast. They are described so. Soldiers, civilians but also priests. Among them there was a hierarchy – archbishop Antoni Baraniak. Imprisoned and brutally interrogated by nearly three years. The Security Office did not make him say anything. Why doesn’t anyone speak about him?

ARCHBISHOP MAREK JĘDRASZEWSKI: – Why doesn’t anyone speak about him? Because this is a very complicated matter. Because he kept silent himself. In his person, an extremely modest man, and he never felt important. He was a faithful cooperator of cardinal Stefan Wyszyński who did not make himself noticeable. And cardinal Wyszyński became the primate of Poland thanks to him. If Fr. Antoni Baraniak had not passed a wish of the dying cardinal August Hlond to the Holy See, to elect bishop of Lublin Stefan Wyszynski his successor, there would have not been his beatification. Although Fr. Baraniak was a director of the Secretariat of the Primate of Poland, and later he held this office as a suffragan of Gniezno, he never told cardinal Wyszyński about the mission given to him by cardinal Hlond. The primate found out about it quite accidentally when he returned from internment in Komańcza to Warsaw, in 1956. At that time, most documents returned to Miodowa, which the Security Office ‘had arrested’ at the night of arresting cardinal Wyszyński and bishop Baraniak. Looking through them, cardinal Wyszyński came across documents saying about the mission of Fr. Baraniak. Keeping silent by bishop Antoni proves the classy attitude of this person, his greatness. Anyway he understood that in Poland of those times, one symbol was needed – the symbol of the Church steadfast towards communism – cardinal Stefan Wyszyński. After all cardinal Karol WOjtyła remained in shadow. Those were aware choices of those really great people.

– Maybe now it is a good time to speak about such people, so that everybody would know what priests they had, isn’t it? The book by Archbishop ‘Folders on Baraniak’ and another film about him by Jolanta Hajdasz ‘A steadfast soldier of the Church’ speak about it. They show facts.

– Indeed, it is good time to bring back remembrance about archbishop Antoni Barniak. In the beginning of the 90s of the last century pope John Paul II asked me: ‘What are you doing in Poznań in the matter of archbishop Baraniak?’ At that time there was no chance to show his heroism: there was not an Institute of National Remembrance, there was no possibility to reach to proper documents, and, first of all, we were not aware that they existed at all. However, when the Institute of National Remembrance was established, when also a big attack on the Church and priests started in the years 2005-2006, although the Lustration Act did not concern them, when there appeared accusations of collaboration of Catholic priests with the Security Office, I concluded that the best response to those unjustified accusations was to show a real hero. After all, we knew that archbishop Baraniak had had a difficult time in prison of the Security Office on Rakowiecka street in Warsaw. Thanks to the fact that as Titular Professor I had formal arguments to apply for a query in the Institute of National Remembrance, I could see those documents. And that was how the book was written.

– When we see these documents, we get to know the history of archbishop Baraniak, his steadfast attitude, but also attitudes of other heroes – ‘Inka’, ‘Zagończyk’ and all those brutally treated in prisons of the Security Office, - how shall we look at those who took a loyalty attitude towards the political system?

– It is difficult to look at everybody in the same way. Moreover, I do not know whether their situations were the same. Sometimes an arrested soldier from the National Army, who experienced tortures in prisons of the Security Office, received one condition of being released from prison – that he would keep silent.

– And he agreed on it….

– Are surprised by it?

– No. But I mean those who agreed on cooperation without any tortures, without any hearings or arrests.

– Some of them agreed on cooperation, others did not. Moreover, we do not know everything yet. Like the recent story of two main chiefs of the Society of Warsaw Insurgents. It turns out that the former collaborators of the Security Office and one of them reported on another one that he had been working to the order of unknown authorities, in order to protects his people, by being in the structures of the Security Office as s Secret Collaborator. It is difficult to accept such a version.

– Are any judgment and reliable lustration needed in order to avoid such surprises?

– It is better to emphasize the role of those heroes who did not break down and remained faithful till the end. After all, nobody of us, and thanks God, knows the limit of endurance of one’s pain. It is very individual. Therefore, we find it very easy to accuse others, especially those who were tortured. I also know a story about some priests who belonged to the –so called patriot priests after the war. Some of them were former prisoners of KL Dachau. They had such a hell there, that they were scared of another one. And they got succumbed, by deciding to cooperate with the Security Office.

– Can it be justified?

– I would distinguish justification from an attempt of understanding. I do not want to justify evil. But I am trying to understand a particular situation. And I resist from easy judgments. Therefore at thi8s background it is always necessary to emphasize the role of heroes.

– And what about those who were on the other side? With their executioners? Shall we forgive them?

– Jesus forgave, so we cannot behave differently.

– A few years ago, there were those who bullied and were hearing archbishop Baraniak – not sentenced, as ‘they were not proved to be guilty’. So, shall we forgive them simply?

– I do not mean to forget. But one forgive somebody who is asking for forgiveness. Also Christ forgave those who were asking Him for it. But He also prayed for his executioners as they ‘did not know what they were doing’. St. John Paul II forgave Ali Agcy, although he had not asked for it.

– This is difficult: to tell myself that I will pray for somebody who tortured, murdered….

– Jesus died for everybody. We have no right to judge who is to be redeemed who is not. I experienced something like that myself, when I was celebrating the Holy Mass for the first time in the intention of children from the camp in Przemysłowa street. At that moment I said that we had to pray also for their executioners. But it cost me a lot. And today I think that it must be said so. We have got not only a right but also a duty to pray for those executioners, devoting everything to Divine Mercy. Because it is God who judges and judgment belongs to Him – not to us. And it is not easy in Christianity but it is the most beautiful…

– Can the fact that we are just humans somehow justify our unwillingness to forgive executioners?

– That is true, as we often want to justify ourselves. But Jesus teaches us something even different. In the Angelus prayer he tells us to speak to God Father: ‘forgive us our faults like we do to our culprits’. Taking on such an attitude requires inner conversion. If somebody experiences this conversion, he will become a Christian then. He is a real disciple of Christ.

– Getting to know the story of the priest, bishop from documents of investigating him, from hearings – has anything changed in Archbishop?

– First of all, we do not know all documents, because the ones from the moment of releasing archbishop Baraniak from prison in Mokotów were ‘ordered’ by an officer, who had heard him earlier. Surely, he destroyed the documents which accused the Security Office the most. So, we do not know everything. We only know what he was asked about during over 140 hearings, whose protocols he signed. What was the most shocking for me was seeing the first document signed by archbishop Baraniak. Undoubtedly, it was his signature. After all, I have got decrees under which he sent me to the first parish, later for studies in Rome, and earlier a document of my priestly ordination signed by him. Being in the National Remembrance Institute, I saw his signature on documents of the Security Office. It was really shocking for me. However, in order to understand a bit of it, what he had experienced there, I had to learn to read these materials. Undoubtedly, I can say: he did not break down, what, unfortunately, happened earlier, in the case of bishop Czesław Kaczmarek. And both of them experienced similar cruelties. However, God gave bishop Baraniak a particular grace of perseverance. Strength which does not depend on us. He might have already had this grace that he knew about the court process of bishop Kaczmarek, how he might be used, that the Security Officers might falsify not only the very ‘evidence’ but also him. On the other hand, he might not have known that the whole machine of the Security Office was against him. Documents of the National Remembrance Institute include protocols of his hearings, but there is also a lot of information that all Ministers of Public Security met to debate on the further step of the investigation, in order to make bishop Baraniak succumbed.

– But they didn’t, like they did not destroy remembrance. Now we return to those heroes….It is seen after the recent funeral ceremonies of the Doomed Soldiers. Is this the remembrance?

– People present at funerals of ‘Łupaszka’, ‘Inka’ and ‘Zagończyk’ are not only those who are aware of some facts concerning our Polish history. Therefore this is not only the matter of remembrance but also the matter of identifying oneself with the heroes, with Poland. With the witnesses of Poland. With the witnesses of what is the holiest for our Homeland. In Greek language the word ‘witness’ is translated also as a martyr, so, it also concerns identifying oneself with those who testified values with their suffering, blood. These testimonies speak. When on 1 September at school in Dziewierzowo, the name of functionary of the Government Protection Bureau to the lieutenant Marek Uleryk, during his speech, president of Polish Republic Andrzej Duda said that this functionary had been responsible for Maria Kaczyńska. When he was not able to protect her any more, as both of them were killed at Smoleńsk – Andrzej Duda went to bring the body of the president’s wife, on his behalf. He went to take care of bringing her body to Homeland in a dignified way. When he was saying it – he was crying. His aware attitude, accompanied by emotions, shows a full testimony of a man. I think that there are those, also from Łódź, who went to the funeral of ‘Inka’ and ‘Zagończyk’. Not only do they know something, but they also participate in it.

– These are mainly young people. They follow ideals of the Doomed. Who is forming them so?

– They are lucky to be young. This is a new generation which did not live at communist times. Those who were at that times, knew that it was somehow necessary to find one’s place – even risking some compromises or half-truths. Others lived by what they had been taught at schools or what communist propaganda had told about. Not everybody had a possibility of having their own ancestral saga. Recently I have talked with the chairperson of Solidarity Movement Piotr Duda. I asked him: ‘Why are you so patriotic?’. And he answered: ‘It is not from my home. These were vicars whom I met and who formed me in this way’. It proves, how great guard of tradition the Church was and is. It was the Church which was the space where we always were free – as St. John Paul II used to say. Especially at Jasna Góra, where there is a sanctuary of Our Lady, but also a sanctuary of the Polish history – till Smoleńsk. But not everybody was an altar boy like Piotr Duda, not everybody experienced the Church…..Therefore, it is not easy to evaluate the communist generation in which I also grew up. Whereas the young generation is happier because it can get to know the truth. And to much extent it resisted various lies imposed on us after the year 1989, especially for the last eight years, it has opposed to the policy of embarrassment for Poland, for everything which is connected with Polishness. The generation did not let itself get infected by it. However, some people got succumbed to fake visions of the Church, which allegedly makes a man its slave. But the truth is that in the name of authentic freedom the Church calls the man to live in truth – and puts demands to him.

– So, the young oppose to the saying that ‘Church is only for the elderly’?

– Holy Father Francis called the young to listen to their grandparents. But grandparents are various. If one of those grandparents is an aware witness of values connected with the Church and love to Homeland, he somehow belongs to the generation of ‘the elderly’. I think that the Holy Father brought back their dignity.

– Within celebrations of the 1050th anniversary of Poland Baptism, archdiocese of Łódź has got its own station in Konstantynów, where during the second world war there was a death camp from which priests were transported to Dachau. Archbishop brings back remembrance about those priests in Dachau. What is their testimony of martyrdom for us now? What commitment is it for us?

– Their testimony is something extremely important. St. John Paul II emphasized in his apostolic Letter from 1994 ‘Tertio millennio adveniente’ that the XX century became the age of martyrs again, and the duty of the Church is to bring back remembrance about its faith witnesses, so as to build its presence and future on their testimonies. When in 1991 the Holy Father was making his first pilgrimage to Poland, he said in Włocławek that we were not returning to Europe, as we had always been in it – just thanks to our martyrs, including the martyrs of the last ten years, till Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko. This is our particular presence in Europe and our service to it, our contribution. The Church has always built on the testimony of Christ and till today, the ancient saying has been confirmed in our Polish history that sowing of the Church is blood of its martyrs. Therefore, remembrance about them is our holy duty.

– Łódź is not only a city of priests transported to Dachau, but also martyrdom of a lot of other people. A city of martyrs?

– I heard this sentence two year ago from one of Dutch priests saying about Łódź: a city of martyrs and the saints’. Bl. Fr. Rafał Chyliński, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Urszula Julia Ledóchowska, St. Faustyna, and also martyrs from the times of the Second World War: children from the death camp in Przemysłowa street, Poles from prison in Radgoszcza, Jews from ghetto, Fr. Ananstazy Pankiewicz – are people who were strongly inscribed into the history of holiness and martyrdom of this city.

– So, why don’t we glorify remembrance about them?

– We do – although it is often difficult for us. We must still return to them. Especially in social matters. This is Fr. Rafał Chyliński, a martyr of a confessional, who shows us what people we should be like, if we talk about support and help to the poor. Not only in the material dimension but, mainly the spiritual one.

– Are the Church and the history of our Homeland the same thing?

– From the very beginning. Since the Baptism of Poland.


„Niedziela” 39/2016

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