Today, the historical narrative in Poland has become a strict function of politics. The majority PiS (Law and Justice) government is in the process of ruthlessly demolishing the fruits of an entire generation’s efforts to coexist with other nations based on the principles of openness, historical truth, and political cooperation.
What I wish to emphasize today is: Mateusz Morawiecki’s conservative government is not the only voice on the political scene in our country.
Although I was born many years after the war, I am tied through generations to the city of many cultures, Łódź. The second World War annihilated the world of my ancestors, irreversibly destroying what was once colorful and in common to all of us. The wounds it left are very difficult to heal. I came to understand this in a deep way as a result of the many conversations I had about remembrance and peacemaking with Mark Edelman, one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
We must not allow those wounds, now once again torn open, to be clotted over with a membrane of acrimony and despondency. We must face the truth and reject the fear of our own history. We must neither insert nor erase anything, we must neither gloss over anything nor must we exaggerate. We must have a readiness to understand and to forgive, for the only truly great nations are those capable of forgiveness and capable of being forgiven.
The situation in Poland today troubles many Poles, as well as those who wish us well. Likewise, the disapproval of many of Poland’s friends in the world — politicians, intellectuals, historians, journalists, writers, and artists, including those who have supportively watched our progress and change since the birth of the Solidarity movement in 1980 all the way to the economic success of the past few decades — that disapproval is a source of sorrow. The sentiment is also shared by Poles who at one point or other emigrated from Poland, often due to the political or economic situation.
Poland is not limited to today’s parliamentary majority. It is much more than the sum of its parts — it is a community of individuals and generations; of history and fates. Therefore, in the face of silence on the part of Poland’s president and of the government, I wish to address this message to all Poles in the country, and to all our friends around the world.
My dear fellow countrymen, Poles, we must understand that those who deny the past, and who do not care for our common future, lead us toward moral self-perdition. During World War II many nations suffered extensive losses, but the Jewish nation suffered the most. The tribulations of any person — whether Pole, Jew or Ukrainian — must not be forgotten, and the evil done to him must not be erased, regardless of who committed it.
Dear citizens of Israel and Jews across the world whose roots go back to Poland, Poles and Jews share many centuries of wonderful history. Anyone who has ever visited the Polin Museum in Warsaw or Yad Vashem in Jerusalem knows this. For many centuries, Jews found peace on Polish soil. Later, during the Nazi storm, they also experienced pain and death here, perishing in Nazi concentration camps or as victims of Poles who disclosed their hiding places to the Nazis in exchange for profit (known as “szmalcownik” from the word “szmal,” slang for money). We Poles honored all the victims of Nazi Germany, and of the crimes committed by Poles, and we said “never more.”
I appeal to all friends of Poland throughout the world: do not forsake us at this difficult time. This is a time when honorable and empathetic Poles — the majority of our society — who protest and resist the manipulation of history; who are appalled by any sort of hatred, anti-Semitism or xenophobia, need your words and acts of solidarity and encouragement the most. We need voices of support and reason, especially in the face of unfair, cruel generalizations and lies that attribute ill intent to all Poles alike.
I appeal also to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Three important events are upon us: the 50th anniversary of March 1968; the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising; and the 70th anniversary of the nation of Israel. These three special occasions can be our chances to restore our peace, our bond and mutual comprehension between Poland and Israel. I ask for you and your government to find the courage and moral strength to take them. The same way the Polish bishops in 1965 did; the same way Tadeusz Mazowiecki laid down the foundations for peace and forgiveness between Poland and Germany in 1989 in Krzyżowa. Today we are all neighbors — Poles, Germans, Jews and Ukrainians — and there is no more reason for our nations to be estranged.
Katarzyna Lubnauer is the President of Nowoczesna (The Modern), the centrist, liberal opposition party in Poland that was created in 2015 and entered into the Polish Parliament.