by Julia Owerko
Edited by The History Club
Dr. Kruszewski, a witness of war himself, explains that the Polish government glorifies history.
WARSAW 1944 – Zbigniew Kruszewski, straight out of middle school, fights in the Warsaw Uprising. Under the pseudonym “Jowisz” (“Jupiter”), the 16-year-old is part of the Szare Szeregi and participates in actions of little sabotage. With operations such as filling up gas tanks with sand or changing directions of signs on the streets to mess with the Nazis, young Zbigniew was risking his life for his country. And yet Dr. Kruszewski believes the Polish government is glorifying history.
WARSAW 2019 – We jump to today, when Dr. Kruszewski visits our school to talk about his experiences with the uprising. Carrying messages from Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski, young Kruszewski was forced to walk through the sewage system and put his own life on the line for his nation. However, when asked about the constant celebration of his actions, he wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea. Poland “is probably the only country in Europe which cherishes history really to the nth degree and it’s too much, actually, history,” he said.
The Polish governing party, PiS, has moved to control historical content that students are exposed to in school. No longer do textbooks include information about the Roman Empire or Ancient Greece. Instead, kids learn about Polish heroes glorified by the government. For example, Józef Piłsudski is regarded as the saviour of the Polish nation. However, Dr. Kruszewski draws an important comparison by saying that during communist times “all the books were biased providing one point of view, a communist point of view. And now the present government in Poland is overdoing the other way around and glorifying [the] Second Polish Republic.”
Over the summer Poland commemorated the 80th anniversary of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. If you don’t know what that is, you are not the only one. Dr. Kruszewski himself recognizes that “Nobody in the world even remembers [the] 80th anniversary of WWII,” whereas in Poland it is repeated constantly. “There’s too much militarization, too much glory for the stories about World War II, as if WWII ended only yesterday. This is completely goofy.” He himself witnessed the terrors of war, and yet, he believes his stories have been glorified by the government; he laughs at the idea of celebrating history to the extent that Poland does, even referring to Poles as ones who “live in history”.
Dr. Kruszewski does, however, recognize the importance of historical precision in politics. He recalled an incident in which President Obama referred to “Polish concentration camps,” using a term which implies these camps were run by Poles. Mr. Obama later corrected himself and apologized. Dr. Kruszewski points out that “sometimes politicians in America don’t realize how badly it hits Poles because we lived through horror, really horror.”
However, there is a fine line between monitoring history’s accuracy and glorifying it. Dr. Kruszewski feels that the present day government is “overly patriotic”. “They accuse young people of being not patriotic enough”. He also believes they are “inundating people with all those facts” to a point where “the young generation is so tired and doesn’t like it.”
If a survivor himself has decided that the celebration of history has been overdone, we must look at why the government is continuing to campaign for the glorification of that history, as it is no longer out of respect to the survivors.