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April 2007

Volume XXVII, No. 2

Oczami bezpieki: Szkice i materiały z dziejów aparatu bezpieczeństwa PRL, by Sławomir Cenckiewicz [Through the eyes of the secret police: notes and materials pertaining to the history of the communist security system in People’s Poland]. Kraków: Arcana, 2006. 661 pages. Index of names, photographs. ISBN 83-89243-76-8. Hardcover. Zl. 79, or about $27 (including overseas postage) at <>.

The book provides extensive documentation on security apparatus in Soviet-occupied Poland. The interpretive section is of limited utility and, on occasion, contestable, but the author/editor makes an unassailable case for the quasi-religious fanaticism (including murder, if necessary) that the communists inflicted on those who lived under their government and did not toe the line.

The volume is divided into three parts. The first deals with infiltration and wrecking techniques used by the secret police agents “working” the Polish diaspora in America. The second analyzes the years 1968-89 in Poland (the post-Stalin period of communist police activity), while the third documents the methods used in trying to undermine and discredit Catholicism in Poland. The documentation is extensive; however, one of the photographs shows the partially burned and shredded files in the regional PUWP (Polish United Workers’ Party) headquarters in Gdańsk.

For the American reader the first section is the most interesting. Cenckiewicz begins with the activities of the Polish political émigrés after the Second World War.

Living in conditions of total destitution, the Polish displaced persons in Germany had the choice of returning to Poland to an almost certain arrest, or being paid by American intelligence officers and returning to Poland clandestinely as carriers of intelligence to and from Poland. The third possibility was instant starvation. Those who chose trips to Poland were exposed to countless dangers: the NKVD had nearly total control over Poland in the 1940s, and it was efficient in torture and execution. While naming some of the “recruitment” camps for Polish DPs in the western zone of defeated Germany, Cenckiewicz makes it clear that those Poles who took the American offer worked for American rather than Polish interests, and their activity served American rather than Polish political goals. Cenckiewicz’s fine distinction serves a useful purpose: Poles are notoriously unable to recognize when and how they are being used. Cenckiewicz claims that up to 1952, when the subsidies tapered off, American intelligence spent one million dollars sponsoring these intelligence trips, a paltry sum by 2006 standards (23). However, Cenckiewicz maintains that quite a bit of this money went to double agents and eventually ended up on the communist side.

Cenckiewicz further outlines the wrecking tactics used by agents trying to penetrate the American Polonia. Three individuals “distinguished” themselves in that regard: the Polish-born American communist Bolesław Gebert, who collaborated with Soviet intelligence in the United States run by Gen. Vasilii Zarubin; propaganda writer Artur Salman, aka Stanisław Arski; and Marxist economist Oskar Lange who “represented” Soviet-occupied Poland in diplomacy and scholarship. These three individuals were active in the Polonia Society (Towarzystwo Łączności z Polonią Zagraniczną) established by the communist regime to influence the Polish diaspora and make it accept the legitimacy of the Warsaw government.

It should be noted that the Polonia Society attracted hundreds of relatively small fry, who hung on for personal gain or because they wanted to diminish the isolation from the West imposed on Poland as a result of postwar arrangements between the great powers. Here Cenckiewicz paints with too broad a brush: most people active in Polonia worked there for personal reasons, and sometimes for patriotic reasons. They were not traitors to Poland, the Polish diaspora, or the United States. However, it is interesting that the aforementioned Stanisław Arski/Artur Salman (author of the virulently anti-American book Targowica ležy nad Atlantykiem, 1952) praised some Polish American periodicals and institutions, including the Polish American Journal based in Scranton, PA, and the Polish-language Czas published in Brooklyn (175).

Cenckiewicz outlines strategies meant to discredit the Polish American Congress and its president, Aloysius Mazewski. The goal was to make the Congress look ridiculous and irrelevant. Mazewski himself was given the “silent treatment.” To Mazewski’s credit, the communist agents and their sympathizers never managed to penetrate PAC. In 1976, the North American Study Center for Polish Affairs (Studium) was organized by Professors Andrzej Ehrenkreutz and Czesław Maliszewski. The goal of Studium was to work on behalf of Polish sovereignty and serve as an intellectual arm for the Polish American Congress. The organization had very limited means, but it apparently generated a good deal of fear and confusion among the communist agents, whose task was to make the Polish diaspora dysfunctional.

The agents skillfully used some legitimate grievances of Poles in America. Consider, for instance, the situation in the American Catholic Church where in the 1960s almost a quarter of the members were of Polish background, yet there were hardly any Polish American bishops, Polish parishes were frowned on, and American hierarchs such as John Cardinal Cody conducted a systematically anti-Polish policy. These legitimate grievances have not been addressed to this day. Cenckiewicz details their use in attempts to recruit pro-Soviet collaborators. However, even in this situation the communist pickings were slim.

Among the carrots offered Polonia by the communist regime was financial support for the Adam Mickiewicz Chair of Polish Studies at Columbia University. The Chair was supported to the tune of $10,000, which in the 1940s and 1950s was a considerable sum of money. The subsequent lack of funds made this semipermanent Chair evaporate: efforts to resuscitate it have long been under way. Also among the carrots was the distribution of a large number of awards and medals to members of the diaspora. In 1966 alone, 2,500 commemorative medals were distributed among Polish Americans, and one thousand copies of propaganda films about life in People’s Poland were sent to various Polish consulates in the United States.

The book contains much more than this review can indicate. Particularly noteworthy are the original documents, such as the list of the Polish-related institutions worldwide whose surveillance was undertaken by communist intelligence, or detailed instructions about the objectives and tactics to use while working with the diaspora. What strikes one about all this is the fanaticism of those who practiced it. Like al-Queda, the communists did so much more than, one imagines, the CIA or FBI do to gather intelligence. But then, unlike al-Queda, the Cheka, the NKVD, and the KGB were founded on the virulently antireligious mania to control and to dominate. (sb)

Dzieje polskiej myśli politycznej 1864-914 [1914] (The History of Polish Political Thought, 1863-1914), by Wilhelm Feldman. Introduction by Leon Wasilewski. 2d enlarged and updated ed. Warsaw: Instytut Badania Najnowszej Historii Polski, 1923. Notes, index of names. x + 387 pages. Paper.

This nearly one-hundred-year-old book deserves a comment, if only to bring it to the attention of readers and publishers. Unlike many other books that deal with the history and politics of the day, it urgently needs reprinting. Wilhelm Feldman (1867-1919) outlines the history of Polish political thought, from the period of the failed 1863 rising to Jęzef Piłsudski Legion’s entrance into the Russian-occupied part of Poland, which Russians left defeated in August 1914. Piłsudski entered these Polish lands on 6 August 1914. Feldman concludes his book with these words: “Poles accomplished their own liberation, and the Polish soldier fulfilled his historical mission” (373). He also quotes Rosa Luxemburg, apparently to show how wrong she was: “Not even the most fertile coffee-shop-politician’s imagination could create an image of the situation in which a war between Russia and the German Reich would bring in Polish independence” (272). The abundance of names and references in this book is astounding. Sad to say, most educated Poles are not familiar with these names or the efforts at advancing Polish liberty associated with their bearers. In their efforts to Russify or Germanize Poles, the occupying powers managed to erase the names of dozens of remarkable thinkers and writers. Feldman himself suffered a similar fate: a Web search revealed that his only book reprinted in postcommunist Poland is a marginal study of Polish modernist poetry. Feldman is particularly good at outlining Polish political writings in the two decades before the First World War. The picture he paints of the various Polish theorists is sometimes strikingly different from the one imposed on Polish memory in communist times. For instance, who would have suspected that the author of the following poem about Poles ingratiating themselves to their Russian masters is Roman Dmowski:

Každy młody czy tež stary
Bawił się jak ryba w wodzie,
I moskiewsko-polskie pary
Szły w tan przy najlepszej zgodzie.
O sielance takiej boskiej
W žadnym domu nie ma mowy,
Chyba že u Ślimakowskiej
Przy ulicy Towarowej (Dom publ.) (250)

Zmiana klimatu, by Zdzisław Krasnodębski. Kraków: Ośrodek Myśli Politycznej (,, 2006. Vol. 52 of the series. Index. 280 pages. ISBN 83-60125-75-9. Paper. In Polish.

A book of essays on Polish foreign relations. Particularly valuable is the section on Polish-German relations. Genuine specialists on the subject are rare in Poland; Krasnodębski is one of them. He points out that the German national consciousness is evolving and that Germany’s stance of contrition for starting the Second World War has long ended.

Political Thought in Renaissance Poland: An Anthology in English, edited with an introduction by Harold B. Segel. New York: PIASA Books 208 East 30th Street, New York, NY 10016, 2003. iii + 383 pages. ISBN 0-940962-61-6. Paper. $18.00 plus postage from PIASA.

What one encounters here are the names most high school students in Poland are familiar with; so much more is the pity that for the average American reader this is like the tablets recently discovered in Africa purporting to prove that the Africans had a written language before the Europeans came. The texts come from the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, and deal mainly with the ways in which the citizens of Poland should be represented in the Polish parliament (Sejm). The republican way of governing the Polish Commonwealth was as progressive as could be imagined in a class society, but it lost out in the eighteenth century against the autocratic regimes of Russia and Prussia. The anthology presents how Sarmatian Poland governed itself, how political disputes were formatted, how laws were (or should have been) executed, and what the duties and obligations of the privileged classes were. To some extent, this political tradition that the writers represent is related to the parenetic tradition that was strong in Poland in the seventeenth century.

The names of authors anthologized here are Jan Ostroręg (an essay on how the Diet should be constituted); Andrzej Frycz-Modrzewski (on death penalty and on government reform); Stanisław Orzechowski (on the executive, i.e., the Crown); Wawrzyniec Goślicki (excerpts from his famous treatise on the perfect senator); Łukasz Gęrnicki (a dispute between a Pole and an Italian as to whose laws are better, and another dispute between the defenders and detractors of the Duchy of Lithuania, by Augustyn Mielecki). Finally, the famous Jesuit preacher Piotr Skarga makes his appearance, with two sermons from his Sermons to the Diet. There are also some anonymous texts.

Kaja od Radosława, czyli historia Hubalowego krzyža, by Aleksandra Ziółkowska-Boehm. Warsaw: Muza SA ( 2006. 271 pages. Notes, bibliography, name index. ISBN 83-7319-975-6. Paper. Zl. 29.90 plus postage ($10.00 without postage).

This is almost a detective story, based on a real event. One of the heroes of Polish Resistance in the Second World War received a Virtuti Militari Cross. In Soviet-occupied Poland recipients of this Cross went to jail. The book narrates how the Cross survived Rising ’44, the Soviet Gulag, and the Soviet occupation of Poland, to resurface fifty years later.

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