On the Jesuits

I read the January issue of The Sarmatian Review with great interest; I found the review article by Piotr Wilczek to be particularly notable, as it corrected a great deal of misinformation about the history of the Jesuits in Poland supplied by Pollard's book.

I have occasionally published in the Jesuit monthly Przeglad Powszechny (established in 1884), and I also read their new magazine, Jezuici przyjaciolom. The October 1998 issue of this second magazine contains the following data about the Jesuit presence in contemporary Poland:

The Jesuit Order now has 381 members, including 264 priests, 29 brothers and 88 seminarians

The Papal Theological Institute "Bobolanum" has over 400 students, including 42 seminarians and 358 others including secular students, Catholic Sisters and religious of other denominations

The Jesuits run nine parishes and seven non-parish churches where total Sunday attendance equals 35,000

As religious instructors, they teach over 20,000 children and 8,000 adults per year

Their ministry includes chaplaincies in two prisons and in five hospitals, as well as round-the-clock confessions in two churches: one in Warsaw on Swietojanska Street, and the other in Torun

They run religious programs on Polish television, the Polish Radio and the Polish Section of Radio Vatican, and they make themselves available to journalists

In addition to the periodicals mentioned above, they publish the following: Roczniki Teologiczne "Bobolanum", Szum z nieba, Wokól Wspóczesnosci and a dozen or so smaller periodicals

They publish between ten and twenty books per year

They own and operate a high school and a Center for Leadership

They support and operate renewal projects in Poland (some 30-50 such projects)

They inspire and give support to such Catholic groups as Apostolstwo Modlitwy Wspólnota Zycia Chrzescijanskiego, Przymierze Rodzin, and others

They teach six seminars for college students, one of them at the Catholic University of Lublin

They run the Catholic Information Center and the European Initiative (OCIPE) in Warsaw (this last institution is associated with the European Union).

I think the above is quite impressive.

Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm, Ph.D., Wilmington, Delaware

The author's most recent book is Amerykanie z wyboru (1998).

On collective historical guilt or merit, or lack thereof

I have been reading The Sarmatian Review for quite some time with considerable interest and want to congratulate you on the intellectual courage with which the periodical addresses controversial and often painful issues. I am in sympathy with those who desire to defend Polish interests against ignorance, disinformation, bigotry and sometimes obvious ill-will. Indeed, nothing evokes as much irrational and stereotyped collective responses among members of a national or ethnic community as being subjected collectively and indiscriminately to moral strictures, ridicule, disdain or slander.

It is this question of imputed collective guilt, and especially of collective historical guilt that I want to deal with briefly in this letter. In the January 1999 issue of the SR, you print the text of a fine address by Abraham J. Peck, in which he says to an audience of contemporary Polish Americans with obvious gratitude: 'You, Polonia, gave us the opportunity to be the largest and greatest Jewry the world had ever seen.You gave us decades, no centuries, of a freedom and a sense of belonging we found nowhere else.' These words, I am sure, were deeply appreciated by many of the listeners of Polish origin; for once there was praise instead of denigration and accusation. Yet had I been in that audience I would have had to protest. I would have pointed out that personally I had nothing to do with these centuries of comparatively tolerable (if not better) conditions of life that the old Polish Kingdom, and then the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth provided to the Jewish community. And since I personally had nothing to do with this, no gratitude was due to me, no pride would have been justified on my part. But, by the same token, had the audience been addressed in a different vein, with accusations of inveterate Polish anti-Semitism across the centuries, I personally would not have felt guilty, or even offended. For I have had nothing to do with that either.

In more abstract terms, collective historical guilt and collective historical pride are both, and equally so, absurd sentiments. No one is responsible for the deeds of his or her grandparents, and even, usually, for the deeds of parents, not to speak of progenitors living in a more distant past. It is high time to move the discussion about Polish-Jewish relations, or Polish-Russian, or Polish-Ukrainian, or Polish-German relations away from this logical and moral monstrosity. For that matter I am not responsible, living in far-away Vancouver, for the planters of crosses near Auschwitz, and I am sure Mr. Abraham J. Peck is not responsible for the Pole-baiting practised by some contemporary American Jews.

What is incumbent upon me is to have the most accurate knowledge possible of the past and not to falsify it; and second, not to use that knowledge to impute collective historical guilt to those who were not a part of that past.

Perhaps, if this were recognized more generally, it would be easier to establish Polish-Jewish relations on a better footing. Yes, as Mr. Peck puts it, 'we must speak fully and openly about our own histories,' with this qualification, that by 'our own' we must mean our own, personal, individual histories and not the histories of the national communities into which we happen to have been born. We must speak openly of those histories, too, not with personal guilt or shame but in perspective, with understanding and judgment.

Bogdan Czaykowski, Professor Emeritus
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

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