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    Biuletyny Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej

Pawel Styrna

IPN is a state-supported historical Institute dedicated to the study of Polish history between 1939-1989. The Institute was established after the communist party surrendered power and the Soviet military left Poland. It employs historians who search communist and other archives, and it publishes books and periodicals. The Bulletins reflect the most recent archival research. Sarmatian Review will continue to publish reviews of individual issues in order to bring IPN’s work to those scholars who do not know Polish. Ed. Biuletyny, nos. 3-12 (86-95): March 2008, July 2008, and November-December 2008. Edited by Jan M. Ruman et al. Warsaw: Institute of National Memory (, 2008. In Polish.

The three issues of the Bulletins reviewed here are
devoted to different subjects and time periods. The March issue deals with the events of March 1968, the July issue commemorates Soviet-occupied Poland through political humor, and the November-December issue is dedicated to the ninetieth anniversary of Poland’s reappearance as an independent state on 11 November 1918. Each issue comes with a DVD, on the communist secret police, the “rebels” of the Solidarity Student Committee, and the “Miracle on the Vistula,” respectively.

In Poland the events of March 1968 included not only the so-called “anti-Zionist campaign” but also, and primarily, student protests in response to the communist regime banning a performance of Adam Mickiewicz’s play Forefathers’ Eve (Dziady). The March issue opens with an interview with political scientist Paweł Tomasik and historian Andrzej Chojnowski. They speak about factional infighting within the party, the secret police, and Jewish and Catholic discrimination by the communist authorities. Jan Îaryn’s excellent article aptly defends the Church from accusations of not doing enough to criticize the regime for its brutal treatment of the protesting students. Franciszek Dàbrowski writes of the communist anti-Semitic journalist Ryszard Gontarz, who toed the “anti-Zionist” line of General Moczar in 1968. We also learn that Gontarz was the first journalist to call for the removal of religious instruction from Polish schools after 1956. The March issue also includes well-researched pieces on the “March events” in the Rzeszów, Poznań, Białystok, and Łódê regions. An article by oppositionist Antoni Zambrowski (son of prominent Jewish communist Roman Zambrowski) is noteworthy as well, since the author points out that non-Jewish Poles also fell victim to the “anti-Zionist” campaign of 1967-1968 because in 1967 many Poles sympathized with Israel’s victory over the Soviet-supported Arab states. Expressing such sympathy put one on a blacklist. Piotr Gontarczyk and Radosław Peterman attempt to clear up a secret police error that confused Polish politician Stefan Niesiłowski with a police collaborator codenamed “Leopold.” The reader will also find interesting pieces on Polish reaction to Stalin’s death in March 1953, and on the regime’s failed attempts to create an atmosphere of mourning in Poland.

The July issue provides many delights for fans of political humor. Barbara Polak interviews historian Łukasz Kamiński on this type of humor’s role as a means of resisting the system. Poles thus mocked the crude lies of communist propaganda and poked fun at Soviet leaders and their Polish puppets, as well as at the regime’s policies and their consequences such as the unending shortages of food and basic consumer items. One could even say that comic relief made life under communism a bit more bearable. Kamiński rightly notes that anticommunist humor was a continuation of anti-German humor from the Second World War. Poles simply replaced the word “German” with “Soviet” and “communist.” The issue also contains an interview on political humor with Jan Pietrzak, a popular cabaret performer. As the author of the song “Let Poland be Poland” (Îeby Polska była Polskà) that became the unofficial anthem of Solidarity, Pietrzak recalls the hysterical reaction exhibited toward this supposedly nationalistic song by the leftist elements in the Solidarity movement, while in the meantime Ronald Reagan and Queen Elizabeth approvingly quoted it in their speeches. The July issue also contains anticommunist cartoons, anti-Nazi jokes, and an article about the great Catholic historian Oskar Halecki.

The November-December issue is perhaps the most important of the three. In the opening interview Marek Gałęzowski, Włodzimierz Suleja, Pawł Wieczorkiewicz [+2008], and Krzysztof Kawalec discuss different strategies for regaining independence during the so-called “orientation struggle” (Central Powers vs. Entente) before and during the First World War. The interlocutors agree that Poles who actively fought for independence either through the military or political-diplomatic route were a minority, and that Poland’s independence can in fact be called a miracle since it was by no means inevitable in a European order that had existed for over a century without a sovereign Polish State. The three historians also agree that both orientations were necessary and useful because they allowed Poles to extract concessions from both sides by “playing on nonexistent military potential,” as Professor Kawalec puts it. Thus Dmowski was able to secure Poland’s recognition as an Entente partner and negotiate survivable frontiers at Versailles, while Piłsudski created the Polish Military Organization (POW) and other Polish military units that would later become the Polish Army.

The issue also contains Piotr Cichoracki’s article on Polish units formed in France during the first world war (the Bajończycy, or Bayonneites), Hubert Kuberski’s piece on the Czech invasion of the Cieszyn region in 1919, Sebastian Rosenbaum’s article on Upper Silesia in 1918-1919, Krzysztof Hoff’s article on the anti-German rising in Wielkopolska in December 1918, and Paweł Wieczorkiewicz’s essay on the “Miracle on the Vistula” in 1920. In addition, Norbert Wojtowicz devotes an article to heroic scouts who volunteered to help defend the city of Płock from the Bolshevik invaders in August 1920, while Marek Głęzowski writes about the Lwów Eaglets (Orlęta) and the influence of their sacrifice on the interwar military and the young Polish soldiers during the Second World War.

Piotr Gontarczyk’s piece focuses on the trial of communists in Łuck (Volhynia) in 1934. In an issue commemorating Polish independence, it is quite appropriate to remind readers of Poland’s communists who, as virtual agents of the Soviet Union, did their utmost to undermine Poland’s existence and sovereignty. It should not be forgotten that before the Second World War the minuscule Polish Communist Party was adamantly opposed to Polish independence and tried utmost to make Poland into a vassal state of the Soviet Union. There are also articles on the young Legionnaire from Rzeszów Leopold Lis-Kula, the poet-soldier Eugeniusz Korwin-Małaczewski, and three remarkable Polish generals: Jan Dowbór-Muśnicki, Tadeusz Jordan Rozwadowski, and Józef Haller. Jerzy Kirszak and Marek Gałęzowski dedicate articles to Piłsudski’s right-hand man General Kazimierz Sosnkowski, a soldier and a statesman, while Andrzej Paczkowski and Marek Czachor review Sławomir Cenckiewicz and Piotr Gontarczyk’s recent book on Lech Wałęsa and the communist secret police.

The three issues of the Bulletins reviewed here demonstrate that the Institute of National Memory is making significant contributions to the hitherto suppressed narrative of modern Polish history. Δ

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