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April 2004

Volume XXIV, No. 2

Jerzy Zawieyski and Catholicism

It is misleading of Christina Manetti (in her article "Tygodnik Powszechny and the Postwar Debate on Literature in Poland," SR, January 2004)--and of many others--to say that Jerzy Zawieyski converted to Catholicism. Manetti writes: "One prominent ‘catechumen' who had converted to Catholicism during the war was the playwright Jerzy Zawieyski." However, Zawieyski (1902-1969) was christened in the Catholic Church in 1902, or more than forty years before World War II. By the time he was two years old, Zawieyski was symbolically initiated into the Franciscan Order. One of his childhood photographs shows him wearing the habit of St. Francis. It would be more accurate then to speak of Zawieyski's return to Catholicism.

It is also misleading to call Zawieyski solely a playwright, however useful it might be to my research project on his plays. He was an accomplished novelist and non-fiction writer, as well as a playwright, dramaturge, actor, and theatre instructor. In this context, it is helpful to remember that many of Zawieyski's contemporaries, including his friend, Zbigniew Herbert, looked up to him as the only established Polish writer who, in protest against the Stalinization of Polish culture, consistently refused to have his books published and his plays performed between 1949 and 1956. No other established Polish writer remained silent for so long, so steadfastly and, yes, so heroically.

Halina Filipowicz, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin

Dr. Manetti replies:

I would like to thank Professor Filipowicz for providing readers with more information about the writer Jerzy Zawieyski.

My comments were based on my reading of Zawieyski's diaries, his writings in Tygodnik Powszechny and other publications, and his colleagues' memoirs. More recently, the correspondence of Zbigniew Herbert and Jerzy Zawieyski from the years 1949-1967 has also been published (Biblioteka Wiezi, 2002).

Elsewhere in my book-length manuscript on the Znak group, which is not a work of literary history, Zawieyski figures quite prominently. In discussing his activities in parliament as part of the Znak Circle after 1957, I focus on the dramatic moments in 1968 when he courageously addressed the Sejm in defense of students and culture after the March events.

It was my hope that this would help expose English-speaking audiences a bit more to the many faces of this relatively little-known--though fascinating--figure of Polish twentieth century history, both literary and political.

Review polemic

As a longtime reader of Sarmatian Review, I was disappointed to read Dr. Danusha V. Goska's tendentious and highly inaccurate review of Marek Chodakiewicz's book After the Holocaust (SR, XXIV:1, January 2004).

First, Chodakiewicz does not deny the existence of anti-Semitism in Polish society nor in the Polish anti-Communist resistance as the reviewer suggests throughout the review. To the contrary, he provides many examples and shows in some detail how the Polish resistance often erroneously attributed the actions and opinions of Jewish Communists to the Jewish community as a whole. However, he rejects the dominant paradigm that all Polish actions and all Jewish deaths were caused by this single factor.

The notion that postwar Jewish deaths may be attributable to something other than ingrained Polish anti-Semitism did not originate with Chodakiewicz, but was proposed by other scholars, including David Engel who challenged the oft-cited figure of 2,000-3,000 postwar Jewish deaths. What Chodakiewicz does is greatly add to our picture of that complex period, showing how simplistic judgments about Polish behavior and motivation do not stand up to scrutiny. He finds that there was no single explanatory category into which postwar Jewish deaths can be neatly placed. This is done through detailed analysis of many cases, which required intensive research in heretofore rarely used archives.

All of this seems to be completely lost on the reviewer, who dismissed the substance and the real point of the book with a brief and somewhat contemptuous paragraph. Goska ignores the utility of in-depth research to particularize about each case of violence. She is more comfortable with stereotypes still in place precisely because there was no research for fifty years on these issues. One wonders about the qualifications of a reviewer who supposedly reads an entire book that paints such a nuanced picture and decides that the point of the book is to prove that "antisemitism had nothing to do with Polish murder and persecution of Jews."

Thereafter, the review devolves into a long sermon in which the reviewer confuses her own feelings for thoughts, even brings in discussion of the Los Angeles riots (which are excused as retribution for white racism rather than described as the criminal acts they were). For example, she feels the need to inform us that "The Holocaust was, inter alia, a wake-up call to Western Civilization. ‘Antisemitism is a bad thing,' the Holocaust said, loud and clear." While we may applaud the reviewer for her amazing discovery of the previously ignored downside of anti-Semitism, this does not constitute a serious engagement of Chodakiewicz's book. Moreover, Dr Goska insults our intelligence when she suggests that After the Holocaust resembles some anti-Semitic websites she found with a Google search.

The reviewer attacks Chodakiewicz for using the terms "Poles" and "Jews" as too mutually exclusive when she herself has spent an entire review using the same terms, especially castigating "Poles" as anti-Semites. Jewish Communists, as Chodakiewicz shows, placed themselves beyond the Polish (and Jewish) pale by rejecting their own religion, ethnicity, and nationality and espousing an internationalist identity (at least during Stalinist times). This same judgment applied to Polish Communists as well. It was customary to put ethnic Polish Communists beyond the pale of Polishness for they were perceived as traitors and, hence, as having rejected Polishness (as understood by tradition of the struggle for independence and liberty). Hence all Communists were not considered Polish, and not just Jews. It was a moral distinction and not a racist one.

Goska's biggest complaint with the book, is a lack of "psychological perspective." However, this is irrelevant to the purpose and goal of the author's research. Chodakiewicz himself warns us against using such reductive terms, sensibly pointing out that crimes were committed by individual people, not groups.

The problems of Polish-Jewish relations during and after the Holocaust and in the context of Nazi and Communist occupations deserves serious research and not psychobabble and the rhetorical gymnastics of academics who try to take the "correct" political stance on every issue. Goska's formula is one in which serious research is replaced by touchy-feely pablum that makes everyone feel good but which never addresses the underlying issues. If certain Poles or some Jews collaborated with the Nazis or Soviets against their neighbors, historians have a duty to unearth as many facts as possible and debate them in an open and honest way without issuing a priori apologies to the sensitive souls who might feel hurt or who wish to play the eternal victim for personal or political gain. It is precisely the game of victim politics and the psychobabble that this review pushes in place of careful analysis of the book's strengths and weaknesses that constitute the major impediment to the good research that would allow Poles and Jews to speak the "truth in love" to each other and to themselves. I hope in the future that your fine publication will seek out more qualified and serious reviewers for such important works.

John Radzilowski, St. Paul, Minnesota

Dr. Goska declined to reply.


In the last paragraph of my article, "Polish Catholicism: A Historical Outline" (SR, XXIV:1, p. 1015), a typographical error changed the plural into the singular. A sentence in the last paragraph should read, "Those individuals are frustrated that the Church, which led the Polish nation to victory over determined enemies, now faces in the consumerism and hedonism of the West a more treacherous enemy."

Kevin Hannan, University of Lodz, Poland

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