KILLING REMEMBRANCE OF GREAT POLES
JERZY ROBERT NOWAK
Very few of our compatriots are aware of significance of achievements by prominent Poles in various countries of the world. And they were so great that tragic fate of Poland after failures of several uprisings made ten thousand of dynamic and talented people emigrate. How significant evaluations of such a prominent foreign observer of our history were, like prof. Norman Davies. He said among the others: In the group of the Big Emigration there was nearly whole political elite of the Congress Kingdom, as well as a significant per cent of prominent representatives of the artistic world of the epoch. What they achieved, was much better than achievements of compatriots living in their time and how decided to stay in homeland’. This contribution of Poland in civilizations of other nations was particularly appreciated in the Second Republic of Poland, when at the top of the authority there were long-time emigrants, such as presidents Gabriel Narutowicz and Ignacy Mościcki or the prime minister Ignacy Jan paderewski.
Consequences of communist phobia towards emigration
How different, even miserably different was a situation in the so-called People’s Poland, when the very word ‘emigrant’ raised extreme suspicions. At that time, in fact, in 1945, killing remembrance of many prominent Poles began, who did a lot for science, culture or freedom fights of other countries. So far we have been paying a very high price for ideological communist phobia towards everything which was created on emigration after 1944. As Gabriel Pierocki wrote in a magazine of 28 July 2001, edited in the USA for Polish Diaspora ‘Gazeta Polarna’: ‘A forbidden or kept in silence issue were all kinds of mentions about achievements of Poles in countries of their residence’. As a result of these conscious omissions and prohibitions, for a few dozen years of communist, big negligence of knowledge about achievements of prominent Poles was growing. It is difficult not to agree with the evaluation expressed a few years ago on pages of ‘Rzeczpospolita’ by Małgorzata Dzieduszycka and Zygmunt Skórzyński: ‘It must be said clearly that achievements of the Polish emigration are in Poland – despite the general belief - nearly completely unknown. We find out about significant people of emigration of the last 50s, prominent engineers and scientists with great achievements, completely accidentally’. The fact that too big part of diplomatic staff after 1989 were people of the previous communist nomenclature – of various ‘red dynasties’ – and their children did not approve of complementing gaps in their knowledge about prominent Poles from the Polish Diaspora.
Negligence of remembrance about great Poles of the III Polish Republic
Dominance of leftist powers in media and a bad state of the so-called elites after 1989 were favourable to maintaining national masochism and pedagogy of embarrassment. How right notes of a great historian and publicist prof. Andrzej Nowak seem here in this context, published on 28 May 2004 in the weekly ‘Tygodnik Solidarność’. Prof. Nowak noted the consequence ‘with which political elites of the III Polish Republic were trying to lower self-esteem of Poles and change their attitude to national traditions. According to the concept, launched after 1989, it was not communism which was bad but Poland and Poles are bad. What is more, Pole is unsuccessful, Pole cannot do anything, is only a half-wild creature which only thanks to strict training after learning western examples will be adjusted to live in a civilized world’.
As a result of such an attitude, surnames of many prominent Poles of XX century were treated as the second category in the most influential media and even excluded from significant encyclopedias. I decided to look through a one-volume encyclopedia PWN from 1997 in this respect. Results were shocking. I was looking for the person of dr. Hilary Koprowski there in vain, who a few dozen years ago became famous in USA after discovering the first vaccine for Heine-Medine illness, that is, a discovery on a world scale. He was called ‘a Polish Pauster in USA’. If Koprowski had been a Czech, Hungarian, Jew or an Englishman, how much would have been written about in the languages of his nationality. Whereas in our country he was omitted in a seemingly highly popular encyclopedia. Whereas the encyclopedia mentions the former chairman of a small communist party from Luxembourg Dominique Urbany. This encyclopedia does not write about such a person as the famous historian Feliks Koneczny, who was probably too ‘reactive’ for encyclopedia publishers from PWN; as well as the famous engineer gen. Zdzisław JulianStarostecki, an inventor of the American rocket ‘Patriot; or a constructor Henryk Sikorski, a co-inventor of the rocket ‘Redstone’, which took the first American astronaut. Moreover, nothing is mentioned about the scientists from many centuries ago, like Aleksander Kurczewski (Curtis)- a founder of the first University in New Amstedam (New York) in the mid of XVII century; like Stanisław Polak from Sevilia, an inventor of the first modern publishing house in the world in the turn of XV and XVI centuries; like the first creator of the Panama Canal Aleskander Hołyński. The encyclopedia also omits the former insurgent and later a professor at Sorbona University Aleksander Boecki who in 1854 founded the first polytechnics in the United States (see the text online ‘Catholic Encyclopedia. Poles in the United States’). The American writer Louis Van Norman, in a book published in 1908 in Warsaw, ‘Poland as a knight among nations’ calledprof. Boeck ‘an inventor of the best American polytechnics’. The encyclopedia publishers from PWN omitted the vice-marshal of RAF Aleksander Meisner, the future chairman of the Society of Polish Pilots in England, and the scientist and engineer Józef Stanisław Kosacki who invented a manual mine warfare detector, which was an essential contribution to the victory of allies. Examples of such omissions might be multiplied for a long time. The mentioned encyclopedia PWN shocked with extreme disproportions in respect of space devoted to particular people. For example, more space was given to Karol Modzelewski (11 verses), than Tadeusz Kościuszko (7 verses) or Fr. Adam Czartoryski (8 verses). 11 verses were given to Adam Michnik, whereas only 7 to Zbigniew Herbert.
Depolonization of great Polish women and men
From 1989, when so many surnames of prominent Poles were still covered with forgetting, there were still extreme situations. In Polish (!) media there were many attempts to depolonize people of the greatest Polish women and men, assigning different nationalities to them. We read from an article of the publicist of ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’ Jerzy Sosnowski, in the edition from 5 August 1991, that Kopernik was German, Chopin was French, not saying Adam Mickiewicz, allegedly Jewish (after his grandma). Prof. Krystyna Kersten wrote in ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’ from 25 April 1997 that she deliberately had excluded Maria Skłodowska-Curie from the Polish pantheon of scientists, as ‘her scientific works belongs to the achievements of French science, not the Polish one’. There were particularly strong attempts to include Adam Mickiewicz to the Jews, referring to his alleged Jewish grandmother, and everyone negating the poet’s Jewish origin was accused of anti-Semitism. Examples of this type of depolonization of the mentioned great Polish woman and great Poles might be multiplied for a long time. And what was the truth? Let’s remind that the ‘German’ Kopernik commanded the defence of the castle in Olsztyn in 1521, from German cross-Knights. The ‘French’ Chopin, hearing about the defeat of Warsaw, wrote in November 1831: ‘May the most terrible suffering touch the French who did not help us!’. And in 1848, a year before his death, he expressed his strong hope that ‘great big Poland will be reborn: Poland’. Stubborn rubbish said about the Jewish origin of Mickiewicz was finally negated by the Belarusian scientist Sergiusz Rybczonok, who found proofs in archive materials that the poet’s mother had came from an old Polish noble family, known already in XVII century in Nowogród. ‘Strangely enough’, Maria Skłodowska-Curie, called the element she had invented, by a Polish name polon, not ‘frankon’. In her diaries she expressed her nostalgia for the lost Polish homeland.
All these facts show how historical policy of the Law and Justice party is necessary, one of whose purposes is taking care about appreciating merits of Poles in various countries of the world.