I WOULD LIKE EVERYBODY TO RETURN HOME
Mateusz Wyrwich talks with dr. hab. Krzysztof Szwagrzyk
MATEUSZ WYRWICH: - The years of Stalinism in Poland are an extremely demanding period for an observer. It is allegedly easy, because there is an access to nearly all documents. However, in fact, extremely difficult, because there are still alive torturers who think that they were only fulfilling orders. And they are trying to disturb in these investigations less or more directly…
DR. HAB. KRZYSZTOF SZWAGRZYK: - This time is one of our biggest white stains. These are years 1944 – 56, that is, a period of installing the communist authority in Poland, and also the biggest terrorism. It is the time in which, I think, the Polish society had its backbone crashed. The communists finished the work of the Nazis and Bolsheviks. The losses which our nation had at that time, were extremely painful and I do not think that they would be easy to compensate.
– Besides publications from the sphere of communism, you undertake initiatives connected with this period. The first one of them was the exhibition ‘The guilty? The innocent?’ presented in Wrocław in the year 1998. One could see photographs of communist criminals there. Criminals did not like the exhibition. But the attendance was very high. The exhibition was wandering throughout the country, whereas in the very Wrocław, during four months of its existence, it was visited by a dozen thousand people.
– I made an assumption that seven years after the collapse of communism is sufficient time to show people, who led hundreds, thousands Poles to death. They gave death verdicts, working either in the Security Office or in a military administration of justice. I remember when at that time a lot of media, mainly criticising the exhibition, used an argument that images of criminals should not be presented because this….stigmatizes those functionaries. But they are old and they did their service in the country recognized in the international arena. They had not been accused of anything earlier, so the whole matter should be left for the administration of justice.
– There was a bizarre situation caused, that you had to cover the criminals’ eyes.
– Indeed, it was an extremely interesting element of this event. At that time, I worked in the ward Committee for Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation in Wrocław. I organized this exhibition within work duties. A few days before its opening, we had received information from Warsaw in which it was suggested that we should asked the General Inspector of Personal Data about the exhibition – Władysław Kulesza, in order to have a confirmation that everything is compatible with law. And we received an answer from there, which came just after the opening of the exhibition, that in the light of the law of that time, showing portraits of criminals may expose organisers to bad consequences. And, besides the photos, there was also information such as: the name and surname of an official of the Security Office, a judge and a prosecutor, date of birth and the course of career. I did not agree with this peculiar interpretation of law because those people had public functions, they were functionaries of the country, so their data are not subject to classification. So, I decided that if showing an image may expose the Commission to legal consequences, there is no choice but cover all functionaries’, procurators’ and judges’ eyes with a black strap. And among criminals presented in the exhibition were: a judge Bronisław Ochnio who delivered a several dozensof death penalties; a judge Włodzimierz Ostapowicz – he has given delivered two hundred death penalties; a prosecutor Filip Badner (Barski), managing the public prosecutor’s office in Rzeszów and Wrocław in the 40s and 50s, being responsible for a big scale of repression.
– Another phase of your activity is a decision about searching for victims of communism. What inspired you?
– When the Institute of National Remembrance was established, many historians in Poland, including me, decided that it is a great institution in order to judge this criminal communist period. Whereas, the best way was the publication of documents unavailable before the year 1989. We could not agree on this situation that a few decades after the war we do not know a complete number of communism victims. We do not know what is the actual number of victims even today. We do not know names or surnames of the murdered in secret or sentenced to death penalty. Divergences between estimated data are enormous. We do not even know the burial places of the victims till now. As long as this situation was understandable till the year 1989, it has been more difficult for to agree with it for a quarter of a century since the defeat of communism. It was obvious that in the graveyard in Wrocław there were victims of communism buried, but it was not known who the victims were and where they had been buried. So, in the year 2003 we started investigations. The first communism victim, whom we managed to find, was the captain Włodzimierz Pawłowski, a founder and commander of Silesian independence organisation called ‘Polish Republic in fight’. During other works in this graveyard, we managed to extract a few hundred bodies and identify nearly three hundred. Later we were also carrying out works on areas of Opole in search of a part of crime done on soldiers of Henryk Flam. Next, in Szczecin, where soldiers of the ‘Boa’ group were exhumed and recognised. And, finally, last year we started works in one of the most mysterious places in the graveyard in Warsaw.
– Where on ‘Łączka’ or – in other words – in the billet “Ł’, on graves of communism victims, communism criminals were buried. Functionaries of the regime, who had made decisions about murdering them, among the others, Julia Brystgierowa, Roman Kryże. Why do you think?
– I think that it was a typical example of following the Soviet and Nazis methods of blurring signs. The communists thought their political system as perpetual. There must have been an assumption that if people so meritorious for the communist system were buried there, then nobody would dare to ask about this place. However, it must be added – and I am trying to emphasize it – that on ‘Łączka’ or in a field near ‘Łączka’ there are not only peopleburied there, who were meritorious for communists. There were also doctors, engineers, pilots buried there. And, I would like us to remember about it. Otherwise, we will hurt these people.
– Preparation of this investigation work is surely a great organizational undertaking…
– It is. In Wrocław we extracted 299 debris. We managed to identify nearly 80 per cent of them. We could say, that it is a success. But we also knew that this kind of exhumation and identification investigations did not have any chance to be successful without establishing an interdisciplinary team, consisting of representatives of various spheres of knowledge. And what I always emphasize – passion. Because it is not work which is possible to do from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and not to think about later. Without passion it is not possible to do, even for a short time. At that time we managed to establish this team. Today I can say that for over a year, we have had a team consisting of historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, biologists, genetic experts, paramedics. Joining knowledge with skills of all these specialists gives us the basis for successful searching for communism victims and identifying them. The fact that we have other places where we reveal debris, the fact that we have other surnames of identified people, proves that the method which we accepted, is right. And we should proceed in this way. But the work of these people requires a lot of logistic preparations.
– Volunteers participate in your works a lot.
– I must admit that wherever we are going to find victims of communist terrorism, many volunteers come to us. Some of them want to work for a few hours, others – for a few days. Like, for example, in Białystok, where over twenty people applied for a job as a volunteers. This year in Warsaw we had a few dozens of volunteers. They arrived not only from Poland, mainly from Warsaw, but also from abroad. There were those who decided to have special holidays in order to work on ‘Łączka’. People of various professions come to us. We had, among the others, a cleric, students, clerks. There were Poles from England, Norway, Germany. People at various ages –from the age of 15 to 70 years old. It is beautiful, touching and constructive, because it denies the opinion promoted by some mass media, how bad we are, not interested in history or not in solidarity, etc. That is not true. If Poles decide that a matter is really important, that it is a matter of the nationwide significance, they give us an evidence of their unusual engagement. The example of ‘Łączka’ just proves it. The work lasted there for a few dozen hours a day. In the heat or rain – in May this year, in Warsaw it was raining for nearly two weeks.
– There is still the campaign of leftist and liberal media against people who fought about the independence of the country. It gets stronger on the Independence Day, on the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising or Day of Accursed Soldiers. Also during your works…
– I noticed that since the 90s of the last century, there have been attempt to make us believe that returning to the Polish history is something embarrassing, about which we should not talk. If we are going to return to our history, then only in the category of our responsibility for the alleged crimes done on the Jews, Germans and I do not know what other. Let’s note that for a long time we have had the following history message in populist media: if we, Poles, insist on speaking about the Polish history so much, we should remember that we bear the responsibility for the crimes of that time, either of the war times, or communism times. I reject this way of narration. And the activity which we can realize in the Institute of National Remembrance is an evidence for the fact that there are many unexplained matters in our history and it is a duty of our country to cause such a situation in which all chapters of history will be investigated, described, documented and completed. What we are doing now, that is, searching for victims of communist terrorism, is a duty of the country towards its citizens. I think that they all should be found and buried with dignity. They have been anonymous for years. Now they should return to their surnames and homes as heroes. The reaction of the society shows that despite what the mainstream media think, there is still a great interest in the fact that we should carry out our actions and publish their results. I think that we are going to have much work for many years and I cannot see any possibility that any institution could be able to stop the search for the communism victims. It seems to me that now the searches progressed so far that it is impossible to prevent them. I think that even those who are against the Institute of National Remembrance and our actions, will not dare to take an open attitude against opening graves.
– What other searches are you going to have in the nearest time?
– As I mentioned, last year we did research in areas near Opole, looking for debris of soldiers of Henryk Flam. And we return to them. It is similar in Wrocław – here we are going to look for debris of Edward Taraszkiewicz ‘Żelazny’. We are also going to carry out investigations in Gdańsk – in search for Danuta Siedzikówna ‘Inka’. Also works in the second necropolis – in the graveyard in Wałbrzyska Street in Warsaw where the murdered were buried in the prison in Mokotów. In addition, there is an analysis of materials which we gathered during the searching works in ‘Łączka’ and at the moment we are working on finding an effective method so that we could start the third phase of works in the graveyard of Powązki, that is, extract about 90 debris of communism victims, who remained there. We know that they are over there…