The Warsaw Rising Museum: Polish Identity and Memory of World War II
Marta Kurkowska-Budzan
 

Restoration of memory, therefore, first directed solely against the official communist propaganda, progressively opened new perspectives, less one-sided, parochial and nationalistic, and more pluralistic, self-critical and taking the gilt off of some of national myths.

It seemed that at the turn of 20th and 21st centuries in the Polish discourse, there co-existed three general interpretative perspectives of the World War II history, which could be called "communist,? "mythical-national" and "critical-debunking-pluralistic." For the majority of opinion making groups, and leading newspapers in particular, the discussion was between "moderately national" and "moderately pluralistic" viewpoints.

However, in 2001, shortly after the 60th anniversary commemoration of murder in Jedwabne and the Instytut Pamięci Narodowej [I.P.N., Institute of National Remembrance] investigation into the crime, Andrzej Nowak, a historian linked to conservative political circles, posed a question on the pages of the national newspaper ?Rzeczpospolita? which expresses the crux of the matter ??Westerplatte[6] or Jedwabne?? According to Nowak, ?We are dealing today with a confrontation of the history of national glory with a history of national disgrace.?[7] The author of this article places the burden of responsibility for this on the I.P.N. which, immediately after its founding in 2000, instigated probes into crimes committed by Poles against Jews (Jedwabne) or Germans (Aleksandr√≥w Kujawski). He sees I.P.N. as stubbornly undertaking only two types of WWII cases ? those connected with the Holocaust of the Jews on Polish lands or collaboration with Germans. As a result, everything associated with valiant and heroic symbols such as Westerplatte or Warsaw Uprising 1944 is being erased from Polish collective memory of the Second World War. Andrzej Nowak claims that a nation cannot live in the constructed ?community of shame? offered by the ?critical history? in which the I.P.N. and others are engaged. The ?others? meant liberal or left-wing or post-communist politician, like President of the Polish Republic Aleksander Kwaśniewski, and newspapers like ?Gazeta Wyborcza?.

Public debate on the Jedwabne case revealed major actors in the memory game in contemporary Poland. Right-wing politicians and conservative circles have been accusing so called post-Solidarity elites and the left of depriving the Poles of their national pride. Jarosław Kaczyński, the head of Law and Justice Party, said in 2004:¬† ?In the 1990s I had watched the nation?s identity declining. I mean not only a turn away from its own history and memory but even wave of aversion to the national past.?[8] The right sketched an apocalyptic vision of the lost nation without roots and moral values and has postulated an urgent need for a deliberate state policy of national memory.

The liberals and the left have argued that Polish nation has already gone through the communist experiment of ?politics of memory? that resulted in biased, mythologized national past and that the right shows an unacceptable totalitarian desire to seize people?s minds.

[6]Battle of Westerplatte - one of the first and longest battles of the Invasion of Poland in 1939, became the symbol of Polish bravery.

[7]A. Nowak, ?Westerplatte czy Jedwabne?? in Rzeczpospolita, nr 178, 2001.

[8]Quotation from: A. Woff-Powęska, ?Jak dziś być patriotą?, in Gazeta Wyborcza, 23 - 24.09.2006, p. 21.

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