Your browser version is outdated. We recommend that you update your browser to the latest version.

News        Events        YouTube Channels        Contacts        Donate


Posted 15/2/2018


The eye-witness testimonies of atrocities has a sad and unfair destiny. The documents are so difficult to read  and perceive that it is left largely to professionals, and sometimes it stays also within families. This kind of documents usually are not read by the wide public. But at some moments of our life, and certain state of our societies it is exactly these documents, eye-witness testimonies that has to become into the focus of wide public attention because of simple reason: the truth is there, in black on white.  


Historical Review in three parts. 

By Inna Rogatchi (C).



Part 3: The Pope,  the President and the Surviror


Conversation with the Saint: Pope John Paul II


In the beginning of 2000s, the facts emerged from the evidences regarding the Polish complicity in the anti-Jewish atrocities during and after WWII were so compelling that it had made even such hard-core and biased against Jews person as late cardinal Glemp, the primate of the Catholic church in Poland, to confess publicly in his statement on the heated discussion on the Jedwabne massacre made on March 4th, 2001: “In particular, the burning alive of the Jewish population, forcibly herded by Poles into a barn , is indisputable”. It is known that even issuing that statement, cardinal Glemp was opposing the thought that the Polish nation should bear responsibility for the massacre, and, in the clear message of his attitude to the matter, he refused to participate in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the massacre in Jedwabne when the memorial was erected there. It was during that ceremony on July 10, 2001 when then Polish president Kwasniewski  did apologise for the Polish complicity in that terrible war crime.



Why Cardinal Glemp who was internationally notorious for his open anti-Semitism for which he had been made to apologise publicly, had made that exceptional for him statement in the first place? Accordingly to historians and some Vatican insiders, it had happened after direct intervention of the Pope John Paul II, who had influenced the primate of church in Poland to consider the facts of Jedwabne as they were.


Pope Saint John Paul II  born Karol Wojtyla  in Poland is the one of the most outstanding figures of our times in many aspects, and his stand against anti-Semitism had made a revolution inside the Vatican and the Catholic church in general. He was the first Pope who visited Auschwitz, just  half a year since being elected, during his second pastoral visit in general; he was the first Pope who visited Yad Vashem in what was deep and dramatic visit, not a mere formality. He was the Pope who has established the relations between Vatican and Israel; he was the first Pope who did come to the Kotel, touched the stones of our Temple, and put his note there asking for forgiveness for the atrocities against Jewish people. That man was the first and the only Pope whose idea was to organise a special memorial concert in Vatican in memory of six million murdered Jews, the big meaningful event which he hosted. This is not to speak on him to be the first Pope ever visiting a synagogue, or receiving a Jewish priestly blessing shortly before his death; or issuing several important documents not on the Christian-Judean relations in history and theology only, but on the Shoah which he always used as the main term for the destruction of the European Jewry. That brave, intelligent, honest and strong man, that unique Pope, that Pole did understand Jewish history and the Shoah. My husband and I always respected Pope John Paul II highly, and we always will.


In September 2004, I received a few telephone calls from both Vatican and Poland, from the good friends, the people who were close to the Pope. I was invited to come to Vatican, any time soon. His Excellency the Pope wanted to talk to me. It has happened shortly after I was filming in the Auschwitz and the Cracow ghetto for the second time, and after my husband gave master-classes at the Auschwitz Historical Jewish Centre on How to Reflect on the Holocaust in a Visual Art to tnon-Jewish, Polish and international youth, in connection with his exhibition at the Centre. Michael’s big exhibitions featuring powerful but still laconic and self-contained series on the Holocaust had been also shown with a very big interest from the Polish public in both Crakow and Warsaw, at the Jewish Historical Institute, just across the place of the blown up Great Warsaw Synagogue.


Pope Saint John Paul II during his historical the Kotel visit. March 2000. Israel. (C) Open Archive Pope Saint John Paul II during his historical the Kotel visit. March 2000. Israel. (C) Open Archive


It is not every day that you are called in to come to talk with a Pope. Especially, such giant of men as Karol Wojtyla was. But my mom’s terminal cancer was on its final stage, and it prevented me from making the trip to Vatican immediately at the time, very sadly indeed. I know though, on the topic which Pope John Paul II would like to talk to me about. His Excellency wanted to talk to me on the camera, importantly, on his attitude on the Shoah. Great Polish cinematographer Andrzej Jeziorek, awarded by the Oscar and Emmy for cinematography of the famous One Survivor Remembers documentary on the book by Gerda Weissmann Klein, and who also worked for the both versions of the unique PBS John Paul II: The Millennial Pope  documentary, would be the person to film that conversation with the Pope John Paul II.  As it happened, despite all that the Pope did with the regard to the Shoah, there was no his filmed talk about it, his reflections, memories, his understanding, his essential feeling of what Shoah was for him personally, and it was important for him to have it recorded in that way. In September 2004, a bit more than a half of a year before his death, he felt it was the time for that. He was already quite ill then, but the details of his health conditions were kept to the very close circle inside the Vatican. The time was ticking, with us not realising it well enough at the time.


My mom’s nasty cancer was progressing rapidly, very much in parallel, timing-wise, with the path of the illness of the Pope. And I was completely occupied with the ending of the life of my mother. From the beginning of 2005, the John Paul’s II health has become to deteriorate quickly, and he had a tracheotomy in February 2005 which put an idea of filming our conversation off the agenda. My mom passed away a month before the Pope, in early March 2005. And I flew to her funeral from Rome, leaving that last conversation with the Pope John Paul II unfulfilled.




I cannot say enough of how sorry am I perpetually on that missed opportunity to film the reflections and thoughts of the Pope Saint John Paul II on the Shoah, to hear and preserve on what that he wanted to tell to us all about it.


Pope Saint John Paul II in a hand-shake with Chief Rabbi of Israel Yisrael Meir Lau during historical Yad Vashem visit. 2000. Israel. (C) Yad Vashem .Pope Saint John Paul II in a hand-shake with Chief Rabbi of Israel Yisrael Meir Lau during historical Yad Vashem visit. 2000. Israel. (C) Yad Vashem .


And here comes his testimony on the matter in writing, from the essentially important, but rarely visited, and yet rarely applied, document called We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah  prepared by the Vatican Commission for the Relations with Jews  on the  initiative, in close cooperation with the Pope John Paul II who had supervised the document word by word. The document created to be a guiding outline for the Catholic church and its believers world-wide in their attitude to the Shoah and the Jewish people with that regard. It was presented  at  the special press-conference on March 16, 1998 by Cardinal Cassidy. The document is archived at the Vatican Archive.


The excerpts:        


“  (..) it may be asked whether the Nazi persecution of the Jews was not made easier by the anti-Jewish prejudices imbedded in some Christian minds and hearts. Did anti-Jewish sentiment among Christians make them less sensitive, or even indifferent, to the persecutions launched against the Jews by National Socialism when it reached power? [...].


In the lands where the Nazis undertook mass deportations, the brutality which surrounded these forced movements of helpless people should have led to suspect the worst. Did Christians give every possible assistance to those being persecuted, and in particular to the persecuted Jews? Many did, but others did not. Those who did help to save Jewish lives as much as was in their power, even to the point of placing their own lives in danger, must not be forgotten. During and after the war, Jewish communities and Jewish leaders expressed their thanks for all that had been done for them (...).


Nevertheless, as Pope John Paul II has recognized, alongside such courageous men and women, the spiritual resistance and concrete action of other Christians was not that which might have been expected from Christ's followers. We cannot know how many Christians in countries occupied or ruled by the Nazi powers or their allies were horrified at the disappearance of their Jewish neighbours and yet were not strong enough to raise their voices in protest. For Christians, this heavy burden of conscience of their brothers and sisters during the Second World War must be a call to penitence”. 


Indeed. Rarely, public figures of the our time are able to formulate so lucidly as it was always done by the Dr of Moral Philosophy Karol Wojtyla known to the humanity as Pope Saint John Paul II.




“We Are Standing On the Tormented Land”: President Kwasniewski


In his speech in Jedwabne just 16 years ago, the former two-termed president of Poland who still be acting as the international public figure today, said, among the other things ( excerpts):


President Kwasnieweski during his speech at the 60th commemoration of the Jewbadne massacre. July 2001.   President Kwasnieweski during his speech at the 60th commemoration of the Jewbadne massacre. July 2001.


We know much about this crime, though not yet everything. May be we will never learn the whole truth. But this did not prevent us from being here today. (...). We know enough to stand here in truth - facing pain, cry and suffering of those who were murdered here. Face to face with the victims' families who are here today. Before the judgment of [our] own conscience.


This was a particularly cruel crime. It is justified by nothing. (...). The victims were helpless and defenceless. The criminals had a sense of being unpunished since German occupants incited them to such acts. We know with all the certainty that Poles were among the oppressors and assassins.   ( …).


We are standing on a tormented land. The name Jedwabne, by a tragic ordain of fate had become for its today's citizens a byword recalling to human memory the ghosts of fratricide. It is not only in Jedwabne that superstitious prejudice was enkindled into the murderous flame of hatred in the "furnace era". Death, grief and suffering of the Jews from Jedwabne, from Radzilow and other localities, all these painful events which lay a gloomy shadow on Poland's history are the responsibility of the perpetrators and instigators.


 Let us all be the citizens of Jedwabne today. Let us feel what they feel!  (...). Thanks to a great nation-wide debate regarding this crime committed in 1941, much has changed in our lives in 2001, the first year of the new millennium. Today's Poland has courage to look into the eyes of the truth about a nightmare which gloomed one of the chapters in its history.


We have become aware of the responsibility for our attitude towards the dark pages in our history. We have understood that bad service is done to the nation by those who are impelling to renounce that past. Such attitude leads to a moral self-destruction. (...).


For this crime we should beg the souls of the dead and their families for forgiveness. This is why today, the President of the Republic of Poland, I beg pardon. I beg pardon in my own name and in the name of those Poles whose conscience is shattered by that crime.


President Kwasniewski attending the inauguration ceremony of the Inna Rogatchi's The Route project at the European Parliament. Also present, from the left: MEP Bastiaan Belder, MEP Hannu Takkula, vice-president of the European Parliament MEP mare Siwec, member of the Israeli government, general Yossi PeledPresident Kwasniewski attending the inauguration ceremony of the Inna Rogatchi's The Route project at the European Parliament. Also present, from the left: MEP Bastiaan Belder, MEP Hannu Takkula, vice-president of the European Parliament MEP mare Siwec, member of the Israeli government, general Yossi Peled


President Kwasniewski was finishing his truly rare speech by the imperative - To turn the wrong into the right. There was a lot of people in Jedwabne on July 10th, 2001, 60 years after the massacre. They all listened to the president in attentive silence. In ten years time, on July 2011, the same person, former president Kwasniewski visited Jedwabne again, this time it was 70th commemoration of the massacre. There were barely a few dozen people instead of hundreds a decade ago. It is sobering to observe how drastically the concept of ‘turning wrong into right’ can be changed so drastically in Poland in no time. 



“We are living in year 1934-1935 today”: Marian Turski


After a few weeks of silence, while the world went stunned by the situation in Poland prompted by the notorious law, the legendary 91-year old Marian Turski, the Holocaut survivor, writer, historian, the chairman of the POLIN Museum and virtually all leading Holocaust-connected Polish and international institutions gave his first comment on the situation in Poland: “ Which year we are living here ( in Poland) today? 1934? Or is it 1935? And my main worry is on how to avoid the year 1939”   ( Marian Turski in interview with Dorota Wysocka-Schnepf, TV-Wyborcza, 14th February, 2018).


I am just thinking: if the Holocaust survivor who lost his family, went through the living hell, being 91 years old has to describe his feelings in his country in this way, the situation in Poland in 2018 is truly precarious.


Marian Turski at the interview. February 2018. (C). TV-Wyborcza.Marian Turski at the interview. February 2018. (C). TV-Wyborcza.


It seems to me though. that those in Poland who are enjoying currently the second-hand carnival of their loud, vulgar, and crude racism and applying it hastily into the system of life in Poland, those who are frantically re-writing history there in a low-brow, utterly provincial hope that it will stay that way for good, they did under-estimate the people who are led by such universal humanist authorities as our dear friend Marian Turski. Calm, contained, elegant, sharp, witty, and highly intelligent, with a steel-like inner strength of the real Jewish man, Marian Turski has something to tell to the Poles today ( the quote below is a compilation of the Marian Turski’s statements throughout the interview):


Today, we can see the symptoms of the releasing of demons in our country. The worst thing about that process, as we saw from the history of the WWII and Holocaust, is the inert, the biggest, part of society which starts to accept, gradually, what the demons brings with them: first limitations in work and study, then boycott of stores, then ghettos, then concentration camps... To release the demons it takes only a fracture of a second; to put demons back is an arduous process. What we are seeing today gives me a great sadness because it is huge recession to the point of many years back, and the damage might last also many years, because we are dealing here with a state of mentality which is in the process to be distorted again, as it was in 1968. A severe mental wound had been inflicted upon the Jewish people already, and we have to resist it from happening any further, from it to be accepted by the society as a norm, again. Defy the demons, oppose them, do not let them to become a natural part of your daily life, of our reality”.    


February 2018.


© Inna Rogatchi - with thanks for the permissions for re-printing the parts of their books to Varda Yoran and Jan T. Gross.


INNA ROGATCHI is writer, scholar and film-maker working in the area of inter-crossing in between history, culture and mentality. The theme of Holocaust and post-Holocaust has a central place among her subjects of interest.  She is the author of the internationally acclaimed The Lessons of Survival film on Simon Wiesenthal. Her forthcoming book is A View From the Cattle Wagon ( 2018), the collection of essays on post-Holocaust. She is the author of Shining Souls. Champions of Humanity cultural and educational project from The Rogatchi Foundation Outreach of Humanity series. She is co-founder and President of The Rogatchi Foundation.