Even though the majority of Polish people would admit that Władysław Bartoszewski is a pivotal figure who enriches and creates Polish history, there is a group of people who claim that Bartoszewski is a pathetic shepherd for the lower class. Not to mention the title of a professor that Bartoszewski uses can mislead his sympathizers, considering him as a more erudite person than he really is. It is not so easy to be entitled to a professor as you need to have a highly accomplished and recognized academic work. So does Wladyslaw Bartoszewski have the right to be called professor? Should people criticize him so heavily? I will try to answer these question.
World War II was the largest and most significant armed conflict that registered in our history. In today’s world no one would really imagine the atrocities that millions of people suffered. But, Bartoszewski woud. As a stretcher-bearer, he participated in the civil defense of Warsaw. Also, he worked in the social clinic of the Polish Red Cross. Bartoszewski was very active and determined to attend to those in need until the time he was apprehended in a round-up in the Żoliborz district of Warsaw and sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. After one year of imprisonment, he was released from the camp thanks to the action undertaken by the Polish Red Cross. Bartoszewski says about his traumatic experience in the interview that was published in the form of a book in 2008: “Rain, hunger, coldness, fear. Five thousand prisoners. Some of them lose strength. None saves them because giving a helping hand can only kill you. This is a situation taken from a roll call. I witnessed the death of a hundred people during two days. But, in my memory there are also moments when prisoners, people who I didn’t know, saved my life many times. Had it not been for their help, I would have died on 12th December 1940. I survived. But, after being in Auschwitz, I needed some time to go through the extreme pain that I felt inside”.
Even though Bartoszewski experienced the cruelty and violence in the extermination camp, he overcame it and started to be a Polish underground activist. He was engaged in so many activities as a member of the Polish underground that it is almost impossible to mention all of them. After being released one of the crucial moments in his life was joining the Catholic secret organization, called Front for the Rebirth of Poland. As a member of this underground resistance movement, he was involved in social, educational and charity work whose primary aim was to fight against oppression. By the end of 1942 Bartoszewski also joined the secret Council for Aid to Jews, code-named Żegota which tried to aid the country’s Jews during the Holocaust. He was basically heading the courier section whose objective was to deliver the funds and documents essential for the survivor of hidden Jews. Bartoszewski remarked that “I immediately stopped being gullible when I began my work in Żegota. Many times I ran the risk of being caught up by Gestapo’s confidents while I was trying o help Jews. That time learnt me a lot about people and their behaviours”.
On August 1, 1944 the Warsaw Uprising began. It was both a tragic and heroic time in Polish history when thousands of heroes sacrificed their lives for Poland to fight against the occupiers for sixty three days under woefully uneven odds. All that time, Bartoszewski was committed to the work as an editor of the magazine called “The News from the City and The Radio News” which tried to keep citizens up with the latest news about the events happening during the Uprising. Since he was demonstrating great deeds and courage in the wartime, he was appointed Second Lieutenant and later got the Cross of Valor order. After the capitulation treaty signed on October 2, 1944, Bartoszewski was sentenced to imprisonment many times. As he was collaborating with the oppositional party PSL, he was accused of being a spy. A few years later Bartoszewski was released from prison and found not guilty. Unfortunately, he was not able to pursue his academic career due to the imprisonment period.
Although the difficult circumstances were conspiring against Bartoszewski, since 1956 not only was he engaged in publishing articles in “Stolica” and “University Weekly”, but also he cooperated with Radio Free Europa, trying to provide citizens with useful information about the Western world. Bartoszewski commented that “the newspaper office of “University Weekly” wanted him to become a guide and a lecturer for people. I was an authentic Auschwitz prisoner, a catholic, a person considered as communicative, understanding, friendly and sometimes humorist. That’s why they treated me like a carved saint”.
The Communist regime did not defeat Bartoszewski. He was giving lectures at Universities in Poland, Germany, Israel and the United States. Apart from that, he obtained the visiting professor’s title by the Bavarian government and received honorary doctorates. His outstanding literary, academic and journalistic activities are hardly possible to be mentioned at all.
Bartoszewski’s diplomatic and political career in Poland boosted tremendously when he became the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Józef Oleksy’s government in 1995 and later a chief of Polish Internal Affairs in Jerzy Buzek’s government in 2000. An interviewer asked Bartoszewski whether he was surprised at becoming a political diplomat in the Republic of Poland. Bartoszewski answered “I was really thrilled. When I went on holidays to my friend Helmut Kohl in Salzburg, he said that he was not surprised at all and referred to Adenauer who was also starting his political career being at the same age. I told Helmut that It was Adenauer! But, he replied that you are Bartoszewski!”. His political activity has not come to an end yet. Since 2007, he has been the Secretary of State in the Office of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers which shows his great patriotism and love for Poland.
After discussing the life of Baroszewski who went through so many difficulties and achieved so much, only one thought can pop into mind: his lack of formal qualifications and harsh criticism leveled at him do not really matter. Rarely can we meet such a person in our country who struggled for Polish independence mainly as an Auschwitz survivor, a veteran of the Warsaw Uprising or a Polish underground activist. He definitely deserves to be called professor. His unique achievements and vigor that he works with at the age of ninety two should be a source of great inspiration for millions of people across the world.