Annalia Guglielmi, in-depth connoisseur and direct witness to Polish history, conveys the image of the ceremony for the Righteous held on 27 April in Warsaw. The Garden of the Righteous of the Polish capital was set up under the lead of Wladislaw Bartoszewski, Auschwitz survivor and former Foreign Minister of Poland, who had died three days earlier at age 93. The joy to celebrate all those who risked their lives all over the world to oppose totalitarianism and genocide, melted with the sorrow for the passing away of a man who was recognized a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, a great civil figure for Poland and the entire world.
On past 27 April at the Garden of the Righteous in Warsaw we held a ceremony in which three new trees were planted in honour of Nelson Mandela, “apartheid opponent, free of hatred and revenge, who led South Africa from civil war to freedom”, to general Petro Grigorenko, “general of the Soviet army who, at the summit of his military career, rejected the system and his own role to take sides for the persecuted, first of all the Crimean Tatars”, and Hasan Mazar “governor of Ankara who, despite the crimes of the government and silence from society, refused to take part in the genocide against the Armenians”, as we read on the stones on the foot of the trees. The ceremony was eriche with a magnificent concert by maestro Gaetano Liguori.
Ideally, though, a tree was also planted in honour of professor Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, who had passed away three days earlier, on 24 April.. The ceremony was opened with one minute silence in his memory and the remmebrance of this great man who, among else, was particular connected with the establishment of the European Day of the Righteous and the Garden of the Righteous in Warsaw.
He was among the first signatories of the Call for the European Parliament to establish the European Day of the Righteous, and with great resolve he had accepted our invitation to enter the Committee for the Garden of the Righteous of Warsaw, recognizing the great educational value of this endevour for the “memory of good”. His presence ad well as great prestige certainly helped significantly to accomplish the Garden’s creation. All his life was dedicated to the struggle against any kind of totalitarianism and man’s oppression of man, which is why he was one of the most important moral authorities of Poland.
He was born in Warsaw in 1922. He participated in the defense of the Polish capital, then he was arrested by the Germans and interned in Auschwitz from where he had been freed upon intervention of the Polish Red Cross, in April 1941. He fought in the partisan army run by the Polish government in exile in London and a member of the Council of Rescue of the Jews “Zegota” (for his rescue activities the Yad Vashem Center awarded him with the medal as Righteous Among the Nations in 1966), and he took part in the Warsaw Uprising. The communist authorities had then him arrested in November 1946 under the charge of espionage. Released in April 1948, he was arrested again on 14 December 1949 for anti-Soviet activity and sentenced to 8 years in jail. He left jail on 16 August 1954.
Since he was not allowed to teach in state universities, from 1973 to 1981 he was a teacher at the Lublin Catholic University, where I had the luck of knowing him, as he was the reference point of the youths who were around the underground monthly of the Catholic youths “Spotkania” (meetings), of which I also took part. Being a founder of the Flying university (underground università courses), I was able to attend some of his courses about World War Two and the relationships between Poles and Jews.
In 1980 he became a member of the Solidarity expert group and after the establishment of the State of War, on 13 December 1981, he was interned in a prison camp until 1982 when he was freed following the protests of many German, Austrian and Jewish intellectuals and politicians.
He was famous for his sense of humour and his wit, but above all for his intellectual honesty and his willingness of reconciliation.
Maybe, the best way to remember him, as journalist Jerzy Kisielewski pointed out during the ceremony of last Monday, was to keep in mind some of his best-known sentences: “It is worth being honest, even if it does not always pay off. Often it pays off not to be honest, but it is not worthy”, and: “Someone should do it, question mark. Someone should respond, question mark. Someone should oppose this, question mark. Someone should protest, question mark. I asked myself these questions, as well, by myself. And I found this answer: why should not that someone be me?”.