Władysław Bartoszewski, the man and his legacy : the May 2015 Slavonic item(s) of the month

Władysław Bartoszewski – Polish resistance member, prisoner, diplomat, and historian – died in late April at the age of 93.  The University Library’s holdings of works by and about him date from 1968 and include a 6-volume set of his works (590:4.c.200.49-54).  Our latest Bartoszewski acquisitions are the focus of the May Slavonic item of the month feature.


The three books discussed in the blog post.

In his long life, Bartoszewski saw first-hand some of both the bleakest and most hopeful parts of modern Poland’s history.  A young man when the Nazis arrived, he fought in the defence of Warsaw against the invading army and later in the 1944 Uprising.  In between, he was imprisoned in Auschwitz and, on his release (organised by the Polish Red Cross), worked in the resistance, both in the main Polish Home Army and also in Żegota, whose work was focused on aiding Jews.  In Communist Poland, he worked as a journalist and historian, but was imprisoned for much of the post-war decade.  His last imprisonment came in 1981, during martial law, for his connections with Solidarność.  Post-Communist Poland lauded him.  In his two terms as foreign minister, he played a vital role in forging strong connections with Israel and Germany.

The death of a major figure such as Bartoszewski inevitably leads to a slew of re-editions of their work and the publication of new biographies; many of these will be acquired in due course by the University Library.  At the time of writing, however, the latest of our 30 or so Bartoszewski acquisitions are three 2013 publications.  Two of them relate to the plight of Jews in Nazi-controlled Poland and the Poles who tried to help them.  O Żegocie (About Żegota; C209.c.4394) relates to two specific days in 1963, during a visit Bartoszewski made to Israel.  On the 20th and 28th of November that year, he gave two lengthy reports on the activities of Żegota, the organisation which had helped an estimated 50,000 Polish Jews during the war and which was honoured at Yad Vashem on the second of those dates (Bartoszewski himself would later be recognised as Righteous among the nations).  Remarkably, this 2013 book marks the first time these reports saw their first appearance in print, 50 years later.

Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej (This man is from my fatherland; C209.c.6871) is a new edition of a work first published in 1967.  Edited by Bartoszewski and Zofia Lewinówna, its 967 pages provide rich source material about the work of Poles who helped Jews during the war.  Its first section, which takes up most of the book, contains resistance members’ recollections about their activities.  This is followed by Dokumenty, which provides reproductions of related official and underground documents.  The UL also holds two English versions of this book – Righteous among the nations (539:1.c.745.21; 1969; 834 pages) and a shorter version, The Samaritans (539:1.d.745.8; 1970; 442 pages).


Facsimile of 12-year-old Bartoszewski’s discussion of his future plans, from C209.c.6870.

The final of our three 2013 books is Mimo wszystsko (After all; C209.c.6870), which contains the transcripts of lengthy interviews of Bartoszewski by Michał Komar, in which he spoke about his life and experiences.  The book, which runs to over 750 pages, is illustrated with photos of Bartoszewski and those close to him, from his pre-war childhood to his final days as a statesman.  Among the most remarkable illustrations is a reproduction of a section in a Warsaw-published children’s journal from the 30th of June, 1934.  It shows a very serious Bartoszewski, aged precisely 12 years and 3 months, answering the question “What do I want to be when I grow up?”  If, as young Bartoszewski writes, circumstances permitted, he would like to be a geographer.

Circumstances, it turned out, would change his life beyond recognition.   Bartoszewski saw much of the worst that the 20th century provided, but he died an honoured and honourable man.

The Slavonic item of the month feature aims to celebrate, through examination of particular pieces, the diversity and riches of Cambridge University Library’s Slavonic collections. It has been running since April 2013. Items featured in previous months can be found here on the Slavonic webpages.

Mel Bach

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