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The Fifth Annual Kosciuszko Chair Conference is held at IWP

On Saturday, 3 November, the Institute hosted the Fifth Annual Kościuszko Chair Conference, dedicated to topics in Central and Eastern European culture, history, and current affairs. Prof. Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, the current holder of the Kościuszko Chair of Polish Studies, introduced each speaker while providing the introductory remarks and a running commentary to each presentation.

This year, the conference consisted of six lectures: 

The Emergence of a German-Dominated Europe: Economic and Political Implications for Poland: Prof. Casmir Dadak (Hollins University)

Dr. Dadak – professor of economics at Hollins University – pointed out that the Euro Zone fails to meet the conditions of an “optimum currency area.” The economies and standards of living of the European Union’s many member states are simply too diverse.

The reasons commonly offered for the Euro Zone crisis are overspending, excessive debt, and rigid labor markets. Prof. Dadak, however, argues that these explanations miss the point. The Spaniards had cut spending and debt while liberalizing their labor market, but this did not save them for their present predicament. The Germans, on the other hand, maintained high spending and debt levels whilst conserving inflexible labor relations. Further, Germany has benefited from the Euro crisis. Berlin’s role in Europe is on the rise and no decisions are ever made in the Euro Area against its wishes.

The great chasm between the economies of Germany and Poland – particularly in terms of the standard of living and purchasing power – means that Warsaw should avoid joining the Berlin-dominated Euro Zone, argued Prof. Dadak. Surrendering her own sovereign currency would deprive Poland of key instruments to shape an economic policy favoring her own interests. Instead of accepting the Euro, Poland would be better advised, he continued, by decommunizing, cutting bureaucracy, and investing in infrastructure. Poland’s potential is great, but it has yet to be unleashed.

To view Prof. Dadak’s Power Point presentation, please click here: Download file The Emergence of a German-Dominated Europe: Economic and Political Implications for Poland 

Marek Chodakiewicz and Prof. Casmir Dadak

The Polish Operation of the NKVD: Dr. Tomasz Sommer (Institute of Globalization, Poland)

In addition to being a trained sociologist and the publisher of an influential conservative-libertarian weekly, Dr. Tomasz Sommer is also the author of the first monograph on the “Polish Operation” of the NKVD and a recognized authority on the subject.

The NKVD’s “Polish Operation” was an ethnic cleansing campaign claiming the lives of as many as 250,000 ethnic Poles in the Soviet Union in 1937-1938. This number constituted a substantial portion of the Bolshevik Empire’s Polish population. In fact, as an ethnic category, Soviet Poles were percentage-wise the greatest victim group during Stalin’s Great Purge. Also, the “Polish Operation” was the first instance in which the Soviets killed their victims based only on an ethnic criterion.

Simultaneously, the NKVD was also carrying out the bloody anti-Kulak Operation. Dr. Sommer, who researched the impact of both operations in the Minsk Oblast (District) of the Belarusian SSR, noted that the anti-Polish operation was far more destructive than the anti-kulak one in the district. The NKVD massacred and repressed the local Poles, in spite of the fact that many attempted to pass themselves off as “Belarusians” to survive.

The ethnic-based brutality of the “Polish Operation” demonstrates the degree to which Moscow wished to eradicate the last remnants of the legacy of the Polish-Lithuanian-Commonwealth in the region.   

Dr. Sommer’s Power Point presentation may be viewed here: Download file The Polish Operation of the NKVD in the Minsk Oblast, BSSR: Statistics and Demographics 

Dr. Tomasz Sommer

English-Speaking POW Witnesses to Katyn–The Coded Letters: Ms. Krystyna Piórkowska (Museum of the Polish Military, Warsaw)

Ms. Piórkowska is a researcher affiliated with the Museum of the Polish Military (Muzeum Wojska Polskiego) in Warsaw, Poland, and the author of the book English-Speaking Witnesses to Katyń: Recent Research (Warsaw: Muzeum Katyńskie and Muzeum Wojska Polskiego, 2012).

Her lecture was preceded by brief introductory remarks by Lt. Gen. Edward Rowny – America’s  chief negotiator during the arms reduction talks with the Soviets and ambassador to the START I talks – who recalled orders he had received in 1951, while fighting the communists in Korea, to remain silent on the Soviet role in Katyn.

Ms. Piórkowska’s presentation clarified this seemingly mysterious policy. The English-speaking POWs, including Americans, had been compelled by the Germans to travel to the excavated killing field in Katyn as witnesses. One of the US officers, Lt. Col. Van Vliet, sent a coded message to Washington, conveying his conviction that the Soviets were to blame. Roosevelt and his administration were aware of this, but covered-up the truth to appease their Soviet ally in the war against Germany. By the time of the Madden Committee in 1951-1952, the Van Vliet Report had disappeared. The congressional body, which concluded that the Soviets had massacred the Poles, feared exposing FDR’s indifference for political reasons.

Ms. Piórkowska also mentioned the story of Harrison Salisbury – the Pulitzer-Prize-winning liberal journalist and the New York Times’ Moscow bureau chief from 1949-1954 – who was also sent to Katyn as a “witness,” albeit on a Moscow-sponsored mission. The genocidal massacre of Polish officers had not made a great impression on Salisbury, who was much more concerned with the quality of the cabbage and sour cream in the borshch the Soviets has served him on the train. Thus, the entire truth about Katyn was an inconvenience for many on both sides of the Iron Curtain.    

To purchase Ms. Piórkowska’s new book, please click here.  

Ms. Krystyna Piórkowska

“Polish Concentration Camps:” Cultural Prejudice in the U.S.: Ms. Paulina Migalska

The infamous canard – “‘Polish’ concentration camps,” the topic of Ms. Migalska’s MA thesis defended at the Jagiellonian University in Poland – has been perpetuated by the mainstream media for many years.

This unfortunate term originates in the claim that Poles collaborated with the German Nazis and helped to plunder and kill Jews during the Holocaust. This Soviet-spun myth evolved into the centerpiece of post-modernist pseudo-scholarship about the Shoah in Poland which has, in turn, dictated the popular perception of Polish-Jewish relations. The paradigm of Polish “collusion” with the Nazis against the Jews eventually generated such a gross distortion of history as the phrase “Polish concentration camps.”

Obviously, the Poles not only did not establish or man the German concentration and death camps in their occupied country, but were incarcerated and killed within them as well. Hence, as Ms. Migalska pointed out, most Poles are deeply offended by the great historic ignorance encapsulated in the canard. After years of protesting, the Polish-American community eventually succeeded in bringing some public attention to the matter and correcting the journalistic rule book.

Even so, President Obama’s “Polish death camp” remark, uttered in May 2012, of all circumstances, during a ceremony posthumously awarding the Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski (the legendary Polish courier who warned the West that the Germans were exterminating the Jews) shows that there is still much work to be done.

Ms. Migalska’s Power Point presentation may be viewed here: Download file “Polish” Concentration Camps: Cultural Prejudice in the U.S. 

Ms. Paulina Migalska

Polish Catholic Priests in German Concentration Camps: Ms. Agnieszka Gerwel (Princeton University)

The German Nazis are often erroneously depicted as a conservative and Christian movement. In fact, the National Socialists were deeply anti-Christian, just as their totalitarian and revolutionary twins, the Communists. Viewing Christianity as a “Jewish plot” to “weaken” the Aryan race, they reserved particular ire for Catholicism, especially Polish Catholicism, as showed by the fate of Polish and other Catholic priests in the first German concentration camp of Dachau.

One of the prisoners was Ms. Gerwel’s relative, Father Antoni Gerwel, who perished in the camp in August of 1942. As she demonstrated, Polish clergymen formed the largest priestly contingent of Dachau inmates (1,780), followed by Germans (447), and Frenchmen (156). The men of the cloth were imprisoned together and were treated as brutally as any other political prisoners.

In 1940-1941, following an intervention by the Vatican, they were allowed to celebrate mass, but, as of October 1941, the Polish priests were deprived even of this concession. As a matter of fact, the German National Socialists killed more Polish Catholic priests than even the Soviets.  

Ms. Gerwel’s presentation can be viewed here: Download file Polish Priests in Dachau, 1939-45 Story of Father Antoni Gerwel 

Ms. Gerwel also published an article in Polish on the subject: Księża polscy w Dachau, 1939-1945

Ms. Agnieszka Gerwel

The Wellisz Family: Poland’s Free Market Pioneers: Mr. Pawel Styrna (IWP, Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research)

The Wellisz Family is a great lacuna in Polish history, in spite of its contributions. Wilhelm Wellisch moved to Russian-ruled Poland in the late nineteenth century from Austrian Brno and built a business empire. His son and heir, Leopold Wellisz, expanded his father’s work and labored to accomplish his objective: the building of a viable, self-sufficient arms industry in resurrected Poland following the First World War. Given his assistance to his workers, none of his factories ever went on strike, in spite of the difficult economic times. Mr. Styrna argued that Leopold Wellisz could have achieved more in the interwar period had it not been for obstructionist measures by the state.

Since the German-Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 forced Wellisz to leave Poland, he accepted a New-York-based position advising the Polish Ministry of Finance in 1941, despite comfortable arrangements in Switzerland. In the US, he struggled to obtain American assistance for the postwar reconstruction of Poland and combated anti-Polish propaganda of the Soviet or German pedigree. Public service meant that Leopold Welisz had to forego much more lucrative work in the private sector, but his faith and patriotism had always motivated him to labor for the common good. As a veritable polymath, he also focused on literary history and wrote works on the connections between famous Polish writers and Western literati, thereby hoping to emphasize that Polish culture was an intrinsic part of Western Civilization. He also discovered the works of the Polish poet Cyprian Norwid.

Yet, in spite of this fascinating history, the Wellisz Family remains virtually unknown, much to the detriment of Poles awakening from decades of totalitarian slavery.

Mr. Styrna’s presentation is available here: Download file The Wellisz Family: Poland’s Free Market Pioneers 

Pawel Styrna, Kosciuszko Chair Conference 2012