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Web of Stories offers you the chance to listen to some of the greatest people of our time telling their life stories.

Closing the Warsaw ghetto

Marek Edelman

Social activist

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A question of identity

Aleksander Smolar - Political scientist

I remember there was a conference in which I was participating, a discussion… it was an anniversary I can’t remember if it was of ’68 or some other significant anniversary, and the conference was being held at the Catholic University of Lublin… the University of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, the Primate of Poland, and it was organised by my brother-in-law, my wife’s brother who’s a professor there. Then I was… Karol Modzelewski was also on the panel, he’s my friend and someone with whom I have a very stong bond – and someone else although to be honest I can’t remember at this moment who was taking part in that discussion. Then Karol said something which seemed to me to be very real and also the way that he said it, so clearly, it made a massive impact on me. He said… he was saying about himself that he is of Russian descent and that in effect he was adopted by a Polish minister Modzelewski, and that his real father spent many years in the gulag, he was a Russian Jew. His mother – a Polish Jew. And he said that when various insults were spoken against Russians, it didn’t bother him because this was a political declaration. But when they were against Jews, then that was racism. He said that if someone was called… had a German or a Russian or a Ukrainian name and was brought up as Pole, there were no problems – he was a Pole. But if, for instance, someone was called Blumstein he would never be seen as a Pole. He gave the example of a close mutual friend of ours and we’re talking here about a typical surname… a typical Jewish surname. Whether this is true or not, it is my problem. As of today, I’m unable to say how true this is. I mean I have so much complex and contradictory… and contradictory information. But the fact is that this was how I saw reality. I mean, I am a Pole, because I… because this depends on me, it is what I want to be, because culturally – my culture is Polish. To be honest, to this day I know very little about Jewish culture – I don’t speak Yiddish, I don’t speak Hebrew, I’ve read a little about Jewish history, of course, but my knowledge is very limited. My friends are either Poles or are Poles who are in the same situation as I, of Jewish descent who have a similar outlook on reality. Maybe you could say that we share the same approach to life, a certain irony, a self-deprecating humour, certain identifiable cultural elements.

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