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Anti-Semitic campaign in Poland in 1968

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'We forgive and ask for forgiveness'
Jan Józef Lipski Social activist
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We know under what conditions this letter was put together. The Vatican Council was under way – the Second Vatican Council – and no one knew yet how far-reaching it would be. At this point, the Polish bishops took the decision to turn to Germany with a gesture of reconciliation via the German episcopate, with this famous sentence, 'We forgive and we ask for forgiveness', which in Poland is quite a risky thing to say as it might be received in all kinds of ways by society. Only someone with a great deal of authority can make the decision to say this. Because to say ‘we forgive’, an ordinary Pole can take that although he'll be unwilling to forgive the Germans, but when his Church says, his bishops, whom he trusts, say a Christian must forgive, then willingly or not, he'll say, alright then, we'll forgive them. But to add ‘and we ask for forgiveness’ evokes a very extreme reaction: what have they got to forgive us for? Because this is how things look. In the face of a degree of unevenness, a great deal of unevenness in terms of mutual faults, an ordinary Pole has a tendency to completely ignore that there were any faults in anything on the part of the Poles in the history of Polish-German relations. No one ever wants to accept this and so various drastic issues from the last days of the war are easily ignored, days that you could say were unavoidable because of the psychological situation, because of the mass murders on Polish soil, with all of this, that people were able to behave in this way.

A list ten powstał jak wiemy w takich okolicznościach, że toczył się sobór – Drugi Sobór Watykański, który jeszcze nie było wiadomo jak daleko i dokąd zajedzie. I polscy biskupi w tym momencie wystąpili z tą decyzją, żeby zwrócić się z gestem pojednania do Niemców poprzez episkopat niemiecki i z tym słynnym właśnie zdaniem „przebaczamy i prosimy o wybaczenie” – co w Polsce jest powiedzeniem ryzykownym, bo może być różnie przyjęte przez społeczeństwo i trzeba kogoś z ogromnym autorytetem, żeby tak zdecydował się powiedzieć. Bo powiedzieć „wybaczamy” to normalnie Polak może znieść, bo niechętnie Niemcom wybaczy, ale kiedy mu jego Kościół powie – jego biskupi do których ma zaufanie – że chrześcijanin musi wybaczać, to chętnie czy niechętnie powie: „No dobrze, wybaczamy”. Ale powiedzieć jeszcze na dodatek „prosimy o wybaczenie” to od razu następuje bardzo ostra reakcja: „A co oni nam mają wybaczać?”. Bo rzecz wygląda w ten sposób, że przy pewnej nierówności, przy dużej bardzo nierówności wzajemnych win, normalny Polak ma taką tendencję, żeby w ogóle nie przyjmować do wiadomości tego, że były jakiekolwiek winy w czymkolwiek w historii stosunków polsko-niemieckich po polskiej stronie. Tego nikt nie chce przyjąć nigdy do wiadomości i w związku z tym łatwo się przechodzi nad różnymi drastycznymi sprawami z okresu, kiedy się na przykład wojna kończyła, które można powiedzieć, że były może nieuniknione w związku z psychologiczną sytuacją, że... w związku z masowymi mordami na ziemiach Polski, z tym wszystkim, że ludzie tak potrafili postępować.

Jan Józef Lipski (1926-1991) was one of Poland's best known political activists. He was also a writer and a literary critic. As a soldier in the Home Army (Armia Krajowa), he fought in the Warsaw Uprising. In 1976, following worker protests, he co-founded the Workers' Defence Committee (KOR). His active opposition to Poland's communist authorities led to his arrest and imprisonment on several occasions. In 1987, he re-established and headed the Polish Socialist Party. Two years later, he was elected to the Polish Senate. He died in 1991 while still in office. For his significant work, Lipski was honoured with the Cross of the Valorous (Krzyż Walecznych), posthumously with the Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (1991) and with the highest Polish decoration, the Order of the White Eagle (2006).

Listeners: Jacek Petrycki Marcel Łoziński

Cinematographer Jacek Petrycki was born in Poznań, Poland in 1948. He has worked extensively in Poland and throughout the world. His credits include, for Agniezka Holland, Provincial Actors (1979), Europe, Europe (1990), Shot in the Heart (2001) and Julie Walking Home (2002), for Krysztof Kieslowski numerous short films including Camera Buff (1980) and No End (1985). Other credits include Journey to the Sun (1998), directed by Jesim Ustaoglu, which won the Golden Camera 300 award at the International Film Camera Festival, Shooters (2000) and The Valley (1999), both directed by Dan Reed, Unforgiving (1993) and Betrayed (1995) by Clive Gordon both of which won the BAFTA for best factual photography. Jacek Petrycki is also a teacher and a filmmaker.

Film director Marcel Łoziński was born in Paris in 1940. He graduated from the Film Directing Department of the National School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź in 1971. In 1994, he was nominated for an American Academy Award and a European Film Academy Award for the documentary, 89 mm from Europe. Since 1995, he has been a member of the American Academy of Motion Picture Art and Science awarding Oscars. He lectured at the FEMIS film school and the School of Polish Culture of Warsaw University. He ran documentary film workshops in Marseilles. Marcel Łoziński currently lectures at Andrzej Wajda’s Master School for Film Directors. He also runs the Dragon Forum, a European documentary film workshop.

Tags: Second Vatican Council

Duration: 2 minutes, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1989

Date story went live: 11 March 2011