Władysław Bartoszewski

Polish politician and activist (1922–2015)

Władysław Bartoszewski (19 February 192224 April 2015) was a Polish politician, social activist, journalist, writer and historian. A former Auschwitz concentration camp prisoner, he was a World War II resistance fighter as part of the Polish underground and participated in the Warsaw Uprising. After the war he was persecuted and imprisoned by the communist Polish People's Republic due to his membership in the Home Army (Armia Krajowa, AK) and opposition activity. After the collapse of the communist regime, Bartoszewski served twice as the Minister of Foreign Affairs from March through December 1995 and again from 2000 to 2001. He was also an ambassador and a member of the Polish Senate.

Władysław Bartoszewski in 2010


  • I, a Polish Catholic, belong to a generation that has personal experience of helplessness in the face of evil. I also spent seven months in Auschwitz. Finally, we are linked by an enduring collective feeling of shame for Europeans and for their passiveness and the failure of the European and American tactics of the time.
  • For most of us, concentration camps and extermination camps are the culmination of the persecution of the Jews, a devastating symbol of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust. Much more shocking, in my eyes, however, is the calm and calculated origin of the tragedy that was soon to take concrete form in Auschwitz and other extermination camps at a convivial lunch-time meeting at Wannsee in Berlin on 20 January 1942, a meeting that had already come to a close by early afternoon of the same day. The events that took place in those few hours, however, represented an unprecedented case of meticulously organized mass extermination of millions of victims, the birth of a terrifying idea thought up by the minds of educated people in an ostensibly civilized European country with long traditions.
  • Fortunately, Poland today complies with the conventions of the civilized world. If chauvinistic or extremist voices are heard anywhere in the world they have to be denounced loudly. We must have the courage to stand against what assaults our sense of honesty and justice. Today, personal courage is necessary to surmount the fear of publicly addressing unpopular subjects. This is why it is necessary to teach young people that it is important to stand by their principles even if there are moments of pain and hardship. We must be careful not to allow any deviation to counteract certain positive patterns of normal behaviour.
  • I can say, that no man can judge his own life. So no man can say that he could have done more. The older I get, the greater the certitude I have, that it is the correct, sincere answer. It is possible to expect courage from people and even heroism. But it is necessary to understand the simple fact that they are people.
  • From a material perspective, it might not always pay to be honest, but from a moral perspective, it's always the right thing. That applies to a frail person as well as a criminal. This was my guiding principle - both when I was in captivity and after I was released.
  • Every person is responsible for his deeds. Christians in the Catholic Church, and not just in Poland, pray for forgiveness for sins of thought and deed, including also the sin of failing to offer help, and of indifference toward evil. Not just wicked deeds or words but also passivity and not getting involved in good deeds are sins. Young people should arrange their lives so that they are content with themselves. And they can achieve satisfaction by knowing that they have acted in a just manner.
  • Enmity is incomparably easier than reconciliation. After all, it happens that we feel almost friendly towards an enemy, being able to shift the responsibility for all our misfortunes to him. […] And reconciliation? How can we live amongst the rubble? How to rid oneself of the memory of wrongs? How can we forget the suffering which filled a victim's entire life? […] Reconciliation requires reflection, moral sensitivity, conscience, great spiritual effort. It requires parting from delusions, from the mythology of hatred and seeing – in the old enemy and in oneself – a person under the same heaven.
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