Kersten's Foundation

Fundacja Kerstenów

Krystyna Kersten

The Kersten Foundation was established in 2011 with the aim of celebrating and commemorating the life and work of Krystyna and Adam Kersten.

My Adventure with Contemporary History

 Krystyna Kersten
  Translated by M.J. Kersten

Page 10

Pawel Beylin maintains that one should make kitsch life difficult. How? For us historians, the simplest way is to stick to our duties, that is, to search for the truth and to convey the truth. And that requires respect – respect for one’s responsibilities and for the rights and responsibilities of a researcher of history and of human rights as well as for one’s own philosophy, morality and preferences; also respect for readers and listeners, their convictions, sensibilities and psychological needs. If we are to remain truthful to our profession, we cannot avoid inflicting wounds by speaking about bitter, difficult and hurtful issues, if we are to remain truthful to our professional vocation. If these surgically inflicted wounds are to cure, the surgery should be performed in such a way that when we penetrate to the layer of the incredibly sensitive tissues of identity, authenticity and integrity, we do not destroy it. We should not negate conflicts; we should reveal their essence and complex origins and thus allow access to a deeper degree of awareness of individuals. We cannot achieve this without opening up to those who are listening to us. This is a basic requirement of sensible communication, communication that promises hope.

Thus a historian, particularly a historian of contemporary history who wants to be effective and to act according to the requirements of his own ethics and not only professional ethics cannot put on the judge’s ermine gown to condemn, acquit or glorify. Maybe he or she could under exceptional circumstances. However, he always can and should present his arguments including documents in the case like in crime and suspense books.It is my dream that this individual argumentation may reflect many points of view, understanding of many positions and respect for choices other than one's own; that the above equally applies to the heroes of the described history as well as to the readers of the books that I write. I would like to emphasize that this is very difficult. Speaking about myself, I was and probably still am, oscillating between my possibly arrogant trust in the power of history as science and yielding to social pressure, the latter also being a historical, sociological and psychological phenomenon of life and research.

Certainly these tensions could have been eased by avoiding engagement in burning zones both in life and in research. But this is not for me. To the contrary, the topics that I am dealing with and which I consider worthwhile, are increasingly difficult, loaded and sensitive. And this time it is not because of censorship; not even self-censorship. These topics are difficult, loaded and sensitive not only for the historian participating in historical developments, but foremost for those with whom I identify, with whom I belong. Because, admittedly, I am a particular historian, meaning that I am interested in what is “mine”, that is, what I care about and what hurts me.


Page: 1, 2, 3, 4 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Source: Transcript of a lecture "Moja przygoda z historia najnowsza" given at the meeting of the History and Culture Section of the Fans of History Society (Towarzystwo Miłośników Historii), which took place on October 27th, 1986.