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 2

Over the 32 years that have passed since the moment I entered the building of the Institute of History as a doctoral candidate, I regretted, on occasions, my decision made in 1954. However, the regret was not related to choosing the period after 1945, instead of—as Prof. Manteuffel suggested—the period between the two world wars. In 1954, I was this enthusiastic girl wearing a red Polish Youth Union (Związek Mlodzieży Polskiej) tie, convinced that if I was to fall, I should fall from the highest horse.

There is a reason why I bring up 1954, the red tie and the transfer to the field of contemporary history by a fledgling historian educated in one of the best seminars of its times at the Warsaw University. The realities of that period force me realize to what extent my professional curriculum vitae is influenced by the path followed by myself as a participant engaged in evolving historical events. 'Influenced' does not mean totally subjected to but it does not mean totally independent either.

Contrary to my delusions that everything and anything that I wrote and particularly how I wrote was only a construct built on information retrieved from appropriately interpreted historical sources, I had to notice how deeply the two rhythms of life, the professional one and the one determined by human entanglements and associations, interfered with one another. The past tense is not quite right here; I could use today George Moustaki's song, Rien n'est pareil et pourtant tout est comme avante. Nonetheless, I will try to defend the civil rights of an opposing viewpoint, following the second part of the song which goes like this, Rien n'a change et pourtant tout est different. This sentiment is not an expression of female chicanery but merely a conviction that there are many points of view on the same issue.

I will, however, begin with "nothing is the same and everything is like before". There is no doubt that many things have changed for me over the last thirty years: my ideological and political options are different today, I have a different view of the world around me, not only the Polish world surrounded by the Baltic Sea and the Tatra Mountains and by the Bug and Oder rivers. However, those changes did not influence the character of my adventure with contemporary history. They did not influence my approach to my work. The essence and the flavour of my work as a historian continue to lie in the sphere of the values for which Adam and Krystyna Kersten were fighting a quarter of a century ago. In our jointly written papers, we advocated the type of historical education that shapes a rational attitude of the society to their past; education that serves first and foremost the development of rational and critical thinking.

Apart from simplifications made in those days, hasty generalizations, not fully thought over youthful judgements, and also all implications resulting from our formal ideological and political associations (which were not only formal), we both, Adam Kersten and I, remained faithful to our initial understanding of our responsibilities to the chosen field of professional activity and to our convictions about the social role of history and social duties of a historian. We also remained faithful to our concern about the state of historical awareness of our society, about the character of historical culture and attitudes towards the past. Since then, we had undergone many re-evaluations, but the above mentioned sphere remained unaffected.

The attitude towards the historian's work remained comme avant. Social passions competed with intellectual passions; sometimes a domineering desire to have influence competed with benevolent cognitive curiosity. Who knows, maybe I would prefer the proportions to have been different, but I am not one of those who opt to erase unpleasant pages of the past, including my own past. I do know, however, that neither I nor Adam Kersten, when he was still alive, could have treated the history we worked on in any different way, whether it was the 17th century or the most recent times.

At this point I would like to recall Adam Kersten's lecture which he delivered in November 1980 and which was addressed to "solidarizing" Lublin. It contains rather strong statements about contradictions between history and tradition, serious concerns about obvious manipulation of events retrieved from an enormous historical junkyard; worry that the past, including the very remote past, i.e., the 11th, century, was used towards achieving political ends. The examples that he gave showed that he did not mean that the political exploitation of the past was done by the authorities or by the Polish United Workers' Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza) but by the side that he, as well as I, were sympathizing with.

 

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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.