Kersten's Foundation

Fundacja Kerstenów

Krystyna Kersten
 

Fundacja Kerstenów została założona w 2011 roku, aby uczcić i upamiętnić życie oraz dokonania Krystyny i Adama Kerstenów.

My Adventure with Contemporary History

 Krystyna Kersten
  Translated by M.J. Kersten

Page 5

Following this fairly obvious statement, I drew attention to another danger:

In the burning desire to rebuild the shaken authority of historical sciences, we were ready, after October, to consciously or subconsciously make concessions for the benefit of the readers. Those concessions went at times too far because they led to giving up the popularization of those research achievements which belied the fossilized stereotypes and which targeted accepted models.

Here is the dilemma: how to convey the image of the past – the image of people, events, ideas, formulated on the basis of research, so that it results in a higher level of a societal autonomy. And the second dilemma: Are there any areas of history that should be designated for silence?  To be honest, the second dilemma does not exist for me. I will repeat again, I am deeply convinced of the harmful effects of designating some areas silent. I am convinced that we should target those burning spots, which are saturated with traumas and emotions, constantly throbbing in the social consciousness. We should bring to the surface and rationally analyze all those pages on which complexes and feelings are suppressed or subdued. And there are many such pages.

Thus the question I ask myself is not “to write or not to write” but “how to write”.

In a recent conversation, a young historian who conducts research on the situation of Ukrainians in Poland after 1944 expressed concern that evidence from the sources, and consequently what he is going to write, will be to some extent an accusation of the Polish authorities as well as of Polish society.  Quite by coincidence, I had spoken earlier with another young man, not a historian though. The family of his mother was murdered by Ukrainians during the war. His father – a Home Army (Armia Krajowa) officer was tortured after the war by functionaries believed to be Ukrainians. This is at least what this young, intelligent, man of worth, troubled by deep grudges, maintained. His feelings and judgements did not refer solely to the past – he considered the small Ukrainian population living in Poland today as a threat and an enemy.  He talked about Ukrainian “schemes” and “conspiracies”, about Ukrainians being a threat to Poles, about their negative attitude towards “Solidarność.”  Hide text removed by censorship.

My response to the first man was obviously that he has to write everything, even if the truth is brutal. However, at same time, thinking about our earlier conversation, I was trying to convince him to take into consideration not one, but two points of view – the Ukrainian and the Polish; or even three, because it is necessary to have a broader perspective on conflicts related to nation-building.

In Poland, but also beyond her borders, earlier experiences related to resolving national conflicts were usually negative. I did not mean to convince him to sit on both sides of the fence or on the fence. Neither was I suggesting that he stand behind a lectern. I just wanted this fledgling historian to realize that the accepted optics, usually resulting from the identification with a group or ideology, defines the boundaries of research and can—I emphasize can, but does not have to—lead to narrow-mindedness, shallow thinking and one-sidedness. If it leads to half-truths, the result is falsification. Sometimes the distinction between half-truths and partial truths is blurred because all that we write is partial truths referring to relatively isolated fragments of reality. The difference, however, is in the way we present reality. Falsehood emerges when partial truths are given, consciously or unintentionally, as a complete reflection of the described events and processes. 

Saying this, I am aware that this kind of approach does not, for the most part, satisfy what is expected from historians and in particular from the historians of contemporary times. I am limiting the (discussion) to the most recent years, although the problem is much broader. Without looking into the causes, I am led to believe, based on my observations as well as my readings and experiences, that our society, which became actively engaged in August, expects the historian to confirm that their stance and their emotional reactions were right.

 

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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.