• Faithful to my Homeland, the Republic of Poland


  • NEWS

  • 27 June 2019

    Ladies and gentlemen,

    First of all, I would like to thank The Museum of Jewish Heritage and its Director Jack Kliger for agreeing to host this event and inviting me here. It is a real distinction bearing in mind the significance of this Museum for preserving the memory of the Jewish Holocaust, so that we never forget.

    I am all the more personally moved that I can be here today to celebrate the story of an extraordinary man, the son of Poland, Captain Witold Pilecki as told by an extraordinarily gifted writer and historian Jack Fairweather.


    Look at his life story and you’d understand why he was drawn to Cpt. Pilecki’s story. After graduating from Oxford he became the Middle East bureau chief correspondent for the Washington Post and the Daily Telegraph. As an embedded reporter Jack put himself in jeopardy during the invasion in Iraq and other places in the Middle East to witness the truth of what actually went on there. This led him to win a prestigious British Press Award for one of his already three books.

    Why is the story of Pilecki, and Jack’s telling of his story, so extraordinarily important?


    First and foremost because Pilecki was one of the first ones to realize and witness first-hand the genocidal potential of Auschwitz, what it specifically meant for the Jews, and called on the world to bomb it just as it was about to start its pernicious genocidal mission. If the world had listened million lives would have been saved.


    Second, he did not act as a lone wolf. He was an officer, first of the Polish Army and then served in the official underground Home Army that operated on the orders of the Polish government in exile in London. His smuggled reports were the voice of Poland during the 2nd World War – ignored by the Western Allies often because of anti-Semitic prejudice – as you will learn by reading Jack’s book.


    Thirdly, it shows how little the Western world still knows of the contribution of Poland to the Allied war effort also through intelligence gathering on the wartime plight of the Jews. Jan Karski whom some of you know carried elements of Pilecki’s report to President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill. Read Jack’s book to realize how far behind Poland they were in mustering courage to stop the Holocaust.

    Pilecki’s fate encapsulates the enormity of two totalitarianisms – not just the Nazi Socialist; shot in the back of the head by the Polish communist secret police in 1948, he was also a witness to the evil of the nationalist socialist main competitor – Soviet imposed communism. He was part of the group of soldiers who opposed the new communist occupation – called the cursed soldiers due to the hopelessness of their fight.

    He exemplified what is often mocked today – faith, family, tradition. His words sent to his children in one of his last letters from the communist prison were: 

    “Love you homeland, love your parents, persist in your faith, be good people”.

    But how can we talk about Pilecki to those whose frame of reference is a secularized and often disenchanted world where the talk of heroism smells of fairy tales?

    Here is an enormous contribution of Jack Fairweather, who brings the understanding of Witold to the whole world; Jack uniquely manages to translate Witold’s cultural rootedness, universalizes it and makes it understandable to everybody of all races and creeds.

    Jack Fairweather’s book makes us understand the power of hindsight. Heroes are not seers. Pilecki was first and foremost a virtuous man who served humanity through his absolute commitment to Poland.  Jack writes: “patriotism of this strength can seem outdated or worrisomely like the preserve of the far right rising on a tide of nationalism. But we must also reckon with the fact that Witold’s patriotism furnished him with a sense of service and a moral compass that sustained his sense of purpose of the camp.” His example let other prisoners survive. As Jack says: “So long as the prisoners could believe in the greater good they were not defeated.”


    There are profound lessons for all in today’s disenchanted world: for those who are bullied for their beliefs or for being different, for those who want to do good but can’t find more guidance than oft repeated mantras about self-improvement that dismiss the perspective of being one’s brother’s keeper or finally for leaders in business and education who are looking for ways to build trust and team work.  Pilecki is really a hero for all times and all people.  And we owe Jack that soon the world will realize why.

    Today, Jack will be joined in the conversation about his book by David Folkenflik - an American reporter based in New York City and serving as media correspondent for National Public Radio. He is also one of the hosts of NPR's On Point. His work primarily appears on the NPR news programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered.


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