Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, Polish Auschwitz Survivor Who Fought for Jews

Excerpt from a New York Times article:
Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, Polish Auschwitz Survivor Who Fought for Jews, Dies at 93

Mr. Bartoszewski during his time as a captive at the Auschwitz concentration camp

Mr. Bartoszewski during his time as a captive at the Auschwitz concentration camp

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, an Auschwitz survivor who battled both the Nazis and the Communists, was given honorary Israeli citizenship for his work to save Jews during World War II and later surprised even himself by being instrumental in reconciling Poland and Germany, died here on Friday. He was 93.

“If someone told me, 60 years ago, when I was standing on the assembly square in Auschwitz, that I was going to be friends with Germans, citizens of a democratic and friendly nations, I would have said they were cuckoo crazy,” Mr. Bartoszewski said in a 2009 interview.

Mr. Bartoszewski died of a heart attack at a hospital near his home in Warsaw, government officials said, just five days after delivering an impassioned speech marking the anniversary of the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto Uprising, which he had witnessed and aided.

“He was one of the great cultural heroes both during and after the Second World War, from the struggles against tyranny through the process of renewing democratic systems,” said Shevach Weiss, a former Israeli ambassador to Poland. “His biography is our biography.”

Tall, dynamic and blunt, Mr. Bartoszewski was a historian, a journalist, a diplomat and an underground activist who twice served as Poland’s foreign minister and became an influential moral voice in postwar Poland.

“Maybe, at one point,” he once wrote, “when you are neither young nor middle-aged, it all comes down to being able to look in the mirror without disgust. It can also be the value with which you end your earthly journey.”

He was born on Feb. 19, 1922, into a Roman Catholic family living in a Jewish neighborhood in Warsaw and took up journalism. He took part in the defense of the city from Nazi forces in 1939 and later worked for the Polish Red Cross.

After Nazis took the city, Mr. Bartoszewski was among several thousand Poles rounded up. He became one of the first prisoners at the new Auschwitz concentration camp, bearing number 4427, but was released after less than a year because of pressure by the Red Cross.

He joined the underground Home Army’s fight against the Germans, in its Information and Propaganda Bureau under the pseudonym Teofil, the name of a character in a favorite novel, and fought during the Warsaw Uprising.

He was most noted for his wartime work with the Council for Aid to Jews, code named Zegota, which saved tens of thousands of people from Nazi capture and assisted the ghetto uprising. It was for this work that Israel named him Righteous Among the Nations, a honor given to non-Jews for saving Jews during the Holocaust.

After the war, when Poland fell under Soviet domination, he returned to journalism and joined the Polish People’s Party, at the time the only opposition to Communist rule. He was accused of being a spy and spent nearly 10 years in Communist prisons before his release in 1954 on grounds of poor health. A year later, the government informed him that it had determined that he had been wrongly sentenced.

He remained a thorn in the government’s side. Because of his writings and opposition activities, he was forbidden to publish in Poland for four years beginning in 1970.

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In 1980 he became an early member of the Solidarity trade union, which spearheaded the movement to overthrow Poland’s Communist government, and was briefly imprisoned again.

“He was a man who was always where he was needed,” said Malgorzata Omilanowska, Poland’s minister of culture and national heritage.

At a 90th-birthday celebration at Warsaw’s Royal Castle, Mr. Bartoszewski was presented with a medallion by President Bronislaw Komorowski inscribed, “To the one who dared to be disobedient.”

Although war and other obstacles had prevented him from completing his own university education, he lectured at universities around the world, produced a stream of essays and columns and was the author of 40 books, most of them about World War II and Polish-Jewish relations.

He was known for his witticisms. One of his popular sayings went: “It’s worth it to be honest, though it doesn’t always pay off. It pays to be dishonest, but it’s never worth it.”

After the collapse of Communism, he was Poland’s ambassador to Austria in the early 1990s and foreign minister under two presidents, Lech Walesa in 1995 and Aleksander Kwasniewski in 2000 and 2001. During this period he was credited with playing a key role in a postwar diplomatic triumph: the forging of a close relationship between Poland and Germany.

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