Jan Ołdakowski

Jan Ołdakowski - cultural affairs manager, President of Warsaw Rising Museum

When the economic and social crisis came, the hard struggle for selfish interests returned, and all nations began to discuss their own past again. Our present identity is constituted by the experience of the 20th century, that is resistance to two totalitarianisms - says Jan Ołdakowski in the interview explaining phenomena of Cursed Soldiers in contemporary Poland.


How do you assess the establishment of the National Day of Remembrance of Cursed Soldiers from the perspective of couple of years?

This is an element of restoring memory about what could not be remembered in the times of communist Poland (PRL in 1944-1989). With contemporary free Poland, it is similar as it was with the Second Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth - then also long-term canonical dates and figures were discussed. The fact that November 11, 1918 is the day in which Poland regained its independence, was decided in the 1930s. In turn, for us, the date June 4, 1989 was also not so obvious as the beginning of the Third Republic. Maybe in the future we will determine, that the Yalta Treaty collapsed only on the day in which American Abrams tanks entered Poland, it is not known yet.

But why do we need such discussions?

A part of our identity is the past. The vision of the end of history, popular in the 1990s, quickly turned out to be wrong, because totalitarianism were replaced by Arab extremism, various local conflicts appeared, and Russia's power aspirations also returned. As long as prosperity continued, one could believe in the theses of “capital that has no nationality” or in the fact that within the European Union one can give up national identity. But as soon as the crisis came, the hard struggle for selfish interests returned, and the nations began to discuss their own past again. We have this problem, that the PRL has frozen this discussion for a long time, although our present identity is constituted by the experience of the 20th century, that is resistance to two totalitarianisms.

But this resistance is not only the heroism of the Cursed Soldiers, who are discussed and honoured most often today.

I would list here three most important elements: the Home Army, from which Cursed Soldiers drew their ethos, Solidarity and the Polish Church. The problem is that throughout the Polish People's Republic (PRL) all these traditions were falsified. During the first period of free Poland, it was also not known what to do with them. Therefore, for example, the electoral slogan of Aleksander Kwaśniewski (post- communist President in 1995-2005) was: "Let's choose the future", in other words: let us reject the past. Additionally, just before Poland's accession to the European Union, in spring 2004, Władysław Bartoszewski asked provocatively whether we could enter Europe with the heritage of the Warsaw Uprising. He knew that his question was provocative and he admitted that it has no contradiction in itself. The communists have distorted and falsified our historical heritage that we have not been able to cope with this past for a long time. For Poles, both Wojciech Jaruzelski and Ryszard Kuklinski were heroes who had similar numbers of positive opinions in public polls.

It seems that for years nothing has changed in the minds of Poles, until everything has changed. What happened, that we suddenly rejected the communist heritage?

As soon as we entered Europe, the Poles understood that we do not have to pretend anything and anybody in search of acceptance. Young people met their peers in the Union, who were proud of their identity and past. It turned out that it is not shameful at all.

And the creation of the Warsaw Rising Museum was the result of changing this mentality or one of its causes?

People felt that a change was needed, and the state helped them to do it. Not only our museum was established, the Institute of National Remembrance was also created. Additionally non-gov organizations appeared like "Remember Foundation” established by Mariusz Kamiński. It was the “Remember Foundation” that first began to resemble the Cursed Soldiers, in the 90s - against everyone and everything so to say. The Museum of the Warsaw Rising fit in this process perfectly, because it was opened a few months after Poland's accession to the Union, when Vladimir Putin began his imperial policy and Erika Steinbach appeared with her revisionism.

Importantly, Lech Kaczyński as the president of Warsaw not only opened our museum, but also successfully convinced Warsaw residents that the "event"  is not only for politicians or veterans. As a result, tens of thousands of young people took part in the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Uprising outbreak. From this moment our historical heritage entered public life. Earlier, Poles were able to celebrate only sports and religious events in this way.


Today, before March 1, the same arguments are applied as before August 1. Again, many experts wonder whether the worship of "doubtful heroes" is certainly a good idea when it comes to building our national identity.

The history of the Cursed Soldiers is much more complicated than the fate of the Warsaw Insurgents. Not everything the partisans have done is monumental. On the one hand, they were undoubtedly exceptional people, but on the other - subjected to exceptional pressure. Regarding the post-war reaction to communism, being a Cursed Soldier was the most extreme form of opposition. But you have to remember that for them this form of resistance was non-alternative. The Stalinist regime sentenced them to extermination, so regardless of what they did, they would be cursed.

This is well illustrated by the history of the Warsaw Zośka Battalion, there is no more emblematic branch of the Warsaw Insurgents, and what happened to them after the war. In 1947, all the “Zośkas” were arrested, some of them, like Jan Rodowicz "Anoda", died in unexplained circumstances. Many of them were sent to prison for many years. Those who have recently sung that "will be a parading through Aleje Ujazdowskie street", indeed found their way to Aleje Ujazdowskie, but to the carvers.

Why were they arrested?

The communists issued a verdict on all insurgents. We could not verify this story, but we heard that after the war, even in the home of Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński's mother, communist came to catch the poet, and let us remind, that he died on the fourth day of the Uprising ... The death sentence was issued for a whole generation. Being a Cursed Soldier was an escape from destruction. They were not people dreaming of World War III, I would rather compare them to insurgents from the ghetto.

It seems that for many young people, the Cursed Soldiers are number one heroes today, and youth's emotions are not so fired by the Home Army, or even by the Warsaw Rising.

Research show that the most important heroes for the youth are Warsaw insurgents, and their position does not seem to be at risk right now. Although it may change in a few years. Young people are characterized by the necessity of rebellion, disagreement with the world. Warsaw Insurgents and the Cursed Soldiers are role models for them.

And would you like Cursed Soldiers to become the only heroes of youth in a few years?

Of course not. The memory of our history should be as multifaceted as possible. Let us consider that Józef Piłsudski and Roman Dmowski are important to us all the time. We can combine different traditions in our memory. We remember the uncompromising Cursed Soldiers, but also the conciliatory Solidarity

Solidarity for young people is probably not “sexy” at all?

Sure, but this is mainly due to the troubles of its legendary leader, who identified resistance for the my generation, and today can not bear its own legend. And he can not take care of his colleagues. If Lech Wałęsa was the actual leader of Solidarity, he would be less interested in his own career, and more in what conditions his comrades (with whom he fought shoulder to shoulder with communism) live in. It distinguishes him from the generation of the Home Army, which today is still sticking together and is very supportive to its members. That is why the ethos of Home Army (AK) is so much needed in Poland - it is really unique. In this sense, it would not be desirable, if only Cursed Soldiers remained.

What should the state do today: talk more about the Home Army and less about the later guerrilla fight? Cursed Soldiers are no longer a cursed subject...

Talk about both, AK and the Cursed Soldiers. State institutions have dealt with removing the last dark spots from our history, which is why the memory of the Cursed Soldiers has been restoring for a last few years - which is authentic and necessary. But there was also topic of Volhynia, which is also worth talking about. The essence of a democratic, free state lies in the fact that one can choose between traditions and characters. Competition should prevail on the market of ideas and traditions.

What does it mean in practice?

This is best seen on the example of Piłsudski and Dmowski. Both these traditions, from the point of view of the state, are equal. Both are controversial, but state institutions support both. It seems that after the period of restoring and strengthening the tradition of Cursed Soldiers, it will become - just like all other "overworked" traditions - part of free competition.

Just as Warsaw Insurgents have entered this market, who do not raise much controversy today, although the discussion about the meaning of the Uprising continues?

And it will last. The Cursed Soldiers are different because they did not have such a choice as Insurgents. Even if they went to work, they would end up in prison anyway. But the point is, to be able to discuss their history calmly, just as Piłsudski's merits are being considered today, at the same time speaking about his terrorist activity and his assassination of a democratic state. I would like us to discuss the various attitudes of anti-communist guerrillas in the same way: from heroic patriots who had a mission, to – let’s name it - adventure hunters or even warlords.

We settled the case of the Cursed Soldiers, so it's time for Volhynia? Unless after Wojciech Smarzowski's film something has already moved ...

One movie will definitely not solve all problems. Without the symbolic farewell of the victims, creating their full list and paying homage to them, we will not go further; the art will not do it - institutions and historians have to work for it. Volhynia is another issue that could not be remembered in the times of the Polish People's Republic, but today it is a much more difficult subject to be ridiculed, because it requires some special caution from the state. Our geopolitical situation means that we need an alliance with Ukraine, which we must draw into the western area of civilization. Ukraine as part of the West is simply in our strategic interest.

And finally Solidarity remains? It seems that we have to rewrite its history, because today in our memory we have conflicting visions.

This will be a problem for now, because the heroes of Solidarity are still alive and are very involved in current politics. We need time, but someday we will certainly be able to assess everything calmly, even the attitude of Lech Wałęsa, because he did a lot of good, although, for example, his activity after 1989 does not look so colourful. But there are also other heroes of Solidarity. I am able to imagine fashion for wearing T-shirts not only with Cursed Soldiers, but also with the heroes of the opposition of the 1980s.

T-shirt with Andrzej Gwiazda?

Either with Anna Walentynowicz, Lech Kaczyński or Władysław Frasyniuk. They are also part of our heritage, they also deserve praise. The fact that they acted in a peaceful environment does not diminish their merits, although it is understandable that more attractive to young people are those who risked their lives, whose choices were more risky.

- interviewed by Michał Płociński

Source: http://www.rp.pl/Plus-Minus/302239881-Jan-Oldakowski-Zolnierze-Wykleci-trafili-na-wolny-rynek.html