It is difficult to write of Jerzy Stempowski’s output as an essayist without thinking of Jerzy Giedroyc. Just as difficult is it to imagine considering the significance of the Literary Institute for Polish literature and political thought, without any reference to Jerzy Stempowski, “Kultura’s” legendary Paweł Hostowiec. Stempowski and Giedroyc were united in their opposition to the “modern” nationalism which, taking its cue from the endecja (trans. the pre-was Polish right wing), understood the concept of Poland as being an ethnic nation. Their Poland was not only the commonality of memory and language, but also of its culture, drawing on its many sources in east-central Europe. Stempowski and Giedroyc understood Polish culture as being the sum of the many encounters of nations, religions and ethnicities which for hundreds of years had formed the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. As such, Polish culture took a share of responsibility for tending the multi-ethnic legacy of the central and eastern parts of Europe. And thus Stempowski and Giedroyc saw as their patriotic duty the negation of nationalism, for as Poles they felt responsible not only for the fate of their own nation, but also of Europe.
They saw themselves simultaneously as Poles and as eastern Europeans. Their view of Polish culture had nothing in it of nostalgia for a lost, idealised realm; it was marked by an awareness of the dangers arising out of nationalist ideology: of attitudes antagonistic to ethnic groups or religious communities, of limiting a person’s identity to a single dimension assigned by authoritarian politicians, of limiting history to only one correct interpretation.
Patriotism as a stance in defence of universal values
Timothy Snyder, the American historian of central Europe and well acquainted with the achievement of Jerzy Giedroyc, has written an extended essay On Tyranny – summing up the experiences of the 20th century in the form of twenty lessons to our contemporary world. In it, he attempts to describe the fundamental differences between nationalism and patriotism, stressing the positive aspects of the latter. It seems to me that Snyder’s reflections could be useful in describing patriotism in the sense understood by the Maisons-Laffitte circle. Snyder describes nationalism as a stance detached from the real world – nationalism is relativist, since for it the only truth is the resentment we feel when we contemplate others. Nationalism has no universal values, aesthetic or ethical, and hence its relativist character. “A patriot, by contrast,” he explains “wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot must be concerned with the real world, which is the only place where his country can be loved and sustained. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing that it would do better” [i].
He denotes patriotism as an attitude linked to the protection of universal values, as the aspiration for the nation to develop against the background of universal values with heed for the surrounding world. Such an understanding of patriotism aptly describes the standpoint of Jerzy Stempowski and Jerzy Giedroyc, their view of Poland, of Poland’s culture and of Europe.
Spurred on by this challenging patriotic, but not nationalistic, vision – with the Second World War over and Europe in ruins through the twin totalitarianisms of Hitler and Stalin – Stempowski and Giedroyc sought to rebuild an independent Polish culture in exile. They did not accept the Soviet occupation nor the division of Europe. Nevertheless, after the war, their antinationalist patriotism bound them also to critical thinking about the Polish Second Republic destroyed by Hitler and Stalin – the state which they as young civil servants in senior positions had co-created. Giedroyc and Stempowski asked crucial questions about the causes of the military and political defeat of the pre-war Polish state. They derived no intellectual satisfaction in concentrating solely on the external factors of imperialist aggression by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. They feared that this would confine Poles in an attitude of martyrdom, engendering a sense of victimhood, and denying them their subjectivity as citizens. Such an attitude would keep them from posing fundamental questions concerning the direction of travel for future Polish political renewal.
Stempowski and Giedroyc discerned the weakest aspects of the Polish state which had come into being in 1918 in the inability to create a democratic and socially just polity recognising the rights of national minorities. From this failed attempt at building democracy in Poland, and also from the elemental experience of world war, the holocaust and the gulag, they sought to draw conclusions which could be applied to the development of post-war Europe. And they pondered hard about how Poland’s democratic political culture should be rebuilt, and of the possible pathways to regaining once again Poland’s independence.
Dialogue with neighbours and the rebuilding of Poland
For Giedroyc and Stempowski, one of the roads leading to the rebuilding of a democratic Poland, and to ensuring long-term peace in post-war Europe was to take up dialogue with Poland’s neighbours. The effort of finding a language of discourse with them regarding the difficult matters of the past, was the key to a new vision of peace in Europe.
Today, it is easy to write and talk about Polish-Ukrainian dialogue, or that Poland and Germany have entered into a partnership. After the Second World War – after the Shoah, after German atrocities against the Poles, after the fratricidal Polish-Ukrainian conflict, after Stalin’s forced resettlement of Poles, Ukrainians and Germans – it was difficult to hold any sort of „normal” political discourse among the countries of central Europe, either collectively or at the level of individual citizens. Communist propaganda expended a huge amount of rhetoric about the peace and international friendship among the countries of the communist bloc, but actual dialogue between neighbours remained the great taboo. For the communists, the unresolved conflicts between Poles and their neighbours provided cynical legitimization of Soviet hegemony in Europe, the instrument of maintaining pax Sovietica east of the Elbe.
There was no room for Polish-Ukrainian or Polish-Lithuanian dialogue within the communist world, since the nations of eastern Europe, as elements of the “great Soviet family” had ceased to be independent cultural or political entities. Communist ideology had expunged them from official history. All the nations which had together formed the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had been melded – through bloody Bolshevik coercion – into the burgeoning communist nation of the Soviet Union. Polish communists, though political murders, forced resettlements and the compulsory polonisation of Germans, Ukrainians and Lithuanians, were effectively destroying the remnants of Polish multiculturalism, forming in its stead the ethnically homogenous state formulated by right-wing endecja ideology.
We feel the effects of this policy to this day. For many Poles, the dominant idea of Poland and of Polish nationhood is ethnic and not civic republican. Nationalist slogans easily mobilise large numbers of Poles. Critical patriotism, which is capable of viewing Polish culture and history from the perspective of minorities or neighbours, is poorly developed. Regrettably, in the past few years, controversies over the challenges arising from international migrations have demonstrated that all too many Poles have a very poorly developed preparedness to encounter the Other, or the ability to find their feet in the multi-cultural, multi-faith European Union.
Post-war dialogue with Germany blocked
The Polish communist regime not only blocked dialogue with our eastern neighbours, but also with Germany. Communist propaganda treated the German Democratic Republic (GDR), a satellite state within the Soviet empire, as the “better” communist part of the German nation. Because of its alliance with the Soviet Union, the GDR was treated by communist propaganda as an anti-fascist state, and therefore not responsible for the crimes of the Third Reich. Germans from the GDR never undertook any official dialogue on the subject of German atrocities with the Poles. Reconciliation was decreed from above, thus blocking any development of relations between the two societies which could not be controlled by the authorities. Not only did this policy not strengthen ties or friendship, but it also deepened mistrust between the nations.
Particularly in the last two decades before the collapse of the Soviet empire, many independently thinking Germans from the GDR –churchmen, intellectuals, artists and dissidents – tried to build authentic dialogue with Poles at odds with communist propaganda. There were attempts at talking about difficult historical topics, at initiating reconciliation, but all were brutally put down by the communist authorities. In particular, after the birth of Solidarity in 1980, the GDR regime feared that free dialogue unregulated by the state would lead to the infection of the East Germans with the “anti-socialist bacillus of Solidarity”.
The Federal Republic of Germany was regarded by Polish communist propaganda as an enemy state, even at times when the communist authorities were engaged in developing political and economic links with the Bonn Republic, for example during the chancellorships of the social-democrats Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt. Throughout the existence of the Polish People’s Republic, West Germany was the target of anti-German stereotyping. Its propaganda strove to deepen the Poles’ feeling of German threat, disseminating the shadow of “Drang nach Osten”: the destruction of the Polish nation through “imperialist” Germany’s cultural and political aggrandisement.
According to Polish communist propaganda, only brotherhood with Moscow and the existence of Soviet troops on Polish soil guaranteed the territorial integrity of the Polish People’s Republic, and safeguarded Poland’s post-war border on the Oder-Neisse line. This was an effective myth, the more so as Poland’s western boundary was long questioned by the Bonn Republic. West Germany saw the Polish border as the product of Stalin’s expansionism, a consequence of the occupation of central Europe by the Soviet army. The West German constitutional tribunal averred right up to 1990 that only an international peace conference could legally ratify boundaries established as a consequence of war.
The post-war political and legal dispute about the western border was exploited by the communist regime as evidence of (West) Germany’s revisionist position. Taking their cue from the Soviets, they constantly emphasised that the partition of Germany is politically advantageous as it constrains Germany’s political and military development, thus guaranteeing peace in Europe and security for Poland. It was not until November 1990 that a treaty between a democratic Poland and a unified Germany finally put an end to the years of dispute and confirmed their border on the Oder and Neisse rivers.
I have already mentioned how much the communist authorities feared uncontrolled contact among citizens of the GDR and the Polish People’s Republic. That mistrust was true of the whole Soviet bloc. Poland’s borders were as securely controlled as if they were the external boundary of the Soviet empire, as if they were keeping apart antagonistic political systems. The nations of Europe were not only divided by the Iron Curtain delimiting the spheres of Soviet and western democratic influence, there also existed other, communist iron curtains east of Berlin: along the Oder-Neisse line, between Poland and the Soviet Union, and also in the south keeping apart Poles from Czechs and Slovaks.
The Literary Institute as a centre of dialogue between Poles and their neighbours
Against this isolation of Poland imposed by the communist regime, as also against their anti-Ukrainian, anti-German and anti-Semitic propaganda, stood Jerzy Giedroyc and his colleagues. The Literary Institute had been founded by Giedroyc in Rome in 1946. Into the battle against communism it put in play not only close contact between the émigré community and anti-communist circles in Poland, but also, in equal measure, dialogue between Poles and their neighbours. As his recently published letter from Aleksander Bocheński shows, Giedroyc did not want to limit his political activism to a purely Polish perspective, but also to look at Poland from a European perspective. His aim was to build up new bonds between Poles and Europe. He reasoned that only a deep change, carried through in peacetime throughout the continent, and an alliance of European democrats would in the long term give Poland a chance to regain independence. In setting up the Literary Institute, he was constructing a centre of contemporary political thought that was not only independent and Polish, but also European. In his letter to Bocheński of 24 September 1946, before the first issue of “Kultura” had yet appeared, he wrote: “We differ maybe in that I am starting to think more in European categories than in narrowly Polish or central European ones. It is my ambition to create the slogans for a new revolution, simultaneously anti-capitalist and anti-communist.” [ii]
In realising his vision, Giedroyc was not entirely on his own – his ideas were shared by Zofia Hertz, Józef Czapski and Jerzy Stempowski. Thanks to these friends, and also thanks to authors like Czesław Miłosz, Juliusz Mieroszewski, Konstanty Jeleński and Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, the Literary Institute became the pivotal institution cooperating with central and east-European émigré groups, and supporting their – Poland’s neighbours’ – aspirations to independence.
The ULB vis-à-vis Germany
The cooperation of the “Kultura” circle with Poland’s eastern neighbours has become almost legendary. Giedroyc and Mieroszewski’s so-called ULB concept – which meant seeing the independence of the Ukraine, Lithuania and Byelorussia as fundamental to the security of a sovereign Poland – became the recurrent theme of Polish discourse concerning its eastern policy. I feel, however, that very often the politicians and pundits making reference to the ULB idea forget that Giedroyc, Stempowski and Mieroszewski’s deliberations concerning Poland’s eastern neighbours were but one element in the wider consideration of the future of the whole continent, inseparable from building up positive relations with western Europe, and particularly Germany. I sometimes even find that deepening relations with the ULB region are set against European integration, and that an active eastern foreign policy is set against partnership with democratic Germany. The ULB concept is even utilised to develop anti-Brussels and antisemitic positions.
I am disturbed to note that Polish public opinion has no appreciation of Giedroyc, Stempowski, Mieroszewski and Czapski’s conception of a far-reaching European integration. The importance of the German question in the thinking of the Literary Institute and the normalisation of Polish-German relations is now also widely forgotten. The issues surrounding the ULB concept were never divorced from the German question – they formed both sides of the same coin. As prof. Piotr Mitzner aptly put it, we should really be writing about “Kultura’s” concept of the “ULB-N” (trans. “N” for Niemcy – Germany).
Although Giedroyc had no German, among his closest associates were people such as Józef Czapski and Juliusz Mieroszewski, both brought up speaking German. Jerzy Stempowski had excellent German - before the war he had commenced his university studies in Germany and Switzerland, and knowing the language had worked in Berlin for the Polish Telegraphic Agency in the 1920s. It was then that he got to know the political life of the Weimar Republic from close up.
Stempowski combined an understanding of German culture with his deep-rooted familiarity with the cultures of the nations of eastern Europe. Within the “Kultura” circle, after 1945 it was he who alongside Czapski conducted dialogues with both Germans and with eastern Europeans, specifically with Ukrainians. As regards the coming into being of the “ULB-N” concept, the Literary Institute’s key think-piece was Stempowski’s Diary of a journey to Austria and Germany, written in the autumn of 1945. Even before the formal founding of the Literary Institute, Giedroyc, as press officer of the 2nd Polish Corps, had arranged the necessary finances and documentation for Stempowski, then living in Switzerland, to set out to Austria and southern Germany after hostilities had ceased. The objective of his journey was to form an independent opinion as to the political and humanitarian situation in Germany and Austria after the fall of the Third Reich. Giedroyc and Stempowski wanted to understand German thinking after the experience of Naziism: Were the Germans, schooled in totalitarian fascist propaganda, ready to undergo deep cultural changes, did they understand their co-responsibility for Nazi atrocities? How deep rooted in Germany was Naziism? Are there among Germans those who would ally in the building of a new democratic culture in Europe? These were the questions which accompanied Stempowski during his German mission, and then in his later journeys north of the Alps.
Giedroyc and Stempowski were also interested in the policies of the Allies, specifically in respect of the eastern European nations. They were deeply disturbed by the western allies handing over Ukrainians, Byelorussians and Cossacks to the Soviet authorities, with the clear threat of deportation to the Soviet Union and often death. Thus one of Stempowski’s key objectives on his journey to Austria and Germany in the autumn of 1945 was to establish contact with communities of Ukrainian émigrés, and to document their fate.
Stempowski’s diary of his German journey was published under the pseudonym of Paweł Hostowiec by the Literary Institute in Rome in 1946, even before the first issue of “Kultura” had come out. The book is today a classic of Polish reportage. The diary’s poetic passages, where the author stands in the ruins of Munich musing on the rushing waters of Ukrainian rivers, are legendary. Wojciech Karpiński remembered this from the heavily-censored first edition of Stempowski’s essays published in communist Poland by Znak in 1984. The full text of the 1945 Diary had to await publication in Poland until 1989, as it had made uncomfortable reading for the communists. It was published in the sovereign IIIrd Polish Republic for the first time by Monika Sznajderman and Andrzej Stasiuk’s Czarne Publications in 2001 in a collection of Stempowski’s essays titled From Berdyczów to Maisons-Laffitte.
In his German diary, Stempowski not only calls attention to the fate of the Ukrainians, which was a great taboo in communist Poland, but also takes an interest in the humanitarian situation of the German civilian population. He criticises Allied operations, and poses the question: was the carpet bombing of German cities, the systematic destruction of their historical fabric, with it the destruction of European cultural heritage, an appropriate strategy to take in the war with Germany? He further asks – should the answer to Nazi barbarism have been to carry out operations which are not consonant with western values? For Paweł Hostowiec, the victims in these destroyed cities were not only Germans, but in a sense also all the Europeans who had defended European civilisation against totalitarianism.
Despite the fresh wounds inflicted by the war, Stempowski was able to write his diaries without any shadow of hate, without any desire for revenge. Understanding the German language and culture, he was able to establish direct contact with Germans, and moreover to detect among them critical, anti-Nazi, anti-authoritarian attitudes. The picture he painted of post-war Germany is subtly shaded, nuanced, pluralistic. He had the ability to approach German culture critically, discern the precise sources of totalitarianism, and parallel to this detect the potential qualities which would serve to build a new, democratic culture. At that time, so soon after the war, with the traumatic experiences of the war waged by the Germans still fresh, this was a rarely encountered perspective. The literary quality and intellectual depth of Stempowski’s Diary is so remarkable, that it can be regarded not only as a great work of literature but also as one of the first post-war independent texts seeking to build rapprochement between Germans and Poles. Stempowski’s work represents a milestone on the long and difficult road to Polish-German dialogue.
I had already mentioned the Ukrainian themes appearing in this book. While writing the Diary of his journey to Austria and Germany in 1945, Stempowski was also working on a separate report on the post-war fate of Ukrainians and Ukrainian political groupings. This report was discovered in the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum Archives by prof. Andrzej Stanisław Kowalczyk, who published it in 2014 in a collection of Stempowski’s essays [iii]. This account of his visit to Ukrainian communities in Germany, is not only a penetrating analysis of the Ukrainian political scene, but also a call to the Polish émigré elites, urging them to undertake talks with the Ukrainians. Stempowski marks out the terrain in which it would be possible – despite the bloody conflict dividing the two nations – to commence a mutual dialogue directed against their common Soviet invader. This document of his journey to Germany testifies to the great importance placed by Stempowski and Giedroyc to Polish relations with its neighbours, both eastern and western.
This first of Stempowski’s diaries, of his journey to Austria and Germany in 1945, was highly esteemed by Giedroyc. While still in Rome in 1947 he had it published in Italian, to reach wider intellectual circles. In the mid 1990s, when I was a young correspondent for “Kultura” in Berlin, I visited Giedroyc for the first time in Maisons-Laffitte. He encouraged me to read the Diaries and to assist in issuing them in a German translation. He was also keen on having a German translation made of Andrzej Bobkowski’s French war-time diaries titled Szkice piórkiem (Sketches in Pen-and-Ink). I could sense his great satisfaction when I was able to have the first collection of Stempowski’s essays – including the 1945 Diary – published in German, in collaboration with the Hamburg publishers Rospo Verlag [iv]. The Introduction to this volume of selected essays, titled “My master Jerzy Stempowski” was written by Jan Kott. The Hamburg publishers also brought out a selection from Bobkowski’s Sketches in Pen-and-Ink in a translation by Martin Pollack. Stempowski’s essays gained wide currency in Germany, in proof of which a new selection of Hostowiec [Stempowski] essays was brought out by Katharina Wagenbach-Wolff’s well-known Berlin publishing house, Friedenauer Presse [v]. I supplied an Afterword to both German editions of Stempowski’s essays.
The importance Giedroyc attached to dialogue with the Germans is attested to in the German-language issue of “Kultura” in 1984, in which he published a translation of Stempowski’s Esej dla Kassandry (An Essay for Cassandra). He was also actively interested in promoting “Kultura’s” political message in Germany. In 1999, in cooperation with the Polish Institute in Leipzig, he managed to organise the first academic conference in Germany on the subject of the heritage of Polish émigrés. Just after his death in September 2000, the conference papers were published in a large volume, including contributions from Jerzy Pomianowski, Andrzej Friszke, Andrzej Stanisław Kowalczyk and Paweł Machcewicz [vi]. I had managed to inform him of its final shape shortly before he passed away. The book was dedicated to the memory of Jerzy Giedroyc.
Stempowski’s journeys to Germany
Stempowski’s 1945 journey to Germany was not the only mission he carried out for Giedroyc. Up to the 1960s, he undertook several such journeys to West Germany and Austria on behalf of the Literary Institute. After Stempowski’s death, Giedroyc published all his post-war German diaries in 1971 in a posthumous collection of his essays Od Berdyczowa do Rzymu (From Berdychiv to Rome).
Stempowski’s diaries present the most important work in post-war Polish literature concerning Germany before the fall of communism. It must be said that there is much very interesting reportage concerning post-war journeys to Germany from Edmund Osmańczyk, Marian Brandys, Mieczysław Jastrun and Maria Dąbrowska, but it is all written from the perspective of – or under pressure from – communist ideology. Although one can find there many valuable observations, for instance in the pieces by Brandys, it is nevertheless difficult to read them as the expression of free, unfettered thinking.
Another significant German-linked element in “Kultura” were the Berlin diaries of Witold Gombrowicz. However, the problem with these “notes from Berlin” is that the author did not know the German language, which contributed to his sense of distance between him and West German society. His diaries are rather a poignant account of the writer’s return to central Europe, to a place geographically close to his native land. This work by and about Gombrowicz, about the fate of the eternal exile and his traumatic experiences also, though to a lesser extent, presents a genuine if unconventional portrayal of German culture.
Although it is certainly true the Stempowski took a keen interest in German politics, he was more excited by the intellectual and literary life of post-war Germany. In his diaries he tried to describe the extent to which a West German democratic culture was being reborn. In the Bonn Republic in the 1950s and 60s, he saw the only western political actor who held political views approaching those of the Polish émigré community. Stempowski feared that western Europe had accepted the division of the continent, for the sake of peace and quiet. The cold war ensured the stability of spheres of influence, which allowed the western democracies a chance to rebuild and develop their economies. In this, the political aspirations of the east European émigrés were a nuisance. He thought that it was only divided Germany that was interested in changing the post-war European status quo. What’s more, it was only in the Bonn Republic, among German intellectuals and politicians, that Stempowski could detect an authentic interest in the voices of east European émigrés. The division of Germany was a living wound which could not be ignored, and Germans observed the politics and societal developments east of the Elbe with intensity.
In Germany, Stempowski also sought out German refugees from eastern Europe. He quickly realised that this was not a politically homogenous group, composed exclusively of revisionists. He detected among them cultural competencies which would be valuable for Poles: an interest in eastern Europe, a knowledge of Slavonic cultures and languages. He understood that it was precisely these Germans, who had lost their own fatherland in the east, who would become important voices in the process of post-war Polish-German rapprochement.
As mentioned previously, in Stempowski there was no thought of revisionism, no longing for the return of the Kresy, the lost “Polish borderlands”, but there was a willingness for dialogue, for mutual understanding with Poland’s neighbours. It was maybe because of this, that during his German journeys he could discern that many Germans who had come from the east could also think in this way, for whom peace and good relations with their neighbours were overriding values. Alas, Stempowski did not live to see the culmination of the process of reconciliation, of the dialogue of the 1970s and 80s, and of the years after 1989. He died in 1969 in Switzerland, shortly before the historic visit of Chancellor Brandt to Warsaw in December 1970, when the German federal government politically recognised the inviolability of Poland’s post-war western border.
The years after Stempowski’s death have shown how accurately he had read the dynamic of Polish-German dialogue. Not only was it the first post-war generation of Germans, wishing to set their face against German anti-democratic tradition, who from the late 1960s wished to seek reconciliation with Poles; not only was it German victims of Naziism, like Willy Brandt, who wished some easing of Polish-German relations; but it was especially artists and intellectuals with ties east of the Oder and Neisse, such as Countess Marion Dönhoff, Klaus von Bismarck, Günter Grass and Siegfried Lenz, who became the important protagonists of reconciliation. Just as Stempowski had envisaged.
Stempowski’s pre-war oeuvre
In his post-war German diaries, we find many historical reflections, particularly relating to the pre-war Weimar Republic and its fall. As a former correspondent of the Polish Telegraphic Agency in Berlin, Stempowski was an expert in pre-war German politics. His essay Pielgrzym (The Pilgrim), inspired by his stay in Germany and Holland in the winter of 1923/24, and his short piece Europa w 1938-1939 (Europe in 1928-1939) from July 1939 were hitherto the only known literary works on Germany by “Hostowiec” published before the Second World War. Jerzy Giedroyc recalled these essays in his edition of Stempowski’s collected essays published posthumously in 1971. In the last few years, Magdalena Chabiera has been able to rediscover many of Stempowski’s previously unknown writings on German matters. Thanks to her initiative, supported by prof. Piotr Mitzner and dr. Elżbieta Sobczak, head of the academic publications department of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University, we now can, for the first time, get to know the entirety of Jerzy Stempowski’s writings on Germany. The pre-war pieces, apart from the Pielgrzym mentioned above, were not written with any great literary aspirations, but that does not diminish their value. The majority are press reports, political commentary and analyses, which nevertheless, from today’s perspective, impress with their intellectual heft and the soundness of their political analysis. In Poland, we have few works in the pre-war literature of essays or reportage which deal with the fate of the Weimar Republic and the birth of the Third Reich. The works of reportage by Antoni Sobański, Bernard Singer and Zygmunt Nowakowski on the early period of the Third Reich are well worth our attention today, as well as having literary merit. Nevertheless, they concentrate solely on the first years after Hitler came to power. Stempowski’s work ranges wider in time, he documents the crisis in German politics from the early 1920s right up to the years of Hitler’s dictatorship.
Stempowski’s pre-war pieces concerning Germany are characterised by his fundamental sympathy for the first German democratic state. After the First World War, it was not easy for a Pole adopt this perspective, since a decided majority of Germany’s political elites, including liberals and social democrats, was not ready to accept an independent Polish state which had arisen as a consequence of German military defeat. German historian Martin Broszat aptly called this attitude “negative German policy in respect of Poland”. The Weimar Republic felt itself able to start a process of reconciliation with the French, and even to establish military and economic cooperation with the Soviet Union, but it was unable to work out any overture of dialogue with the Poles.
Stempowski knew well about this, he was aware of the German democrats’ weak points, but he could at the same time understand that the fall of the Weimar Republic would have fatal consequences for Poland. In his pieces he wrote, of course, about Polish-German disagreements, about differences in their respective interests, but he always sought to elicit from his readers a better understanding of German political dynamics. Stempowski’s opposition to communism and Naziism informed his writing. Quite early on he could see that the followers of Hitler and Stalin were politically close, which was not evident to many at that time – a fatal alliance of the Nazi party and the communists to destroy German democracy.
Stempowski’s political sympathies, like those of his father Stanisław Stempowski, were with the democratic socialist movement and the liberals. In the Hostowiec pieces we find pen portraits of the Weimar Republic’s political protagonists, such as Friedrich Ebert, Gustav Stresemann and Walther Rathenau. None of these was able to open himself to dialogue with Poland, which weakened their position and opened the door to nationalism. Similarly on the Polish side, there was no thought given to cooperation with the Germans. Neither among the followers of Piłsudski nor in the endecja camp was there any willingness or thought to establish dialogue with German republicans. Both states born of the First World War remained in permanent conflict, jeopardising their existence. This lack of Polish-German dialogue is strange, if we consider that a large proportion of Poles in the inter-war years could speak German, having been educated in the former German-speaking partitions.
Regrettably, before the Second World War there was no political climate for exploiting this cultural potential. It is really only in Stempowski’s writings that we find any effort to build constructive dialogue with Poland’s western neighbour. Stempowski gave this his attention, as he believed that only such a stance could protect Europe from Nazi and communist aggression. He was interested in the success of the Weimar Republic, not only because it was the creation of social democrats and liberals, but also, because it was a state unwanted by a large proportion of Germans: by the army, by the former imperial aristocracy, by former imperial functionaries, by extreme nationalists and by communists. From the beginnings of its existence Stempowski could see that this first democratic German state’s political existence was seriously under threat.
A characteristic of the Hostowiec pieces is also criticism of the western allies’ policy towards Germany. Stempowski could see not only the dark side of the demanded reparations, which held down the development of German democracy, and became a problem that strengthened extremism. He also criticised the victors for a fundamental lack of vision in building the post-war order in Europe, of a process which might strengthen the process of democratisation. In his analyses, he advanced the interesting thesis that the majority of western politicians was not interested in the stability of the Weimar Republic, as it feared the success of social democrats and liberals would increase the attractiveness of emancipatory democratic movements outside Germany’s borders. Indeed, Stempowski could detect authoritarian and quasi feudal attitudes in the west, in sympathy with the authoritarian forces in Germany. In the 1930s, Stempowski was critical of the politics of appeasement, of British and French concessions to Hitler. He had no illusions as to the political aims of the Nazi party, and did not believe in compromises with Hitler.
Stempowski’s voice in these pre-war German pieces sounds like the prophesies of Cassandra. In his now famous piece Esej dla Kassandry (An Essay for Cassandra) of 1961 he reminds the reader about the far-sightedness of Szymon Askenazy. The pre-war German pieces discovered by Magdalena Chabiera reveal the Cassandra-like qualities of Stempowski himself.
Giedroyc and Stempowski’s lessons for Europe
In his German essays Stempowski stressed that the western democracies did not defend the Weimar Republic because they were incapable of thinking long-term, and defining common European interests in terms of liberal democratic values. After the First World War, the Europeans democracies were unable to act effectively as they were incapable of thinking beyond historical divisions, which opened up opportunities for nationalists. It had also proved impossible for Europeans to develop socially just economic systems, which in turn strengthened both communists and fascists. Giedroyc and Stempowski’s endeavour was for Europeans to draw lessons from the sorry experiences of the inter-war years, which ultimately led to disaster. Thus after 1945 they were so actively interested in the thinking of Europeans about the future of their continent, in building a new political order. The Hostowiec essays are an expression of Giedroyc and Stempowski’s political ambitions.
The above essay is an Afterword to the book: Jerzy Stempowski, Niemcy. Teksty z lat 1923-1965 (Jerzy Stempowski, Germany. Pieces from 1923-1965). The book was prepared for publication and the Foreword written by Magdalena Chabiera, Academic Publications Department of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University, Warsaw, 2018
We thank the Author and the academic publications department of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University for permission to publish this text.
[i] T. Snyder, O tyranii. Dwadzieścia lekcji z dwudziestego wieku (On Tyranny, Twenty lessons from the twentieth century), Kraków 2017, p. 114.
[ii] S. M. Nowinowski, Jerzy Giedroyc w 1946 roku (Jerzy Giedroyc in 1946), Gdańsk 2018, p. 95.
[iii] J. Stempowski, Relacja z wizyty w ośrodkach ukraińskich w Niemczech (A report on a visit to Ukrainian communities in Germany), in: W dolinie Dniestru. Pisma o Ukrainie (In the Dniester valley. Writings about the Ukraine) Warsaw 2014, pp. 282–302.
[iv] J. Stempowski, Bibliothek der Schmuggler (The Library of a Smuggler), Hamburg 1998.
[v] J. Stempowski, Von Land zu Land. Essays eines Kosmopolen (From Country to Country. Essays of a Cosmopolitan Pole), Berlin 2006.
[vi] Die polnische Emigration und Europa 1945–1990. Eine Bilanz des politischen Denkens der Literatur Polens im Exil (The Polish Emigration and Europe 1945-1990. A balance sheet of political thought in Polish writing in exile), eds.: B. Kerski, Ł. Gałecki, Osnabrück 2000.