Original article here:
The interview of 2017 Leya Prize winner João Pinto Coelho to VISÃO Magazine on his new book, is still causing a great deal of controversy. We are publishing today the author’s complete response to the open letter, written by the Ambassador of Poland criticising the book Os Loucos da Rua Mazur [The Mad People from Mazur Street].
«What is supposed to shock us beside any other evidence is the criminal engagement of at least forty Polish citizens as well as the idleness of great part of the people from that council, who testified those atrocities, as it is described in the conclusions of the National [Polish] Memory Institute Research’s report».
This is one of the quotations from the writer’s answer to the Polish Ambassador’s open letter. In the same answer, stated in the copy which arrived today at VISÃO Magazine, and that we are now disclosing in its complete version, the writer refuses to discuss his fictional oeuvre in the same terms as it was treated in “a certain type of Polish press”. He rather emphasises his concern “towards the signs of intolerance” that History always advised him to keep an eye on. “Ignoring these signs is a civic irresponsible attitude as well as a total absence of uneasiness in its presence”, the writer explains.
João Pinto Coelho’s reaction is the follow up of the Polish Ambassador in Portugal, Mr. Jacek Junosza Kisielewski’s open letter, considering João Pinto Coelho’s statement to VISÃO about his historical novel as “ungrounded and outcast from its historical context” and based on “unfair extrapolations”. Having also contacted Leya Editorial Group, who published the book with the brand Dom Quixote to be launched this Thursday 29th November at Bucholz book store (Lisbon), and presented by Father José Tolentino Mendonça (also poet/writer) who added:
«The jury of Leya Prize has unanimously distinguished the book Os Loucos da Rua Mazur (The Mad People from Mazur Street) by João Pinto Coelho for its literary qualities, which Leya clearly attaches to this writer’s oeuvre, and whose reading recommends».
Here is João Pinto Coelho’s answer to Mr. Jacek Junosza Kisielewski’s open letter fully quoted:
«Just a small note to start with: since I do not consider pertinent to cross anyone’s path by taking the place of the article’s author [Miguel Carvalho], I shall not say a word about the data that came out as the output of this research, such as the quantification of the victims at the Jedwabne’s massacre or the number of cities where there might have occurred similar atrocities. My declarations – literally quoted here – are the outcome of concrete questions that were put to me, and it is also not my job to lecture on the background, context or any other journalistic criteria that was carried out along the interview. I also try to restrain myself to speak about my previous book [Perguntem a Sarah Gross/Ask Sarah Gross] since we’re talking about a fictional oeuvre, I shall not accept it to be desiccated within the terms I found in a certain type of Polish press.
In the open letter that was addressed to me by Mr Ambassador from the Republic of Poland it is referred the objective and balanced manner that in my previous book Perguntem a Sarah Gross [Ask Sarah Gross] I mention the harm done to Poland, by the German invader, between the years 1939-1945. I referred it in that same book as I do it now in the new one – Os Loucos da Rua Mazur – and I can’t miss the opportunity to emphasise that the example mentioned by Mr. Ambassador [Jacek Junosza Kisielewski] about the Jewish children kept hidden in monasteries and orphanages by Polish nuns is explicitly described in the final pages of my last novel. I have indeed been writing about it in the last two years, when visiting dozens of schools from north to south in my country, letting Portuguese students be aware of the little known details from this period of History, where we can find, with all merit included, the grief and the acts of heroism from the Polish nation, either during the Nazi German invasion or during those more than twenty months of the Soviet presence in the country. But, to be completely accurate towards the facts, I am compelled to say more than just that and this I why I’m also referring Jedwabne Kielce’s case, and some other things that should not have happened. And referring himself to this subject, Mr. Ambassador [Junosza Kisielewski] recalled – and in a very pertinent manner – the more than six hundred Polish distinguished as “Justs among the Nations by the Yad Vashem. Yet, I must emphasise that we are talking about the same institute which recognises the existence of thousands of Polish citizens who cooperated with the German invaders by blackmailing and denouncing their Jewish neighbours. Thus, it occurs to me to ask if by referring the former and to be silent about the latter, one wouldn’t place those ones “outside their historical context” or base them in such “unfair or unjust extrapolations”, exactly as I’m being accused of in the beginning of the open letter.
About the Jedwabne Tragedy
Until a better perspective [of these historical facts] comes out, what is now at stake here is to take into account something far beyond the militancy of those fewer locals agitators; what is supposed to shock us above all other present evidences is the criminal involvement of at least forty Polish citizens, as well as the idleness from a big part of the city who watched those atrocities, as it is documented in the research report conclusions from the National Memory Institute of Poland – the same institute Mr. Ambassador [Junosza Kisielewski] is quoting. Furthermore, one might add that this case of Jedwabne’s tragedy, mentioned in the Ambassador’s open letter, is the most well known case currently studied, but still raises many doubts on its development and responsibility and also on how can the rule of a Law process, in the civilised world, lead to the condemnation of the ones and only whose guilt has been proven.
Even though I allow myself to remind my readers that what was until now shown was considered proof enough for two Presidents from the Republic of Poland, namely Alexander Kawaśniewski and Bronislaw Komorowski, to go to Jedwabne in order – and in the presence of the victims’ relatives and diverse organisations – to apologize for the tragedy as maximum representatives of the Polish nation.
Finally, I shall clarify now what Mr. Ambassador is referring to as being an abuse. In my declarations, there weren’t any intentions of establishing any correspondence/link between this tragic past and the present migration crisis, particularly on the manner Poland chose to, either then or now, manage its frontiers. By listing the many countries that in the final 1930’s chose to close the doors to Jewish refugees, it is, precisely, my intention to remind the same entities that are pointing today their indexes to this obscure past, though forgetting their previous indifference at the time.
About the current times:
Last August, in a letter addressed to one Law&Justice Party founders – actually in the [Polish] Government – The Polish Jewish Communities Union, noted a significant increasing of anti-Semitic protests and the sensation of insecurity as an output of all this situation [the current migration crisis].
Also in the current year, the Prejudice Research Centre from Warsaw University presented a report in which a significant increasing of negative attitude towards Jews in Poland, since 2014, is mentioned. This attitude is expressed by a growing acceptance and popularity of the anti-Semitic discourse, especially within the younger people.
I have no doubts on the Polish authorities efforts in fighting racist and xenophobe protests, or [investigating] hate crimes reported, for example, in the last report from European Cooperation and Security Organisation and, especially, I am not underestimating the initiative that intends to recover the traces of Jewish culture in the country, or the efforts carried out by a considerable amount of people in promoting a debate and an open dialogue on this long-term relation, throughout centuries, between Polish and the Jewish people – this I witnessed myself since 2009, during several visits to the country. To be completely honest with myself [and the readers], which I always feel compelled to, I never perceived that I was myself in a situation of eminent danger, but I did notice a discomfort, underlying my growing worries towards the signs of intolerance, that History always advised me to keep an eye on. Ignoring them would be a civic irresponsibility, just like not feeling that same discomfort towards those signs at all. I look at the world around me, I observe what is happening in Europe and I find the same signs in many spots – and Poland is not, unfortunately, an exception.
Finally, Mr. Ambassador states that the article, speaking about the evil in extreme situations could arise in someone “just like us” is “lacking liability” and incurs in “callous extrapolations”. Shoa’s historiography, and the historiography in some other more recent tragedies is being increasingly based on portraying its perpetrators. By diving into their stories, one can find people disturbingly similar to any of us, ordinary men and woman, capable of loving their children, and whom in our days, if asked whether they would be able to commit those atrocities, would most probably deny it with the same confidence as any of us would. And yet, they did it.
Observing their example, attempting the similarities, between them and ourselves, before they reveal their monstrous faces, is in fact disturbing. And yet, that tiny little doubt on our own character, could be the best legacy one could be given by History itself.
João Pinto Coelho, author of Os Loucos da Rua Mazur (The Mad People of Mazur Street) in November 27th, 2017
A Note from the Journalist [Miguel Carvalho]
In an open letter addressed to the writer João Pinto Coelho (in which I am mentioned as the journalist who interviewed Leya Prize’ s winner, published last November 16th ), Mr. Ambassador [Jacek Junosza Kisielewski] refers an extrapolation, in his opinion unfair, about the massacre of Jewish people by Polish Christians during WWII. In the same letter, assertions on the principles and foundations that should rule a “reliable and guidelined” journalism are proffered. Absolutely flabbergasted, I have also read a few days ago, in a certain type of Polish press, that whilst author of the same interview I would have been aligned with the writer’s rhetoric, a situation that Mr. Ambassador most certainly ignores, but I am convinced of its utmost importance to be mentioned here for a complete awareness of the whole situation by our readers.
I’ll start to refer that, contradicting much of what has been said or may have been thought, I didn’t dig the issue only through its surface, nor was my amount of information on Poland, by the way. I’ve visited this country in two occasions (without including the huge amount of reading I’ve been thoroughly taking on this theme); I went to Warsaw, Cracow, Nowa Hut and, obviously Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau.. And I also did not ignore, in these two occasions, Oskar Shindler’s mill, the Galicia Jewish Museum, Bokhaterow Square, The Polish Resistance Museum, the magnificent Polish Jewish History Museum, as well as many other locations, whose preservation and broadcast are also the sign that marks Poland’s respect for its memory, identity and culture. What we know today about the heroic attitude of thousands of Polish people within the context of WWII is not, and will never be, at stake.
Furthermore I’ve witnessed the civic and cultural vitality in Kazimierz (Cracow’s Jewish borough) where the Jewish culture festival every year is still celebrated.
All this to reassure that I am not caught in bare feet stepping in the shrapnel from old times or being influenced [by current biased voices], all this for the respect I have to VISÃO Magazine’s readers, regardless of any controversy it may cause. As any other journalist honouring his job in a world easily inflamed by social media, sensationalism and immediateness, I try to do be best I know and can, my so-called “homework”. And the interview to João Pinto Coelho was no different. I didn’t just read his new novel and check the elements which could permit me to build up the writer’s profile. Or built any extrapolations from Wikipedia or imagining fantastic theories. The book’s theme came from fictional inspiration taken from historical events which compelled me to dive into a detailed research on Jedwabne and the twilight zone of this and other events at that time.
I have learned in journalism, in life, and in books that History in not in black and white. I’ve read, somewhere, and I take that into account in public or wherever there’s a chance, that memory results from the dialectic process involving the confrontation between remembering and forgetting. If one forgets everything, then that one is meaningless. If one remembers everything, one can not keep on living. But one can’ t surely build or conceal something through ignorance and silence over the facts. Unburrying the past and bringing it back to present life does not inoculate people against non-culture, fanaticism or stupidity. But speaking about that past, instead, bringing it into the sunlight, could be the best pedagogy against further arising of hate and violence.
It was this purpose that made me grab this job. Finally, and to be sure that there are no doubts remaining about the sources I used to collect the elements I used to sustain the so called most polemic parts of my article on João Pinto Coelho and his book, I’ll leave you here a list, though a short one, of the consulted sources.
With my best regards
The Legacy of Jedwabne (2005)
Documentary on the massacre, which includes contrasted statements on the events occurred at Jedwabne, by 10th July 1941, enhancing a former Mayor of the council’s statement, Krzystof Godlewski, recognising his own change of opinion on the massacre of Jewish people by their “neighbours” hands which gave its contribution to bring back to the light his town’s hidden past. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zOdb9ythfE
Vecinos – El extermínio de la comunidad judía de Jedwabne (Critica)
In 2001, the historian Jan Tomasz Gross, born in Poland and naturalised as north-american, born from a Jewish father and Christian mother, wrote thin controversial book (Neighbours) describing with detail what might have happened at Jedwabne, pointing to circa 1600 Jews killed during the above mentioned events.
Jedwabne Memorial book (1980) – Yizkor Book Project
Containing reports, statements and episodes, told by the Jewish community of Jedwabne, throughout decades. https://www.yiddishbookcenter.org/collections/yizkor-books/yzk-nybc313798
A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair (2003) – Vintage Books
A book by Daniel Goldhagen, author of the also polemic Os Carrascos Voluntários de Hitler (Hilter’s Willing Executioners) . In this oeuvre are referred the massacres of Jedwabne and the way the Polish Government and the Catholic Church managed and broadcasted the events of happened in the northeastern Polish city.
Interviews, articles and declarations by the Polish journalist Anna Bikont, author of the investigation The Crime and the Silence, on Jedwabne, placing the number of victims between 600 and 900 people. Here is an example: https://elpais.com/cultura/2016/02/17/actualidad/1455736429_759806.html
Jewish killing by Polish
https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/europe/.premium-1.770707 https://elpais.com/diario/2002/11/04/internacional/1036364412_850215.html http://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/17/arts/poles-and-the-jews-how-deep-the-guilt.html
Extremist and xenophobe protests
https://www.publico.pt/2017/11/12/mundo/noticia/dezenas-de-milhares-de-nacionalistas-marcham-em-varsovia-1792259 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/11/12/pray-for-an-islamic-holocaust-tens-of-thousands-from-europes-far-right-march-in-poland/?utm_term=.2d7f0bcb73d7 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41958199