Interview with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, Prof. Adam Daniel Rotfeld

“We shall not let our country be libeled”

Rzeczpospolita: In your last address to parliament you mentioned that the term “Polish concentration camps” was being frequently used in the West. Our paper feels that the matter should be taken up by an independent foundation, which would sue those using such terminology. What do you think about this initiative?

Adam Daniel Rotfeld: It’s good that your paper feels it’s an important issue, and that the government can’t deal with it alone. The point is that whenever the Polish president, premier, foreign minister or ambassador reacts to an incident like that – it is treated as a routine, formal response that doesn’t deserve to be publicized . But a reaction on the part of the mass media or a private foundation would be much more effective. A letter from the editor-in-chief of Rzeczpospolita would have much greater impact on the major international media than a letter from a minister.

Rzeczpospolita: Would the Foreign Ministry and Polish diplomatic missions support such a foundation?

A.D. Rotfeld: The Ministry does not leave a single instance of libel against Poland without reaction. And as long as I am minister, NGOs or journalists wishing to become involved can count on total moral and logistical backing of the Ministry. The foundation would have to overcome serious obstacles, because it will be very difficult in countries like Canada, the United States, Italy and Norway to drive home the truth about the events of 60 years ago. On the one hand, we are dealing with ignorance – and it’s easier when you have to explain, as if to a child, that using the term “Polish concentration camps” is an outrageous lie. On the other hand, however, we often encounter bad will. Under the pretext that “it’s only a geographic reference”, attempts are made to distort history and conceal the truth. Surely, no one would describe Auschwitz as a “Jewish concentration camp” because Jews were murdered in the camps.

Rzeczpospolita: Who could be interested in doing this?

A.D. Rotfeld: Paradoxically, quite different forces. Both the extreme right - which eagerly shifts the responsibility onto some one else, and the communities we respect - which in a way are tired of the crimes committed 60 years ago and feel that that the matter is closed and should not be revived. The German elite is tired of making amends. As a German writer declared “we are fed up with the club of Auschwitz being held over our heads”. Yet that policy of ignoring that subject and leaving it out of the history textbooks amounts to a rewriting of history, in which the perpetrators take the role of victims, and the victims become the perpetrators. That is one aspect of the quarrel between Poland and Germany that surfaced in 2003.

Rzeczpospolita: Why should Poland fight against the use of the term “Polish concentration camps”?

A.D. Rotfeld: Because the people who are ill-inclined toward Poland are using it to instill a certain stereotype. If today, 60 years after the war – when the last witnesses and camp inmates are still alive – we don’t drive the truth home, soon enough it will be the conventional wisdom that the concentration camps were built by Poles. It is in our interest to break that conspiracy of silence and tell the truth.

Minister Adam Daniel Rotfeld was interviewed by Piotr Zychowicz

Rzeczpospolita daily, 25th January 2005.