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Civility in Uncivil Times

Kazimierz Moczarski's Quiet Battle for Truth, from the Polish Underground to Stalinist Prison

by Anna Machcewicz (Author) Mikołaj Golubiewski (Revision)
©2020 Monographs 248 Pages
Open Access

Summary

Kazimierz Moczarski (1907–1975) was a journalist, soldier, and political prisoner. His life exemplifies a Central European biography under Nazism and Comunism. The addictive and moving Civility in Uncivil Times reveals the story of a man who defended law and democracy all his life. Moczarski fought for it in the authoritarian Poland of the 1930s. During the Second World War, he partook in the resistance movement. After the war, he spent eleven years in a Stalinist prison, including nine months in one cell with the Nazi Jürgen Stroop, who commanded the brutal pacification of the Warsaw Ghetto. The communists imprisoned Moczarski’s wife. After release, he rebuilt the broken marriage, rejoined social life, and wrote a work about meeting Stroop. Translated into many languages, Conversations with the Executioner is a thorough study of totalitarianism.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: A Dream of Poland
  • Chapter Two: The German Occupation
  • Chapter Three: The Warsaw Uprising
  • Chapter Four: The End of the Underground State
  • Chapter Five: The First Trial
  • Chapter Six: The Investigation from Hell
  • Chapter Seven: Zofia, Zosia, Zofijka
  • Chapter Eight: A Difficult Freedom
  • Chapter Nine: Life’s Many Currents
  • Chapter Ten: Conversations with an Executioner
  • Epilogue
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

About the author

The Author
Anna Machcewicz is an assistant professor in the Institute of Political Studies at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. She was a research fellow at Yale University and Imre Kertész Kolleg in Jena. Her main research fields are the social history of Communism and democratic opposition in Poland.

About the book

Anna Machcewicz

Civility in Uncivil Times

Kazimierz Moczarski (1907–1975) was a journalist, soldier, and political prisoner. His life exemplifies a Central European biography under Nazism and Comunism. The addictive and moving Civility in Uncivil Times reveals the story of a man who defended law and democracy all his life. Moczarski fought for it in the authoritarian Poland of the 1930s. During the Second World War, he partook in the resistance movement. After the war, he spent eleven years in a Stalinist prison, including nine months in one cell with the Nazi Jürgen Stroop, who commanded the brutal pacification of the Warsaw Ghetto. The communists imprisoned Moczarski’s wife. After release, he rebuilt the broken marriage, rejoined social life, and wrote a work about meeting Stroop. Translated into many languages, Conversations with the Executioner is a thorough study of totalitarianism.

This eBook can be cited

This edition of the eBook can be cited. To enable this we have marked the start and end of a page. In cases where a word straddles a page break, the marker is placed inside the word at exactly the same position as in the physical book. This means that occasionally a word might be bifurcated by this marker.

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Introduction

On 2 March 1949, Kazimierz Moczarski, one of the thousands of Poland’s political prisoners, was moved into a new cell in a prison in Warsaw’s Mokotów district. He found himself face to face with SS General Jürgen Stroop. During the war Moczarski had served in the anti-German underground, the Home Army.

Stroop had been responsible for the bloody liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto in April–May 1943. For Moczarski, facing a criminal and an enemy with whose system he had engaged in a life-or-death struggle for six years, this was a situation straight out of Shakespeare. They would spend nine months together, and every day Moczarski listened to Stroop talk. The fact that each man had reasons to believe that he would not come out of prison alive made Stroop extremely candid.

However, things turned out differently. Or, rather, justice was served.

Stroop was hanged in Warsaw in 1951. The Polish media did not cover his trial or his execution very extensively. Moczarski was sentenced to death, pardoned and released after Poland emerged from Stalinism in 1956, and later rehabilitated.

Moczarski would never forget his time with Stroop. He understood that the prison discussions taught him something important. Stroop’s was not only a crime story but, more importantly, an account of the evolution of a criminal. Moczarski told it dispassionately, with detachment and, despite the ostensibly casual form of reportage he chose, he gave us a profound vivisection of a killer. His book Conversations with an Executioner appeared more than twenty years after he was released.

The whole world watched Adolf Eichmann’s trial in 1961. Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem appeared in 1963. Unlike Moczarski, Arendt did not meet the executioner she wrote about, but only observed his trial. Still, this eminent philosopher gave us an astute portrait of the dutiful Nazi. Her reflections on “ordinary” men’s readiness to commit crimes, the law’s shortcomings and the limited opportunities to settle scores for crimes have entered the canons of learning and of literature.

Poland was cut off from the world by the Iron Curtain, and so Moczarski did not have an opportunity to read Arendt’s book. It is all the more astounding to juxtapose the books, as the two portraits intertwine to confirm her thesis about the “banality of evil.”

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Neither Eichmann nor Stroop questioned the Nazi system of order and obeisance to power, and both repeated with conviction clichés about the “humiliation brought on by the Versailles Treaty,” about the Weimar Republic as a stale puddle, about the imperative to put an end to parliamentary democracy, about restoring Germany’s greatness and acquiring living space for the Germans. Until the very end, they both believed that Germany had lost the war because the Nazis had not acted decisively enough. Indeed, both obediently executed orders, suspending their personal moral judgement. They were perfect cogs in the bureaucratic machine of a totalitarian state.

However, there was something in Moczarski’s narrative that Arendt’s story did not have. This Polish political prisoner’s time of sharing a prison cell with a Nazi general symbolised the history of the part of Europe that was subjected to Communist rule in the wake of the Second World War. Moczarski landed at the very centre of his country’s and his nation’s history.

After five years of working for the Polish Underground State, where he risked his life and sacrificed his personal affairs, as soon as the war was over, Moczarski was locked up as the new regime’s political enemy. He would spend nearly eleven years in a prison that held both Poles and Nazis, which was run by Poles serving the Stalinist regime. “Then, prison offered the privilege of a straightforward and simple and clearly defined situation (basically, only a ‘no’ or a ‘yes’). Such an existence favours stubbornly adhering to principles instead of giving in to the circumstances of the need to manoeuvre, which can so easily transform into scheming,” Moczarski writes in his conclusion to Conversations with an Executioner. It is important to listen to what a political prisoner of many years has to say.

Kazimierz Moczarski did not come from nowhere. He was an heir to a time-honoured tradition held up in his homeland and by his family, and very much a child of his time. Still, everyone chooses his traditions.

Born in Warsaw in 1907, he was eleven when the Great War ended, making it possible for many nation-states to form in East-Central Europe. The Polish Republic was reborn after 123 years of partitions by its three imperial neighbours. Moczarski’s was the first generation to start its adult life in it.

He was born in a teachers’ home, which was driven by a tradition of engagement in pro-independence activity, and he became active in public life already as a university student. He joined the Youth Legion, which adhered closely to Józef Piłsudski, for many Poles a legendary leader who was instrumental in Poland’s rebirth in 1918. However, Piłsudski’s people gradually turned to authoritarian ways. Moczarski left the Youth Legion in mid-1934 and travelled in France, where he came close to the left and observed the growing Fascist and National Socialist threats. Searching for his own ideology after returning to Poland, he ←8 | 9→finally opted for the Democratic Club movement of the liberal-democratic and secular intelligentsia, which attracted a range of people, from the anti-Fascist left all the way to Communist sympathisers. However, as a promoter of compromise and discussions in which ideas clashed, Moczarski fundamentally opposed all radicalism. While he was sensitive to social injustice, he was also wholly resistant to the era’s revolutionary enthusiasts who wanted to change the world. He respected the law and the social contract. He viewed the world critically and fought for principles rooted not in utopian ideals but in Positivist work that would change public ethics. His ideological choices were rooted in the late-nineteenth-century ethical tradition of radical intelligentsia. This thinking, very characteristic of a large part of the pre-war Polish intelligentsia, lay in the best traditions of civic engagement.

In September 1939, Poland became the first target of Nazi aggression. Under the German occupation, Moczarski became active in several organisations: as an analyst of the vibrant politics of the underground in the Office of Information and Propaganda (Biuro Informacji i Propagandy, BIP); as a member of the underground Democratic Party (Stronnictwo Demokratyczne, SD); and as a representative of the Polish Underground State in the Directorate of Underground Resistance (Kierownictwie Walki Podziemnej, KWP), where he pursued collaborators, informers, and blackmailers of Jews, the szmalcowniks. KWP was especially important to him, as he helped to protect the persecuted citizens of his country within the confines of Polish law.

In the last months of the German occupation, Moczarski rose fortuitously from a relatively low level in the military hierarchy to head the Office of Information and Propaganda of the Home Army’s Main Command. He continued in that position after the Red Army invaded the Polish lands without bringing Poland freedom.

At the Yalta Conference of February 1945, the Allies agreed to sponsor democratic elections in Poland. Moczarski, like most of his compatriots, looked forward to working legally to rebuild his country and engage in his passion of politics. However, in violation of all international agreements, secret police jails filled with people loyal to Poland who supported non-Communist parties, but also former Home Army fighters. Loyal to his superiors and feeling responsible for those serving under him, Moczarski remained underground until the summer of 1945. He believed that staying on any longer would not bring the long-awaited freedom to his homeland. This lay at the source of the enormous dilemma he faced and the reason behind his attempt to seek an opening for the Communists and the underground to talk. However, the former had no interest in such talks, nor in a compromise.

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Paradoxically, it was Moczarski who spent eleven years in prison, one of the longest terms served in Communist Poland. Tortured during the investigations to give false testimony against his underground comrades, he did not crack; consequently, he was made to share a cell with a Nazi war criminal. He survived to denounce the Stalinist system in his rehabilitation trial, on behalf of himself and others. He had the strength and the skills to write about his encounter with Stroop to give evidence about a dark era.

After leaving prison, Moczarski was marginalised, like others whose mouths and career paths had been closed. However, he considered even this non-sovereign Polish state his, and he did not want to go into internal exile. He found a place for himself that fit in with his socially conscious temperament.

Details

Pages
248
Year
2020
ISBN (PDF)
9783631834015
ISBN (ePUB)
9783631834022
ISBN (MOBI)
9783631834039
ISBN (Hardcover)
9783631828083
DOI
10.3726/b17517
Open Access
CC-BY-NC-ND
Language
English
Publication date
2020 (September)
Keywords
post-Stalinist thaw political prisoner anti-Semitism terror Stalinism prison letters
Published
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 248 pp., 12 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Anna Machcewicz (Author) Mikołaj Golubiewski (Revision)

Anna Machcewicz is an assistant professor in the Institute of Political Studies at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. She was a research fellow at Yale University and Imre Kertész Kolleg in Jena. Her main research fields are the social history of Communism and democratic opposition in Poland.

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Title: Civility in Uncivil Times