Władysław Bartoszewski, the preeminent Polish statesman credited with restoring post-war relations between Germany and Poland, as well as Poland and Israel, died today at 93. Bartoszewski survived Auschwitz, where he was held as a political prisoner, and devoted his career to mending his beloved country’s wounds not only through smart diplomacy but also through the dogged preservation of the memory of Nazi atrocities.
Tablet’s literary editor David Samuels spoke to Bartoszewski in 2013, when Tablet staffers traveled to Warsaw for the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, in which Bartoszewski took part. The two-time foreign minister, honored with various prizes and knighthoods, was throughout his life a journalist, scholar, and activist.
As Samuels wrote at the time, what makes Bartoszewski such an important figure in modern Jewish history is his lifelong commitment to his Jewish friends and neighbors.
Bartoszewski’s close and deep relationship to the Jewish people goes back to his early childhood and was proven many times during the Holocaust against unimaginable obstacles and at constant, mortal risk. It is no surprise that he is the one figure around whom all relevant parties can unite when it comes to the often-fractious politics of memory and the future of historical sites like Auschwitz—which can mean very different things to Poles, American Jews, Israelis, concentration camp survivors, communal leaders, and politicians. (Bartoszewski likes to point out that Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Tzipi Livni are all of Polish descent.)
On Sunday, Bartoszewski addressed a crowd assembled in Warsaw to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the Ghetto Uprising. He offered a prescient message, one that takes on increased meaning today. “It is the fulfillment of my life,” he said, “that after 72 years since those events, I talk about it also in the name of those absent.”
Related: Q&A: Władysław Bartoszewski