Adam Michnik

    is a Polish writer and journalist, the founder and editor-in-chief of the daily Gazeta Wyborcza. He lives in Warsaw and has been visiting professor at Princeton University. His publications in English include Letters from Freedom: Post-Cold War Realities and Perspectives; The Church and the Left; and Letters from Prison and Other Essays. In an interview with a Slovak newspaper he says of himself: “Adam Michnik is a Pole, not a Jew. He is a Pole of Jewish origin, like there are Poles of German or French origin. What does the Holocaust mean for me? It means ‘Anus Mundi’- the world’s anus. The most horrific place in the history of mankind. For me it is a symbol of what a human being can be turned into. A symbol of barbarity, atrocity, horror, totalitarianism. Of crime. But first and foremost, both a symbol and a memento of the fact that human beings are capable of such things. As the writer Zofia Nałkowska has said, what it symbolizes is ‘that a human being can do such things to another human being.’ People to people. This is why the memory of the Holocaust – just like the open-air museums of Stalin’s Gulags – has to be constantly present for us (…) In terms of our everyday lives, anti-Semitism might still exist but more as a kind of marginal ‘local folklore’. But, of course, it does occur. It is a kind of permanent trace in the memory, something that enables you to immediately recognize certain people. Some people we recognize on the basis of the books they like to read. When they say they read Camus, Hrabal or, let’s say, Dominik Tatarka, we immediately know where to place them; while others can be recognized by their anti-Semitism. It is a marker of the extreme, chauvinist Right, and not only in Poland. This is a pan-European phenomenon. In Poland, I don’t see anti-Semitism as an active force in public life at all. If it does have any effect, it is rather in the area of historic thinking. The Poles find it hard to admit that in their history they haven’t always been a nation of innocent victims, as they have long wished to believe. We were also capable of hurting others – just like the Jews or Slovaks. (…) Some people believe that Poland is ruled by the Jews. But what Jews? Where are those Jews? This is absurd, but it still operates in this way for some people. I often say that in ‘normal’ anti-Semitism you’d say: Michnik is a Jew so he must be a bastard. But in Poland they put it the other way around: Michnik is a bastard so he must be a Jew.”
    Photo: Peter Župník / Central European Forum