Eugeniusz Smolar

* 1945  

  • "The anti-Semitic attack came as a shock to us because it was unexpected. We knew how complicated Polish-Jewish relations had been in the past, but that anti-Semitism would be used by the government... That it would be used by the anti-Semitic part of society was understandable. As someone said, anti-Semitism does not exist only where there are no Jews. It spread all over Poland and Jews who were not guilty of anything were dismissed at the behest of the party. These were not committed communists who occupied important positions in Warsaw, but ordinary Jews who lived their lives in Upper and Lower Silesia. They were often emigrants from the Soviet Union who were allowed to come after 1945. They worked in various enterprises and in production, engineers, economists, some doctors and scientists. People were ashamed, but they didn't do anything against it."

  • "To be honest, there was also 'Schadenfreunde', gloating at the misfortune of others. I'm sure you know that the Poles call the Czechs a little jokingly and disdainfully 'Pepíci'. And so I met with such reactions: 'Serves them right. Why should they be better off than us under the Soviet rule? If we're sick, then let everybody be sick. We've had our necks wrung, so don't let the others get away with it.'"

  • "Our group from the University of Warsaw, that was still free, decided not to give up, and to defend the honour of the Polish nation and express our solidarity with the Czechs. On 22 August, the day after the invasion, we began to lay flowers at the Czechoslovak Cultural Centre in Marszalkowska Street in Warsaw. The police, of course, chased us and removed the flowers, but the people of Warsaw understood and started to bring flowers as well. I can't say it was 'en masse', but about 100 people took part."

  • "There were no protests, people - even more silent than ever - pressed their heads between their shoulders even more, not showing their opinions at all. The honour of the nation was literally saved by a few intellectuals who published open letters. Writers Sławomir Mrożek, Jerzy Andrzejewski and musicologist Zygmunt Michelski. Not only did they circulate it typed down among their friends, but they made sure that it reached the Radio Free Europe and the BBC. This, of course, infuriated the government, but it was very important."

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After the invasion we laid flowers at the Czechoslovak Cultural Centre in Warsaw

Eugeniusz Smolar as a student at the University of Warsaw
Eugeniusz Smolar as a student at the University of Warsaw
photo: Eugeniusz Smolar

He was born on 31 December 1945 in Minsk in the former Soviet Union. His parents, Grzegorz Smolar and Walentyna Najdus, were communist activists of Jewish origin. He studied at the University of Warsaw from 1967 and joined a group of left-wing rebels who protested against the ban on the theatre play Dziady in January 1968 and against the expulsion of students from the University of Warsaw in March 1968. In August 1968 he organised a protest in Warsaw against the occupation of Czechoslovakia, for which he was arrested. After returning from prison in 1970, he emigrated to Sweden with his wife Nina and their young daughter. He graduated in Sociology from Uppsala University. In 1973 he founded the political quarterly magazine Aneks with his wife and his brother Alexander, and later he founded the exile publishing house of the same name. In 1975 he became editor of the Polish section of the BBC in London, deputy editor in 1982 and head of the section in 1988. Until 1989 he was involved in smuggling literature into Poland and Czechoslovakia. In 1997 he returned to Poland. In 1998 he initiated the establishment of the Czech-Polish Forum at the Foreign Ministries of Poland and the Czech Republic, and for five years he was the chairman of its programme board. In 2021 he was living in Warsaw.