Friday, Jul 5, 2019, 3:00 PM

Konstanty Gebert


Using Truth for Lying. Poland’s Struggles with its WWII Jewish Past

The piece of legislation, incorrectly dubbed “the Holocaust law”, passed in 2018 by the Polish Parliament to penalize certain speech about WWII events in occupied Poland, created the country’s biggest post-Communist international crisis, and was followed by furious national and international polemic. The government argued the necessity of passing such a law by allegedly increasing references to “Polish death camps”, yet the usage of that term, indeed potentially slanderous, was rare until the law was passed, and the law itself made no reference to it. Similarly, other critical references to Polish behavior during WWII and after were deflected by government-approved historians by references to alleged unsavory behavior by victims. The references themselves were sometimes true; it was their use out of context and proportion which transformed them into falsehoods. This method of historical, but also political polemic, is gaining currency as populists seize the governments and/or media, and attempt to win polemics not by truth, but by the semblance of truth.

Konstanty Gebert is an author, journalist, lecturer, and political activist based in Poland. In 1976 he graduated from the Department of Psychology at the University of Warsaw. He was a prominent figure in the democratic opposition in the 1970s and 1980s, cofounder of the unofficial Jewish Flying University (1979), the Polish Council of Christians and Jews (1980), and a trade union of the employees in academia, technology, and education that merged with Solidarnosc (1980). After the government imposed martial law, he wrote articles for various underground publications under the pseudonym Dawid Warszawski. Konstanty Gebert also served as a war correspondent in Bosnia for Gazeta Wyborcza. His articles have appeared in a variety of national periodicals and foreign media. He has written numerous books, including a first-hand account of the Polish Round Table negotiations of 1989 as well as books on French policy toward Poland, on the Yugoslav wars, the wars of Israel, Torah commentary, and postwar Polish Jewry. He is the founder of Midrasz, the first Polish-language Jewish periodical in postcommunist Poland, and regularly lectures in Poland, Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and the U.S.

The event will be held in English