Prominent Polish Government Peasant Leader on Polish Peasants. Features Their Repudiation of Communist Propaganda. The Peasant and the Church, Jewish Economic Hegemony, etc.
- Moje Wspomnienia by Wincenty Witos – Published 1964
MY RECOLLECTIONS is the title of this Polish-language book. My review is limited to Volume 1. Its coverage ends about 1914.
Former ambassador Stanislaw Kot introduces this work. Although Witos had passed away in 1945, these memoirs were not published until nearly twenty years later, and then by the Polish émigré community, because the Soviet-imposed Communist puppet government in Poland refused to publish them. [This is perhaps ironic because Witos is of peasant stock and of strong peasant identification, and is often critical of landowners and sometimes the Church.]
Stanislaw Kot points out that the abolition of serfdom in Austrian-ruled Galicia occurred under disadvantageous conditions. The miserable standard of living of the peasantry was not considered. On another issue, Witos never accepted Communist-style confiscations of landed estates. Instead, according to Kot, Witos favored a peasant land ownership that was supported by government credits that would enable the peasant to buy the land from the gentry. (p. 10). Witos also praised the peasantry for not falling for Communist propaganda during the 1920 Polish-Soviet War. It had unsuccessfully attempted to turn the peasantry against Polish landowners. (p. 10).
Kot points out that Witos was in Czechoslovakia during the Nazi invasion in 1938. Interestingly, the Gestapo was looking for Witos in order to use him as a collaborator. (p. 12). [If true, it adds to similar attempts on other leading Poles to make them into Quislings, refuting the contention that there was no Polish Quisling because the Germans never wanted one.]
Now let Witos speak:
The author recounts the jacquerie of 1846 in Austrian-ruled Poland. The peasants remembered slain landlord Karol Kotarski. They had developed an unshakeable conviction that Kotarski wanted to become a Polish king, and would perhaps re-instate serfdom. (p. 186).
THE NATIONAL DEMOCRATS
The author’s views of the tactics and ideology of the Endeks was not positive. However, he praised the Endeks for their clear stand on Poland’s minority groups, and their ability to compromise and to keep their word. (p. 46). Interestingly, although the Endeks were reputed to be anti-Semitic, their party had Jewish members [at least in Austrian-ruled Poland]. (p. 269)
THE PEASANT AND THE CHURCH
Witos has a mixed portrayal of the Catholic clergy and the Polish peasant. He contends that priests commonly side with the landlords, while, at other times, they were compassionate to the peasant. (p. 194). Witos also realizes that, in addition to being a pillar of Polishness, the Church is a bastion of law, justice, morality, and the elevation of the human being. (pp. 26-27).
The author elaborates on the devoutness of the peasantry. He also calls attention to their diligence in the support and repair of church property. (pp. 93-94).
THE POLISH PEASANT: BACKBONE OF POLAND
Witos extols the Polish peasant as one who is unswervingly loyal to Poland, and one who unhesitatingly serves in the military, pays his taxes, and discharges his duties. The peasant demands very little in return, and is frugal, unassuming, hard-working, and law-abiding. (p. 35).
PEASANT FEARS AND SUPERSTITIONS–NOT ONLY OF JEWS!
Wincenty Witos focuses on the attitude of passivity and timidity among Polish peasants. He wonders if centuries of serfdom had really been THAT cruel and dispiriting to account for this. To the contrary: He also finds much the same mindset among the Polish gentry. (pp. 195-196).
However, the peasant feared almost everything, and it took much enlightenment and progress to reduce these fears. (p. 192). In spite of Christian training, the peasant feared omens, such as those purportedly indicated by the way that crows or storks behaved. (p. 104). From the cradle, fear was instilled in the peasant of the grandfather, the chimney sweeper, the Jew, and the Gypsy (Sinti and Roma). (p. 83. See also p. 126). [The current Judeocentric emphasis, on peasant beliefs in Jews conducting ritual murder, overlook the broader context of systematic peasant fears and superstitions, most of which had nothing to do with Jews.]
The peasant also lived in fear of landlords. In fact, despite the changes in Polish society, the peasant still fell on his knees at the sight of the landlord. (p. 186). The peasant also feared various government authority figures, and generally saw himself as essentially powerless. (p. 194).
TRADITIONAL CHURCH TEACHINGS ON JEWS
Nowadays, past Church teachings on Jews are painted with a broad, negative brush, with immoderate attention to Jews and the Crucifixion of Christ. In contrast, Wincenty Witos illustrates how the peasantry learned many features of Jewish religion, such as the story of Joseph, the Exodus, David and Solomon, the Prophets, etc. Witos points out that the attitudes of the peasantry was mixed as a result of religious teachings. While peasants found fault in the Jews rejecting Jesus, they also thought positively of Jews in terms of having a soul, and without whom there would have been no Jesus and Mary. The slavery of Jews in ancient Egypt, under the Pharaoh, also elicited peasant sympathy for the Jews. (pp. 134-135).
JEWISH ECONOMIC HEGEMONY AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
Witos sees the Polish peasant as often the victim of the greedy Jew, (p. 90), notably the usurer. (p. 176). When Jewish usurers acquired a monopoly on items such as hay, straw, and wood, the peasant was in a particularly difficult situation. (pp. 183-184).
Wincenty Witos discusses the interactions between Poles and Ruthenians (Ukrainians) in the Austrian parliament of Austrian-ruled Galicia. He suggests that the enmity towards Poles came from Ukrainian intellectuals, not the Ukrainian peasantry. (p. 284).