Hell's last circle
Reprint of article by Ignacy Matuszewski
originally published on December 5, 1941 in New York City
[The following is an unofficial translation by Peter Gessner of the article which ooriginally appeared in the New York City based periodical Nowy Świat and on July 10, 2001 was
reprinted in the Warsaw daily, Rzeczpospolita -- A large collections of Polish language articles published about Jedwabne by the Warsaw daily, Rzeczpospolita can be reached by clicking on the banner.]
To the world these reports sounds different than for us, people who are from there. For the world the news about what is happening in the Warsaw Ghetto are a horrible, monstrous tale, so monstrous as to lack verisimilitude. For us, people who are from there, people of Warsaw, Kraków, Wilno, it's not a tale, it's reality, a reality so dreadful and palpable as a wound from which spill torn entrails, a wound that one sees and touches. Those streets, transformed today in hell's inner circle on earth - Krochmalna, Żelazna, Srebrna, Grzybowska - are the streets of our city, paths along which once cursed also our life. Inside those walls of brick, raised by the will of others in our capital, are confined individuals known to us. Not only known as the throng of wondering people who, centuries ago found on precisely the Polish lands the most serene harbor among in the brooding mediaeval world, but people we know plainly, clearly, personally. It's not only Jews from Poland have near and dear ones there. There isn't a Pole who in his thoughts is not searching there for someone whom fate led him to encounter, with whom has ties of friendship. The same friendship that tied Wokulski with Szuman, and that perhaps still deeper that led the shy compassion of poor Jojne Nietoperz bend over Slimak in Prus's Placówka. A Pole, every Pole can feel trice more the pain that pierces his heart than anyone else in the world.
He sees that which other only know. He sees, torture dungeons erected on the ruins of his serene cities. This sight benumbs Polish breasts not only with sympathy and pity, but more strongly yet since it's as if Poland were disgraced. The humiliation, unjust, yet irresistible is generated by the fact that it on our land, in our cities, in our Wilno and Warsaw, in our Lwów and Łódź that this basest of sordidnesses is taking place: the martyrdom of the defenseless. The Poles feel the humiliation of the master of his lands who takes blows aimed at him as blows received in battle: with anger, revenge and blows, but who his feels powerlessness most acutely when he cannot protect the defenseless in his charge. Trice we respond to the grieving of the Jewish nation: as people - with sympathy, as combatants - fighting the enemy, as Poles - with the will to protect the most defenseless of the Rzeczpospolita's citizens.
And I believe, that the light and warmth of that protection - in spite of everything - unfolds there, in Poland, over the wall-enclosed, ghetta covered with the ashes of bones. If in the circles of hell that adjoin each other, those sentenced alive can still share what's human - then I know and believe that from the penultimate, Polish circle of hell, sympathy and help moves to the dark silent ghettos and like light soars above the walls and reaches the hearts. Far still is the Polish soldier, far from Warsaw, from Wilno, from Lwów. But in his name and in his stead today the duty to protect the citizens of the Rzeczpospolita in the abysmal circle - it's the small Polish boy, who sneaks into the ghetto with food, the woman who extends her hand, the prisoner who looks in the eye of the fellow prisoner with brotherly love. It doesn't amount to much on earth. But for much in the deepest hell which the Polish bayonet must overthrow.
For the blind that remember in history only their own laments - are incapable of understand how the river of centuries flows - this may to them be unfathomable. But yet that which is happening now is a repeat of that which was once before. Every time barbarity pushes aside or tramples that which was raised across the centuries up high - justice and freedom of conscience - woe to the defenseless. Wherever this takes place, however this comes about. Through the centuries which have passed, the Jewish nation had acquaintance with this truth in blood and death.
For almost a thousand years, the Polish Rzeczpospolita was the principal center of freedom and justiceIn the lands that spread from the Dniepr to the Oder Rivers and from the Black to the Baltic Sea; an island, upon which from east and west beat hostile waves. And it's not a coincidence, but a consequence of this centuries long constitutional structure, that on these lands - Polish and those that to Poland's influence were exposed - that the vast majority of European Jews settled, there to take refuge from violence.
Today on those lands the Jewish nation is thrust into the lowest circle of hell by the liberated and victorius German barbarity. And we Poles can today believe in our struggle and pride, in the truth for all the dispossessed of the magnificent words of that great Pole, Szymon Askanazi, spoken to us a quarter of a century ago:
"The most powerful of the nations fighting to-day are managing to hang on only by enormous strength of will. Their monarchs, leaders, statesmen seek this, take care of it, tremble more to maintain the focused public will. And we, not in spite, but specifically because weaker - though it's better not to exaggerate that weakness - we should, above all, compact the national will with one goal, simple and natural and together be free and independent on the Polish land."
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