Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has accused the Polish ambassador to Germany Józef Lipski (who served from 1933-1939) of anti-Semitism. The Niezalezna.pl portal has published an interview with his biographer, prof. Marcin Wołos, who considers this accusation baseless.
There is no trace of an anti-Semitic attitude in Józef Lipski’s rich legacy. He was not an anti-Semite, not only in his understanding of today, but also of today. Polish diplomacy in Germany under his guidance made efforts to protect the lives of Polish Jews in the Reich – prof. Mariusz Wołos, a historian from the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Pedagogical University of Cracow, said in an interview with PAP.
How was Józef Lipski prepared to perform such an important function as that of the Polish ambassador in Berlin in 1933?
Józef Lipski was born in Wrocław but came from an aristocratic family from Greater Poland. Like the vast majority of Poles from his social sphere, he was brought up in an atmosphere of extreme distrust towards the Germans. Of course, he was fluent in German and knew the German mentality well. He studied law in Lausanne. So he was perfect for the role of a diplomat responsible for contacts with the Germans in the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He began his career at the Polish National Committee in Paris, a substitute for the government formed by Roman Dmowski. He worked closely with Ignacy J. Paderewski, especially during the Paris peace conference. After Poland regained independence, he climbed the career ladder. He worked as a secretary at diplomatic missions in London, Paris, and finally Berlin. One of his superiors was Kazimierz Olszowski, a forgotten and outstanding figure of Polish diplomacy. He was a master of negotiation, who quoted at length anti-Polish Prussian legislation from memory, stunning the Germans, but also effectively throwing them arguments against Poland. Lipski was later the head of the German department in the Western Department of the headquarters of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then deputy head of that department, and finally from 1928 to 1933 its head. This last position allowed him not only to learn the detail of Polish foreign policy, but also gave him an insight into the most important events taking place in the international arena. Lipski came out of this practical school of foreign service. He was appreciated by subsequent Polish foreign ministers – Aleksander Skrzyński and August Zaleski. Most importantly, Józef Piłsudski, the leader of the state after the May coup, was sympathetic to him.
However, after assuming the function of ambassador, Lipski was called “a man of Polish-German relaxation.”
In 1933, a Member of the Republic of Poland in Berlin, a distinguished diplomat Alfred Wysocki, was replaced by the younger and closer minister Józef Lipski. In Berlin and Warsaw, this nomination was perceived as a change of political direction and a sign of some relaxation in the relations of both countries. In November 1933, Lipski spoke to Hitler. This conversation paved the way for the signing of the Polish-German declaration of non-aggression of January 26, 1934. This was an extremely important document because it was a pillar of the equal distance policy that Poland applied to Germany and the Soviet Union. Its main premise was the belief that Poland should not approach one of the two great neighbors at the expense of moving away from the other. Józef Piłsudski, who was still the main architect of Polish foreign policy, considered such a solution the best, because he believed that bilateral agreements with the western and eastern neighbors offered the optimal security for Poland, not the concepts of collective security, about which he was sceptical. The content of the declaration was known and, contrary to claims made in some capitals (Moscow, Paris, Prague), there were no additional secret protocols. It is an undeniable fact that Józef Lipski made a great contribution to the preparation of this declaration and was treated as a “man of Polish-German relaxation.”
Under what circumstances were the words written about the monument to Hitler to be erected in Warsaw?
These words were mentioned in the report (sometimes referred to as the “letter”) of September 20, 1938, addressed by Lipski to Józef Beck. It was the account of a long conversation over two hours with Hitler in Obersalzberg, or rather a monologue given by the Reich leader. Therefore, Lipski had limited possibilities to respond to his opinions. The German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop also participated in the meeting. The issue of Jewish emigration appears only at the last point of this conversation. Hitler, presenting his vision of re-establishing relations in Europe, stated that “he is guided by the thought of settling the Jewish issue by way of emigration to the colonies, in consultation with Poland, Hungary, and, may be, Romania,”. Of course, this was not about the “final solution of the Jewish question,” but about the displacement of the Jewish community from Europe, which Hitler considered important for Germany and other countries.
This document prepared by Lipski has been known to historians for a long time. It is not a sensation. It was first published in 1958, ten years later it was published in the US in an English translation, by prof. Wacław Jędrzejewicz. Later, the report was reprinted by experienced experts in the history of Polish diplomacy, including professors Jerzy Tomaszewski and Zbigniew Landau, and recently by prof. Marek Kornat in the volume of “Polish Diplomatic Documents” for 1938. It should also be added that the conversation focused primarily on the Czechoslovak crisis. The issue of Jewish emigration was a secondary issue. That is why the published document appears at the very end of the long list, under the letter “f”.
Historians did not see any sensation in this source, because they incorporated it into the background of contemporary events. Two months earlier, in July 1938, in Évian-les-Bains, on the initiative of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a conference was held on the issue of Jewish emigration outside Europe, with particular emphasis on the Palestine Mandate territory. Poland was not invited, but sent an observer. The efforts of many countries, including American diplomacy, were aimed at obtaining British consent for the opening of Palestine to Jewish emigrants. This assumption was in line with the expectations of the Zionists, who wanted to strengthen the Jewish community in Palestine as much as possible. However, the British did not bow to the expectations of the other participating countries. Other countries, including the United States, were also reluctant to accept Jews within their borders. If we look at the conversation between Lipski and Hitler from this perspective, we will notice that many countries, including the USA, saw the problem of overpopulation in Europe and sought to meet the Zionist slogans to allow those willing to go to Palestine or settle in British colonies. This context is most important for assessing Lipski’s words. It is also worth quoting the words from the diary of Joseph Goebbels who, on July 6, 1938, and therefore on the first day of the Évian conference, recalled Ribbentrop’s arguments on the international situation: “He is afraid of [the repercussions] of the Jewish question. I promise him to be a little gentler. However, the principle remains the same. And Berlin must be cleansed. Besides, we want to startle the world soon with a great propaganda campaign on the Jewish question. ” This is also an important context for this conversation. It must be added that there is no trace of anti-Semitic attitudes in the rich legacy of this outstanding diplomat. Lipski was not an anti-Semite, not only in his understanding of today, but also of today. He was a well-educated and well-oriented diplomat. He often cooperated with diplomats, Poles of Jewish origin. Many of them worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Among his subordinates during his service in Berlin was the consul in Leipzig, Feliks Chiczewski. By his actions he was instrumental in saving many Jews from Poland, whom he allowed to leave the Third Reich. Lipski knew about his activities and fully approved of them. These activities were in line with the Polish raison d’etat, providing assistance wherever possible. In this case, Polish diplomacy in Germany under the direction of Józef Lipski made efforts to protect the lives of Polish Jews in the Reich. What’s more, in the autumn of 1938, when the wave of anti-Semitism intensified in Germany and Gdańsk, and the culmination was the Crystal Night, after Lipski’s interventions, Hitler agreed to the arrival of some Polish citizens of Jewish nationality from the Reich, previously brutally displaced from the so-called Polenaktion so that they could “close their affairs”, e.g. sell their property or take it with them and leave Nazi Germany. Thus, Lipski was not an anti-Semite, he supported Polish citizens of Jewish nationality and did it quite effectively given the realities of the time.
Why is Lipski’s character used today in the Kremlin’s activities?
It is an attempt undertaken on the eve of the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and Putin’s speech at the Yad Vashem Institute to use the accusations of Polish anti-Semitism. Not for the first time by the Russia and probably not for the last. This is a global argument, calculated among others to stir up the reaction of Jewish communities in the USA. This is particularly important in the context of sanctions imposed by the US government on the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Poland has participated in combating this project. Russian actions are also aimed at pushing the German-Soviet alliance of August 1939, which had its roots back in the times of the Weimar Republic, and even during the negotiations of the Bolsheviks with the central states in Brest in 1917–1918. They are also addressed to citizens of the Russian Federation raised in the cult of the “Great Patriotic War” and “Great Victory” in 1945 – the foundation myths of the modern Russian Federation, and therefore the presentation of the Soviet Union not as a totalitarian power ruled by a satrap, which remained in political and military alliance with the Third Reich in 1939–1941, but an innocent victim of Nazi aggression, which subsequently brought liberation from “fascism” to the world.
In this message, it is absolutely necessary to exclude the Soviet Union from its responsibility for triggering World War II, pointing the finger of the guilty participants in the Munich conference, including Great Britain and France, and finally Poland. That the war did not break out after Munich, but immediately after the conclusion of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, does not matter much. Similarly the fact that in this alleged collaboration with Hitler Poland was the first victim of military aggression from the Third Reich significantly supported by the Soviet Union. In this schema, subsequent Soviet aggression and annexations from 1939–1940 (Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina) are only receiving ‘our’, i.e. those lands that previously belonged to the Russian Empire, and thus acting with justification.
It was no accident that Putin directed his words as he did and knew in what direction he was making these accusations. Let us also remember that all this happens a few months before the next loud celebration of the victory in the “Great Patriotic War”. So it is a mechanism for blaming other for your fault. It is not the first time that the Russian side has been playing the card of “Polish anti-Semitism.” Recalling Józef Lipski in this context is nonsense and a falsification of history. The presentation of the document discussed above from September 20, 1938 proves that the Russian services do not have a deep knowledge, because its content has long been known to historians.