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Wojciech Frazik on Professor Felczak, Hungary and the Institute

Interview with Wojciech Frazik, PhD 

- Why are you sitting on the Board of the Institute

The decisive factor was my relationship with Wacław Felczak, the fact that I was his student, or rather a pupil – the Professor was my master, and I considered myself to be his pupil, which to me means more than a student. I am the author of Wacław Felczak’s extensive political biography "Emisariusz Wolnej Polski" [Emissary of a Free Poland]. "

- What are your memories of the Professor? 

I began my university studies in 1981, and at that time Professor Felczak was legendary as an expert in his field rather than a historical figure. Therefore, I attempted to get into his seminar and I succeeded in my second year. This gave me a great deal, as during my university years I had the opportunity to interact with an outstanding historian. As a result, I was not only limited to attending the famed lectures given by the Professor. The seminar taught us research work but was also linked to some unofficial activities. The Professor often invited his students to a café, right after the seminar, or sometimes instead of the seminar, where we discussed various aspects: historical and political. Living a political life in a café was a Galician custom of sorts. The discussions focused on the issues of the day, but they had a solid historical background. Felczak was a member of an informal club centred around Professor Henryk Wereszycki, who after 1956 invited him to become part of the Jagiellonian University and made him his assistant. 

At that time, we were looking for arguments to give us hope in that political situation, and Professor Felczak was showing us, using the history of the 19th century, that communism was destined to collapse. This was stemming from the analysis of phenomena in multinational empires, as we were officially dealing with national issues of the Habsburg monarchy. 

- Did the Professor allow for informality in his relations with students such as yourself? 

He naturally drew respect, although it was impossible to overly fraternise with the Professor. On the other hand, he was very amiable, open, almost paternal towards his students. As a result, sometimes these meetings were quite informal. And particularly when we travelled to Hungary in 1985. Officially, it was a seminar trip, but the Professor showed us the kind of Hungary he remembered from his student days. During these ten days, he introduced us to many Hungarians who made it possible for us to stay there, to meet people, to get to know the country, mainly Budapest, absorbing the atmosphere of the city, sitting in cafés, and getting to know real people. During that time, the distance between us and the Professor was the shortest it had been. However, excessive fraternising was out of the question. 

- What kind of Hungary did Wacław Felczak show you? 

The Professor once wrote in a letter that in Budapest one should not sightsee but instead sit in cafés, talk to people, and soak up the atmosphere of the city. Of course we visited museums, looked at historical monuments, travelled to Esztergom and Szentendre near Budapest; however, a large part of our stay in Hungary consisted of meeting people. Only a few years later, these people took up important state functions in Hungary, as the Professor knew people from the Hungarian opposition, which despite not being numerous was developing at the time. He was the spiritual father of its national-democratic section, not the one stemming from party dissidents, but that originating from national circles. 

- Have your links with Hungary survived, do you still have contact with these people?

Yes, during that time, I established personal contacts with some people who are of immense importance to the Polish and Hungarian relationship. I met István Kovács, Csaba Kiss, and while in Poland Ákos Engelmayer, who on the anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution invited me to Podkowa Leśna. A plaque was unveiled, and I held a lecture on history. These personal relationships have stood the test of time, and helped me to make the acquaintance of members of the younger generation, such as Tibor Gerencsér and Miklós Mitrovits, whose involvement in Polish-Hungarian relations and the study of history is considerable. 

- What was the process of writing the book about the Professor? 

When Professor Felczak died in 1993, it turned out that as historians we knew very little about his life, even though we knew all the anecdotes he had once told us, as he used to tell them very well. However, they were mainly about other people, and he kept himself out of the picture. This is how the idea was born to write the Professor’s biography. Ela Orman, my friend from the seminar, said, "Well, you'll write it". So I started to look for material. The first documents were available because the Professor had received photocopies of his interrogations by the representatives of the Office for State Protection (UOP). He knew it all by heart, so he was very disappointed. However, they were a point of reference for me, as they included names, facts, and told me what to look for. In January 1995, I combined writing the book with working on Artur Janicki’s film about the Professor. I travelled to London for a couple of days, where I found a lot of material. I continued collecting documentation in the years to come. This was the last moment to speak to people who cooperated with the Professor during or after WWII. I managed to talk to them, although not everyone agreed to have their accounts recorded. I also succeeded in acquiring archival material from private collections. Coming across these fascinating source materials gave me a path to follow in my professional life. I also made contact with Tadeusz Chciuk-Celt, a friend of Wacław Felczak during the war. Tadeusz bequeathed to me his impressive archives, which I don’t think he himself had the opportunity to look through. It was an amazing sensation to be given first access to archival materials, which included opening sealed envelopes carrying the annotation “open on regaining independence”. This is done with great emotion, with a trembling heart. 

- Which activities do you consider as the most important among those conducted by the Wacław Felczak Institute? 

I would like the Institute to strive towards putting people-to-people contacts at the top of its agenda. The Institute should serve to maintain interpersonal relationships, instead of focusing on issuing commendations or holding commemorative events. I know from personal experience how important that is and how much benefit it brings. In my opinion, these people-to-people contacts should be combined with learning the language, because although young people today speak English on a regular basis, nothing can replace direct relationships in the language of a given country. We should focus on ensuring that there is a group of young people who want to learn Hungarian and who get to know Hungarians in direct contact with them. And these ties will translate into ties between nations, ties between states. Each society should have people who are well versed in the issues of another country, its historical, social and economic aspects. 

- Thank you for the interview. 

Wojciech Frazik, PhD - Polish historian, bibliographer, independence opposition movement activist during the communist era. As member of the Independent Students' Union he took part in the students' strike at the turn of November 1981. In the 1980s he was a distributor of underground publications. In 2012 he successfully defended his modern history doctorate at the Jagiellonian University. During 1991 - 2000 he was employed as an assistant at the Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences and after 2000 member of staff at the Institute of National Remembrance Public Education Branch Office / Historical Research Branch Office in Kraków. Author of the 'Emissary of Free Poland. Wacław Felczak's political biography (1916 - 1993)'.