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Submitted by Marcin Bąk on Mon, 07/20/2020 - 08:19
A silver-haired gentleman

Wacław Felczak as remembered by Artur Janicki, one of his former students - a historian, TV personality, outstanding documentary filmmaker, author of over fifty films, including "The Hero of Poland and Hungary" – about the life and achievements of Professor Felczak.




You and your wife were Professor Felczak's students.

Yes, and that was very significant. We started university in 1960. As first-year students, we were mainly dealing with assistants. Many of them were from the Polish Socialist Youth Union (ZSMP) or the Union of Polish Youth (ZMP) – you know, fit, young socialist blood. Wacław Felczak, a relatively young but silver-haired man stood out in this group. We had a friend who was in the Home Army, then he served ten years, got out of prison, was rehabilitated, passed his high school leaving exam and came to us for a year. He's the one who told us that this assistant was his cell mate. The legend of the silver-haired man grew, all the more so because Professor Henryk Wereszycki, whom Felczak was an assistant to, was our idol. When Wereszycki was still teaching at the University of Wrocław, the Polish Academy of Sciences decided to publish the fundamental "Polish History". Volume III, concerning the 19th century, was edited by Celina Bobińska, probably the wife of the highest ranking NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs) man in the Polish People's Republic, a certain Wolski. Prof. Wereszycki wrote a famous review of this volume, entitled "The pessimism of erroneous theses". Therein he pointed out that doing history under the assumption that everything not proletarian, progressive and revolutionary is negative makes no sense. After the review was published, he was in trouble at the university, the whole Polish Academy of Sciences took action against him, he was condemned by government writers and suspended as a lecturer. In 1956, he started working at the Jagiellonian University in the Department of General History of the 19th century, and in 1957 he took on Felczak, just sentenced to twelve years.

How was that possible?

Wacław Felczak was given a year's leave from a life sentence in prison due to his health condition. He was convicted of spying and trying to overthrow the democratic socialist system. Then, in a rehabilitation process, the charge of spying was dropped, as he never spied. However, he maintained his position that he wanted to overthrow the system, so he got twelve years. He already served eight years, and since there was an amnesty his sentence was reduced to eight years and he was released. He told this story in a humorous way, because despite his dramatic experiences, he was a cheerful and witty man. The way he told it everyone was happy: the prosecutor and the judges, because they sentenced him again, and him, because he was free. And that's the kind of convict that Wereszycki gave a job to at the university.

When we were in our year, we had to decide what we wanted to specialize in and choose seminars. The division was clear cut. Those who chose disgrace and collaboration with the regime went to the seminar of Professor Bobińska, who did not even have a master's degree because she did not graduate in the USSR, and here she was a professor with two departments under her – Polish History of the 19th century and the Methodology of History. Jobs and promotions were guaranteed for those that went to her. Those opting for Professor Wereszycki, knew that a career wasn't in store for them, but they would be true historians. My wife and I signed up for Wereszycki's seminar and thus we also had Felczak. It was a phenomenal seminar. Out of the more than sixty people in our year, twenty-something people signed up for it and all of them did what they could to be the best, because it was a shame in front of such authoritative figures not to know something.

What kind of a lecturer was Wacław Felczak?

It is a known fact that as per normal at least one third of the students are do not turn up, especially if the attendance at lectures is not checked.  Felczak's lectures were always packed full. The strange thing was that students from faculties other than history also turned up – physics, law... These were lectures on 19th century history. The history of that period, during which the European national revival current took place, is very optimistic and proves the indestructibility of the human fabric; it shows that cultural phenomena are independent of political boundaries, politics and attempts to transform societies. Nationalistic trends in the nineteenth century caused reactions of peoples in the defence of identity. A national revival took place in Silesia, Lithuania, and the peoples of the Habsburg monarchy were liberated. The history of this period led directly to what started to happen in the 1970s in the so-called socialist camp. It survived the trauma of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and it became clear that this empire had to be overthrown. The time came when Karol Wojtyła became Pope, a year later Solidarity was established. When Felczak spoke in his lecture about the national revival of the Croatians and Serbs, it was a simple analogy to what happened in the 1970s and 1980s. And his certainty that this empire is about to fall apart...


Can Professor Felczak be referred to as the godfather of the Three Seas?

During the war Felczak created a network of connections with independent agents throughout the Danube Basin. He had his correspondents and associates and with their help he became a political expert of the Government Delegation for Poland. After the end of the war, his network of couriers and collaborators continued to operate and in 1945 he drew up a memorandum for the government in London, in which he described the situation in the communist bloc. He started with the fact that the German concept of Mitteleurope influenced the nations of the area. Some found it fascinating. When brutal German domination came followed by the German defeat came, this political option was shattered. Felczak noticed that Soviet domination in this area must either become an occupation or it shall collapse. Poland's task is to act for its downfall, and compromising communist governments in individual countries will give them a chance beat them back. That's more or less what we now call the Three Seas. He introduced this idea into scientific and political nomenclature.

This concept is an effect of the 19th century intellectual and political current, a group called the Lambert Hotel, headed by Prince Adam Czartoryski. It was created in opposition to the pan-Slavic current, subsidised and controlled by Russia, popularising it as a refuge for Slavic and South Slavic peoples. Among the Lambert Hotel, the idea was to counteract this by proposing other political alternatives. The efforts of Czartoryski's agents led to the creation of the idea of Yugoslavia, i.e. unification and creation of an independent state, independent of the Habsburgs and Russia. Note that Yugoslavia's national the anthem referred to Dąbrowski's Mazurka.

The academic institution that took over the ideas of the Lambert Hotel was the Department of General History of the Jagiellonian University. Wereszycki and Felczak were the heirs of this concept and research direction. Felczak, just like Czartoryski's people, was an anti-Russian advocate for the whole Yugoslav Basin, a scientific authority and an ideological guide. He promoted the history of Central Europe, also based on the fact that the multinational Crown of Saint Stephen and the Republic of Both Nations were two monarchies that developed methods of coexistence of different ethnoses and different religions, mutual tolerance and respect. There were no massacres or religious wars in the entire belt between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas. Today, the countries which have emerged as Western democracies are trying to teach us democracy by trampling the corpses of their fellow citizens. The patronizing approach towards Poland by the European Union, and especially by Germany, is simply a misunderstanding. 

What is the origin of Professor Felczak's such close ties with Hungary

Professor Felczak began his studies in 1934 at the University of Poznań, where one of the lecturers encouraged students to consider Hungarian affairs. Hungary survived the Trianon drama. It was deprived of seventy percent of its area and nearly fifty percent of its population. Suddenly, from a nation that dominated and co-ruled the Habsburg monarchy, they became a small, 10-million-strong country. It was a catastrophe. Hungarians cultivated the memory of Poland as the only country that ever helped them. Felczak began learning Hungarian and co-founded the Friends of Hungary student club. In 1938, already speaking Hungarian, he received a scholarship from the Hungarian government and went to Budapest to write his doctorate. Then the war broke out and thwarted his plans. When he returned to his doctorate in 1947 at the Sorbonne, he did not finish his work either, as he was arrested in 1948 during his last trip to Poland as a courier. In the 1960s, he took up his doctorate on Polish-Hungarian affairs for the third time, but he was denied a passport and could not query the Hungarian archives. The acquaintances he had among the intellectual elite in Hungary caused all the archival material for his doctorate to be micro-profiled according to his guidelines and some Hungarian student smuggled it into Poland. The result of his doctorate and habilitation was the "History of Hungary" book, considered by Hungarians as the best non-Hungarian monograph of their country. Indeed, it is impeccably scientifically critical – even considering all the sympathy for Hungarians.

At the end of the 1960s, and not without problems, he finally got his passport, but only for the communist bloc countries (never to the West). He started to travel to Hungary systematically, also with his students. After the 1956 uprising and later during the so-called "goulash socialism" Hungarians fell into pessimism and stillness. A relatively high material level prevailed under an absolute ideological regime. Felczak scolded the Hungarians for being so pessimistic, that they do nothing but complain about the Soviets. He cheered them on. That was the beginning of the Hungarian opposition.

He knew he was under surveillance all the time. Suffice it to say that the last report on him was made in 1986 when he was retiring at the age of 70. It was reported that his farewell ceremony was held by the ...Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

How did that come to pass?

The Jagiellonian University informed him that due to reaching retirement age he is to stop working, while Hungarian historians, literary scholars and the opposition, deep underground made a memorial book for Felczak and a whole official delegation from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences came to Kraków. The Jagiellonian University was forced to address this issue somehow, so a session was held in the auditorium of Collegium Maius with Hungarian guests and, of necessity, university authorities. Of the speeches given, the most significant was that of the Hungarian scholar Csaba Kiss, who called Felczak "their history professor".

Once the Security Service (UB) closed Felczak's file and handed it over to the archives, in 1988 he went to Hungary, where he gave a lecture on Solidarity and Polish history to historians. Istvan Kovacs, a historian and personal friend of Felczak, was approached by lawyers asking him to arrange a meeting with the Professor. Such meetings were held, during which Victor Orbán – a law student – asked the Professor what they should do. "Set up a party. Communism will collapse soon, the entire Yalta order will fall apart and someone should take responsibility for the country. So you have to set up a political party to prepare for it." - said Felczak, "They can still put you in jail, but for a short time, and jail for a politician is a very good school." Orbán and his colleagues founded Fidesz – Alliance of Young Democrats[1]. The statutes stipulated that members have to be less than 35 years old. The Hungarians avoided what happened here, where half of the opposition were born again Stalinists. This is how Felczak crowned his affairs in Hungary. Later he became an honorary member of Fidesz.

Hungarians called him "Apó" - "Papa" - expressing both respect and filial devotion, because, as I said, he encouraged Hungarians to think and to emerge from ever-present pessimism and doubt about the future. Such a title was only conferred upon two Poles – General Józef Bem – one of the commanders of the 1948 Hungarian Uprising and Professor Wacław Felczak.



[1] Hungarian:. Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége



rozmawiała Marta Dzbeńska-Karpińska 

zdjęcia: Marta Dzbeńska-Karpińska 

tranlslation: Marek Parypa