Katarzyna Murawska talked to Michał (Michael) Świątek, winner of the award of the Polish Institute in the USA.
KM There are about 60 million of us together — Poles in Poland and abroad. About 38 million Poles live in Poland (and our number is constantly decreasing). The rest — over 20 million — are Poles scattered around the world — emigrants and their descendants in the next generation. We are officially connected with the Motherland through diplomatic missions, cultural and economic agencies and family relationships. History, literature and art connect us emotionally. Polish culture and art are promoted by specially established Polish Institutes, which cooperate closely with relevant Polish institutions.
The Polish Institute in the United States has been providing knowledge on Poland's modern history for several years through various competitions. The competition takes place every year.
Today I have the honor to introduce our readers to the winner of the main prize of the Polonia Institute historical competition in 2023. Please meet him.
MS My name is Michał Józef Świątek, I am 22 years old. My middle name — Józef — was given to me after my Polish grandfather, who was an extremely important role model in my life. Administratively, I am both American and Polish. In May 2023, I graduated with a BA from Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire. As of May 2023, as a lay person, I am attending graduate studies at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wisconsin. I aim to obtain my master's degree by May 2024.
KM Impressive pace.
MS I like to learn and I try not to waste time. While still a high school student at the University School of Milwaukee, I had the opportunity to participate in two-month summer studies at Harvard University in Boston, and as a reward for a good thesis at Thomas More College, I had the privilege of studying during the summer semester of 2023 in England, at the University of Oxford.
KM These are great distinctions, and under what circumstances did you come into contact with the Polish Institute and the competition?
MS I am interested in Poland, the Polish language and Polish culture, so my attention was naturally drawn to the historical essay competition on the topic of German policy towards occupied Poland in the years 1939-1945. The topic of my work, my historical essay, was: "The German Brutal Program of Invasion, Incarceration and Extermination in the Planned Destruction of Poland" .
KM A difficult, sensitive, and perhaps often politically incorrect topic.
MS I know, maybe that's why I decided to explore it a bit.
KM How did you collect materials for your work?
MS I collected materials from online archives — both Polish and English-language, libraries and academic databases. I also remember meetings with World War II veterans who found themselves in Milwaukee after the war, including soldiers of the 2nd Corps of General W. Anders, or the 1st Division of General S. Maczek, as well as paratroopers of the Polish Parachute Division of General S. Sosabowski.
During my research, I came across various materials, and after reading them, I could not believe that one could plan the annihilation of another nation so emotionlessly, coldly, on economic principles. I also encountered different assessments of the events. Many materials were out of stock and difficult to obtain. For me, a humanist brought up in a Polish home, with Christian values and Greek models of beauty, it was a shocking read on the one hand, and fascinating on the other. Searching for English-language sources was a difficult but rewarding process, and the end result of writing this essay was worth it.
KM Undoubtedly! The committee unanimously awarded you the first prize. How did you accept this success?
MS With great joy. I owe this success to all the Poles I met abroad and who worked for the Polish raison d'état. It is also a stroke of luck, not only in the emotional sense, but it confirms my belief that I have done something good, it is an incentive to continue action, to a process that never ends.
As I mentioned, I like learning, and it is a never-ending process. I would like my actions to bring tangible benefits to people. Philosophy, humanities, ethics, knowledge of languages, especially Latin and Greek, are less valued nowadays. Today, what matters most are sciences, engineering, and economic professions — in other words, material goods. Sometimes I wonder whether happiness without prosperity is possible today.
KM Michael, on behalf of our readers and myself, I sincerely congratulate you on the award and truly wish you further success and happiness according to your definition.
MS Thank you very much, greetings to all readers and I am proud to be Polish!
** Translation from Polish by Andrew Woźniewicz.**