BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Michael Kaufman, on your book just out in the book stores on Poland,. almost the last thing you say in the book is that you'd like to thank your father for giving you the Polish language and for infecting you with romantic prejudices. What is a romantic prejudice?
MICHAEL KAUFMAN, AUTHOR, "MAD DREAMS, SAVING DREAMS, SAVING GRACES POLAND: A NATION IN CONSPIRACY": Well, it's a notion that grace exists in defeat and I guess goes back to the title I talk about-- “Mad Dreams, Saving Graces.” The mad dreams that Poland has been dreaming is to join the West -- be of the West -- dreams of national self liberation for 200 years. All but 18 of those last 200 years, Poland has been somebody else's domination. And they protected themselves by singing songs, romantic poetry, kissing the hands of women.
I mean, I'll give you an example of that. It's 40 years where communists have controlled Poland. And in those 40 years the standards they have tried to apply are those of some concocted proletarian egalitarianism where people address each other, are supposed to address each other as “citizen comrade.” And the Polish response is to hark back to their past and to kiss the hands of women. Instead of calling each other citizen comrade, every Polish male kisses the hand of every female he is acquainted with. And as if to say, well thank you very much but we'd rather deal with each other as lords and ladies, dukes and duchesses. And out of the ship yard and dice comes a worker with calluses on his hands and he kisses the hands of women and he shakes the foundation of communism to the point where we now see it -- in it's death throws really -- in Poland.
LAMB: Where did the hand kissing habit come from?
KAUFMAN: From the gentry. Poland is a lot like the American south in a sense, where your traditions were maintained not by city folk but by a defeated rural and somewhat impoverished aristocracy. But they were the ones to whom the rest of the nation looked. They were the class that gave Krchuschel and Philsucky people who came to fight in their own revolution. They were the class that was to protect culture. And the other classes imitated -- they didn't so much -- they may have resented it at different times but the standards of behavior were imitated. I mention in there that Poland's foremost writer Konvetski came to the United States some time ago on a visit and he couldn't understand anything so this is the (intelligible) until he got to rural Virginia where he said, “Hey I'm beginning to understand.” Sort of decaying good manners, hospitality, gentility, the habits of nation. And that's what I meant by romantic prejudices.
LAMB: How big is Poland?
KAUFMAN: 37 million people and it's 39 million perhaps. It's fairly the largest of the east block countries. Comparison Czechoslovakia is 12 million perhaps Hungary is 11, Romania is 22 million. It's the largest and the one with that, the only one that once had a glorious past. There was a time when Poland extended toward Poland control extended to the Black Sea almost. And it's been whittled away ever since.
LAMB: What's the size compared to a state we might have?
KAUFMAN: I'm not sure. I wish I knew that. I think it's maybe Minnesota. I think I've heard that.
LAMB: Surrounded by what other countries?
KAUFMAN: Well it's got Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and the Soviet Union. Sweden doesn't surround it but across the sea across the Baltic not very far is Sweden. And all of those countries except Czechoslovakia have at times invaded Poland.
LAMB: What do most people in the country do for a living?
KAUFMAN: Most, that's a very hard to say. Most people work for a living. Although one ought to be reminded of a well, Polish phrase -- that the government pretends to pays us so we pretend to work. And that has been a form of resistance to tyranny for a very long time. So there are, even before the last 40 years of Communism, there were disparaging remarks about Polish work. Or the Germans had a term for it. That too was based on the fact that you were working for absentee landlords to a large extent. You didn't manifest your patriotism by working very hard. I think we've seen since then and all during that period that Poles who immigrated elsewhere worked very hard and very well because they were paid very well and because it no longer became a matter of patriotism to sabotage absentee landlords.
But what most Poles do for a living -- the peasantry is in private hands. Eighty five percent of the peasantry is, they never nationalized. It's that aberrant a country. So the farms are small and they're productive given the lack of inputs. Once they would feed Europe. Now they're kept artificially to a small basis, small acreage. Industrial workers are the thing that society this last 40 years stressed. The idea was that that is the dominate class. So you have steel mills that don't produce steel very well, ship yards that don't produce ships very well, and coal mines where 40 percent of the coal is used to extract more coal.
But that class is presumed under the old fading mythology to be the dominate class. But what Poles really do a lot of is socialize. They gather with each other they talk about romantic prejudices, they discuss poetry, they help each other. In fact it's funny -- before I went to Poland I thought of social life in the American context means dating. How's your social life? Whereas in Poland that's really where you exist. You exist with more than your family. Certainly obligations to state are disparaged. Your obligations to your family are well known but sometimes cloying when you're living three and four to a room. But obligations ...
LAMB: Three and four families to a room or people?
KAUFMAN: No. Three and four people. I mean sleeping in -- generations are sleeping together in the same room in shifts sometimes. Apartments are quite small. There's a waiting list 18 years for an apartment is not unheard of.
LAMB: To rent or to buy?
KAUFMAN: To have. It's sort of -- you get it from your factory. You are then given a permanent apartment and it's yours and you can, I think, it's called social property but it's yours and you can pass it on to your children. But it's not unheard of. I've known instances where husbands and wives were divorced and continued to live together -- bring their respective lovers on alternate Tuesdays or Wednesdays or whatever arrangements to their homes because there was no place else for them to go.
It doesn't make for amicable living as you can imagine. Conditions are harsh -- not as bad as the Soviet Union. In fact there's another joke that explains it -- A bus load of train load of people went from Moscow to Paris and another one was going from Paris to Moscow and they both stopped in Warsaw just to change water or something. The passengers got up. Both sets of passengers believed they had arrived at their destination. So from Moscow, Warsaw looks like Paris. From Paris, Warsaw looks like Moscow.
LAMB: What's the weather like there?
KAUFMAN: It's a Spring is as glorious as there is. Spring actually last very little. Around the beginning of May the cherry trees blossom, the strawberries are out, people shed their clothes with abandon because the winters are so harsh and gray and colorless that the transformation from the colorless autumn and winter to this spring --it's not so much that the spring itself is so wonderful but it happens in about two days. And suddenly you've changed temperate zones. You're suddenly confronted by color, by life, by vitality. And I go every spring -- normally I come to live but there it was even greater. May Day had a almost pagan quality to it. You were entering a new time zone a new sphere. Very lovely, very lovely.
LAMB: The name of the book is "Mad Dreams, Saving Graces" published by Random House. Why did you pick Random House?
KAUFMAN: Well, actually I have a friend -- David Burnham who lives in Washington and is an investigative reporter at the New York Times. And David had done a book for Random House and had worked with a splendid editor -- a man named Bob Loomis and David had told me what a terrific editor, Bob Loomis -- what a delight it had been. Before I went to Poland I knew I would have a book
I didn't know what the book would be so I went to several publishers and said I've been a correspondent in Africa, India, and Canada I've written a few books and would you be interested? And they all said, many of them said, well give me an outline. And I said, I can't give you an outline because nothing has happened yet. But I bring baggage, I speak Polish.
My father spent nine years in a Polish jail before the war as a communist. I'm coming to a country which is in a since roots. I'm coming at a time when solidarity is moved underground after martial law. And they said yes, but give me an outline. And I said but what outline? What am I supposed to outline nothing has happened. And they said yeah, just a talking point. Then we can talk money. I thought was essentially dishonest. I did, but Mr. Loomis -- Bob was very different and he said look, he understood that I wasn't there to talk money.
I was there -- I wanted somebody to feel engaged by my own engagement and he did. And midway after I was there, my father came to visit me after the first year. He's 86 years old and he returned to Poland after 50 years and I wrote a magazine piece for the New York Times about his return to a very different Poland than the one he had left. But as I said, there was much in conspiratorial Poland that he found familiar, ironically familiar. People in jail, hunger strikes. Very similar to what he had known. At that point Mr. Loomis offered me a contract. I wrote the book and I worked with him and I was absolutely right.
I ought to point out that last year was his year. He was the editor on Neil Sheehan's Vietnam book which won the National Book Award. He was also the editor on "Paris Trout" which won the other National Book Award. So he was, I think it's the first time it's ever happened. The editor who did both fiction and non fiction and I was very fortunate to work with him.
LAMB: One of the other things you notice about this book besides being published by Random House there are no footnotes there are no pictures, there is no index.
KAUFMAN: Well the pictures were simple, I never really much care, I have pictures of myself with some of the heroes. But I felt that while this is my story and the story of my father the legend -- and we'll get to that later if you like -- it's really Poland's story. And it wasn't that I met Volonso or spent time with him. I'm very ego maniacal in real life and as my children will tell you and somewhat vain, but I felt that it was very important to carve myself into the story but also carve myself out of it. It isn't. There's too much real sweeping drama there's a lot of personal drama but I wanted to distinguish between the two. So the pictures I thought didn't add anything. People have seen them before. The footnotes and the index are interesting. I wrote it while I had a Guggenheim and I was at Harvard for a year writing book at the Russian Research Center. And I went with some doubts about my own credibility.
Here was an academic center, I was a journalist -- a hack in the English context of hack not in the American context. And I thought , well, what are my credentials going to be sitting up there with these double domes and people -- and the surprising thing is that while I very admiring and appreciative of the sanctuary they provided, I ended up with a tremendous amount of respect for my own profession journalism in that, it's ironic we write and it wraps fish. You know that you're writing, you're doing the best you can but you're going to -- there are going to be errors and we're not afraid of value judgments. They write academics. Knowing that every mistake they make, there is going to be somebody who will remember that and remind them of it for the rest of their lives and their careers.
So I wanted to write a non academic book. I thought this was a subject that would -- ..I tried to do it in personal terms and to tell a story that wasn't going to intimidate a reader that was going to be user friendly if I can -- that was going to tell a story of the end of communism in the center of Europe in human terms. And I intentionally left out the footnotes and index for that reason.
LAMB: Can't let it pass without asking you about being ego maniacal and somewhat vain. How do you know that? I mean what is it that makes you say something like that?
KAUFMAN: Well people have told me. I perceive from consciousness. I mean, I am aware of myself in situations. I know I am the voyeur. I am the reporter. I see. And the fact is that for 30 years I have been a reporter. For 30 years I have been witness to events. So at dinner table conversation, sometimes I really intend to be quiet. I intend to shut up. I intend to listen to other people. But they talk about redecorating their apartment and I talk about watching a murder or a trial. I mean I can talk about it and after awhile I sort of give up and to protect myself from hearing somebody tell me one -- you know about choosing, I mean the greatest meal they've ever had -- I don't know whatever it is that they talk about -- I tell what I've seen or what I've experienced or what I have -- and I don't mean to suggest that it's somehow better than what other people experience. It just seems to me to have more sweep and I don't know universal appeal sometimes.
LAMB: Where did you get this idea that these kinds of things were more interesting than, say, the best meal you've ever had?
KAUFMAN: I don't know. Maybe that's a romantic prejudice. Maybe growing up as a immigrant kid in New York..
LAMB: What years?
KAUFMAN: I came to New York in 1941 as a 3-year-old child from France and I went to public schools and high schools. I graduated high school in '54.
LAMB: In Brooklyn?
KAUFMAN: No. Manhattan.
KAUFMAN: Manhattan. An awareness of the war in very personal terms. I mean, even before I knew there was a war, I knew that my mother was crying over letters she had received from somebody -- these weren't very knowing -- hearing that her relatives had died, hearing the sweep again of my fathers story. I think I tell in there, as a 9-year-old child returning from an evening in Brooklyn. They had taken me along and I had heard my father and the people we were visiting use the verb to sit in Polish in ways that I had never heard it before.
Somebody said to him, “How long did you sit with him?” He said, “I sat there for two years.” And then somebody else said, “Was she sitting at nearby?” And I knew in the way that a child knows about sex before he's actually told, or something that, this meant jail, prison. And I used to listen gangbusters. I believed like most little American kids that good people caught bad people and put them in jail. And here was the best man I had ever known -- a man who had saved me as I write from the furnaces of war and he had been in jail for nine years it turned out. And I asked him on the subway going home and I said, “Did that mean you were in prison?” And he said, “Yes.” He said, “In another place, at another time, I was a revolutionary.” And I suspect that that set a standard. As I also somewhere in there -- I think I mentioned that he set for me a standard of unattainable grace.
My torment in adolescence was that -- how the hell was I ever going to know how good I was if nobody was going to pull me off a trolley car, put a gun to my head, ask me to betray my friends and throw me into a cell without feeding me? Could I withstand hunger strikes? That may have been the motor for this search for the dramatic. I mean, in his case it was linked to sacrifice -- was linked to some messianic idealism which he today disparages as misguided and stupid and erroneous and absurd. On the other hand the sacrifices for real people for real friends was something I yearned for.
This is a real digression but I remember I was in Angola in 1975 and I was in my hotel room. I had been a foreign correspondent for a very brief period of time and at 2:00 in the morning three guys burst in with machine guns -- kicked in the door told me to go with them. This was the MPLA and I was roused from sleep and groggily reached for my passport to go with them and prodding the machine guns at me and I was aware that this was the happiest moment of my life. Finally I have been called. I would now know. At some level this was a happy moment. I was also aware that this wasn't the same level of risk that others endured but I had now an opportunity to see how I would act. And I didn't act too badly. It was all right. I withstood a day in an Aglonan prison without cracking.
LAMB: Did you grow up speaking Polish at home?
KAUFMAN: Yeah. It was the first language I spoke.
LAMB: Any other language besides English?
KAUFMAN: I spoke French as a small child and then when we came to the states the English sort of crowded out the French which later returned but the Polish remained. And I spoke only to my parents in Polish.
LAMB: Where did you go to school college?
KAUFMAN: I went to City College in New York and then to Columbia for some graduate school.
LAMB: And when did you first go to the New York Times?
KAUFMAN: I needed a summer job in 1959. I was getting married and I thought I could -- I walked into the New York Times off the street and through fortuitous accidents got a job for $40 a week filling pay spots and I stayed.
LAMB: Your first foreign assignment?
KAUFMAN: Was Africa. I went to Nairobi in 1975 and covered for nine months -- I covered all of Africa from Angola and South Africa up to Egypt. Not all of Africa not the North Africa. And then for the rest of the two years I did black Africa --occasionally going to South Africa. I was there for the Soletto riots.
LAMB: Other countries? Ottawa? You were in ...
KAUFMAN: Canada. I was in India. After Africa I went to India and for three years covered the southeast -- as south Asia and from there to Canada for two years then to Poland.
LAMB: What years were you in Poland?
KAUFMAN: '84 through the end of '87. The years that solidarity went underground.
LAMB: Was '84 your first visit to Poland?
KAUFMAN: I had once gone for six days as a tourist to visit John Darnton who was one of my predecessors and a good friend. And for six days I went to Ausweitz. I looked for the houses my grandfather built in Woodge. It was sort of a nostalgic routes visit and I took my children.
LAMB: How may kids?
KAUFMAN: I have three.
LAMB: And you left the New York Times in '87?
KAUFMAN: No I'm still there. I left for a year on the Guggenheim to write the book. At the end of my Polish tour I went to Harvard to write the book and wrote it in a years time and returned to the New York Times.
LAMB: And what assignments do you have now?
KAUFMAN: Now I work out of New York and it's hard exactly to say what I do. I write for all the desks for metropolitan, foreign and local. I do magazine pieces. I'm sort of treated it as, I hate to say it, at 50 I'm not sure I'm an elder statesman but journalism has changed so much in the years that I've been there it's become so much of a younger man's and woman's profession that I am shocked to find that I am sort of a long -- I mean, I have in tenure. I'm an elder statesman now.
LAMB: Where did you physically write this book and how?
KAUFMAN: I was at the Russian Research Center. I had the Guggenheim and I needed a place to go and I wrote to them -- to Marshall Goldman at the Russian Research Center and he said come on and they gave me an office -- very cluttered little office -- in which I would bike from my house to the office, sit there, read the paper and then try to dredge memory and my innards for some sort of -- I didn't want to write a book that would be a rehash of my journalistic stories from Poland -- I wanted it to have another kind of structure. And again, the trick was to find out how much of my self should I put into it and how much of others. And I think the book does have that kind of a structure. It begins before I get there with the declaration of martial law when five people escape the dragnet. Five people who I later came to know very well. The events of December 13, 1981 were not unlike what has happened in China more recently. But five people -- some of them well known some of them less well known -- were in Dyske. Four in Dyske and one in Warsaw managed to escape the dragnet that throws all of their colleagues into jail. And that sort of sets the tone.
I arrive when -- they are now the underground civilization they have sown is now sprouting. There are publishing houses there are underground theatrical groups. All of this is going on and I begin this voyage of discovery. In fact that too has a connection to my father. He was telling me the story of his imprisonment in 1932. He was in jail in Woolf serving a four-year sentence and was thrown out of the party for crimes of national deviations of Polish patriotism.
LAMB: Communist Party?
KAUFMAN: Communist Party. That had been his life and he attempted suicide --slashed his wrists and his throat. He was saved and after he came out of the hospital ward, was put into a cell with a man who had been an enemy of his in the party. My father at that time had a soaring brilliant career which collapsed at that moment but he had been the Chairman, the Secretary at the age of 26 of something called the Communist Party of Western Ukraine.
Anyway, this man who he was in the cell with had been a party enemy, a hard liner -- a man named Sheckta and I had known this story. Sheckta after the war had a son who's name is Adameknik who today is the most articulate champion of solidarity -- now the editor of the only free newspaper independent newspaper inside the communist block. And Adam was the son of this man who in that cell had acted humanly towards my father. They exchanged poems. They taught each other songs. Nothing ideological. I knew the story.
When I got to Poland, Meknik was then in jail -- this being a very Polish story -- son is now in jail as a solidarity activist. He had been there for two years and six months actually in this particular awaiting trial. But Poland being a police state -- but a sloppy police state -- I was able to kite a message into Adam saying: I don't know if this means anything to you but I am the son of Adam Kaufman. I am here and if it doesn't mean anything to you I just wanted you to know that I'm the New York Times correspondent in Poland. To which he replied, he smuggled a message out saying, I know exactly who you are. I've heard from my father about your father. Welcome to Poland in the name of our fathers, or something and four months later there was an amnesty. He came out. When he came out we became very quickly very good friends.
LAMB: How old is he?
KAUFMAN: He's 40 now. He had his 40th birthday party in my house so he's now 42. And he's brilliant. And he's funny and he's wise and he stutters and he tells jokes and he's ...
LAMB: Where does he live?
KAUFMAN: He lives now, both …..in Warsaw. And..
LAMB: Where is his newspaper published.
KAUFMAN: Now this is the solidarity newspaper. It's only been -- it's published in Warsaw.
LAMB: And how many copies do they have a day?
KAUFMAN: I think now they're up to 40,000. They've just started since the new agreement that he's also a member of Parliament. He's now been elected to Parliament. This man who I used to walk in the park to talk to because his house was bugged, because we were, you know, it's so ironic to me that there are so many people who I would have to go to great pains to see. Some of the actually put on false beards and make up and we would meet and now they're sitting in Parliament. That's incredible.
LAMB: Let me ask you something totally off what we've been talking about. Why does General Gerazelski wear sun glasses?
KAUFMAN: He has retinitis I think. It's a disease in which he's ultra sensitive to light. And it's for medical reasons.
LAMB: Has that had any effect on him over the years? That appearance that he has..
KAUFMAN: The stiffness.
KAUFMAN: People have written -- there is a wonderful essay written in the underground called "The Man in a Corset." There's two things. One, he has war wounds and he does wear a corset so the stiffness is physical. Secondly he is a repressed individual. I don't mean that disparagingly, I mean his -- what little we know of his story is rather remarkable. He's 14 years old. He's the son of a minor gentry. He has a crest a ring. He's raised as a Catholic believing, goes to the best high school. War begins. His father flees to Lithuania. He and his father and his mother. They are captured within two weeks as suspect class by the Russians. Remember the Germans invade first then the Russians came. Well, the Russians grabbed them and sent them to internal Russia to a camp
We don't know exactly where and we don't know what the circumstances were. Somehow his father dies in that camp. And he walks his way out. He joins the Russian Army. He serves them he comes to Poland back to Poland. He works his way through the ranks at a time when you could only work your way if your loyalty was tested and proved.
On the other hand, by his own lights, he is a patriot. There is Polish precedent for this. Poland is -- and here I go back to romantic prejudice if I may. There is a Polish romantic poet of the 19th century named Audmets Schevich who was the poet. I mean his stanzas are today more important than any political proclamation by any politician. And Metzschvich wrote a poem called "Conrad Valenrod" and the poem tells of the teutonic knights raiding a Poland village, stealing a baby -- a young child, orphan child -- bringing it to the order and raising this child within the order. The child's name is Conrad Valenrod.
The child is very bright. He's a tactical wizard and becomes the head of this order. And then the poem ends with Valenrod, now the head of the order, leading his legions into what he knows to be a Polish trap -- dying at the head of his legions, but at the same time avenging the death of his mother and father. The Valenrod. There are lots of arguments all through Warsaw. At one time it was is Viarezelski a Valenrod or was he not. Is he a Polish patriot is he not. I think his decision to step down from the -- not to pursue seeking the presidency would suggest that at the very least he is concerned with how history will regard him in Polish terms.
Well, he’s seen and that's the difference. Other communist leaders who deal essentially in power not in history. I mean, I don't think that Schcofph in Bulgaria is concerned with how history or God will view him. I think that Viarezelski does that. He is accountable to this whole tradition of Polish legions of grandfathers. When Castro Weinberger called him a Russian general in a Polish uniform, he bristled for three years. He wanted what could only be described as satisfaction. I think he would have challenged Weinberger to a dual. No, his father had died in a Russian camp. He was a Pole by his lights. And it's quite interesting.
LAMB: How long has he been in charge over there?
KAUFMAN: Well, since '81 really. He came to power just before martial law and they ran out of the party just became so weak. You know, communist generals are not supposed to lead communist parties. They are supposed to serve the party, not lead them. The generals are sort of South American and this is called Bonapartism. This is a sin under communism, but they ran out of anybody to give it to so he took over.
LAMB: Somebody recently wrote that Lech Walesa and General Urzelski don't even speak to each other. And I saw on television in recent days a picture of the two of them sitting next to each other smiling and laughing ...
LAMB: ... in the Polish Congress.
KAUFMAN: I think that things are changing. I think there was no question early on that I know of, someone who met Urezelksi in Moscow and Urezelski was just the same way that he smoldered at Weinberger. He smoldered at Oxford and Harvard, having given a doctorate to Walesa. He didn't mind the rest of it but the notion that Walesa who, he said to a friend of mine, had never read a book, would be given a honorary doctorate was beyond his. There was something of class snobbishness in this.
After all, Walesa has a peasant background a worker and here he is this communist leader who's a general of slightly gentrified background. And I think there was that kind hostility. I think, I'm not sure they like each other, but I think they do genuinely recognize that they were in some kind of symbiosis. I mean the general knew enough was a tactician and he knew that the forces against him were greater than the ones he commanded. And he knew that what he had to do was beat a zig-zag retreat and that's what he's done. Walesa forced him into it or the forces behind Walesa as my friend Meicnike says this isn't socialism with a human face this is communism with some teeth knocked out. But you have to give the general credit for knowing that he didn't have the troops. He didn't have the horses. And all he could do, this was a time for retreat with while keeping the body counts low.
LAMB: We talked earlier about what the atmosphere was in the country and how people lived and sometimes four to a room. How did you live?
KAUFMAN: We lived very well. First of all anyone with access to dollars lives extraordinarily well. The irony of Poland is it's such an Alice in Wonderland economy that as the dollar sinks in the rest of the world it rises in Poland. There are, as you know, any number of people who get their Social Security checks and retire to Poland because the dollar just goes further. For 25 U.S. dollars a month you can live on the standard of a steel worker and a steel worker lives on a salary four times greater than a doctor so I pick a steel worker intentionally that it's not..
LAMB: Say that again. A steel worker lives four times better than a doctor?
KAUFMAN: Not necessarily live four times better than a doctor, but his salary is four times greater than that of a doctor.
LAMB: Why would anyone ever want to become a doctor?
KAUFMAN: For reasons of snobbishness. For reasons of status. For reasons of
-- a doctor can also earn a lot on the side. I mean his salary is going to be -- some doctors buy. Money has lost all meaning and all value. I mean one of the problems of the economy is that there is no consensus on value.
I know a woman who cleans houses for Europeans and for people who earn money outside the country and her problem is, not too little money, but too much money. She earns more than she can spend and there's no way to invest in anything. So she ends up --every Friday, she takes Friday's off and she buys carpets. Not Persian carpets, just any carpets. And she has behind her house a little cottage where she has floor to ceiling full of carpets because that's a bank account that she's going to leave that to her children. Maybe someday those carpets will be a commodity. One of the few available commodities are kilims, Polish carpets. They're kind of attractive. They're not bad. But the place is full of absurdities like that.
I knew a young girl that was a senior in high school -- got a job in the summer wiping the windshields of cars after they had gotten gas. And she wore short shorts and she was quite attractive and she ended up getting tips on this. And I said, “What a terrible job. You have to get out there -- the fumes ...” And she said, “Oh no.” She said, “I make four times as much as my father who is a professor at the university and I make 125,000 zelotes.” Today that's nothing. Back then it was four times the -- right.
So the place is full of anomalies, absurdities and real life doesn't take place in an economic matrix. Real life takes place over tea or over vodka with friends. Conspiracy has entered into -- everything is conspiracy. Your friends getting anything done involves help. You don't do anything on your own. You're going to need friends. The party has it's network. you have your network.
Patronage has a kind of organic meaning. You want to get furniture? Well, I know a woman who got a nice apartment, took a long time and she wanted to furnish it. There's one store that sold reasonable furniture sometimes. And every morning she would get up before she went to work, go to the store and wait and see if perhaps some Swedish style furniture was there. It took her a year and a half to furnish her apartment and she spent more time at the shop than she felt spent at her job. But she did it. That was her mission and she accomplished it. Those are the ways people live.
LAMB: How much television can people watch? How many different channels are available?
KAUFMAN: There is now simply one channel, but there is one of the things that the underground did was it has pioneered in video, so a lot of VCRs all over the place. And they not only import them from the west but they produce their own. And one of the great VCRs that I've seen is a -- there's a television actor who decided when solidarity allowed him total freedom after martial law -- he was sort of major personality -- Name is Utzik Federusski. Federubich and Utzik decided that he wasn't going to ever again submit to censorship so he was going to live outside the official economy.
First he did it by drawing cartoons and selling them in churches and to solidarity activists and then he got into making his own videos. And what he would do is he'd tape the official news that's shown every night at 7:30 and then meticulously superimpose his own lip sync versions and they were hysterical. They swept through the entire country. They were so funny, and at one point he showed a beauty pageant, a sort of bathing suit beauty pageant and he used the music he changed the music and he used the music of the '50s of these insane hymns about building steel plants and loving tractors and building a new tomorrow and turning in your brother and all of that nonsense. And it was the match was so perfect it was terrific.
LAMB: How many Polish Americans are there? How many Americans are there with connections to Poland?
KAUFMAN: The estimates are 10 million. Ten million in the United States, that's what I've heard.
LAMB: Is there a strong affinity back and forth?
KAUFMAN: There's enormous traffic back and forth. And here in the states, what's happened is that since solidarity there's been a new immigration. So there is a division of America between the old immigration which came and people came in the 20's usually a peasant backgrounds.
LAMB: Settling mostly where?
KAUFMAN: In Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Amtranic is where they still congregate largely. I mean, one of the things I think is true about the Polish American community is that it is less geographically mobile than other minority groups. It has still settled around those neighborhoods, where Greenpoint in New York for example has been Polish for generations.
LAMB: Does it offend you -- or, I don't know what the word would be if somebody says -- can you legitimately say, “Oh he's Polish. He acts Polish.”? Is there such a thing as being Polish?
KAUFMAN: Oh, there definitely is, but I mean where this comes in to play in my case is that I am, I feel Polish to some extent. I am also Jewish. And there are some Poles who, despite the fact that my family had lived in Poland for 800 years or whatever, would say I'm not a real Pole. Somehow I am not a real Pole for some Poles. That's changing a little bit. But there are -- sure, I think they're just like kissing hands for some people -- veneration, a pious veneration and Catholicism, a form of Catholicism. It's different than say Irish or Italian Catholicism. It's ...
LAMB: What's the make up of the country?
KAUFMAN: Ninety-eight percent Catholic. But their Catholicism is less triumphant than, say, Italian. They are the prodigal son in the church. The one who never truly was welcomed until now with the Polish Pope. And so there is a kind of defensiveness about the Pole who, after all, has been aspiring to what the rest of Europe has had for so long. They wanted their own nation their own state. They have their own nation. They wanted a nation state just as the French have theirs, just as the Spanish have theirs and they've been denied so there is a way of behaving.
LAMB: Where did the Polish joke come from?
KAUFMAN: I don't know. I've often wondered about that. I mean every nationality --when I was in South Africa, there's the Bondamerver joke. Every nationality has them. The looking down on someone. I think one aspect of it was what I mentioned earlier about the anti-work ethic as what I understand to be as a patriotic gesture. I think in our own country, the American south was seen as slothful, lazy. Well after the Civil War I would imagine that that was a patriotic gesture. To be lazy rather than work hard for those who have just conquered you makes a certain amount of sense. So I suspect that that's one origin of the Polish joke, but I really don't know.
LAMB: When was Poland most free?
KAUFMAN: Before 1795. You could argue that the 18 years before the war 1918 -- suddenly think of it -- had disappeared for 123 years. It was not a political entity. Then simultaneously and miraculously three empires who shared Poland among themselves -- Austria Hungarian, the German and the Russian Empire -- collapse in war and revolution. 1918, Woodrow Wilson comes along and Poland is reconstituted miraculously after 123 years. And it lasts for 18 years and then Russia well first Germany invades in 1939 and two weeks Russia invades and again the country is dismembered. There hopes are aroused when the war is when the Nazi's are defeated but those hopes are shattered by Yalta and now we're living in a period where Europe is again being reconstituted. Again Poland is at the center of it in a way. I think that as the millennium approaches a new kind of Europe is emerging. One maybe that will extend from England to this Russian border which would fulfill the mad dreams that I use as my title.
LAMB: How many Soviet troops are there in Poland?
KAUFMAN: There are 40,000 but they are very invisible and they are kept very far away. No one ever sees them. The Russians -- 40,000 is not as many as they've had elsewhere.
LAMB: How big is the Polish Army?
KAUFMAN: Polish Army I think the largest, but not the most powerful. The East German is the most powerful in the block after the Russians have never trusted the Polish Army terribly much. I mean it's difficult. Will Poles fight for Russia? It's a question.
LAMB: When did solidarity start?
KAUFMAN: Well ...
LAMB: And what is it?
KAUFMAN: Well, solidarity begins in the strikes in 1978-79 in the dying ship yards. But the strands that fed solidarity go way back. You've had the '56 uprising workers uprising in Presnon many streams have fed this river. There was, for example, before solidarity, there was a student movement. They conventional the shorthand description of this is that in 1968, students had a nationalistic uprising which the then- communist government used as an “anti” to spur an anti Semitic crusade against many of those students among them some of those who that now lead solidarity.
In 1970 there was a worker uprising. In 1968 during the student uprising, workers were used by the secret police to beat up students; 1970 there was a worker uprising in Dyske in which the army shot well troops not army police shot and killed people. That gave Walesa his start. At that time students were impervious kept out of it. There was a cleavage between intellectuals and workers.
Then came '76. In '76 there was a small worker uprising and a group of intellectuals founded something called CORE -- the committee to help workers. And that began the unification of these two groups, two elements. The workers reached out to students, students reached out to workers. This grew when the strikes began in '78, '79. There were technical experts who could help the workers. People like Vernashwef Germick Amechniek who I mentioned, and so you had something that was extensively a labor a union but it was much more than that. It was a vehicle for human rights for political opposition.
It was not unlike the American Revolution. It was lots of people who were articulating ideas. People coming from the church from traditions of church, former communists. Amechniek wrote a book called "The Left The Right A Dialogue." I mean one of the things that happened was people who's traditions were in the church anti-Communists were sitting down with people who had been communists but were disillusioned or had left.
There were suspicion there still is suspicion. The last election this was used in to try to defeat certain solidarity candidates by saying hey wait a minute he was a communist. I didn't work, didn't work. People have learned. And out of these many strands has come this movement which is today both a labor union I don't know how long it can remain both a labor union and a political party. I think eventually it's going to have to split.
LAMB: I'm sure I'm going to mispronounce this because I've heard you pronouncing it one way and me another. Lech Walesa. What is the correct pronunciation?
KAUFMAN: Lech Walesa. There's an ...
LAMB: We kind of butcher it over here don't we?
KAUFMAN: Well it's very hard. I think writing Polish names, one of the difficulties that I had in the book I couldn't change their names but I also knew that if you have Voresavige Mortzuleski they are very hard for Americans to absorb many of those diphthongs which are kind of funny diphthongs.
LAMB: How well do you know him?
KAUFMAN: Walesa? Not as well as I'd like to. I've met him of course and am terribly admiring of him. But in the book, I use many of his aides and younger people mostly because they're lesser known and also because much of the time I was there Walesa had a public posture that didn't allow him to be as candid. I don't say that in a negative way. He was a public figure. He was the only one standing while the rest of them were in jail or in hiding. He was the symbol of resistance. And to say things that he may have believed but that would be needlessly provocative if they appeared in the New York Times was something that I don't think he would want or could allow.
LAMB: Did the government over there read the New York Times?
KAUFMAN: They read it and they used it.
LAMB: Did they read it immediately? I mean did they have somebody that would call them ...
KAUFMAN: They read it sometimes before -- I have reason to believe that they read it before it got to New York, before my dispatches got to New York. I mean, they read it off the wire. I would telex. And at least in one instance, I was called in to be told that some response to a story that I had filed -- but which had never ran or had not run by the time that I was called in to be given a response to it -- which meant they were reading it.
LAMB: Did you get a sense that they read any other newspaper?
KAUFMAN: Oh yes, the Washington Post. They were, in fact, to their credit they -- what happened early on was when solidarity flourished the western press was there. And I do not quite understand to this day why they allowed so many western reporters. I mean Czechoslovakia has almost none. You can't get into Romania. You can get in but they make life very difficult for you.
The Poles had a lot of western reporters. I've often thought to myself that that we were the magnio line against the worst case scenario. That even the Polish government felt that if the Russians invaded well at least the New York Times would be there to document. And so we were given a lot more freedom I think than certainly in the Soviet Union or elsewhere my colleagues and I. But then there came a time when Solidarity burst on the scene. American reporters and British reporters would run around to talk to all of these strikers were in the ship yard would file their stories.
Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio France International would translate them into Polish. Within 24 hours they would be back in Poland and a news loop had been established in which the government played no role at all. Well their Minister of well their Minister of Information a man named Orbant tried to break into that loop. And he was very successful. He had Tuesday night Tuesday afternoon press conferences in which we were all invited. And he told some of the truth. He also told some lies but it was no correspondent could not attend these conferences because gems would be dropped. And in it he berated the press for its coverage. He pointed out mis-statements inaccuracies sometimes they were inaccurate sometimes they weren't.
But he entered the loop. And in so doing he gained a sign, sort of the news conference were all televised for the whole nation. We were encouraged. I felt I was encouraged to ask as aggressive questions as possible. And in some bizarre way it legitimized them. It said ah, we are now, look at that the New York Times is treating us seriously. So if they're treating us seriously nation, the same thing happened when the solidarity priest Proppyrusko was murdered. That was the gravest threat that Urelzeki's government faced. And the decision was to not only aggressively deal with this murderess who turned out to four secret policemen but to have a public trial. To show some of it on television. And to allow me to -- I was, as the only Polish speaking American, I think I was the only American allowed into the trial but I was allowed in for the whole trial from the beginning to the end -- 30 days. And the cameras would always show me. The news would show me taking notes and this was held up as -- see, this was on the level. This one's OK, because we've got an American journalist there. So they use it. They use it.
LAMB: We have just a few minutes left. It's called "Mad Dreams, and Saving Graces." And the book looks like this published by Random House. You got another book in you?
KAUFMAN: Have I got another book? I do. I've thinking of three other possibilities but I want to rest a bit now and just tend to my journalism.
LAMB: Is it tough to write a book?
KAUFMAN: Well it's tougher than I thought. I don't know. I remember I remember feeling at the time that this is pretty tough. In retrospect I look back upon it with great pleasure. I thought that year at Harvard was lovely. I liked the idea of bicycling to work and I love the idea of bicycling home and working to my tempos rather than to those of others.
LAMB: Do you write in long hand or on a computer?
KAUFMAN: I wrote on a computer. On a word processor.
LAMB: How much does the editor at Random House get involved?
KAUFMAN: In his case he was brilliant. He got involved in the beginning not much at all. In fact for the first eight months I must confess that I kept saying what's my friend Birnham on about that this guy is a great editor. What's he talking about. I mean I don't get any phone calls I don't get any feedback. I don't get any instructions. I'm just left entirely alone and all right I guess I don't need it and I work.
And then at the time the manuscript was assembled I came to New York he had gone through it and his instincts were so good. It was minimal I think. His eye for redundancy. His instinct for structure. He also had a tabulrosa kind of attitude. He pretended to be a child from Ohio who had never heard of Poland. He forced me into whenever I would start getting rococo and orotund and pontifical he sort of brought me down with very gentle questions.
Never any orders. The few times there is -- one example I can think of, a simile I wanted to compare -- police in Poland. I said they're omnipresent presence in Warsaw and most of the society deals with them as a necessary nuisance, as a nuisance of urban life not unlike dog excrement in New York. And he said now wait a minute. You can use that if you want, but I think perhaps that a little, you know, you're being smart-alecky. The tone that you really want to establish that the cops are dog-doo in New York. And I realized yeah I was showing off. Yeah I was trying to project something that's okay at a dinner party maybe but litter would have been a better simile our was it metaphor there.
LAMB: What impact do you want this to have?
KAUFMAN: I want, ideally I want, as I say in there somewhere, that I want this book to pay homage to my friends. Make a loving gesture to my father. And to sort of trace my respectful tribute to my Jewish and my Polish roots. And the impact, if I could stimulate among Americans a recognition that there is this nation of 39,000 billion who are too big to be ignored in the center of Europe, too honorable to be spurned and who have a claim upon our attentions and our generosity.
LAMB: This is the book it's called "Mad Dreams, Saving Graces" and I'll show you the front cover again published by random house and can be found in your book stores. Thank you, Michael Kaufman.
KAUFMAN: Thank you.
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