A WORD FROM OUR RARE BOOKS CATALOGUER, DR. NICOLAE HARSANYI
I’ve handed over today’s blog to my colleague Dr. Nicolae Harsanyi, our resident rare books cataloguer and expert on Central and Eastern European materials. A gifted linguist, Dr. Harsanyi has been instrumental in cataloguing and translating our large collections of Russian, German, Hungarian, Czech language materials. While our holdings of Polish materials are modest in comparison, we have just last week acquired a rare oversized portfolio containing 13 caricatures of Poland’s towering chief of state in the first half of the twentieth century, Marshall Józef Piłsudski. Once again, Dr. Harsanyi’s linguistic abilities and understanding of Eastern European affairs proved invaluable in our efforts to make sense of this amazing work, and so I thought it only appropriate that he should in his own words tell you about this magnificent new acquisition to the library collection.
The portfolio, Marszałek Piłsudski w 13 karykaturach, was published in Paris in 1931; the thirteen caricatures are the work of Zdzisław Czermański (1896-1970), a Polish portrait artist and caricaturist who, after residences in France and Brasil, settled in the United States in 1943.
Józef Klemens Piłsudski (1867-1935) earned a lasting place in the gallery of Poland’s central political figures of the 20th century. With a view of regaining Poland’s independence, his Polish Legions fought alongside the Austro-Hungarian and German Empires to ensure Russia’s defeat in the First World War. From November 1918, when Poland regained independence, until 1922, Piłsudski served as Poland’s Chief of State. In August 1920, the Polish army under his command defended the country’s independence by a resounding victory over the Bolshevik forces in the Battle of Warsaw, which put an end to the Soviet Union’s military offensive in Central Europe. In 1923 Piłsudski retired from politics, but, seeing the disarray created by the continuous infighting between the Polish political parties, he returned to power through a coup in 1926. Through what he called “revolution without revolutionary consequences,” he endeavored to stabilize the country, to reduce the influence of the parties he accused of corruption and inefficiency, and to strengthen the army.
Piłsudski became increasingly disillusioned with democracy in Poland. His intemperate public utterances caused concern in contemporary and modern-day observers who have seen his actions as setting precedents for authoritarian responses to political challenges. Czermański satirizes the Marshall’s surrounding himself with sycophants who parroted back exactly what he wished to hear.
Piłsudski left most internal matters in the hands of his “colonels,” while he himself concentrated on military and foreign affairs. Czermański caricatures these “faithful collaborators” as showgirls performing in a cabaret.
Piłsudski’s authoritarian politics, which stopped short of totalitarianism, was resented by right wing parties who often portrayed the aging Marshall as the agent of a Bolshevik-Judeo-German-Masonic conspiracy.
This work by Czermański enhances our Polish collection and will provide students and researchers with a more comprehensive picture of the tangled political environment of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe between the two World Wars.