In the current migration crisis, people are fleeing to escape disaster, violence, poverty and hunger in numbers unknown since World War II. But their desperate search for a better life is not always met with understanding and compassion. Hungary has set up a four meter-high barbwire fence along its Serbian border, Donald Trump is calling Mexican immigrants dangerous criminals, and Australia has implemented the world’s harshest policy by turning back boats of asylum-seekers, or forcing them to detainee centers on distant Pacific Islands and making sure they will never enter the country.
In the face of such hostility, it is refreshing to find a book with a different narrative. One where a country that promotes multiculturalism and social cohesion can enjoy the immense benefits of a more diverse society, where migrants truly become agents of progress and development. This was certainly our experience when my family immigrated to Montreal (Canada) in the early 1970s to escape the communist regime in Poland. Today still, Montreal is one of the most multi-ethnic and multicultural cities in the world – a vibrant platform for culture, education and business innovation.
An Unlikely War Hero
“The Promise of Diversity” by John Hartwell Williams and John Bond, tells the unlikely story of Jerzy Zubryzcki (1920-2009), a Polish intellectual turned cadet officer in the Polish Army when the Second World War broke. Forced to surrender to the German forces, Zubrzycki escaped imprisonment thanks to a Jewish shopkeeper who may have saved his life. He served with distinction in the Polish Army, the Polish underground resistance and with the British forces. Thanks to his good English, which he learnt at the Krakow YMCA, he was selected to join a top secret elite team that was tasked by Churchill to “set Europe ablaze”, he underwent intense training in parachuting, explosives, sabotage, intelligence work and extreme survival skills. He even became an expert in the art of silent killing. In a “James Bond”-like adventure, he brought a captured V2 rocket from Poland to Britain, providing crucial intelligence to the allied forces.
Championing Diversity and Multiculturalism
Unable to return to Poland after the war, he became a refugee and decided to study sociology at the London School of Economics. He then joined the Australian National University where he became Professor of Sociology. Having experienced the horrors of Nazi occupation, he dedicated the rest of his life to promoting the integration of Australia’s increasing ethnic diversity. Australia, whose population was 7.4 million at the end of the war, received more then 2 million Europeans in the following two decades. Today still, it is home to one of the largest Greek communities outside Greece (particularly around Melbourne). Later came waves of refugees from Vietnam.
Thanks to his distinguished war record and contacts in the upper echelons of British society, he was able to access and influence the closed circles of Australian government, and successive Prime Ministers, helping them realize that the ethnic diversity is not a liability but an asset and that by enabling these values we enrich society as a whole. Through his influence he managed to “steer Australia towards multiculturalist settlement policies” (The Australian) for which he as been credited as the “father of Australian multiculturalism”.
The Stolen Generation Apology
Zubrzycki also helped in initiatives towards reconciling Australia’s Aboriginal population with the wider community, initiatives which caught international attention in 2008 when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd led a national apology to the Aboriginal community. His moving address can be viewed here:
As Secretary of the Australian Institute of Polish Affairs, John Williams developed a friendship with Zubrzyzcki, which led him to start writing this biography. John Bond, an author who has helped several Australian public figures write their memoirs, completed the book and is now organizing a Polish translation and promoting the Zubrzycki story in Poland.
John Bond is no stranger to diversity and multiculturalism. Since 1969, he has been a member of “Initiatives of Change” in Australia, the Swiss-based organization that facilitated the German-French reconciliation process following the Second World War. John was elected Secretary of the “National Sorry Day Committee” whose work led to the apology from the Australian government. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the Australian community.
The book provides a wonderful account of how Zubrzycki’s early life experience of being rescued by a Jewish family shaped his belief in the value of diversity and turned him into a champion of multiculturalism.
If Zubrzycki’s approach to multiculturalism were more widely understood, many of the troubles with migration and asylum seekers could be avoided. But given the unfortunate turn that policies towards foreigners are taking around the world, now more then ever, the Zubrzycki story is worth spreading.
It is high-time to dust-off the historical heroes of the Polish diaspora whose expertise and achievements have been recognized and admired by the world
Ordering “The Promise of Diversity” LINK
Jerzy Zubrzycki Biography in Polish
Transcript of ABC Interview with Jerzy Zubrzycki
Jerzy Zubrzycki Obituary