Ignacy Giedroyć and Franciszka (née Starzycka) were married probably on 22 October 1905 – such at least is the date engraved on their wedding ring which survives among other family heirlooms. Franciszka was the daughter of one of the best tailors in Minsk; Ignacy, a pharmacist with little social standing or money, was a descendent of an old Lithuanian princely family.
Their first child was born on 27 July 1906. He was christened Jerzy Władysław in the Catholic cathedral in Minsk.
Jerzy’s earliest years were spent in Minsk, where his home-schooling included dreaded piano lessons. Prone to illness, he relied on his father’s substantial library to support his passion for reading.
In 1916 he was sent to Moscow to attend a secondary school run by the Polish Committee. Here he witnessed the 1917 February Revolution. The school year was cut short, and the young Giedroyc travelled to St Petersburg to visit his uncle Wiktor Giedroyc, whom he failed to meet. The 11-year-old had to try to return home to Minsk, and the journey was a hazardous adventure of several weeks through a Russia torn by civil war. It was then that he took up smoking.
In Minsk Jerzy's parents enrolled him in the secondary school run by Marian Massonius. His education was, however, interrupted yet again with the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in Minsk in the aftermath of the October Revolution and the subsequent capture of the city by German forces in February 1918. Several months later, in a wave of Polish evacuation from Minsk, the Starzycki and Giedroyc families (including Jerzy, his parents, and his younger brother Zygmunt) relocated to Warsaw. Jerzy was able to continue his education at the Jan Zamoyski Secondary School – but before sitting his matriculation exams he served during the Polish-Soviet War of 1920 as a volunteer telegraph operator in the headquarters of Military Area 1 in Warsaw.
In 1924 Jerzy Giedroyc began studying law at Warsaw University. He also joined Patria, a student fraternity, becoming its chairman and assuming the chair of the inter-fraternity union, a post that fell to Patria that year. This twofold appointment made for increased prestige and did much to enhance Giedroyc’s circle of friends and acquaintances. During the Piłsudski coup of May 1926, Giedroyc and his university colleagues, who were by and large National Democrats, supported the embattled government of Wincenty Witos. However, Giedroyc began taking a jaundiced view of the governing elites, which succumbed to panic and chaos during the so-called May events. He formed similar views of the parliamentary order of the day, writing years afterwards in his autobiography: “It all augmented my pro-Piłsudski sentiments and led to the belief that a more authoritarian form of government was necessary”.
The Club of Vexatious Greenhorns
Towards the end of his university studies, after working part-time at the Polish Telegraphic Agency, Kurier Warszawski (Warsaw Courier), and Warszawianka (The Varsovian), Giedroyc began full time work in the Cabinet Press Office in 1928, an opening made possible by his friend Jan Karczewski, an intelligence officer. At this time his political ambitions were crystallizing. He co-founded the Klub Złośliwych Szczeniaków (Club of Vexatious Greenhorns), whose members were young civil servants (principally ministerial assistants) seeking to influence policy.
Giedroyc noted that “this was no mutual admiration society, but a grouping of people from varied backgrounds, motivated by idealism, rather than the enhancement of their careers. As a matter of principle it was not a place where private interests were advanced”. In 1929, after completing his law studies, Giedroyc registered for a history degree and moved from the Cabinet Press Office to become press and parliamentary officer in the Ministry of Agriculture.
In 1930 Giedroyc became private secretary to the minister of agriculture, the conservative Leon Janta-Połczyński. Giedroyc was already well known within the Polish conservative milieu as an active member of the organization Myśl Mocarstwowa (Thought and Power), which published a journal of the same name.
Years later, in his Migawki wspomnień (Snapshots of Memories), Mieczysław Pruszyński wrote: “Myśl Mocarstwowa opposed the concept of a nation state as promoted by Endecja [the National Democrat movement], in favour of a multi-national state of various nations and religions, in keeping with the Polish Jagiellonian tradition. Piłsudski's promethean idea – which he was unable to realize in 1920 – appealed to us. This idea assumed the formation of independent republics in alliance with Poland. These were to include, among others, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, and Georgia. Such a constellation of independent states might have weakened the Soviet Empire, if not done away with it altogether”.
Editor-in-chief for the First Time
In 1930 Giedroyc prepared the first issue of a journal called Wschód (The East), later taken over by Włodzimerz Bączkowski while he assumed the editorship of Dzień Akademicki (University Day). A year on, he refashioned this journal and named it Bunt Młodych (Youth in Revolt). From February 1933, Bunt Młodych, hitherto a weekly supplement of Dzień Akademicki, became an independent eight-column fortnightly and from 1937 onwards was transformed into a weekly, Polityka (Politics).
Civil Servant and Politician
With the passage of time the journals that Giedroyc edited appreciated in standing, as did his own reputation. At the beginning of the 1930s he was still closely connected to the conservative movement, not only with the Myśl Mocarstwowa camp and its myriad groupings, but also Janusz Radziwiłł's Stronnictwo Prawicy Narodowej (National Party of the Right). He was, however, slowly gaining the reputation of someone seeking a more independent role and saw himself as being in “internal opposition” to government circles. It was rumoured that his publication of Aleksander Bocheński's “Kirov and Pieracki” (an article in which blame for the assassination of Pieracki, the Polish home secretary, was laid at the door of the government's anti-Ukrainian policy) almost earned Giedroyc time behind bars at the Bereza Kartuska internment camp. Giedroyc also found himself in conflict with Juliusz Poniatowski, one of Leon Janta-Połczyński’s successors at the Ministry of Agriculture. He was moved to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, where Antoni Roman, a friend of his, was deputy minister. Here he continued his civil service career and in May 1939 accompanied Roman to the World Fair in New York. At the same time he sought to implement his political projects – in 1940 the Polityka milieu was to put forward its own parliamentary candidates for the Sejm. One of their aims was to achieve autonomy for Poland's eastern provinces inhabited by Ukrainians. With the deterioration of the political situation in Europe and in the last days before the outbreak of war, Giedroyc pressed for sending General Kazimierz Sosnkowski to the United States as head of a special military mission.
The German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 thwarted all further plans. As a government official designated for evacuation, Giedroyc was ordered to reach Bucharest (Poland and Romania were joined by a number of inter-war treaties and shared a common border up to 1940). He left Poland with his youngest brother Henryk (born 1922) and with his former wife Tatiana from whom he had separated in 1937 after six years of marriage.
In Bucharest he was appointed aide to the Polish ambassador, Roger Raczyński, and they set about reorganizing the embassy to cope with its increased wartime role. (Romania had seen a substantial influx of Polish evacuees, including the pre-war Polish president and members of the ruling elite who had been interned.)
Giedroyc's association with Raczyński, with whom he had a long-standing friendship, reinforced the perception of him as a supporter of Poland's pre-war political order, and drew unfavourable reactions towards him from the followers of General Władysław Sikorski, who – in a radical change of government following Poland’s defeat in September 1939 – was soon to become the new prime minister of the Polish government-in-exile and commander-in-chief of the Polish Armed Forces in the West. At this time, Giedroyc fell victim to a deliberate provocation. He was falsely accused of taking bribes for facilitating documentation for the acquisition of visas. The ensuing inquiry with its multiple hearings dragged on for months but eventually led to the withdrawal of all accusations. When in November 1940 the Polish embassy was wound up, Raczyński asked Giedroyc to remain in Romania and work in the Chilean embassy, which represented Polish interests after Raczyński's departure. There Giedroyc found himself in conflict with the head of the Polish office, Samson Mikiciński, who was concerned primarily with his own business activities, some of which involved contact with German agents. Giedroyc and his immediate associates, though discharged from the Polish office, were generally viewed as Poland's only diplomatic representatives in Bucharest, among others by the British. When Romania allied itself with the Axis powers the British legation was closed. Giedroyc was spirited out of Bucharest with the direct assistance of Sir Reginald Hoare, the British head of mission.
Tobruk, Iraq, Monte Cassino, Gallipoli
In the spring of 1941 Giedroyc and his brother Henryk enlisted in the Polish army. Both were sent to Tobruk to join the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade assigned to the defence of the besieged city. In August 1942 he was transferred to Iraq to the headquarters of the Polish forces being formed there out of the deportees who had left the Soviet Union as a result of the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement. Here he met Józef Czapski, who headed the Public Relations and Education Department of General Anders’ Army. Czapski put Giedroyc in charge of the Military Books and Periodicals section. He undertook its fundamental reform, concentrating on improving the quality of Orzeł Biały (White Eagle), a weekly journal published by the Polish military.
Jerzy Giedroyc was with the 2nd Polish Corps under the command of General Władysław Anders throughout the Italian campaign up to the victorious siege of Monte Cassino, soon after which his superiors moved him to the Polish Armoured Warfare Training Centre in Gallipoli (Italy) as an army educational officer, since his editorial policy within the 2nd Polish Corps had been deemed too liberal. In the spring of 1945 he was called to London, where he was appointed head of the government-in-exile's European Department within the Ministry of Information and Documentation. He was specifically tasked with disseminating the London-based government’s policy in France and Italy, and at the same time was the 2nd Polish Corps’ official representative within the Department.
Rome – The Literary Institute
While carrying out his duties, Giedroyc was already planning the creation of a publishing house. He was able to convince the high command of the 2nd Polish Corps that one was needed, and on 11 February 1946 General Anders appointed a team to form the Literary Institute in the Italian capital. Its initial members included Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, Zygmunt and Zofia Hertz, and Jerzy Giedroyc himself. The Institute served both Polish military and civilian needs, and developed its own publishing policy inaugurated with a reprint of Henryk Sienkiewicz's Legiony (The Legions). In June 1947 the Institute brought out the first issue of Kultura (Culture), a periodical that Giedroyc very much viewed as the flagship publication of the new publishing house.
Settling in France
The demobilization of the Polish forces in Italy made the future of the Institute seem problematic. To give it a new lease of life it was decided to move the enterprise to France, where Józef Czapski was now in charge of the press office of the 2nd Polish Corps’ Paris Bureau. On 27 August 1947 General Anders confirmed the Institute's personnel, though without Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, who had decided to live in London. Jerzy Giedroyc was designated director. After the Italian printing press was sold in October of that year, Giedroyc and the Hertzs moved to Paris. They initially stayed at the Hôtel Lambert, which was then in Polish hands, and subsequently moved to a dilapidated house rented by Czapski's Bureau. The house was situated at 1 Avenue de Corneille in Maisons-Laffitte near Paris. The second issue of Kultura, the double issue 2/3, was published in France. After about a year, Józef Czapski himself joined the team at Avenue de Corneille.
Kultura – A Way of Life
At a personal level the end of the Second World War was a difficult watershed for Jerzy Giedroyc. From Poland came the news that his parents had been killed during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. A final parting took place with Tatiana. His friend the talented political writer Adolf Bocheński, whom Giedroyc had thought of as a potential post-war collaborator, died in action near Ancona in 1944. Giedroyc's close friend Roger Raczyński died in Athens in 1945. The only immediate link between Giedroyc's post-war émigré life and his old pre-war existence was his youngest brother. Henryk spent a few years in Italy after the war, then moved to London, but finally joined his brother's team in Maisons-Laffitte in 1952. From the late 1940s onwards, Giedroyc’s name became synonymous with “the Editor”, and the Editor’s with Kultura – and vice-versa. His history became one with the history of Kultura and its remarkable team. In this first decade of its existence, any examination of Kultura’s attempts to lift the Polish political emigration out of its post-war impasse cannot be made without some reference to the empathy and loyalty Giedroyc felt towards General Anders. If Kultura could gather on its pages the best of Polish 20th-century writing, it was only as a result of Giedroyc's charisma, patience, stubbornness, and prolific world-wide correspondence, month by month. That is how he managed to acquire his first-class writers including Gombrowicz, Straszewicz, and others. The home of the Literary Institute became something of a mecca towards which Poles from communist Poland, sometimes surreptitiously, sometimes openly, gravitated, not only because they were of different minds to the communist authorities, but also because in Giedroyc they saw a principled political mainstay always open to visitors from Poland. From among these, Giedroyc would acquire new friends, the latest news from his homeland, and collaborators. He was ever open to assist and support social and political initiatives at variance with official communist thinking. His single-mindedness and imagination produced an impressive run of illicit literature, from his own publishing stable and others, that was smuggled into communist-dominated Poland. When in Poland a world of underground independent letters came into being and the democratic opposition of the 1970s began to consolidate, Kultura had already become a strong reference point on the Vistula. It was admired, at times revered, but above all trusted.
The House and its Inhabitants
Kultura’s perhaps most singular achievement was convincing Poles to accept the loss of the cities of Lviv and Vilnius in favour of a future independent Ukraine and Lithuania, and to accept that these future independent countries together with an independent Belarus would eventually form a cornerstone of Polish independence. This idea, known as the ULB doctrine, perhaps owed more to Giedroyc's eastern Piłsudski-ite soul than to the intellectual achievements of Juliusz Mieroszewski, his one-man think-tank.
After half a century at the helm of the Literary Institute, Giedroyc's legacy may be numbered as 637 issues of Kultura, 134 issues of Zeszyty Historyczne (Historical Notebooks) and 512 books published under the Institute’s book-publishing arm, Biblioteka Kultury (Kultura Library). These represent the work of very many authors in Poland and throughout the free world.
To begin with, in Kultura’s formative years, Giedroyc would travel to London every few months. In time his annual calendar would include a rigorous presence at the Frankfurt Book Fair, but little beyond that in terms of travel. He took no holidays. He and his small group of immediate associates, initially at 1 Avenue de Corneille and then from 1954 at 94 Avenue de Poissy (the latter house purchased with donations from Kultura readers), performed the Herculean task of building a publishing house that in the outside world would have been staffed by a legion of employees. On the ground floor at Avenue de Poissy were the editorial offices, and on the first floor the private rooms of the live-in associates. An outbuilding in the garden, once a stable block, was converted into guest rooms that were almost always occupied.
Giedroyc enjoyed little private life. He was the first to rise in the morning, and made his own breakfast. He was usually the last to retire to his room in the evening. His room on the first floor was his only private space, to which he might occasionally absent himself for an afternoon nap. At night he would pore over typescripts sent in for publication, leaving few hours for sleep itself. His bed and the floor all around were peppered with burn marks from the many cigarettes he failed to finish as he fell asleep during his nocturnal reading sessions.
“We continued and continue to lead a life under canvas” noted Giedroyc – some 50 years after the end of the war. He passed away in his own room on 14 September 2000 while mapping out the next issue of Kultura – the 637th – which went to press posthumously.
A PDF of his autobiography in Polish can be accessed clicking on the cover.