Józef Czapski and Jerzy Giedroyc during the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Berlin, June 1950. / Sygn. FIL00472

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Jerzy Giedroyc – the precursor of post-war Polish-German dialogue


Among the majority of Poland’s political and cultural elites, Jerzy Giedroyc is today regarded as the great gardener of Polish literature and a precursor of Polish reconciliation with its eastern neighbours. It was in the “experimental laboratory” of “Kultura” that the ULB concept took shape. Giedroyc himself in a letter to Melchior Wańkowicz of 9 November 1951 had compared the work of the Literary Institute to a laboratory of political thought: “I do not see myself as strong enough to create an historical current” he wrote. “My ambition is solely to create and experimental laboratory, in which one studies, analyses, draws conclusions and then tries to apply these conclusions in practice. ( … ) I do not want to make “Kultura” into a chapel, nor to formulate any dogmatic theses” [i].

Jerzy Giedroyc’s important role in normalising Polish-German relations is often overlooked. He took a great interest in the development of the two German states, in German culture, in the Polish Peoples’ Republic’s relations with the two states, and in the development of mutual relations after the unification of Germany [ii]. The intensity of this interest, of how new issues in the matter of Polish-German relations occupied him, is exemplified in the last issue of “Kultura” in September 2000, which includeded an interesting article by Andrzej Stach, a Polish journalist living in Berlin, on the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt an der Oder – describing a joint Polish-German educational venture situated on their border [iii] Andrzej Stach seeks answers to the following questions: how far has this experiment been successful? what is student life like on the peripheries of post-communist Germany and Poland? is this university a living, thriving organism, or is it an artificial political project which has failed to put down any roots in Frankfurt?

Although Jerzy Giedroyc had no German, this was not the case with his closest circle of collaborators, and moreover some of them – Józef Czapski, Konstanty Jeleński and Juliusz Mieroszewski – were rooted in German-language culture. Also important is that a number of his close collaborators and writers for „Kultura” lived in Germany, among whom one must at least remember Bohdan Osadchuk and Borys Lewytzkyj, two architects of Polish-Ukrainian rapprochement, and noted in Germany as experts on communism and the Soviet Union. I shall also recall the name – I fear forgotten today – of Tadeusz Nowakowski, an outstanding figure, a Polish émigré author who also wrote articles in German for leading German newspapers and periodicals, and an habitué of the meetings of Hans Werner Richter’s legendary literary association, the “Gruppe 47”. Other Polish émigrés in Germany included Józef Mackiewicz, Witold Wirpsza with his wife Maria Kurecka, a pre-eminent translator of German literature, and also their son Leszek Szaruga, the poet and essayist.

I would like to describe the position taken by “Kultura” in respect of Germany through quotations from pieces by Juliusz Mieroszewski and Józef Mackiewicz. In 1961, shortly before the wall went up, Mieroszewski published a German-language book titled “Kehrt Deutschland in den Osten zurück?” (Will Germany Return to the East?). This is an expanded collection of his earlier articles on Polish-German relations. The book also contains autobiographical passages, in which Mieroszewski recalls his Galician roots, and reminds the reader that he was brought up in a German-speaking household. It seems characteristic that he admits that the best years of his life occurred when – as a soldier and as a journalist – he was fighting the Germans. He fought not to destroy the German nation, but mindful of Clausewitz’s dictum that “war is only the means of reaching certain political goals”, in the conviction that “such a goal can only be Polish-German rapprochement” [iv].

Here I would also wish to draw attention to another interesting piece from “Kultura” in which the author sought to break through the dominant Polish attitude towards Germans, putting together a critique of current frameworks of perception. I refer to an article from 1956, “The German Complex” by Józef Mackiewicz: “I was never what could be called a ‘Germanophile’. ( ... ) I defend myself from the infantilism of the judgments imposed on me” [v]. He goes on to write that we can equally well blame the Germans for tolerating the Nazi regime, as blame the Poles for compliance with the communist system. Poles do not discern the desire in West Germany to come to terms with the past, they stand by the stereotype of a nation tainted for all time by Nazi crimes. Such an attitude leads to the isolation of Poland. The Polish conception of Germans has little give in it, moreover it presents a stumbling block on the road to independent thinking. Mackiewicz directed these words not only to communist Poland, they were also words critical of the émigré community.

“Kultura’s” eastern programme was not detached from the issue of Germany. Giedroyc’s and Mieroszewski’s deliberations on normalising relations with our neighbours were a part of wider reflection about the European order. I shall return to Juliusz Mieroszewski, who believes that a new European configuration can only be built with the participation of Germany. The possibility of some sort of federation is an opportunity also for Germany. If it is not grasped, Germany will remain as it is – a great, but ultimately a small, state which can admittedly achieve small scale political successes but will lose in the long run: “Only full accord between Poland and Germany will return political and economic balance to this part of Europe and will deny Russia the possibility of playing off the two largest nations of east-central Europe against each other” [vi].

Mieroszewski also tried to explain to the Germans why it was in their interests to develop a new eastern policy, a new kind of relationship with Poland: “They should seek rapprochement with the Poles for two reasons: firstly because harmonious Polish-German relations are a fundamental building block of any non-Soviet arrangement for eastern Europe; and secondly, that the cost to Germany for a relationship with Poland will be considerably less than for one with Russia” [vii].

Even before the first issue of “Kultura” was published, one can already detect within the Literary Institute a keen interest in the German question, along with the association of eastern issues with German issues. This was first given documentary form by the publication of Jerzy Stempowski’s diary of his journey to Austria and Germany [viii]. Brought out as a book by the Literary Institute in 1946 in Rome, this is an outstanding work not only because of its literary merit, but as an ambitious political and editorial undertaking. One just needs to imagine how remarkable for its time was Jerzy Giedroyc’s idea of sending the 52-year old Stempowski – as an independent correspondent – from his home in Switzerland in the autumn of 1945 on a difficult and dangerous journey across the Alps to occupied Austria and southern Germany. The objective of his journey was establishing contact with communities of Ukrainian émigrés who, fearing deportation to the Soviet Union, had gone into hiding from the Allies. His secondary objective was to get to know the humanitarian and political issues within the German speaking territories. Stempowski’s diary makes for fascinating and multi-layered reportage. It recounts the fates of displaced persons, principally Ukrainian, and presents a penetrating analysis of war-time and post-war Allied policy towards the Germans. Here we also find the first critical appraisal of Allied bombing raids on German cities. Stempowski, while fully aware of Germany’s genocidal policies, considered the strategic bombing of civilian targets, albeit practised for the first time by the Germans, as the unjustifiable destruction of Europe’s cultural heritage.

The 1945 Diary did not remain the only reportage from post-war Germany commissioned from Stempowski by Giedroyc. In the late 1940s, and later in the 1950s and ‘60s, he travelled to Germany as a correspondent from the Literary Institute, later publishing the resultant notebooks from Germany in the pages of “Kultura” [ix]. These diaries paint a most interesting picture of German cultural life being reborn among the post-war ruins. With Giedroyc’s support, Stempowski is on the look-out for allies for the “Kultura” circle, following the trail of Germans who had been opposed to the Third Reich before 1945, such as the eminent publisher Peter Suhrkamp, with whom Stempowski made contact in Frankfurt am Main.

The attendance of Jerzy Giedroyc and Józef Czapski at the Congress for Cultural Freedom held in West Berlin in 1951 was an important event in the history of “Kultura”. At this international meeting of anti-communist, liberal intellectuals Giedroyc and Czapski met not only Bohdan Osadchuk, but also made significant allies such as François Bondy and Eugen Kogon. A German Social Democrat and editor of the monthly “Frankfurter Hefte”, Kogon counted among the most influential post-war political journalists. A former inmate of Sachsenhausen, he published the first post-war monograph on Nazi concentration camps, “Der SS-Staat” (The SS State). This study of German totalitarianism is in print to this day.

François Bondy deserves particular attention. Originating from Prague Jewry, this Swiss essayist and polyglot was for decades involved in promoting the works of “Kultura” authors in France and in the German-speaking world. It is worthwhile adding that at the second meeting of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, held in the autumn of 1950 in Brussels, Czapski and Giedroyc met two more European intellectuals who would figure in the annals of the Literary Institute: the philosopher Jeanne Hersch and the Franco-German writer Manes Sperber.

It has to be admitted, with regret, that the names I have noted of the European intellectuals well disposed towards “Kultura” are today little known to my generation. Nevertheless, it would not be possible to write an intellectual history of western Europe today without familiarity with the works of Sperber, Bondy or Jeanne Hersch. I shall add here the name of Melvin Lasky, initiator of the Congress for Cultural Freedom and editor in chief of “Encounter” and “Der Monat”. For these were the individuals who helped promote significant Polish writers such as Bruno Schulz, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz and Witold Gombrowicz. It was thanks to initiatives undertaken by Jeleński and Bondy that Gombrowicz returned to Europe in 1963. And it was also Bondy who inspired the Berlin television journalist Lore Ditzen, daughter of novelist Hans Fallada, to make the first documentary film about Czapski and “Kultura” in 1981 [x]. The 60 minute documentary was commissioned by Sender Freies Berlin, the West German public service broadcaster. Apart from Czapski and Bondy, there are also contributions from Jerzy Giedroyc and Konstanty Jeleński.

The centre of gravity in researches to date into the history of Jerzy Giedroyc’s “Kultura” lies in its first few decades, specifically the period of intensive co-operation between Jerzy Giedroyc and Juliusz Mieroszewski. It seems to me that researchers attach little value to the journal’s issues of the latter years of the 1980s and the period since Poland regained independence, after 1989. “Kultura” in this period arouses lesser interest and one often comes across the opinion that at this time “Kultura” and the work of its editor could not be characterised by anything particularly special, and that its influence on Polish political thought was then slight.

I reject these opinions. Any reading of this last decade of “Kultura” demonstrates that it remained an outstanding cultural journal of very high quality, and also that all this time it continued to be an inspiring “political laboratory” – specifically on the subject of Poland’s relations with its neighbours. I shall offer a few examples: September 1994 brought one of the most interesting issues of the decade, a series of texts compiled by Leszek Szaruga under the title of Lost Landscapes in German Literature. He had been commissioned by Giedroyc to seek out German essays, prose pieces and poetry about the lost German heritage in the east, and also to try to find Germans who shared a common mindset with the “Kultura” circle. The German authors represented in this issue might be styled German Giedroycs, people who without disavowing their ties to the east nevertheless accepted European post-war borders, coming to terms with the loss of their fatherland: Johannes Bobrowski, Horst Bienek, Countess Marion Dönhoff, Christian von Krockow, Leoni Ossowski.

As early as the 1950s, Giedroyc was convinced that from among those who were “driven out” he would find many allies. He would seek out among German refugees those who had been citizens of the multi-ethnic Polish Republic, and who knew the Polish language. In his interviews with Barbara Toruńczyk, he would reminisce that during his trips to Germany, he noted that Germans thought of their lost cities and regions with great affection, but rarely ever spoke of returning, particularly the younger refugees [xi]. This allayed his fears of revisionist impulses among Germans from the east. Although he managed to find there many allies and well-disposed people, I am not sure whether the measure of his efforts towards building amicable Polish-German relations on the west bank of the Oder has been properly appreciated. I think that even Germans having positive attitudes towards Poles and Polish émigrés overwhelmingly thought that the activities of groups of anti-communist Poles would never contribute in any meaningful way to the fall of the Soviet bloc, to the expansion of freedom in Europe, and to the overthrow of the division of Germany. In German eyes, the key issue was rapprochement with France – the fate of their divided nation would be decided in Moscow. For the majority of the German political elites, their political horizons were limited to these two points. It is certainly true that the 1965 initiative of the Polish bishops was much appreciated, “Kultura” was known about, documents from the PPN (the clandestine Polish Independence Party) were translated, essays by Jan Józef Lipski were published, John Paul II’s courage was admired and there was much sympathy for Solidarity. However, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, one rather doubts that there was any understanding in the German Federal Republic or indeed in the other western democracies, of the importance of these ideas, initiatives and political journalism for the fate of Europe.

Jerzy Giedroyc understood perfectly the difficulties facing “Kultura” – after all, his independent initiative – in influencing the political discourse of Poland’s neighbours. Despite this, he was trying to interest the Germans in the work of his political writers to the very end. In the 1990s he was trying to interest German publishers in bringing out Mariusz Wilk’s essays from Russia. He was encouraging his correspondents in Germany to have Stempowski’s German diaries translated and published. He was convinced that the Germans should get to know Andrzej Bobkowski’s “Sketches in Pen-and-Ink”, the Paris notebooks of a Polish émigré under the German occupation, so very different from the wartime Paris journals of Ernst Jünger, then very widely read in Germany.

With much sympathetic attention, Giedroyc observed as extra-governmental initiatives sprung up in the former German lands seeking to preserve the traces of their multicultural heritage. One such was the “Borussia” Cultural Community, set up by historians and artists from Olsztyn (trans. former Allenstein). In 1996, its quarterly magazine “Borussia” – alongside Krzysztof Czyżewski’s „Krasnogruda” magazine from Sejny, and the Polish-Czech-German magazine „The Kłodzko Land” – was awarded „Kultura’s” special prize.

Giedroyc looked on with hope and goodwill as he could see how positively perceptions of democratic Poland’s neighbours were changing, thanks to the influence of social initiatives such as “Borussia” and Sejny’s “Pogranicze” (Borderland). Nevertheless, he was certain that Polish society writ large, and especially the political elites, had not wholly cast off the endecja (pre-war Polish right wing) mindset on foreign policy. In one of his last political editorials (headed Poland, Germany, What Next?) published in September 1998, he expressed apprehension at the direction Polish foreign policy was taking [xii]. Interestingly, in the same issue he published the text of a speech by Polish president Aleksander Kwaśniewski on the difficulties in Polish-German-Jewish relations, given in Berlin while presenting the prestigious Leo-Baeck-Preis to German president Roman Herzog [xiii]. (Leo Baeck had been the leader of German Jewry during the Third Reich.)

In his analysis of Polish-German relations, Giedroyc put forward his view that it had not been possible to attain normal relations between Germans and Poles, because it had not been possible to build normal relations between German and Polish public opinion. According to him, Germans are still hostages to the Federation of Expellees and its perspectives on the matter of the lost territories, whereas Poles are hostages to their experience of the war, and moreover, and more importantly, to the endecja way of thinking. He stressed that it was true that from the perspective of 1998, it appeared that the influence both of endecja thinking on the Polish side and of the Federation of Expellees on the German side was less than before 1989, although they could both regain their popularity and once again become key reference points for the political elites in both countries.

To lessen the impact of this dangerous legacy, Jerzy Giedroyc made two proposals. The first was to intensify dialogue between historians to carry out objective research into the circumstances of the forcible expulsion and resettlement of Germans from Poland, and to bring out a book on the subject. Because the last years have produced no lack of research projects on the subject of the expulsions, today’s problem is not the lack of knowledge or the state of current research, but the lack of its utilisation by the political elites. I believe that – from today’s perspective – Giedroyc’s second proposal is more important.

It dealt with “educating Polish public opinion”. This idea, which has not lost its immediacy but on the contrary gained in significance, I shall set out using Giedroyc’s own words: “Holding conversations with expellees is only one element of the work required to attain fully normal German-Polish relations. What is required must be to educate Polish public opinion, to teach Poles to see in their neighbours – not only in Germans, but also in Russians and Ukrainians – not past and potential invaders but future allies. Twenty five years ago, the Polish bishops had the courage to say ‘we forgive you and ask for your forgiveness’. Why does the Catholic Church not do systematic battle with xenophobia, which is manifestly contrary to the injunction to love our neighbour? Why does it not dissuade the faithful from practising the morality of Kali (trans. moral relativism, the reference is to a fictional character in Sienkiewicz), why does it not explain that when they demand rights for the Polish minority in Russia, then they must not deny those same rights to minorities in Poland? Why is it that politicians who identify as Catholics and Poles are not repudiated when they give utterance to views which anywhere else in Europe would be regarded as disgraceful and worthy of ostracism?

Another condition of having normal relations with Germany and with our other neighbours is the eradication of pathological nationalism from Polish public opinion. And that we can do only ourselves” [xiv].


[i] Jerzy Giedroyc – Melchior Wańkowicz, Correspondence 1945-1963, Warsaw 2000, p. 226.


[ii] The topic of Polish-German relations was developed further in “Kultura’s” pages by Leszek Szaruga and Marian S. Wolański. cf. Leszek Szaruga, Lekcja realizmu politycznego Kultury wobec „kwestii niemieckiej” (A lesson in the political realism of “Kultura” in relation to the “German question”), in: Leszek Szaruga, Węzły polsko-niemieckie (Polish-German Knots), Częstochowa 2000; Leszek Szaruga, Kultura i „przyszłe stosunki polsko-niemieckie” (“Kultura” and the future of Polish-German relations), in: Węzły polsko-niemieckie 2 (Polish-German Knots 2), Częstochowa 2003; Marian S. Wolański, Środowiska emigracyjne w Londynie i Paryżu a kwestia stosunków polsko-niemieckich (1949-1972) (Émigré Communities in London and Paris and the question of Polish-German relations 1949-1972), Wrocław 1992.


[iii] Andrzej Stach, Dalekie drogi zbliżenia – polscy i niemieccy studenci „Viadriny” (The Long Roads to Rapprochement – Polish and German students at the “Viadrina”), “Kultura” no. 10, 2000.


[iv] Juliusz Mieroszewski, Kehrt Deutschland in den Osten zurück?, Berlin 1961, p. 8.


[v] Józef Mackiewicz, Niemiecki kompleks (The German Complex), Kultura, no. 1, 1956.


[vi] Juliusz Mieroszewski, Metamorfozy polsko-niemieckie (Polish-German Metamorphoses), Kultura, no. 10, 1955.


[vii] Juliusz Mieroszewski, ibid.


[viii] Paweł Hostowiec [Jerzy Stempowski], Dziennik podróży do Austrii i Niemiec (Diary of a Journey to Austria and Germany), Rome, 1946


[ix] After Jerzy Stempowski’s death, Jerzy Giedroyc published in 1971 a volume of the essays of Paweł Hostowiec, i.e. Jerzy Stempowski’s diary articles as they had appeared in “Kultura”. It was titled “Od Berdyczowa do Rzymu” (From Berdyczów to Rome), and comprised title 210 of the “Kultura Library”. Stempowski’s collected Diaries were reissued by Czarne Publishers in 2001, with the Hostowiec essays edited by Andrzej Stanisław Kowalczyk, and titled “Od Berdyczowa do Lafitów” (From Berdyczów to Maisons-Laffitte).


[x] Lore Ditzen, Das Zeugnis des Josef Czapski. Ein Pole im Pariser Exil, Berlin, SFB 1981.


[xi] Barbara Toruńczyk, Rozmowy w Maisons-Laffitte, 1981 (Conversations at Maisons-Laffitte, 1981), Warsaw 2006, p. 128.


[xii] Editorial [Jerzy Giedroyc], Polska, Niemcy, co dalej? (Poland, Germany, What Next?), Kultura, no. 9, 1998.


[xiii] Berlińskie przemówienie Prezydenta RP (The Polish President’s Berlin Speech), Kultura, no. 9, 1998.


[xiv] In his editorial, Jerzy Giedroyc gave the wrong date for the letter of the Polish bishops. The message came into being in 1965, and not at the beginning of the 1970s as stated. Editorial [Jerzy Giedroyc], Polska, Niemcy, co dalej? (Poland, Germany, What Next?), Kultura, no. 9, 1998.



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