Zdjęcie Juliusza Mieroszewskiego na biurku Redaktora. / Sygn. AG_7333

A Disposition for the Political...


Czesław Miłosz

Pisarz, Poeta, Publicysta
Born: 30 June 1911 in Sztejnie (now Šeteniai, Lithuania)
Died: 14 August 2004 in Kraków
Pseudonim: K., (m.), m., M.K., N, L., Czeslaw Milosz, Czesław Miłosz

Henryk Giedroyc

Born 12 January 1922 (Warsaw)
Died 21 March 2010 (Maisons-Laffitte)
Pseudonim: Dudek, Henryk Giedroyc

Jerzy Giedroyc

Born 27 July 1906 in Minsk (now Belarus)
Died 14 September 2000 in Maisons-Laffitte (France)
Pseudonim: Redaktor, Jerzy Giedroyc

Jerzy Stempowski

Pisarz, Publicysta
Born: 10 December 1893 in Kraków
Died: 4 October 1969 in Bern
Pseudonim: Leon Furatyk, Paweł Hostowiec, P.H., Paolo Hostowiec, Paul Hostowiec, Jerzy Łysina (z Zbigniewem Małeckim), Cyryl Doroteusz Mordęga, Jerzy Stempowski

Józef Czapski

Pisarz, Publicysta, Artysta
Born: 3 April 1896 in Prague
Died: 12 January 1993 in Maisons-Laffitte
Pseudonim: Marek Sienny, J. Cz., Józef Czapski

Juliusz Mieroszewski

Pisarz, Publicysta, Korespondent
Born: 3 February 1906 in Kraków
Died: 21 June 1976 in London
Pseudonim: J. Mier., J.M., Jul. Mier., Londyńczyk, L., Lon., Julius Mieroszewski, Julius Mieroszewski, J. Mieroszewski, „Londyńczyk” Juliusz Mieroszewski, Juliusz Mieroszewski

Maria Czapska

ur. 6 lutego 1894 w Pradze
zm. 11 czerwca 1981 w Maisons-Laffitte
Pseudonim: M.S., M.B., M. Cz., Maria Strzałkowska, Maria Czapska

Melchior Wańkowicz

Pisarz, Publicysta
ur. 10 stycznia 1892 r. w Kalużycach na Mińszczyźnie
zm. 10 września 1974 r. w Warszawie
Pseudonim: Melchior Wańkowicz

Wacław Alfred Zbyszewski

Publicysta, Pisarz
ur. 2 maja 1903 r. w Bokijówce na Ukrainie
zm. 2 lipca 1985 r. w Paryżu
Pseudonim: Krzysztof Nienaski, Józef Pretwic, W.A.Z., Zb., Z., Wacław Alfred Zbyszewski

Zofia Hertz

Born: 27 February 1910 in Warsaw
Died: 20 June 2003 in Maisons-Laffitte
Pseudonim: Zofia Hertz

Zygmunt Hertz

Born 18 January 1908 in Warsaw
Died 5 October 1979 in Maisons-Laffitte
Pseudonim: Zygmunt Hertz

Gustaw Herling-Grudziński

Pisarz, Poeta, Publicysta
Born: 20 May 1919 in Kielce (Poland)
Died: 4 July 2000 in Naples (Italy)
Pseudonim: Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, G.H.G., Wiśniewski, G. H., Gustaw Herling-Grudziński

A chapter from Andrzej S. Kowalczyk’s book “Wena do polityki. O Giedroyciu i Mieroszewskim” (A Disposition for the Political. On Giedroyc and Mieroszewski) published by Więź, 2014, vol.1. Published with the author’s permission. This piece has been given its title by the editors.

The original chapter title was:

“That first topsy-turvy home in Maisons-Laffitte – something of a nobleman’s sleigh ride, something of Michalik’s Den” (trans. Michalik’s Den is a café opened in 1895 in Kraków, it was for a time the home of the subversive “Green Balloon” cabaret, and a favourite meeting place of writers and artists.) [1]


The first issue of “Kultura” was the last publication undertaken by Instytut Literacki (The Literary Institute) in Rome. The decision to move to Paris had already been taken. Rome was off the beaten track travelled by Poles and, therefore, had not become a centre for Polish émigré life. The city also had its deficiencies – an inefficient postal service, malfunctioning telephone lines, and a tax regime which inflicted taxes seemingly according to whim. Rome seemed provincial. The Italian communist party was all-powerful exerting great influence on the tenor of public life. [2] The decision to move was taken at the beginning of 1947. In March of the same year Czapski wrote to Vincenz: “As for Giedroyc, his subordinate, our friend Gustaw Grudziński writes that he is ‘working like a doe eyed slave driver’. The ‘slave driver’ will be returning soon and it is more than possible he will wander off out of Rome to Paris with the whole Institute and its possessions. All this promises real gloom as far as my own work is concerned. This place will turn into a convention of various Polish tigers – I fear we shall chew each other up. But then perhaps a new Tribune des Pueples will be born and not just another backyard circular”[3].

While still in Rome the contents of the next issue of “Kultura” were decided –this was now printed in Paris and it had assumed a new  format[4]. An editorial note at the front of the second issue appealed for a subscription base of 3,000, as this was the threshold which would enable “Kultura” to come out monthly. Mention was made of the general dwindling readership among émigré Poles, brought about not only through their impoverished circumstances, but also through “a crisis of confidence in the written word” brought about by an “unending sequence of political disappointments” in the previous years. “Kultura” became a monthly as of its third issue – a quarterly journal in émigré circumstances was seen as making little sense. The editorial note carried another important message concerning the need for a new dialogue among Poles who “live, work, and pursue creative activities in Poland, and those who have consciously chosen to become political émigrés”. In “Odrodzenie” (Re-birth), a weekly published in Poland, only the matter of the émigré crisis of readership was reported together with the appeal for a subscription base of 3,000. The author of the Odrodzenie piece forecast that both “Kultura” and émigré literature would be short-lived given that the truly popular authors had long returned to Poland, while those who had remained abroad rarely engaged in writing, or if they did, they “amounted to zero”[5]. In “Dziś i Jutro” (Today and Tomorrow) published in Warsaw, Dominik Horodyński characterized “Kultura” as “undeniably the best journal of the post-war emigration”[6].

The “Odrodzenie” article had largely got it right. The crisis of émigré cultural institutions was widespread. They lacked official funding, resources had either been squandered or embezzled, while public interest in matters cultural was also on the wane. With the liquidation of the property of the Polish Government-in-Exile, funds were re-allocated to four political parties, with no recognition of other institutional recipients, including those bound up with Polish cultural needs[7]. Zygmunt Nowakowski wrote – not without irony – that it was easier for someone to secure a grant to purchase a machine for the repair of laddered stockings, than for a writer to be assisted with the purchase of a typewriter, even though both were tools of their respective trades. “Let’s not make ourselves into even greater old duffers than we already are” he admonished his fellow countrymen and suggested a voluntary donation of one shilling per person per annum towards a Culture Fund[8]. In a subsequent, much more pointed, article Nowakowski wrote about the catastrophe of émigré reading habits – out of a book run of two thousand copies only 30 books had been purchased, the London “Wiadomości” (News) had only a few hundred subscribers, and the UK subscription base for “Kultura” was merely 200. Polish theatrical productions were attended by approximately 30 people, though it was calculated that 165,000 Poles had remained in England, with 30,000 of them resident in London. “But then why do we need independent Polish journals – wrote Nowakowski with bitter irony – why do we need Polish books, our own literature and artistic endeavour? […] Might it not be better to pass through quietly, slowly, without leaving a mark, to melt away without any sign of memories, of ambitions, of desires, and of a voice – as with those transient villages on the banks of faraway African rivers? We could just wait for the end days while consuming our daily bread […] so that future archaeologists will discover that all we left behind was a great big empty NOTHING.”[9].

Politically the émigré Poles were entering a very difficult period. The “National Accord” proclaimed by prime minister Tomasz Arciszewski towards the end of 1944 was short-lived. In June 1947 Władysław Raczkiewicz the Polish President-in-Exile died and new conflict ensued between the National Democrats (ND) and the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) concerning Raczkiewicz’s succession. The PPS would not recognize the new president August Zaleski, and in June 1947 together with other left wing and centrist parties established the “Democratic Focus?” in opposition to the new president and government. Without the support of all political parties the very idea of the National Council (Rada Narodowa), regarded as the émigré parliament, was brought into question. The inability to compromise, constant skirmishing, a cavalier attitude to established norms, the loss of credibility of political leaders and parties, general intrigue and squabbling soon compromised the concept of “legalism” – the extension of the pre-war Polish state and political authority in exile[10].


In July 1947 the Hertzes began to organize the move to Maisons-Laffitte near Paris where since 1945 Józef Czapski was heading a unit of the Second Polish Corps and Ministry for Information. Giedroyc had left for Paris earlier while Zygmunt Hertz set about procuring a railway wagon from the British into which the Institute’s book repository was packed together with the personal possessions of Giedroyc and the Hertzes. Zofia and Zygmunt Hertz arrived in Paris on 13 October – the city was paralysed by a general strike. Their railway wagon was marooned on some Parisian siding to be opened only when it reached Maisons-Laffitte. They took a room at the Hotel Minerva on the rue des Écoles in the Latin Quarter – its size made any prospect of work impossible. “The room was so small”, recalled Zosia Hertz, “that when I wanted to open the wardrobe Zygmunt had to lie down on the bed. There was no possibility of typing as there was nowhere to place a typewriter”[11]. The idea of renting, let alone buying an apartment, was beyond the realms of possibility. Paris was intensely depressing, unlike Rome which had soon regained its lustre after the war. “Poor dark city” reminisced Zofia[12]. Bread was rationed, and from 1 September the daily ration had been reduced to 200 grams per person[13].

France was in deep social crisis. It had lost its standing as power, its colonial empire was under threat. The economy could not achieve pre-1939 levels of production, the population of the country was falling. Only American assistance via the Marshall plan was saving the French economy from total collapse. The communists, who had gained 25% of the vote in the general election, had become a force in French politics and from 1944 held posts in the government, from which – as a pugnacious and de-stabilizing element – they were dismissed in mid-1947. They then tried to topple the government by calling a general strike. Deep divisions in public opinion developed – centred on radically incompatible political options. In the local elections held in October 1947, de Gaulle’s RPR came first, but the communists were nevertheless able to secure almost 30% of the vote.

A few months later, in February 1948, a communist putsch in Czechoslovakia ended the first phase in the integration of the Eastern Bloc. Stalin now controlled all the countries the West had handed to him in Teheran and Yalta.

Many western intellectuals remained under the ideological spell of communism. Even if not party members, they nevertheless subscribed to its universal programme, believed in historical determinism, and worshipped Stalin. “It is startling and grotesque” wrote Raymond Aron in 1949, “that the European left have recognised a pyramid builder as their God”[14]. Merleau-Ponty, a well known philosopher and professor of the Collège de France, wrote Humanisme et Terreur, published in 1947, which served as an apologia of Soviet policies, including the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and which justified Stalin’s use of terror as being in defence of humanistic ideals[15]. Merleau-Ponty also castigated Anglo-Saxon imperialism and deemed any criticism of the Soviet Union as warmongering. In Marxism he found a diagnosis of the human condition, delivering the truth about man and about the meaning of history. Communist sympathisers had no hesitation in denying the existence of labour camps in the Soviet Union. After the execution of the Rosenbergs in the USA for espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that the acquiescence and indifference of Americans in respect of the verdict made their country “a cradle of the new fascism […] America is a rabid country. Let us cut all our ties with it, otherwise the rabies will strike us”[16].

In France the concept of “neutralism” was a popular idea. There was antipathy towards the Atlantic Pact. Left wing (by no means all communist) and Catholic journalists expressed their aversion to the USA in the name of European identity. The editor-in-chief of  “Le Monde” and the journalist Hubert Beuve-Méry both considered that the USA was a greater threat to France than either Germany or the Soviet Union[17]. The eminent historian Lucien Febvre bemoaned the aggressiveness of Americans whose “brutal designs in the fields of science, culture and education” must be countered by the French at ... UNESCO conferences. “For the past three years, we have been in constant collision with a determined and systematic policy of strangling our language and ideas”[18]. Many believed that Stalinism and “American imperialism” represented an equal danger to Europe and should be confronted with equal vigour. In April 1953, in the Catholic journal “Esprit”, Jean-Marie Domenach published a call to arms to west Europeans against “American hegemony and its German stand-in”[19].

The intellectual climate in France, according to Tony Judt, was as provincial as in other European countries, though because of an influx of émigrés to Paris the city had again become a cosmopolitan centre, “a natural European home for the dispossessed intellectual, an information bureau of contemporary European thought and political ideas”[20].


The departure from Rome, without doubt a necessity, was for Giedroyc a step into the unknown, perhaps even more difficult than leaving Poland in 1939 or enlisting in the army in 1941. Although he was officially still a serviceman, the protective umbrella of the Second Polish Corps had ceased to exist. The new post-war Polish diaspora was starting to self-organise, its intellectuals and creatives were associating themselves with various new academic and cultural initiatives. The ésprit de corps of the exiled community was increasingly becoming the subject of their writing. Its guiding principles were being established by the “niezłomni” (the “indomitables”) such as Tymon Terlecki, Stefania Zahorska, Zygmunt Nowakowski, Ryszard Piestrzycki, and Zdzisław Stahl. However, Jerzy Giedroyc had no wish to publish a journal which would become yet another émigré wayside chapel. He was not interested in the traditional editorial formulas of the day – “Wiadomości” (News), the ex-combatants’ “Orzeł Biały” (White Eagle), the revisionist “Lwów and Wilno”, the Catholic “Życie” (Life), the National Democrat’s “Myśl Polska” (Polish Thought), or the Piłsudskiites’ “Za Wolność i Niepodległość” (For Freedom and Independence”). Giedroyc also had no intention of attaching himself to the Polish émigré establishment in London or solely to express the views of conservative Poles, in fact their émigré rhetoric irritated him[21]. At the same time he felt unable to assume the role of a humble bookshop owner and occasional publisher, the life chosen by Kazimierz Romanowicz, the owner of the Libella bookshop in Paris, who had also begun his activities under the auspices of the Second Polish Corps. In 1947 Giedroyc amounted to little on the public stage, and he could not have aspired to any serious position in the London-based Polish world of publishing. And anyway, all the openings had already been filled.

Giedroyc’s decision to proceed as an independent venture was doubtless made easier by the presence and steadfast loyalty of the Hertzes and Józef Czapski. The painter’s French contacts, his social talents and personal charm were to prove invaluable to him, especially in those first years in Maisons-Laffitte and Paris[22]. Giedroyc had poor French; he could read the language but not speak it; he was unable to read or speak English or German. How would he have managed without the two polyglots, Zofia and Zygmunt Hertz? He hadn’t the first idea about bookkeeping. Running a private company in normal circumstances, (as opposed to those in occupied Italy), was no straightforward challenge either, on top of which would be meetings with wary and scrupulous French tax officials, and the need to manoeuvre through the complexities of commercial law and tax rules. How would Giedroyc have fared without Zosia who had an instinctive understanding of these matters? And what of relations with printers and other publishers, proof reading, looking after the subscription base, general office correspondence and the postage of thousands of copies of the journal and, in time, books which all ran into hundreds of kilograms of weight? Who would have taken all of this on board for a paltry wage if the Hertzes were to disappear? It has to be said that Giedroyc could not have planned a future without the friendship and selfless loyalty of a handful of people. Without these, the second beginning of “Kultura” in France would have been unthinkable.

The “Kultura” team, based as it was on bonds of friendship, was a rare phenomenon in the émigré world. The “indomitables”, in fact others as well, worked to a different pattern of social organization. The “State” option (the President and Government-in-Exile), the political parties, the ex-combatants’ associations were imbued with a hierarchical ethos, official and formal in character. Mieroszewski, when writing that Lidia Ciołkoszowa and Maria Danilewicz, were worthy of praise for their objectivity and common sense, also noted that the political life of the London Poles was stagnant as a result of the anti-feminism of its “leaders”: “What a refreshing change it would make for the Rada Trzech (The Council of Three which represented the opposition to the disputed second-term presidency of August Zaleski) if its venerable generals were retired in favour of Lidia Ciołkoszowa and Maria Danilewiczowa. I fear, however, that it would be hard to enlist them given their very pronounced … common sense”[23]. The nub of the matter was that émigré Poles were dominated by latter day politicians and demobilized soldiers, both groups habituated to discipline and a structured modus operandi, attentive to rules and regulations. There was no lack of active Polish women in the community, but the “political émigré” was a man. Such a patriarchy was inconceivable in “Kultura” and the male-female tandem of two strong personalities delivered robust results. “Zosia Hertz has this infernal vitality and inexhaustible energy” – enthused Zbyszewski – “If perhaps Giedroyc could have found another proof reader, typist, secretary, administrator, cook and lady of the house in the one person, it would have been a miracle. But he could surely never ever have found such a dynamo, such a charge of initiative – for I declare that no such other human being exists in the whole of Poland”[24].

Czapski suggested that the homeless “Kultura” team should take on the rental of a villa in Maisons-Laffitte, a town on the Seine with several thousand inhabitants. It was situated some 30 kilometres north-west of Paris. The town was not without its advantages – sufficiently distant from the capital to deter casual visitors, but with a direct rail link to the Gare Saint-Lazare ensuring good communications with Paris.

The villa had been in German hands during the occupation and was subsequently taken over by the Second Polish Corps. Its cellars served as a store for surplus army provisions with which Poles in Paris could be assisted at a time of severe rationing. Giedroyc and the Hertzes arrived in Maisons-Laffitte on 31 October 1947. The house held much promise but at the outset offered little – first and foremost rubble and rubbish had to be removed from its interior – there was nowhere to sleep or even to lay out one’s things. The villa had been totally trashed by the Germans, recalled Zofia Hertz – “door and window frames had been ripped out, the place was filthy, the drawing room showed remnants of a bonfire, a part of the house was literally in ruins”. Their first night was spent clearing space for basic living. They got to know the house bit by bit as they cleared away the debris, and only found the kitchen after several months[25].

After installing themselves in Maisons-Laffitte and publishing the second issue of “Kultura”, they took stock – no income could be expected, there were no subscribers, books from their repository were failing to sell, and the journal had been sent out free of postal charges. All they had was the Institute’s initial capital, derived from the sale of their OGI printing press in Rome[26]. After calculating all fixed outgoings such as printing costs, the price of paper (which was very expensive and purchased on the black market), their rent and the cost of electricity, water, etc, they decided each would receive a monthly salary of 15 thousand francs. The figure was close to the French minimum wage. In subsequent years it rose in keeping with inflation, but always fluctuated around the salaire minimal.

Gustaw Herling Grudziński had not relocated to France. Previously it rather looked as if he might remain in Italy – he was engaged to Lidia Croce, the daughter of the philosopher Benedetto Croce, whom he had met though Józef Czapski. However, when, the painter Krystyna Domańska arrived from Poland, he broke the engagement and married Krystyna, with Zygmunt Hertz as their witness and Zofia organising the wedding reception. In the summer of 1947 the newlyweds left for London. Giedroyc had sought to persuade Herling to relocate to France and renewed his invitation from Maisons-Laffitte – he valued Herling as an up-and-coming young author. Herling, however, was reluctant to immerse himself and his wife in the strike-bound and chaos-ridden French world and suggested he could collaborate with Maisons-Laffitte from London. Giedroyc agreed and offered Herling a salary equal to that being drawn by each member of the “Kultura” team. Herling, however, wished to co-edit the journal and put forward a condition – that he should be able to read all the material sent in for possible publication in “Kultura”. Giedroyc had no intention of consulting anyone about the contents of the journal and declined. Relations were severed[27]. Czapski wrote to Stanisław Vincenz commenting on an article written by Herling for “Wiadomości”: “I was troubled by Grudziński’s public statement […] he is a valuable person who indeed owes the same Giedroyc a great deal. How many times did I witness in the army how Jerzy spared no effort to intervene on Gustaw’s behalf – to assist in general, to improve his working conditions, to secure leave, to publish a book by him, etc? And now, all it needed was a falling out with Jerzy (over his salary!), for Grudziński to immediately come out with this”[28].

Zofia Hertz’s letter of September 1947 to Jerzy Giedroyc offers additional light on the break with Herling; it is set against a backdrop of the interpersonal relations within the Institute when it was still in Rome: “I am really beginning to regret, that following in the footsteps of your other collaborators, I did not choose the course of least resistance – for if I had, I would have looked less of a shrew and slept more soundly. This morning I received a call from Sznarbachowski who informed me that he had received a letter from Gustaw […]. Among other things Gustaw writes, and I quote precisely: ‘In principle Giedroyc and I have agreed, that for the first few months I shall latch on to something in London, and we shall edit “Kultura” on a London-Paris axis. Only later would I relocate to Paris, after securing a [British] Travel Document which would give me the right to pull out to England if disaster struck.’ [underlining by ZH] Well I don’t know how you view the way he describes your arrangement, but as for me, I have no intention of working for the upkeep of any geniuses or poets who know nothing about everyday life, but are nevertheless very capable of taking out specific insurance against their possible retreat. I do not know whether Gustaw has been totally spoilt by you – we have warned you about this on several occasions – or is it because he has found himself a lucrative little position in London. Or is it perhaps because you, with your inbred magnanimity, have promised him a salary in London up to the time we find and adapt a place of his own in Paris – in other words, it is only after we have done the run around, slaved away, worked ourselves silly to make all the arrangements and, of course, after we have furnished him with the appropriate entry documents and money for his journey, that Gucio will deign to come to Paris. I must warn you in all loyalty that the food deliveries, the sharing out of things, the little extras for his wife, etc – all of which Gustaw gratefully received with no thought of any recompense – have come to an end. These times are over. You know well that I have nothing against Gustaw personally and had wanted the comrade-writer to come to Paris to be with us, in spite of the fact that he would have definitely proven to be something of a liability. But if a cynic, and not just a lazy-bones, is beginning to ooze out of the comrade – then even for me that is a little too much. I am altogether dégoûté. I would want to believe, however, that you have established a looser form of collaboration with Gustaw, by which I mean that you will pay him for work he has actually done, and not for work which he has failed to complete – as hitherto. Perhaps you will find my reasoning strange, but I am upset and beginning to feel exhausted.” And then comes the punch line delivered with her customary éclat: “Szanrbachowski floored me completely. Having shared the above [ ... ] from Gustaw’s letter and after hearing my expressions of amazement at Gustaw’s attitude, he replied: ‘I don’t follow, why are you so surprised, Gustaw has to think of the future, after all he has a wife’ Obviously, I am an evil fairy, or a viper, or something like that ... if not just a boorish donkey and beast of burden”[29].

Thus Giedroyc was confronted with a veto from his co-workers, who were unwilling to continue tolerating Herling-Grudziński’s privileged position in the team. Nonetheless, Gustaw’s decision to leave the Institute and remain in London was his own. “I am very surprised by Gustaw – wrote Zofia Hertz to Giedroyc – but we should stick to the principle that “when the fat woman gets off the cart it’s lighter work for the horses”. If he doesn’t want to come, too bad. Let’s not worry about it”[30].

Although Herling had decided not to go to France, Giedroyc retained the hope that he would continue to collaborate. In November 1947 he sought to secure a grant from minister Pragier in London for Herling to continue writing and assist in editing “Kultura” He stressed that he judges Herling to be “[…] the greatest and most promising talent among the younger generation of émigré writers”[31].

In June 1949 Czapski closed the Second Polish Corps premises at 174 rue de l’Université and moved into the “Kultura” house[32]. His sister Maria Czapska, who had got out of Poland in 1945, had already found refuge there.

Giedroyc’s brother Henryk joined the “Kultura” team in 1952. He had settled in London after the war hoping to acquire a grant to complete the polytechnic studies he had begun in Italy. He spent two unsuccessful years in pursuit of the grant and undertook a variety of jobs. Jerzy Giedroyc tried to help his brother with the grant, but all attempts came to nothing. In many ways Henryk was the opposite of Jerzy – he was reserved, contemplative, did not engage in politics, and led a private life. In 1966 he married the Italian Leda Pasquali (who died in 2002) and they made their home in Paris. In “Kultura” he busied himself with administrative tasks and took charge of the subscriptions department. As a talented photographer he documented life in the first “Kultura” house on avenue Corneille in Maisons-Laffitte. He died in 2010.

The “Kultura” team chose a simple, transient existence in the service of matters of great moment, which became increasing difficult to define as time progressed. They saw their endeavour not as a rampart or redoubt, still less as a symbol of anything, but as a workshop, an editorial office, a publishing house, a meeting place for Europeans concerned for the eastern part of their continent. They could, like the majority of post-war émigrés, have concentrated exclusively on their own material welfare and participated in that great post-war regeneration of Western Europe, but they chose a different road – for a private existence, a life of material satisfaction and possessions would not have satisfied them[33].


In Jerzy Giedroyc’s letters and within the pages of “Kultura” Maisons-Laffitte is but a place name and a point on a map showing road and rail communications. However, “Kultura’s” contributors and friends paid the town considerably more attention.

Twenty years after the event Stempowski wrote that “the relocation from Rome to Paris seems to testify that ‘Kultura’ was born under a lucky star.” Indeed, few places could perhaps better suit contemplation in the face of a historical catastrophe. In this small town three epochs are clearly discernible, each divided from each other by years of violent change, upheavals like earthquakes in their power. Continuity and its absence are both equally visible – and equally striking – here.

The first layer is the 17th century palace and its park. The chateau was designed by the great François Mansart for the Marquis de Longueil. Its guests included Louis XIV and Voltaire who nursed his smallpox within the palace walls. After the French Revolution the chateau was purchased by marshal Lannes who hosted Napoleon there. After the Restoration it was bought by the banker Jacques Laffitte. The victorious bourgeoisie retained the palace but ruined the park – one of the most beautiful expressions the 17th century folie de grandeur. Laffitte – seeking a return on his investment – broke up the park into lots for development, retaining only the main avenues. The villas now standing among the old trees are like fungi growing off the carcass of a felled oak. […]

The last layer is that part of the town which was created by the petit bourgeoisie in the inter-war years. This chaotic development of two storey houses was built on a budget. Their ugliness is both sad and surprising – the new development has nothing in common with the delightful building traditions of the past. Continuity had been severed. However, the time of the petit bourgeoisie is coming to an end. Here and there modern housing blocks are now being erected for the new inhabitants of Maisons-Laffitte who do not aspire to owning a house with a minuscule garden.

This procession of centuries begs this question of a political émigré. Will Warsaw and Kraków also suffer such deep changes?”[34]

Maisons-Laffitte is famous for its horse racing track which prompted Kajetan Morawski to write: “The most prestigious French stables for racehorses are to be found under the leafy boughs of Maisons-Laffitte. We have just the one horse there, a very noble nag called ‘Kultura’, sired by ‘Bunt’ out of ‘Polityka’. I wish our editor a firm presence in the saddle, and as in days of yore, without looking to the left or to the right, to attack his fences with gusto”[35].

Wacław Zbyszewski sought to describe the ambience of Maisons-Laffitte in an essay about the “Kultura” team. In all probability the town looked much as he described it, when Giedroyc and the Hertzes spent their first winter there:

“Outside – the December cold. It already gets dark by 4:00 pm. An icy wind blows in from the Atlantic, but somehow it’s always as if underpinned by the forthcoming thaw and the barest scent of spring. In the streets of Maisons-Laffitte, shadowy figures complete their last purchases before retiring home to rest […]. Coming back from the town […] one walked along avenues punctuated with the villas of the wealthy bourgeoisie de la belle époque; but the broken fencing, unpainted railings, and untended pathways gave mute testimony to the social and economic upheavals of the stormy 20th century. Then there was a small copse to be carefully negotiated in the dark, avoiding trees, hedges, bushes and ditches; and on every occasion I had braved the thickets and was hurrying to the gate of ‘my own’ little patch of Maisons-Laffitte, I breathed more freely and felt a weight fall from my heart […]. Once on the path to the house, where usually only a few lights were on, I broke into a lively pace to hear the affectionate young pup Black barking […] it brought to the house a feeling of home, of one’s own nest. After December’s foul weather even the cold entrance hall seemed warm and cosy. Just to the left was a dilapidated bathroom where one could wash ones hands in freezing water”[36].

Zbyszewski remembered the “Kultura” house on avenue Corneille as an “old ramshackle building with a turret, balcony, terrace, glazed veranda, and all the bad taste of the 19th century. However, because of its patina the villa had assumed a romantic charm, the grace of a bygone time. The building was surrounded by an overgrown garden with a shady avenue; nettles had taken over the lawns and flowerbeds; the blackened walls, spreading trees, thickets of bushes, shady groves, crumbling stucco brought to mind many a Polish manor house”[37]. Indeed, the garden was extensive running to almost 7,000 square metres. It was unkempt, but very picturesque. And it isolated the house from its surroundings and kept out noise, ensuring tranquility. In time, a small kitchen garden was added, with a few beds of strawberries. A chestnut tree with its pink blossoms offered shade on hot afternoons. A small table stood beneath it. There, we took coffee[38].

A similar image of the town, the house and its neighbourhood has been left by Czesław Miłosz: “...that first “Kultura” house […] an uncomfortable pavillon of great ugliness and with it the cold of the suburban Parisian winter which could hardly be tempered by the cracked chaudières fired with coal. And that neighbourhood of endless chestnut tree avenues with heaps of dead leaves – all in all something of the 19th century in Tver or Sarajevo”[39].

A quite different impression was gained by Jerzy Stempowski in 1949, who came to like the house and the locality. He even considered a permanent move to Paris, but presumably not to avenue Corneille itself – he was not particularly suited to living in a collective. In a letter to his father he wrote: “I am staying with friends in an old and partly destroyed villa located in a run-down park with very large trees. It is all so beautiful that even Paris, only a 30 minute journey away, has no pull. The place is ideal for putting pen to paper [...]I would gladly spend the whole of the summer here”[40].

One of the largest rooms on the ground floor, on the right from the entrance hall, became the library. The contrast between the state of the house and the exceptional organization of the books was striking. Zbyszewski recalled: “The sight of the dust-free books, so lovingly collected and meticulously catalogued, ranged on long shelves up to the ceiling – in a house bereft of furniture, lacking in heating, essentially without anything – only intensified the feeling of the challenge which had been thrown out to the world, to the times, to life itself; it seemed to deepen the sense of absurdity, but at the same time made more acute the experience of being in a magical place”[41]. At times the library would double up as a guest room and, among others, Zbyszewski himself slept here: “Taken in by Giedroyc, my room is the library – two storeys high. I sleep on an iron camp bed with army issue blankets. In the middle of the room is a smoky iron wood burner of antediluvian vintage, with Its long sheet metal flue emitting thumping noises as it weaves out towards the window, where wrapped in old newspapers it breaks out through the draughty glazing to belch out the smoke. With numb hands, I bring logs from the cellar and then every hour or so with some difficulty feed the burner one log at a time […] what joy when that cooling iron box bursts with flames once again! After which, clad in three jumpers and a short overcoat, with a blanket across my feet, I huddle up in a crooked chair, as close as I can to the wood burner, and bury myself in Proust or Baudelaire”[42]. Heating was the weakest aspect of the house: “Winter was a nightmare” – recalled Zofia Hertz – “chopping wood, carrying log buckets, removing the ashes, the constant dust and dirt, your hands black with unremitting regularity; in two rooms a heat wave, in another utter cold; the hall, the stairway and the bathroom three times as icy as outside. And so, throughout eight winters, I had perpetual flu”[43].

The house had ten large rooms all looking out on trees. Józef Czapski’s studio was on the ground floor next to the library. The third ground floor room was the office. Giedroyc occupied two small rooms on the half landing, the second half landing belonged to Maria Czapska, while the Hertzes had the run of the top floor. A number of other rooms were for guests, who enjoyed coming to stay at avenue Corneille. All the rooms in the house had a good layout. The most important space in the house was the kitchen where both residents and guests congregated. Its walls were tiled white and a large wooden table, with an oilcloth covering, took up most of the room. The kitchen served many purposes – from the preparation of meals, eating, editorial and accounting activities, as well as for social gatherings. Zbyszewski remembered Zosia Hertz’s voice calling out from the kitchen: “Supper, supper is ready”. He also noted: “That kitchen was close to my heart, it was the warmest place in that strange house”. The kitchen was very much the domain of Zofia Hertz. Here, men assumed subsidiary roles at her side, such as cleaning up and washing the dishes. But what to make for a meal? In Rome the “Kultura” team had access to various canteens and eating places. The only culinary capability Zofia had brought from Italy to France was brewing coffee. It was, therefore, agreed that tomato soup would be acceptable to all, and once its ingredients had been established and purchased, Zofia Hertz placed the vegetables, the meat and the rice in a pot, covered them with water and cooked them. It tasted good, and tomato soup became a staple on avenue Corneille until someone with more developed cooking skills arrived and enlightened the culinary novices. Meals were always accompanied by a glass of dry red wine[44].

The residents would congregate in the kitchen twice a day. After the meal correspondence would be opened and current events discussed. Here also, recalled Zbyszewski, the forthcoming issues of “Kultura” were planned, subscription projections were calculated, new publishing projects were advanced, old friends were discussed and old times remembered. “Giedroyc would sit at the head of the table opposite the only window. No longer young, no longer the promising young man, no longer the precocious child, but a mature man with prematurely white hair, slightly playing the patriarch – intent, dignified, noble, rarely smiling, rather carrying a pained demeanour, often speaking with a croaking voice. I recall how his eyebrows would sometimes bristle up and an aggrieved look contort his face, as he offered a tight lipped comment on something he had just read: ‘After this last increase in paper costs, I really don’t know whether we shall be able to publish the next issue of “Kultura”’– a graveyard silence would fill the humble kitchen, until Zygmunt Hertz disrupted the apocalyptic mood with Warsaw jokes ‘as old as the hills’. And it worked, the spell was broken, a glass of le rouge did the rest, and incidental chatter resumed – that so-and-so is a dog, which was then contradicted by someone in defence of “the dog”, and so on. In short, life assumed its natural course and even occasionally a smile would break out on Giedroyc’s overcast face”[45].

The decision to continue the Institute’s activities and the joint relocation to Maisons-Laffitte carried consequences for the lives of all concerned. The Hertzes had to decide whether they would wish to have a family. In 1947 Zofia had turned 36 and Zygmunt 39. Zofia Hertz recalled how the decision to forgo children seemed natural to both of them: “The idea was completely out of the question … everything was out of kilter, the war, everything”. They owned nothing, they made no plans, their work for “Kultura” absorbed them totally[46].

If not for the Institute, the Hertzes could easily have found employment and rebuilt their life at least at a reasonable level. For Giedroyc, however, the Institute was the only way out of a post-war impasse. He lacked a profession which would have laid the basis for a respectable existence in the West, and had no languages other than Polish and Russian; he had no linguistic abilities (after 50 years in France he could only read in French), and he was awkward in forging contacts; additionally, it is difficult to imagine Giedroyc as a subordinate carrying out orders given by someone else. He could have functioned solely within the Polish émigré community but there conformity was essential, and that was a trait alien to him. Apart from his brother, Czapski and the Hertzes, he had no one close he could rely on. Henryk was rather in need of his brother’s help, whereas Czapski had his own mission in life which he was not willing to give up and a sister Marynia, whom he supported.

Maisons-Laffitte gave Giedroyc and Czapski, who were both without spouses, a place to live and work, and staved off the spectre of emptiness and loneliness. In a letter to Wacław Zbyszewski from 1956 Giedroyc touched on this aspect of his own workaholism. The disconsolate Zbyszewski had once again been jilted by a fiancée, and his editor-friend counselled that his matrimonial quest was essentially a flight from reality: “I write about this boldly, as both of us are in a similar situation: we are afraid of loneliness, which deepens with age (with all its disillusionments) and are afraid of responsibility. Actually, you and I do not basically believe that we can deal with taking responsibility for someone else, when we are both incapable of dealing with ourselves. I daze myself with “Kultura” and the little whirlwinds it creates. You in turn, have convinced yourself that you are the victim of unrequited love.” Giedroyc saw three possible ways out of their predicament: marriage (“there is no dearth of eligible ladies”), suicide, or the identification and adoption of “a sufficiently decent” aim in life. “I myself admit that I am too much of a coward to choose one of the first two solutions, so I try and fill my emptiness with the third. It is not an ideal solution but somehow it allows me to live. My health is wanting and if I chose to, I could find ample reasons to panic and become hysterical. But then what would that achieve?”[47]

Once the new life began on avenue Corneille, a division of labour occurred although many chores were undertaken by all “Kultura” team members – starting with proofreading and basic editorial tasks, and ending with cleaning, shopping, and washing-up after meals. Czesław Miłosz offered this reminder: “Those who might be holding an issue of “Kultura” or a book published by the Literary Institute […] should for a moment think about the kitchen pots and pans, and the preparation of lunch and supper by the same three or four people responsible for editing, proofreading and despatch”[48]. Every month several thousand publications had to be sent out by post. Zbyszewski noted: “For days on end Zygmunt would, not unlike a rickshaw driver, push wheelbarrows brimming with sacks of books to the post office. I tried to help him a few times, but soon gave up: the bad state of my heart was an ideal excuse to forgo this dreadful drudgery”[49].

In Zbyszewski’s commentaries Giedroyc’s full role seems to have been overlooked. Not inclined to avowals, he did , however, feel the need to describe his situation in a letter to a friend: “I must admit that lately, I have – at times – been very unkind towards you and perhaps the tone of my letters has not been good either […] There are several reasons for this. First and foremost my general state has for some time been a source of worry for me. Quite simply, I am worn out, rushed off my feet, with nerves frayed and a great amount of troubles and private unpleasantnesses. This is not only the fault of the system of work I have adopted, but do understand, that even with an abundance of vitality, one cannot, even so, carry on like this for many years. “Kultura” may look like a well-oiled machine, but to keep it going requires total dedication. I really do have be first up in the morning and last to bed at night, wash dishes and haul around packages of books – otherwise everything will crash. I am able to exploit Zosia and Zygmunt in such an inhuman way, by continually showing (not in an explicit manner, of course) that I work more than they do and also that I do not treat them as subordinate personnel. These days, given the increased administrative work load, I do all the letter writing, anything from ten to sixteen letters a day. I also engage with finding solutions to the financial puzzles which enable the enterprise to survive without falling into serious debt in the event of a crisis. And then there is the proofreading and other things … so when it is time to settle down to think, to read, to consider editorial ideas I am – by then – in tatters”[50].

In March 1948, the “Kultura” team were officially demobilized in Calais. They had sought to delay the formality as long as they could – leaving the army meant the loss of pay and rations.

After leaving the Polish Resettlement Corps Mieroszewski began his independent life in London. For several months he worked as a sous chef in a Polish restaurant on Oxford Street. His skill as a cook almost matched his skill as a writer – stuffed tomatoes à la Mieroszewski were immensely popular. Subsequently he trained as an upholsterer and constructed divans, sofas and armchairs – the work was, however, rather strenuous and badly paid. After some eighteen months he returned to writing and began producing journalism and fiction in both Polish and English. His work was published in English magazines, and in the Polish “Orzeł Biały” and “Wiadomości”[51].

During “Kultura’s” first year in France, the journal was sent out throughout the world free of postal charges to Poles, Ukrainians and Jews. At this time Giedroyc’s name meant little even to the intelligentsia – no émigré institution stood behind his enterprise. Giedroyc’s friends, such a Wańkowicz, Vincenz, Janta-Połczyński tried to drum up subscribers, but the paid-up readership increased only slowly. It was calculated that the funds the “Kultura” team had transferred from Rome would be sufficient for no more than two years. Giedroyc counted on the journal becoming self-financing within a few years, he was determined to maintain “Kultura’s” absolute political and financial independence. To this end, there was a joint household, cost cutting, and a low cost base as all work (other than printing) was to be done in-house for low wages. What developed was something that Miłosz termed a “phalanstery”, a quasi-monastic commune, and what Andrzej Mencwel, perhaps more accurately, called a self-sufficient co-operative, and a co-operative indeed it was. There was a precedent for this type of journal publication in Poland. In Warsaw at the beginning of the 20th century Stanisław Stempowski, Ludwik Krzywicki and Stanisław Posner edited and published “Ogniwo” (The Link), a socialist weekly. They were adamant about issuing a journal which would “belong to itself, in other words to those who worked for it (Without an owner! Ni dieu, ni maître!), and printing costs were to be borne by its subscribers”[52].

Giedroyc’s new journal began under the auspices of a new epoch. “Bunt Młodych” and “Polityka” had been embedded in the main current of Polish inter-war political life – it was a time of optimism, of faith in the spiritual and material strength of the national community. Poland’s destiny lay in this strength – the Polish nation was to play an important role on the European stage, and by extension in the world. After the war, Giedroyc made no secret of his pessimism. For him, his fellow countrymen were collectively bereft of the skills necessary for the right functioning of civil society, and moreover weighed down by some sort of fatalistic immaturity – they were a wretched people. In early 1949 Józef Wittlin had expressed stupefaction that articles by Ferdynand Goetl and Jerzy Pietrkiewicz could have been published in “Kultura”. The first had been a declared fascist before the war, the second a nationalist and antisemite who had vehemently attacked Polish writers with Jewish antecedents[53]. In his response to Wittlin, Giedroyc substantiated his decision to publish by pointing out that both authors had diametrically changed their views, and also stressed his own distance from nationalist groupings: “Some years before the war I edited and published a minor journal called ‘Bunt Młodych’ and then another one called ‘Polityka’. I conducted a lonely and ineffectual battle on behalf of several causes which to me and my friends seemed fundamental. For that fruitless struggle, I paid a high price. During the early war years I suffered from the machinations of a coterie whose members included Stanisław Kot and elements of Polish intelligence. Yes, actually, the Poles are an awful nation. But then what’s the way out? Either one can come to hate the nation and disassociate from it completely, or else undertake an endeavour – despite its seeming hopelessness – to change it. I chose the second road, and that road demands much forbearance and tolerance towards others. This is not pessimism. If there is a group of people like Stempowski, Vincenz, Bobkowski, Florczak and Czapski, I believe that the struggle has meaning and that ‘Kultura’ is needed. And that is why I would so much like you to join us and assist us in this difficult task”[54].

Giedroyc’s pre-war political ideas had been addressed to the wider community. They sought to change a society demoralized by foreign subjugation into a powerful nation capable of political growth. The instrument of this change was to be the Polish state, a precise, efficient mechanism serving the common good of its loyal citizens, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or views. By 1949, the post-war Giedroyc believed that only an elite group, well aware of the “hopeless struggle” with Polish folly and degradation, could undertake one more attempt to raise the nation’s morale[55]. A similar critique was being levelled at Poles by the Polish writer Ksawery Pruszyński in his Margrabia Wielopolski (The Margrave Wielopolski) published in London in 1944. Pruszyński’s tale of this accomplished politician was intended to serve as justification for a Polish pro-Soviet orientation. Giedroyc opted for the West, but both saw their fellow compatriots as an adolescent community needing guidance from an enlightened elite. Pruszyński’s own assessment led him to deny the émigré world and to associate with the communist regime in Poland.

On the threshold of this new chapter in his life, Giedroyc rejected the tactics of the propagandist who propounds some idea, some ready-made worldview. Indeed, he had no clearly defined worldview. In a letter from 1948 he wrote: “That is why I try to present matters from all points of view wherever possible. Especially when it comes to Poland. We must always fear lest we become like the French political émigrés after their Revolution and Restoration who, set in their old ways, could not govern anew, even though they had the good fortune to return home and assume the reins of power […] As I do not have the possibility of taking part in active politics, I wish to observe and understand what is happening in Poland and evaluate how the country is evolving. I do so all the more confidently, in public, because ‘Kultura’ is not a periodical for the masses – its readership is to be found exclusively among the intelligentsia […] I am very sensitive to opinions from Poland as ‘Kultura’ in spite of all of its imperfections […] now carries weight there. […] It is my wish that the journal to be beholden only unto itself, with no-one standing behind it, and for which not some leader but I, and only I, bear responsibility” In a letter written to Melchior Wańkowicz in March 1949, Giedroyc emphasised that “Kultura”, as opposed to the London Poles, concentrates on the formulation of “positive [underlined by JG] propositions on a whole range of important issues, which are faint-heartedly avoided by others – matters such as the German question, attitudes towards the Russian nation, the federation of Europe, etc.”

His observations and experiences during the post war years only strengthened Giedroyc in his view that the inevitable fate of the London Poles would be the total erosion of their political significance. A nation constitutes an entity, its émigrés cannot constitute an alternative entity. The milieu aspiring to play a political role in Polish national politics was in fact breaking away from the rest of the émigré community, whose main aim was social advancement, the loss of pariah status, and ceasing to be a stranger in the country of their residence. The majority of the émigré community sought assimilation and by the same token negated the ideals and aims expounded by the milieu perceived as the political elite[56]. The Polish political elite in London was unable to engage with Poland politically, as it must needs pour all its energies into internal political wrangling. Small issues rose to momentous proportions, while significant matters disappeared beyond the players’ horizon. Engrossed in their own manoeuvrings and intrigues they lost a detached view of their own activities, and with it any sense of proportion[57]. Ways of doing things took on a life of their own, legal formulae were treated like magic spells, abstractions obstructed facts from view. Stanisław Zarzewski wrote that on the London scene “there ruled an atmosphere of faked values”[58].




[1] W.A. Zbyszewski, O Józefie Czapskim [On Józef Czapski]. “Wiadomości”, 1975, no.37. The author also noted, that the house on avenue Corneille “had more charm, though fewer comforts than ‘Kultura’s’ later palace (sic) also in Maisons-Laffitte – though it was rather an Anti-‘Palace of Culture’, equally certain that it held the key to the salvation of Poland, the Ukraine and all mankind, opening the gates to a golden age of Absolute Torpor”. (trans. The Palace of Culture, Stalin’s gift to the Polish nation, is a “Moscow’s seven sisters” style high rise building in Warsaw.)

[2] In the Italian general election of 1946 the communist party gained 4,350,000 votes (19%). In 1953 their share of the vote rose to 6,120,000. T. Judt noted: “Intellectual life in Italy was very politicised and closely aligned to communist theory […] It seemed that the Italians are lodged between politicized clericalism […] and political Marxism” (Powojnie. Historia Europy od roku 1945 [Postwar, A History of Europe since 1945.] trans. R. Bartołd. Dom Wyd. Rebis, Poznań 2013, p.249).

[3] Letter from Józef Czapski to Stanisław Vincenz dated 25 March 1947 (Ossolineum, Dept. of Manuscripts, II 17 618).Czapski accurately predicted that he would return to “individual work”, meaning painting, in ten years’ time.

[4] “Kultura” 2/3 (double issue) came out in November 1947. The editorial imprint did not show any names: “Kultura, edited by an Editorial Committee, Address: Librairie Libella, 12, Rue St. Louis en l’Ile. Meetings with the Editor can be applied for by post”. Jerzy Giedroyc is identified as the editor in the following issue – (1948, no.4).

[5] kyp, Kultura? Kultura?, “Odrodzenie” 1948, no.11. Czytelnik (trans. a leading communist-era publisher) compared print runs of the two journals in March/April – the print run of “Odrodzenie” rose from 30 to 40 thousand copies. Even if these figures are inflated by a factor of two, it was still impressive. The pre-war “Wiadomości Literackie” had reached a top run of 12,000.

[6] dh (Dominik Horodyński), Ciekawe pismo emigracyjne (An interesting émigré journal). “Dziś i Jutro” 1948, no.3.

[7] Gen. Anders had substantial funds at his disposal after the war. In 1947 he credited the Union of Polish Writers with two thousand pounds sterling. Considerably larger sums were transferred to the Polish Government-in-Exile; the Polish Embassy to the Apostolic See in Rome received 16,000 dollars. (A.Zaćminski, Emigracja polska w Wielkiej Brytanii wobec możliwości wybuchu III wojny światowej 1945-1954. (The Polish Emigration in Great Britain in the face of the Possibility of a Third World War 1945-1954.) Publ. by Akademia Bydgoska im. Kazimierza Wielkiego, Bydgoszcz 2003, p.25, footnote 31.

[8] Z. Nowakowski, “Clamor”, czyli “krzyk” (“Clamour”, or “a scream”) “Wiadomości” 1949, no.149.

[9] T. Nowakowski, Złe wiadomości o “Wiadomościach”. Felieton pesymistyczny (Bad News about “The News”. A Pessimistic Article). “Wiadomości” 1949, no. 12/13. In 1950, the London based weekly “Lwów i Wilno” (Lviv and Vilnius) established by Stanisław Mackiewicz, ceased publication. Zbyszewski wrote that it could only have continued with external financial assistance whereas a print run of 5 thousand copies could have sustained it as an independent periodical. However, the quality of the writing was mixed: “Let it be said, that in an ocean of monotony, Mackieiwicz’s own articles were always full of youthful vigour, a firework display of style, interesting ideas and a keen eye for paradox. Let us also say, that it took uncommon character and creative energy to issue the weekly and keep it going as a popular and readable periodical, in spite of the fact that its readership naturally recoiled from the dire scribblers whom Mackiewicz so inconsiderately published. (W.A.Z., “Lwów i Wilno” in “Kultura” 1950, no. 12/38, p.106).

[10] The loss of standing among political leaders was the subject of bitter reflection by Zygmunt Nowakowski: “The reform of the Republic has long been the subject of debate […] We delegated everything to the professionals, for whom their own private and ideological motherland is their own political party. For over a year they cannot find any common ground, not even a formula for cooperation. They just sulk at each other like small, badly brought-up children. Among these professionals, is there not one serious human being? Can anyone believe that in this impossibly long and hopeless horse trading there is even the smallest semblance of care for our so-called motherland? Do these people, fighting over fictional government portfolios, even understand the plight of souls in the refugee camps, in the hostels, in all kinds of Polish communities, where no one thinks about the [émigré] government anymore, scarcely anyone even knows about it? The longer it takes to knock together an agreement among our backyard Big Four, conscious only of portfolios, the more difficult will it will be to bring together our scattered compatriots trying to put food on their tables [...]. The political parties are a fiction, which we accepted with a heavy heart. In doing so we accepted everything, including this not so much key but party picklock, whereby unknown people, small people, the political nouveau riche, could open doors to high office for themselves. (O czym się nie mówi. [We don’t talk about it] „Wiadomości” 1948, no.38. Op.cit. A. Zaćminski, Emigracja polska w Wielkiej Brytanii wobec możliwości wybuchu III wojny światowej 1945-1954. [The Polish Emigration in Great Britain in the face of the Possibility of a Third World War 1945-1954.] Publ. by Akademia Bydgoska im. Kazimierza Wielkiego, Bydgoszcz 2003, p.223)

[11] “Redaktor i róże” (The Editor and Roses). Renata Gorczyńska in conversation with Zofia Hertz and Jerzy Giedroyc in Portrety Polskie (Polish Portraits), Wydawnicto Literackie, Kraków 1999, p.38.

[12] “The shops in Paris stand empty, as if stripped bare – noted Wacław Zbyszewski in the summer of 1947 – and so tiny when compared to the London giants. The shop windows on Rue Royal dazzle with their opulent profusion, but in the side streets every shop window displays poverty and shortages […] Here a butcher forlornly surveys a few meagre bones, there a baker lays out a few rough baguettes. On a greengrocer’s large counter preen a few cabbages and two onions, an épicier bobs around in front of empty shelves. The garçon behind his counter can offer only watered-down beer: there is no wine, no butter, no real coffee, no sandwiches, no bread, there are no croissants, nor brioches, nor crackers. There are no cigarettes to be had […]. In France you can buy or sell anything – apart from the “nécessités”. (W.A. Zbyszewski Listy z podróży. Paryż (Letters from a Journey. Paris) “Wiadomości” 1947, no.27). London was not much better. Mieroszewski wrote about standing in a long queue outside the shop waiting for his weekly ration of bacon (J. Mieroszewski, Żyjemy w ustroju przejściowym [We are living through a State of Transition], “Orzeł Biały”, 1947, no.45).

[13] A. Bobkowski, Na drogach Francji (On the Roads of France). In: idem, Z dziennika podróży (From a Travel Diary), Biblioteka Więzi, Warszawa 2006, p.46.

[14] Op.cit.: T. Judt. Brzemię odpowiedzialności. Blum, Camus, Aron i francuski wiek dwudziesty (The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron and the French Twentieth Century), trans. M. Filipczuk, Wyd. Krytyki Politycznej, Warszawa 2013, p.203.

[15] George Orwell, with his critical faculty and intellectual honesty, was an exception: “Fascism is often loosely equated with sadism, but nearly always by people who see nothing wrong in the most slavish worship of Stalin. The truth is, of course, that the countless English intellectuals who kiss the arse of Stalin are not different from the minority who give their allegiance to Hitler or Mussolini […] nor from that older generation of intellectuals, Carlyle, Creasey and the rest of them, who bowed down before German militarism. All of them are worshipping power and successful cruelty” (G. Orwell, Raffles i panna Blandish (Raffles and Miss Blandish, trans. T. Jeleńska, “Kultura” 1948, no.9/10, p.57).

[16] Op.cit.: R. Aron, Wspomnienia (Memoirs) p.298

[17] v. R. Aron, Wspomnienia (Memoirs) vol.1, Wydział Spraw Politycznych, trans. G. Śleszyńska, foreword by J. Kurski, Wołomin 2007, pp.249-250

[18] ibidem, p.279

[19] ibidem, p.297. A. Malraux wrote to Aron in 1950 about the mood of the French: “An odd country this. They believe in the possibility of war enough to hoard sardines (the main preoccupation here in Paris), yet not enough as to have a care about defence” (loc.cit)

[20] T. Judt, Powojnie. Historia Europy od roku 1945 (Postwar, A History of Europe since 1945). Trans.: R. Bertold. Dom Wyd. Rebis. Poznań 2013, pp.252-253. French provincialism was a function of European provincialism. As contemporaries saw it: “Post-war France, no less than any other country, was occupied with settling scores, poverty and political instability. French post-war left-wing intellectuals reinterpreted world politics in the light of their own obsessions, and uncritically projected throughout the world their narcissistic sense of the importance of Paris, France. How memorably Arthur Koestler described them: ‘those little flirts from Saint-Germain des Prés’ who were ‘voyeurs peeping through a hole in the wall at the harlotry of history’. But then history did give them a privileged perch to sit on” (ibidem p.253).

[21] “You have all gone mad with this Nowakowski” – wrote Giedroyc to Wacław A. Zbyszewski – “I very much like his pieces when he reminisces about his theatrical experiences or about old Kraków. But it is the measure of your collective undoing on your side of Channel, that this chap can be Skarga, and Mickiewicz, and Vernyhora, all rolled into one. We have enough of these bards” (letter dated 14 June 1949, IL Archive).

[22] W.A. Zbyszewski penned the following portrait of Czapski: “This outstanding painter, discerning writer, great humanist, valiant officer, and exemplary Catholic has, despite his fifty plus years, remained a young man. Out of his gaunt, monk-like, dry face gazes a pair of eyes ever kind, gentle, almost child-like. He is a giant of a man, but seems to emanate the aura of a children’s nanny.[…]. As fate would have it, just as he was starting out in life this scion of a noble, magnatial family became an ordinary, unvarnished member of the Polish intelligentsia. After the loss of his hereditary fortune, he accumulated, though his own exertions, new riches – the friendship of all who came into contact with him, the gratitude of hundreds, renown in art and literature, and the delight of intimate communion with the highest ranges of the human spirit. He is less sceptical, less sophisticated than Stempowski, less ‘Sarmatian’ than Nowakowski, less swashbuckling than Łobodowski, less poetical than Stanisław Baliński, and with less panache and artistic temperament than the Mackiewicz bothers […] He represents tradition at once Catholic, national, and liberal; displays a forbearance derived from innate goodness and not pessimism, and an aristocratic mien which is the product of a subtle inner refinement and not of heraldic quarterings. A man who is upright, good, and wise, too much of an artist to be a politician, too much abhorring philistinism to make nods to passing fashion, by nature a defence counsel, not a prosecutor”. (Czapski o Rosji [Czapski on Russia]. “Wiadomości” 1949 no.20).

[23] Londyńczyk (The Londoner), “Kronika angielska” (An English Chronicle). Literatura na obczyźnie (Literature in Exile), “Kultura” 1965, no.11/12, p.53

[24] W. Zbyszewski, Zagubieni romantycy. Panegiryk – pamflet – próba nekrologu? (The Lost Romantics. Panegyric – Pasquinade – Draft Obituary) In: idem Zagubieni romantycy i inni (The Lost Romantics and Some Others), Instytut Literacki, Paris 1992, p.159.

[25] I. Chruślińska, Była raz “Kultura” … Rozmowy z Zofią Hertz (There was once a journal called “Kultura” … Conversations with Zofia Hertz) Wyd. Uniwersytetu Marii Curie-Skłodowskiej, Lublin 2003, p.52.

[26] v. gen. Władysław Anders’ letter to major Józef Czapski dated 8 September 1947 (IL Archive). Altogether, in October 1947 it was possible to transfer from Rome: 3 million Italian lire in US dollars (US$ 4,000) and 5,925,000 lire in French francs. To insure against losses in case of the devaluation of the French franc, 480 Swiss twenty franc gold pieces were purchased in Rome, as were 100 gold English pounds. After these transactions the balance remaining was 432,400 French francs in banknotes (v. Enclosure no.1 from the Report on the Liquidation of the Literary Institute in Rome, dated 14 November 1947 (in Paris) – IL Archive).

[27] Letter from Józef Czapski to Józef Zielicki dated 3 December 1947 (IL Archive); v. also: ”Ja myślałam, że my jesteśmy nieśmiertelni …” Rozmowy z Zosią Hertz (“I thought we were immortal …” Conversations with Zofia Hertz). Listopad (November) 2001 in: M. Giza, Ostatnie Lato w Maisons-Laffitte (The Last Summer in Maisons-Laffitte). Kolegium Europy Wschodniej, Wrocław 2007, pp.144-145. Herling bore a grudge, and when he bumped into Zofia Hertz in London in 1949, he pretended not to know her.

[28] Letter from Józef Czapski to Stanisław Vincenz dated 5 August 1949 (Ossolineum, Dept. of Manuscripts, II 17 518). Presumably Czapski is alluding to the employment of Gustaw Herling and his wife which Giedroyc had secured for them at the Libella Bookshop in Paris towards the end of 1947. The monthly remuneration was low (8,000 francs) but Herling could also look forward to supplementary earnings from the Literary Institute. Herling’s grievance arising out of the non-payment of a fee for the anthology W oczach pisarzy (In the Eyes of the Writers), was mentioned by Czapski in a letter to Józef Zielicki dated 16 December 1947 (IL Archive). The Polish community in London was awash with all manner of rumours, and a particularly absurd one reached Giedroyc: “Gustaw is apparently boasting that he is despatching leaflets to Germany (and had already sent out about 600) carrying a warning about ‘Kultura doing [communist] Warsaw’s work with Second Polish Corps money’. I do not believe this, I am sure it is nothing more than gossip. I have, however, written to Szmaciarz to make discreet enquiries” (letter from Giedroyc to Czapski dated 14 January 1950, IL Archive)

[29] Letter from Zofia Hertz to Jerzy Giedroyc dated 22 September 1947 (IL Archive). Zygmunt echoed his wife’s concerns: “Concerning Gustaw – we have sent our (justifiable) thunderbolts in your direction. The chappy likes his comforts and security […] I’ll furnish him with the address of the Prudential – he can take out a policy against catching the common cold – for the premium for insuring the saleability of Krystyna’s paintings would be excessively high” (Zygmunt Hertz’s letter to Jerzy Giedroyc dated 23 September 1947, IL Archive).

[30] Letter from Zosia Hertz to Jerzy Giedroyc dated 11 September 1947 (IL Archive).

[31] Jerzy Giedroyc’s letter to Adam Pragier dated 26 November 1947 (IL Archive). Not many shared this view. In 1952 Wacław Zbyszewski had worked with Gustaw Herling at Radio Free Europe in Munich. After Krystyna Herling committed suicide he wrote thus to Giedroyc: “I would not be surprised if Gustaw did the same. I consider him to be an utter hysteric and in equal measure a megalomaniac. One day, he will have to admit to himself that he has an incredibly inflated opinion of himself: his is a small talent, he is a bore, yet he believes he is Arthur Koestler. His recent book failed to sell, while he was expecting God knows what” (Letter from Wacław Zbyszewski to Jerzy Giedroyc from November 1952, IL Archive)

[32] v. Józef Czapski’s letter to Stanisław Vincenz dated 30 June 1949, Ossolineum, Dept. of Manuscripts, II 17 618.)

[33] Contemplating the lives of the “Kultura” inner circle and their ethos, so exotic in the West at a time of boom and prosperity, P. Kłoczowski remarked on the last sentence in Maria Czapska’s Europa w rodzinie (Europe in the Family), which is a quotation from St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews: “For, we have not here a lasting city: but we seek one that is to come …” (Hbr 13,14). He interpreted this final line in the context of two positions; the altruistic – an affirmation of the spiritual community of mankind, and the consumerist – concerned with the accumulation of material goods (M. Dziewulska, P. Kłoczowski, Rozmowy z pamięci. Nie chciałbym zbyt dopowiedzieć [Conversations from Memory without wishing to add too much …], “Polska Sztuka Ludowa, Konteksty” [Polish Folk-Art, Contexts] 2003, no 1-2, p.192 )

[34] P. Hostowiec [i.e. J. Stempowski], Notatnik nieśpiesznego przechodnia (Jottings from a Leisurely Passerby), “Kultura” 1969, no.11 (267), p.12

[35] J. Chomęcki [i.e. K. Morawski], Czym jest “Kultura”. List do zespołu “Kultury” (What is “Kultura”. A Letter to the “Kultura” team). “Kultura” 1951, no.12/50, pp.154-155.

[36] W. Zbyszewski, Zagubieni romantycy [Lost Romantics] Panegiryk – pamflet – próba nekrologu? (The Lost Romantics. Panegyric – Pasquinade – Draft Obituary?) In: ibidem Zagubieni romantycy i inni (The Lost Romantics and Some Others), Literary Institute, Paris 1992, pp.149-150

[37] Ibidem, pp.141-142

[38] v. Z. Romanowiczowa, Popołudnie z przeszłości (An Afternoon from the Past) in: “Kultura” – Wspomnienia i opinie (“Kultura” – Recollections and Opinions), ed. G and K. Pomian, Puls Publications Ltd, London 1987.

[39] Czesław Miłosz, Był raz … (There once was …) in: ibidem, Zaczynając od moich ulic (Beginning with My Streets), Literary Institute, Paris 1985, p.317

[40] Letter from Jerzy Stempowski to Stanisław Stempowski dated 14 June 1949, Gabinet Rękopisów (Manuscript Collection) BUW 1570

[41] W.A. Zbyszewski, Zagubieni romantycy... (Lost Romantics...), op. cit., p.142.

[42] W.A. Zbyszewski, Zagubieni romantycy... (Lost Romantics...), op. cit., p. 148.

[43] Letter from Zofia Hertz to Juliusz Mieroszewski dated 20 January 1955 (IL Archive)

[44] Giedroyc’s culinary tastes came no doubt from his childhood family home. His favourite dish was Lithuanian dumplings (kalduny) served in a broth. He was also keen on dense Warsaw tripe with marjoram and paprika – he would add parmesan. Another favourite was lamb pilaf with buckwheat in a mushroom sauce. As for soups, he liked “botwinka”, a thick soup made from young beetroot leaves with potatoes and dill, and sorrel soup with potatoes and hard-boiled eggs (information courtesy of Pelagia Landorf, who in the 1990s cooked for the “Kultura” team and their guests).

[45] Ibidem, p.150

[46] Ostatnie lato w Maisons-Laffitte. Sierpień 2000 – listopad 2001 (The Last Summer in Maisons-Laffitte. August 2000–November 2001) Rozmawiała i opracowała H.M. Giza (interviews conducted and edited by H.M. Giza). Kolegium Europy Wschodniej, Wrocław 2007, p.134. Cf. Czapski’s comments: “The whole ‘Kultura’ enterprise is dear to me precisely because it can be something of a surrogate community, a certain place where our minds may meet. But even here […] only Jerzy G’s manic passion gives me hope that ‘Kultura’ will not fold. But lately, even he is completely worn out. I know all too well that you are right when you say that all this will fall apart if the living tissue dies, if the element of contemplation and selfless association should depart from here. But what can we do, when there really is no strength left to bear what must be borne. Put simply, one continues to undertake work which one is no longer able to do” (Letter to Stanisław Vincenz dated 30 December 1947, Ossolineum, Dept. of Manuscripts, II 17,618).

[47] Letter from Jerzy Giedroyc to W. A. Zbyszewski dated 16 February 1956 (IL Archive)

[48] Czesław Miłosz, Był raz… (There once was …) in: Zaczynając od moich ulic (Beginning with My Streets), Instytut Literacki, Paris 1985, p.319.

[49] W.A. Zbyszewski, Zagubieni romantycy... (Lost Romantics...) op. cit., p.156. ” Most of all, I miss Zygmunt (Hertz), the real leader in Maisons-Laffitte. You hardly realise that without him ‘Kultura’ would not have lasted a week. A veritable titan” (letter from Zbyszewski to Giedroyc, January 1954, IL Archive).

[50] Letter from Jerzy Giedroyc to Józef Czapski dated 17 May 1951 (IL Archive).

[51] Letter from Juliusz Mieroszewski to Jerzy Giedroyc dated 20 June 1949, in: J. Giedroyc, J. Mieroszewski, Listy [Letters] part 1, p.51.

[52] A.Mencwel, Przedwiośnie czy potop. Studium postaw polskich w XX wieku (Early Spring or The Deluge. A Study of Polish Political Trends in the Twentieth Century), Czytelnik, Warszawa 1997, p.307. The editorial office of “Ogniwo” (The Link) was in Stempowski’s apartment on Lipowa Street in Warsaw’s Powiśle district. This period became lodged in Jerzy Stempowski’s memory: “The greater part of my childhood and youth was spent among writers, checking their proofs, and engaging in other literary pursuits, which endeavours, however, rarely produced any results worthy of note” (O czernieniu papieru [About Putting Pen to Paper] in: Eseje dla Kassandry [Essays for Cassandra], Literary Institute, Paris 1961, p.7).

[53] Letter from Wittlin to Giedroyc dated 4 April 1949 (IL Archive)

[54] Letter from Giedroyc to Wittlin dated 22 April 1949 (IL Archive). In characterising his pre-war activities Giedroyc rather stylised himself as a lone nonconformist, which was hardly precise. Nothing like this appears in any of his later utterances.

[55] Zbyszewski held a pessimistic view of the societal and intellectual level of the generality of Poles. He held out a challenge to a future education system in Poland: “it must not only provide a markedly more thorough and practical education, but it must also modify our national character: cure us of hysteria, of bluffing, of laziness, of self-pity – above all, of hysteria”. But he held out scant hope of success, “we must have no illusions. There is no hope for sensible reform – there will be an auction for clichés, demagogy and patriotism, there will be warring parties endlessly arguing about politics, and the practical effect will be a new inflated bureaucracy which will make Poland into a scrawny, but very milkable cow. (W.A. Zbyszewski, Zmartwienia pesymisty (The Worries of a Pessimist) “Kultura” 1949, no.2(19), pp.83- 84)

[56] This was noted by Giedroyc: “The young and middle-aged are taken up with making money and are all stepping away from matters Polish. Not just from politics, but from Polish culture, indeed any culture whatsoever [underlined by JG]. This is occurring en masse, and one can well ponder what intellectual legacy was passed on to them by their motherland, their families and schools – in short by their tradition. There is some activity among the young endeks, but it seems to be an ersatz ONR (trans. a pre-war ultranationalist and antisemitic movement), and to be honest, I would prefer nothing to this”. (letter to Marian Pankowski dated 4 February 1955, IL Archive).

[57] They also lost any sense of their own ridiculousness. In the Autumn of 1953 there were actually four émigré workers’ parties. (v. Londyńczyk (The Londoner) i.e. J. Mieroszewski, “Kronika angielska” (An English Chronicle). Dreyfusiada (A Dreyfusade). 1953, no.10(72), p.89).

[58] S. Zarzewski. Fetysze i fikcje emigracji [Émigré Fictions and Fetishes]. “Kultura” 1953, no.9(71), p.5.

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