Jerzy Giedroyc przy pracy w gabinecie. Maisons-Laffitte, 1994 / Sygn. FIL00010

Beyond the Polish Circle


I am not a sociable person and have no talent for languages. Even my French is poor which has constrained me somewhat. However, “Kultura” had two ambassadors, or shall we say, foreign ministers: Józef Czapski (known to us as Józio[1]) and Konstanty Jeleński (Kot). It is to them that we essentially owed all our contacts from outside our Polish world. For example we got to know James Burnham when he took an interest in Józio and came to see him during a visit to Paris – that's when we first met him. I was drawn to him on account of his books – we held endless discussions with Burnham about them, and subsequently published some of them. Of these titles I rated The Managerial Revolution the highest. It was a revelation for me.

My American contacts are close to nil. My only American friend, at a personal level, was in fact Burnham. We would see him and his wife quite often as they both came to Europe frequently. We spoke to them in French. His French was not much better than mine, so that was not too difficult. When Józio went to the United States, fundraising at our hour of greatest need, Burnham helped him a lot.

He was one of the principal organizers of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (in 1950), and thanks to him Józio and I were invited to Berlin. I had last been there in 1930, not long before Hitler’s rise to power, for purely personal reasons: my future wife’s parents had decided to relocate to France and were spending some time in Berlin. I travelled there to say goodbye to her, and it was precisely then that we got engaged. Twenty years on, Berlin was unrecognizable: ruins upon ruins. The Congress was overshadowed by an atmosphere of dread; many participants feared capture by the NKVD. I had no such qualms, and even went for a walk round East Berlin to see what it was like. At that time the difference between East and West Berlin was not so acute.

The conference hall was packed. Józio’s address was the high point of the inaugural session. It made him the star of the Congress, which nobody had foreseen. The address was very emotional, typical of him. He started with two sentences in German, and then spoke in Polish – but the efficient organizers had ensured that there were interpreters to hand. What made the greatest impression on the German public was his call for Polish-German reconciliation. In this, he was the precursor of future initiatives to bring this about.

I don’t really remember the other speeches. Of greater importance to me were all the behind-the-scenes discussions – it was here that I first met the Ukrainians Bohdan Osadchuk and Borys Lewytzkyj, and the Russians Nikolaevski from the “Socialistychny Vestnik” (Socialist Messenger) and Wanda Pampuch, who was introduced to me by Osadchuk. In Berlin I also met Irving Brown with whom I maintained a very good relationship. We discussed the idea of creating a university for political refugees, and I was still meeting him when Solidarność was coming into being. However, in terms of "Kultura" my acquaintance with him brought no practical consequences. I also met Boruchowitz, if I recall the surname correctly. He was a Trotskyite, had once been Lenin’s secretary, and was an active trade unionist. He spoke excellent Polish and it looked as if we might develop a close collaboration, not unlike that with Burnham. Regrettably soon after that first meeting in Berlin, Boruchowitz died unexpectedly.

One of my initiatives in the first years of the Congress of Cultural Freedom was the Collège d’Europe Libre in Strasbourg. The idea was to make tertiary education available to refugees from Eastern Europe. The college was to have university status and halls of residence for its students. Burnham was an instant enthusiast of the idea, consigned much time to the project and made all the right moves. However, the result was something of a mixed bag. I had hoped that Burnham himself would head the new institution, but he burst into laughter at the suggestion, saying he was anchored in Washington and had no intention of leaving the USA. Michał Potulicki became dean of the college and made a good contribution to the new university which certainly played its part – it survived for a number of years and several hundred students graduated from it to assume positions of responsibility in their respective professions. This, however, was a far cry from my idea of creating not just an academic institution, but also a nerve-centre which would serve to unite Eastern Europe.

I also took part in the Brussels conference of the Congress of Cultural Freedom which bore fruit – we were able to meet Jeanne Hersch and Manes Sperber, of which more later. I attended many Congress events in Paris during their festival which was called "The Masterpieces of the Twentieth Century”. I remember well seeing a modern opera entitled – if memory serves ­ The Consul, which is odd as generally speaking I rather dislike opera. The Consul is the first opera which has left a lasting impression on me.

To begin with, our relations with the Congress were good. Józio Czapski played quite an important role in it, principally in Berlin. The head of the Congress was then Nicolas Nabokov, the composer and cousin of the famous writer. Thanks to Józio’s acquaintance with him from their old St Petersburg days we were able to arrange for Kot Jeleński to join the Congress, despite Nabokov’s initial misgivings. We kept up reasonable, if sporadic, contact with Michael Josselson, who was the brains behind the Congress, and who later turned out to be the CIA representative in the organisation. Josselson himself was a most interesting individual, exceptionally intelligent and very strong minded.

To this day I don’t know whether or not he could speak Polish. He himself said not. However, he once came to tea with Kot Jeleński and when our dog Black followed him out into the garden, he leant over Black and said to him in Polish: “Come here doggy, here doggy”. On another occasion in the Congress office I was showing Jeleński an article which had excited me and Josselson peered over my shoulder – “but you don’t read Polish” I said, whereupon he smiled wryly and walked away. Anyhow, he was certainly the most interesting person associated with the Congress. Jeleński valued him highly and used to call on him even after it was disclosed that the CIA had financed the Congress through Josselson.

Thanks to the Congress we received assistance with the promotion of Miłosz, whom they looked after very well. They facilitated the publication of his essays and as they had handsome funding the fees they could offer him were considerably more attractive than those we could. It was predominantly François Bondy who assisted us with Miłosz. I had a good relationship with Bondy and met him socially. He visited us as we did him. Our dealings with Bondy were exclusively connected with cultural or, more narrowly, literary issues. Thanks to Jeleński, the Congress, or more specifically Bondy and the journal “Preuves”, also extended assistance to Gombrowicz. They published much of his work and it is very much to their credit that they did. Before Bondy’s trip to Argentina we told him that he should without fail seek out Gombrowicz. He returned enchanted by his meeting with the writer, and Kot-Jeleński would subsequently give matters concerning Gombrowicz a great deal of attention.

It should be said, however, that we received no direct financial support from the Congress. For a while I very much hoped that we might, given that our financial situation at the time was very poor. This did not happen, although funds were made available for the translation and production of two books, one by Simone Weil the other by Raymond Aron, both translated by Miłosz. Beyond this, it is not possible to talk of any cooperation between “Kultura” and the Congress. It is true that at some point the idea of inviting “Kultura” to join the stable of Congress journals was advanced, but the conversations never went beyond initial loose exchanges. I believe the idea had no chance of materialising, if only because of our determination to retain absolute editorial independence. There were no systematic contacts with Congress journals. From time to time we might send them some material, especially to “Preuves”. From my first meeting with Melvin Lasky in Berlin, my relationship with him was lukewarm and there was a reluctance, mutual I think, to maintain further contact. That did not, however, stop me from sending “Der Monat” the occasional typescript of which some were published, some not. We fell out with the Congress journal “Encounter”, as a result of the very disloyal way Leo Labedz had behaved towards us. I had met him through Kot Jeleński and to begin with it seemed to be a great friendship in the making. He was interested in Abram Tertz and Nikolai Arzhak, in other words Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel. They had been subjected to a show trial in Moscow and I was in possession of the trial transcripts. Labedz very much wanted to read this material with a view to possible publication in English. I sent them to him under the condition that he would return the material promptly and that his publication would not occur prior to the forthcoming Polish edition which we were to publish. Labedz did not keep his word, and never offered any explanation as to the reasons. To this day I have no idea why he behaved in the way he did.

In our relations with the people we met in the Congress milieu, there were often many initial prejudices which had to be overcome, especially among Jews. At the Brussels conference a heated altercation erupted with Jeanne Hersch, who later became a great friend of ours. She had then been of the view that all Polish political exiles, and indeed Poles in general, were antisemites. Dramatic scenes ensued. In general I am an imperturbable person, but that day we shouted at each other across the room and I remember even banging my fist on the table. But, as so often turned out, those with initial reservations towards us got to know us better and became our friends.

And so it was with Jeanne Hersch – with whom relations became very pleasant and cordial, primarily it should be said thanks to Józio Czapski, with whom she simply fell in love. She would visit us frequently, while Zosia Hertz would go to see her in Geneva whenever she was in Switzerland. Jeanne Hersch would write alerting us to new titles, and she took care of the elderly Stanisław Vincenz when he was ill and in reduced circumstances. When she bought an apartment in Paris, he stayed in it for a good few months. She also translated some works by Miłosz.

Similarly with Manes Sperber whose first reactions to “Kultura” were very negative, not because of our views, but purely because he had an aversion to Poles. Later, however, he remained closely in touch, professionally and also socially. He was very well-disposed towards us – it was he who secured our royalty-free rights to Koestler’s books. We had indeed published our first Koestler title in Rome in a translation by Gustaw Herling-Grudziński – but it was Sperber who arranged the allocation of Polish rights to us for Darkness at Noon and his other books. Koestler himself set up a foundation which would offer us small donations from time to time.

Sperber was also instrumental in facilitating our contacts with the French publishing world and cultural circles in general. He helped us with the promotion of Paweł Zdziechowski who achieved a substantial presence in France. I knew Paweł before the war, when from time to time he collaborated with my journal “Bunt Młodych” (The Revolt of the Young). He was, as one might say today, something of a playboy. Well heeled, from the landed gentry, he had a great talent for making contacts. I met quite a number of people through him including future collaborators with “Kultura” – it was he who introduced me to Czesław Straszewicz. Although he combined high intelligence with wide ranging talents, he somehow could not adapt to émigré life. Calman-Levy had published his Torricola, which proved to be a great success, and he was then immediately contracted to deliver three further titles, but he slumped into idleness and failed to write anything. A number of years later he sought to start afresh, but success eluded him.

All these contacts enabled us to move and exercise some influence within the indigenous cultural and publishing world outside the Polish ghetto. As for our relations with French officialdom and political circles substantial assistance was extended to us by André Malraux, one of two good friends Józio Czapski had in the political world, the other being Anatol Mühlstein. Malraux helped us when we were confronted with administrative difficulties over the purchase of our house. He also came to our aid when the Polish communist authorities lodged a protest against the very existence of “Kultura”. He was able to brief de Gaulle appropriately when Cyrankiewicz and Gomułka, as well the Soviet authorities, sought to circumscribe us. De Gaulle would treat these approaches with disregard and we were always informed of them unofficially. It was very much Malraux’s doing that the French always behaved decently towards us and no problems were forthcoming from French officialdom. My own meetings with Malraux were few, it was largely Józio who kept in touch with him.

The second person who helped us a lot in our contacts with the French was Anatol Mühlstein. I got to meet him through Józio who had known him from before the war. Mühlstein had come down to Avenue Corneille, where we then lived, to see Józio, and thus it was we met for the first time and a very long, interesting and wide-ranging conversation ensued: about Beck, whom he could not stand whereas I defended him, about Sikorski, where the roles were reversed, about the situation in France. A most pleasant acquaintance arose. He used to visit us, and Józio and I would visit him for lunches and some such. We used to meet up every four to six weeks, which in Parisian terms is quite often. It was largely thanks to him that the Quai d’Orsay was favourably disposed towards us, and we were informed of the various attacks made against us. Here also another of Józio’s friends played his part – Jean Laloy, who headed one the departments at the French Foreign Office.

Mühlstein carried a great chip on his shoulder. His antagonism to Beck to a great extent had fuelled his support for Sikorski, and his manoeuvres behind the scenes played a not inconsiderable role in consolidating Sikorski’s position. Added to which, he counted on being appointed ambassador to France. I am under the impression that Sikorski had even promised him the position. Instead, he was offered Brussels or some such secondary appointment. It was then, feeling slighted, that he severed relations with Sikorski – the man he had helped so much. I think that there were also some purely personal intrigues at play: maybe professor Kot had disapproved of him? Neither do I rule out the possibility of some antisemitic tendencies complicating matters.

Polish matters interested him a great deal. He knew René Mayer, the creator of the Coal and Steel Community, and in 1956 suggested to him to offer Poland a substantial loan for the modernisation of its coal-mines, to be repaid in supplies of coal – then much needed by France. He was even to travel to Poland to negotiate the loan, but the whole idea was torpedoed by Stefan Jędrychowski, Head of the Polish Central Planning Office.

It was also through Józio that I met Daniel Halévy. They were very close, and we used to go and see him quite often. We talked on many subjects, but principally about French literature: it was indeed these conversations which informed my ideas of French literary history, and of French cultural life in general. Laloy was a frequent visitor. Here also I met Gafencu, the former Romanian foreign minister, who for a time had an apartment in the same house as Halévy. Also thanks to Józio I got to know, albeit fleetingly, Philippe Ariès. But it was through Kot Jeleński that I met Raymond Aron. We often used to meet at François Bondy’s home en petit comité. We used to talk about Eastern Europe, about Russia, and about his book “The Opium of the Intellectuals”, which we had published in Polish, to his great approval. Our relations never advanced to a personal level, but I valued his articles, and my own analyses of international relations owe much to him. He was undoubtedly a commentator whom I followed closely.

I came into contact with David Rousset during his legal action against “Lettres Françaises”. I did not attend the court proceedings, but took part in consultations with his legal team, who had approached me as an expert. The central matter at issue was the existence of the Soviet gulags. In those years, I liked going round bookshops and rummaging among the books – and it was in the Russian bookshop on rue de l’Eperon that I found a book that had been officially issued at one of these concentration camps, which I passed on to Rousset’s lawyers: this was a major find, and they made good use of it in the court case. Another person whom I briefly knew, but got on well with, was Claude Mauriac. We had met when the Congress was being organised. We were in a similar situation, he was issuing a journal amid financial difficulties and was also counting on a large donation, which in the event he did not secure and his journal folded soon thereafter.

We had no contacts in the French press. If I wanted an article published in “Le Monde” I would just send it in by post. Of their Warsaw correspondents, I knew only two. I had met Philippe Ben in Palestine, I think it was. He became a columnist for “Maariv”, and we would meet during his trips to Europe from Israel. When he became “Le Monde’s” Warsaw correspondent, we kept up our friendly and lively relations whenever he returned to Paris. Many years later, “Le Monde” sent out Bernard Margueritte to Warsaw. Initially, we had good relations with him: he would visit us, we would exchange information, provide him with contacts. This all fell apart when, prompted by his wife, he got close to the PAX circle.

Here I should mention another of Józio’s friends, whom I had met while still in Rome – Curzio Malaparte. He once paid a visit on Józio and told us about his latest book Storia di Domani, which he was having problems getting published in Italy. Zosia (Zofia Hertz) suggested that we could publish it, and that she would translate it (into Polish). She was as good as her word, and we published the History of Tomorrow in “Kultura”. From that time, whenever Malaparte visited Paris he would phone and visit us, and if he were giving a lecture he would invite us. His writing had interested me even before the war, and after the war both Józio and I read La Peau and Kaputt. Marvellous books.

It was also Józio who introduced me to the local Russian émigré circle. I was acquainted with Roman Goul, who later went to New York where he edited the “Novyi Zhurnal”, and with the historian and publicist Sergei Melgunov, who lived not far from us so we saw him often. Harvard professor Mikhail Karpovich only ever visited once, as he was based in America, but he was a great friend, especially Józio’s. Later, through Natalia Gorbanevskaya, we established close ties with Irina Ilovaiskaya-Alberti and her newspaper “Russkaya Mysl” (the Russian Mind); I knew Princess Zinaida Shakhovskaya only slightly, but didn’t particularly take to her.

Our contacts in the Soviet Union developed early, through Baranov, secretary of the “Novy Mir” editorial board, who used to travel to Kraków to stock up on copies of “Kultura”; it was said that annually–bound copies of “Kultura” stood on a shelf in “Novy Mir’s” editorial office – hidden behind a curtain. A pivotal moment for us was publishing Daniel and Sinyavsky. Sinyavsky’s first work had been published in “Esprit”, thanks to Helena Zamoyska, who as a Catholic had connections there. August Zamoyski, who was friends with Czapski and also knew me, persuaded her to bring Daniel’s and Sinyavsky’s pieces to us. We later published Solzhenitsyn. When I received The Gulag Archipelago I immediately thought of Jerzy Pomian, who had made an excellent translation of Babel, and suggested he translate it. He set about it with enormous enthusiasm, and made a superb job of it.

Shortly afterwards, after his forced exile to the West, Solzhenitsyn invited Józio and me to Zurich. That evening he spoke of his experiences, and then asked Józio and me to stay on, when the three of us had a very interesting discussion on matters Polish. Solzhenitsyn was aware of “Kultura”, though he did not read Polish. Meeting him was a profound experience which is strongly ingrained in my memory.

When Vladimir Maksimov arrived in Paris, it was Solzhenitsyn who advised him to contact us for advice on launching a journal, and thus began our journey with “Kontinent”. Maksimov had no language other than Russian and was completely lost here, but he could draw on substantial funding from Axel Springer. Our collaboration became very close and cordial. Józio, Gustaw (Herling-Grudziński) and I joined the “Kontinent” editorial board. We used to go to meetings and various events, which took place in Maksimov’s apartment. Józio took less part here, I went generally with Gustaw. Thanks to Maksimov I got to know Yelena Bonner, who occasionally visited him, and through her I made contact with Andrei Sakharov. It was thanks to him that Russian activists declared for the independence of the Ukraine, a matter of great importance for me. It was the first time that a group of distinguished Russian personages had accepted that the Ukraine should be independent, albeit with the proviso that there would have to be plebiscites in certain areas, to which the Ukrainians could not agree.

I always attached as great an importance to German matters as to Soviet. It had long been my wish to publish a German issue of “Kultura”, which eventually materialised in 1984. For a time we had a correspondent in Berlin, Jerzy Prądzyński, who used to publish a German-language bulletin. He had been a journalist before the war, and I knew him from his time at “Polska Zbrojna” (Poland in Arms), a great guy, razor-sharp, with a distinguished war record in the 2nd Polish Corps. He spoke excellent German and finding himself without a job, agreed to work for us, although “Kultura” could not pay him – or indeed any of us – very much. I had great hopes of Germany, most of which came to not very much, despite Prądzyński’s excellent work.

There was a time when I had a reasonable network of contacts in Germany. But I travelled there mainly on Ukrainian matters. There was a Stefan Kozłowski, “Major Aleksander”, a most congenial man. Before the war he had been an agronomist, and managed the Radziwill agricultural estates. He was a man of right-wing views, with links to the Świętokrzyska (Holy Cross Mountains) Brigade. He had connections in the German military. He had spent the war in a German prison camp, from which out of the blue he was taken to Dresden, where high ranking officials offered him the task of organising anti-Soviet resistance in Poland. He turned them down. The Germans were gentlemanly enough to facilitate his safe passage through the front to the American side, and it was there that he found Roman Smal-Stocki, the great Ukrainian scholar, in a very bad way almost dying of hunger, and took him under his wing. Out of this arose his friendship towards the Ukrainians. He kept up contact – strictly personal – with the wartime German officials; maybe he passed them appraisals or information, I don’t know. I got to meet them at his home, but it ended at merely meeting them.

There were large groups of Ukrainians in Berlin and Munich, among them Borys Lewytzkyj and Bohdan Osadchuk. Later, when I was looking for someone to compile an anthology of contemporary Ukrainian literature, I asked the noted scholar of Ukrainian literary history George Shevelov to point me towards a competent person. He indicated the literary scholar Yurii Lavrinenko, who produced a thoroughly researched and comprehensive work. After the publication of The Executed Renaissance, the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences issued a book sharply polemicising with the anthology. In the usual Soviet manner, the polemic itself was preceded by a detailed summary of the anthology, which succeeded in giving it the oxygen of publicity. In the mid 1980s, the Ukrainian émigré journal “Suchasnist” produced a new edition of The Executed Renaissance on Bible paper, which was sent in considerable quantities to the Ukraine. This book played an important role, inter alia it increased the number of Ukrainians subscribing to “Kultura”, many of them from Canada. But first and foremost it gave rise to an important group of intellectuals and poets within the Ukraine itself, the so-called shestidesyatniki (sixtiers).

We maintained contact with Ukrainians in Paris through Volodymyr Kubiyovych, who had been a lecturer at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków before the war. How I first met him was quite amusing. I was returning to Poland from a holiday in Romania and we met on the train. While crossing the border it turned out that I had been given counterfeit lei while exchanging currency in Bulgaria. He stepped in to save me on the Bulgarian-Romanian border, and later on the Romanian-Polish border. And that was the start of an affable acquaintance. During the war he became the chairman of the Ukrainian Committee in Kraków, which he served with distinction, and after the war played an important role among Ukrainians in France as the head of the Shevchenko Scientific Society in Sarcelles. He created the formidable Ukrainian Encyclopaedia, published concurrently in Ukrainian and English language editions. Thanks to him, Sarcelles became an important centre for Ukrainian studies. My friendship with him was a significant factor in relations between “Kultura” and the Ukrainians.


[1] Józio is the diminutive form of Józef (Joseph).
It is pronounced 'you.zho [jʉʑɔ]