Jerzy Giedroyc, Maison-Laffitte, 1987, photo by Bohdan Paczowski

Politician and journalist, founder and editor of the Paris-based journal Kultura. Born Giedroyćon 27th July 1906 in Mińsk (today the capital city of Belarus, then a town in tsarist Russia), died on 14th September 2000 at Maisons-Laffitte near Paris.



Jerzy Giedroyc came from an old Polonised Lithuanian family, born to Ignacy Giedroyc and Franciszka Starzycka. After a childhood spent in Russia (Minsk, Moscow, St Petersburg), Giedroyc and his family moved to Warsaw in 1919 and he continued his education at the Jan Zamoyski Gymnasium.

In 1924-9 he was a law student, then in 1930-1 a history student at Warsaw University. It was then that his political involvement began, Giedroyc becoming chairman of the Patria Corporation and of the Inter-Corporate Club in Warsaw, leader of the academic organization 'Myśl Mocarstwowa / World-Power Idea' and employee of the foreign department of the Chief Academic Committee of the Polish Union of Academic Youth.

In 1929-35 he worked as a clerk dealing with press and parliamentary issues at the Ministry of Agriculture. From 1935 he was the head of the Presidium Department at the Ministry of Trade and Commerce. Alongside that he pursued journalism as head (from 1930) of the "Dzień Akademicki / Academic Day". Initially a weekly addition to the "Dzień Polski" daily and later turned into a stand-alone bi-weekly entitled "Bunt Młodych", it was given the name of "Polityka" in 1936 and turned into a weekly magazine. All along, intellectual involvement and support was provided by the Bocheński brothers Adolf, Aleksander and Innocenty, Ksawery and Mieczysław Pruszyńskis, Stefan Kisielewski, Czesław Miłosz, Czesław Straszewicz, Kazimierz Studentowicz, Stanisław Swianiewicz, Ryszard Wraga and others.

The PWN Multimedia Encyclopedia wrote:

 

The magazine gathered a small yet vigorous and influential group of politicians, scholars and journalists, and intended to put forward its candidates for MP seats in the 1940 Sejm elections. In 1938 the group published its policy statement, 'Polska idea imperialna / The Polish Imperial Idea', rejecting the concept of politics as a free play of political parties whose main objective is to seize power and satisfy personal aspirations of their leaders. Parties which in fact are coteries represent interest groups and not the nation, and win votes through demagogy and flattery, thriving on ignorance and naivety. According to the authors of 'Polska idea imperialna' , work for the state requires honest building of mass opinion rather than yielding to it. Political activity must not be isolated from care for common good, i.e. the state. Politics is tied with ethics, and demands a respect for basic standards. Moral authority is the most valuable asset of a political or state leader. It cannot be gained by 'bending down to get some mud to throw against a political rival'. The document reveals a prevalent dislike of traditional parties which are plagued by 'demagogy, self-centeredness and ignorance' and represent 'pathological splinters' of public opinion.

After the outbreak of World War II Giedroyc, an employee of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, was evacuated to Romania. There he was first, in 1939-40, a personal assistant to Roger Raczyński, his former superior at the Ministry, who now acted as the Polish Ambassador in Bucharest. After the Polish Embassy closed down, Giedroyc was appointed head of the Polish Department of the Chilean Diplomatic Mission in Bucharest. He also co-operated with the British Diplomatic Mission which dealt with Polish matters in Romania. Helped by the English, he was evacuated to Istanbul in March 1941 and joined the military service. He then left for Palestine, where he joined the Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade. He took part in the Libyan campaign and in the battle of Tobruk. By then a second lieutenant, he headed the Department of Military Press and Publications of the Bureau of Propaganda of the 2nd Polish Corps in 1943-4. In 1944-5 he worked for the Armoured Troops Training Centre in Gallipoli, Italy, and finally was the Director of the European Department at the Ministry of Information of the Polish Government in London in 1945.

While in the Middle East and, subsequently, in Italy, Giedroyc came to know people who were to become his closest associates after the war: Józef Czapski (it was he who proposed Giedroyc's move to the Bureau of Propaganda of the 2nd Corps); the future leading "Kultura" journalist, Juliusz Mieroszewski; Zofia Hertz and her husband, Zygmunt; and, last but not least, Gustaw Herling-Grudziński.

In 1946 Giedroyc - helped by the 2nd Corps and by a credit drawn from the Soldiers' Fund - set up the Instytut Literacki / Literary Institute in Rome, a publishing house for demobilized servicemen. General Władysław Anders appointed Giedroyc its director. In 1947, with General Anders's consent, the Institute was moved to France, first (briefly) to the Paris Hotel Lambert, then to the Maisons-Laffitte near Paris. Giedroyc repaid the debt to the 2nd Corps, and the Institute began to operate as a fully independent institution.

"The surrender of Western allies to the Soviet Union as well as the helplessness and volatility of the Western public opinion with regard to the communist movement led Giedroyc to the realization that any pro-independence activities undertaken by the Poles needed to be self-reliant and founded on a solid organizational basis. Financial independence and non-alliance with any émigré political parties or movements became the fundamental principle of the Institute's operations. From the very start Giedroyc treated the Institute as an émigré cultural institution, realizing that free speech was critical for a nation aspiring to independence. Besides classical and contemporary literature, he set out to publish works of political and social thought. Outlining the 1946 publishing agenda, Giedroyc wrote that 'familiarizing readers with its achievement and development [...] will introduce them to the thinking process which will in consequence result in organizing life in Poland in line with the principles of political equal rights, social justice, and respect for human rights and dignity. The times are coming when books delivered to the reader by this section of the Literary Institute will not only be the required reading of any political or social leader, but also of any modern, cultured Pole' ." (The PWN Multimedia Encyclopedia)

Importantly, Giedroyc always attached great importance to financial independence of the Literary Institute despite its modest means:

"Unlike the vast majority of emigrant politicians and leaders, he did not seek subsidies from the CIA-funded US Free Europe Committee. His sagacious management and effective and ingenious use of all opportunities ensured the Institute a financial independence that was closely related to political independence. A measure of emigrant Poles' support for Giedroyc and the Institute was the money-raising project for the 'Kultura' premises at Maisons-Laffitte [the second and last premises of the Literary Institute and "Kultura" at Maisons-Laffitte - ed.]. It more than covered the cost of purchase, the surplus allowing for the setting up of the 'Kultura' Fund, readers' contributions continuing to replenish it" (The PWN Multimedia Encyclopedia).

In 1947 the Institute published the first issue of "Kultura", the periodical which was soon to become the top magazine of post-war Polish emigration and a focal point for Polish émigré essayists and writers, most notably Andrzej Bobkowski, Józef Czapski, Witold Gombrowicz, Konstanty A. Jeleński, Juliusz Mieroszewski, Czesław Miłosz, Gustaw Herling-Grudziński and Jerzy Stempowski.

"The Kultura monthly became an island of non-conformism in a world divided by the Cold War. It was a major point of reference for refugees from Poland, them being advocates of the restoration of democratic rule in their mother country. Despite a very modest budget, the journal managed to maintain its independence over the years as well as playing an essential role during the Polish uprisings of 1956, 1970 and 1980. The Nobel Prize winner Czesław Miłosz, a writer who did a lot for Kultura, recollects: 'The founder of Kultura was sometimes no less than credited with the abolition of communism in Poland'.

From the very start Kultura's priority was to maintain a close touch with Poland; no ostracism whatsoever was therefore attempted in relation to Poland and Polish refugees. Subsequent issues of the monthly and the books [...] were smuggled to Poland in backpacks.

Although his own writing rarely appeared in the journal, Giedroyc was an initiator of a number of important debates. Kultura opposed the position of the Polish émigré government which called for the restoration of Polish state borders from before 1939. It supported, however, the restoration of independence of Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus." (Nicoletta Fagiolo, UNHCR 2000, www.unhcr.pl)

1953 was marked by the publication of the first volumes of the "Kultura" Library series. Initially the series included literature, political books, and memoirs. In 1962 "Zeszyty Historyczne" [Historical Journals] were added, a semi-annual publication (turned into a quarterly in 1973) devoted to the recent history of Poland and central European countries. In total 637 issues of "Kultura" came out - the last one in October 2000 - as well as, until September 2000, 511 volumes of the "Kultura" Library series, of which "Zeszyty Historyczne" represented 132 volumes.

Jerzy Giedroyc was a member of the editorial board of the journal of Russian dissidents "The Continent" and sat on the editorial board of the Ukrainian quarterly "Widnowa". He consistently pressed for Poland to establish good neighbourly relations with its eastern neighbours Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus. Sometimes he did that despite the opinion of Polish émigré circles and of his closest associates. He was driven by the prospect of these countries regaining their independence.

Jerzy Giedroyc was a co-author of Autobiografia na cztery ręce [Autobiography for Four Hands (ed. Krzysztof Pomian, "Czytelnik" 1994) and of a number of published volumes of correspondence with contributors to "Kultura".

He held honorary doctorates conferred by Jagiellonian University (1991), Freiburg University (Swizterland, 1996), Wrocław University (1998), Białystok University (1998), Warsaw University (1998), Szczecin University (2000), Lublin University (2000). He was an honorary member of the Polish Historical Society (1991), winner of the Polish PEN Club award (1989), of the St Brother Albert award (1993), of "Polityka" weekly award (1995) and of the "Złote Berło" [Golden Scepter] award of the Polish Culture Foundation (1999).

His distinctions included the Legion of Honour (1938), Officer Cross of the Romanian Crown (1930), Cavalier Cross of the Belgian Crown (1938) and Estonian Order of White Star (1932). His critical view of the relations in post-1989 Poland led him to refusing Poland's highest distinction, the White Eagle Order. He was honoured with the Officer Cross of the Legion of Honour in 1996. Lithuania made him its honorary citizen in 1997 and distinguished him with the Giedymin Order the following year.

Jerzy Giedroyc died on 14th September 2000 at Maisons-Laffitte near Paris. The wish of "the Editor", as he was referred to, was obeyed and "Kultura" ceased to come out, its last issue published in October 2000.

The posthumous entry in the PWN Multimedia Encyclopedia reads:

"Many months will pass before we realize he is no longer with us, that 'Kultura' no longer comes out. There is no 'culmination' or 'end' to the Editor's work, however. 'Kultura' has stopped coming out, but will continue to influence, for it is a foundation of a new formation of Polish intelligentsia. For half a century it uninterruptedly accompanied and shaped it. It did not offer ready solutions, but taught the courage to think, inspired, helped to understand.

What makes his biography so extraordinary? We called him 'The Editor', but not in a dictionary sense of this word. The editor is someone who edits a publication, whereas Jerzy Giedroyc was a founder of an entire cultural formation, of a new school of thinking about Poland. It became clear already in the early 1950s that the rank of cultural institutions founded by Giedroyc made them vital not only for the Polish emigration focused on national independence. It was 'Kultura' which published the most important works of literature and journalism; it was the Instytut Literacki which produced books which today make the canon of 20th century Polish works of literature and humanities. Giedroyc's journal and publishing house had a major impact on modern culture. If today we call the Editor an emigrant, it is in the sense in which this word is applied to Mochnacki, Mickiewicz or Słowacki.

[...]

The Editor's political achievements are huge and so are his services for national culture. He was one of the top 20th century makers of that culture. His contribution cannot be measured. Had it not been for 'Kultura', such works as Gombrowicz's 'Dziennik' [Diary], Gustaw Herling-Grudziński's 'Dziennik pisany nocą' [Diary Written at Night], essays by Stempowski and Czapski, a number of works by Miłosz, would never have been written. We do not know how many works would not have gone beyond the stage of an idea if their authors could not have counted on having them printed by 'Kultura' or published in the 'Kultura' Library. 20th century Polish culture cannot be imagined without 'Kultura'."

In July 2005, in a tribute to this distinguished Pole and to the opus of his life, the Polish Sejm proclaimed 2006 - the centenary of 'Kultura' editor's birth - The Year of Jerzy Giedroyc.


 

You can learn more about Giedroyc's attitude to political events in communist Poland (in particular about his fundamental role in establishing Polish democratic opposition) and post 1989, reading more of the excellent entry in The PWN Multimedia Encyclopedia (in Polish).

Prepared in March 2006.