Maciej Kozlowski on Jerzy Giedroyc, "Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39, 24 September 2000.
"Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39,
Krakow, 24 September 2000"A LAST MEETING, A FIRST MEETING"
Maciej Kozlowski on Jerzy Giedroyc
June 2000. Somewhat by accident but likely due to an inner need, I didn't go by car and instead retraced a route I had traveled almost forty years before: the Metro to Gare St. Lazare, then a train to Maisons-Laffitte. On the town plan I sought a street name I remembered well: Avenue de Poissy. Not there. Passers-by could tell me nothing. I remembered a small, sleepy town with villas immersed in greenery - this image also proved of little use among the traffic lights, cars and cafes. Finally, someone directed me to the shop of an old baker who had been there for years. Avenue de Poissy was now called Avenue Charles de Gaulle, the numbering had also changed, but I should have no problems finding the home of the old Polish gentleman.
Seemingly nothing had changed. The same vast desk in a small corner room, papers piled high upon it; an old gentleman, a kerchief around his neck, carefully listening to every word, sometimes commenting, excitedly taking up certain thoughts. And the same respect for the speaker, greed for information and ideas. Today - towards the graying Ambassador of Poland in Israel; at that time towards a barely twenty-year-old student facing the new and fascinating world of Mieroszewski's essays, Gombrowicz
's and Herling-Grudzinski
's prose, Milosz
's and Wierzynski
's poetry. Yet above all a student enchanted by this man, who in no way doubted what he was doing, even though common sense would say that to an arrival from the country ruled by Wladyslaw Gomulka, debating the need for building bridges between Poles and Ukrainians, Belarusians and Lithuanians might seem more abstract than the novels of Stanislaw Lem
, at the height of popularity then.
The unwavering certainty that the printed word weighs so much more than kilos of gunpowder.
It was probably this certainty, conveyed non-verbally but clear to anyone who had the fortune to meet the Editor in person, that caused so many great writers to bring him their texts. Moreover, many of those texts would never have been written if not for the Editor, whose meager praise meant more to the authors than many an award, fee, translation or whatever else!
In those years, the people later embroiled in the "Mountaineers'" trial referred to the Editor as the "Prince". Reading recent publications about "Kultura" and its creator, I noticed that the nickname had stuck, become popular with others, though at Maisons-Laffitte none of us would have dared use it, even in lighter conversation with Zygmunt or Zofia Hertz, who always willingly joked about their boss.
We traveled to Maisons-Laffitte trembling slightly at the thought that a sad looking gentleman from the Polish embassy might be hanging around with a hidden camera. Yet the instant after passing through the gate and being barked at by a patchy spaniel, everyone - and I say this based on many after-dinner conversations held in the guest rooms located in the small barrack at the back of the villa - experienced a sense of having traveled through time, of having been transported to a free Poland. Not the old, pre-war Poland that one could sense in some quarters of Polish London, but an imagined, future Poland that had existed always. This was truly a Poland we would have liked to inhabit! A Poland open to its neighbors, tolerant, stripped of its pre-war faults of partisanship and pursuit of personal interests, a place where people would trust each other and demonstrate loyalty. (The Editor was a good judge of character; throughout the years when I visited Maisons-Laffitte often or lived there for periods, no one betrayed my trust, and among all those who testified at my trial, not one of the people I had met at Maisons-Laffitte was among them. And yet I had met a vast number of people there!) A Poland where everyone would do their job for the public good without grandiloquence. Initially by car, and then on our backs, we carried the books with gray plaid covers back to the real Poland, and above all we believed we were carrying back scraps of that imagined Poland.
Many have written of the Editor's bitterness, of his sometimes overly critical attitude to the new reality in Poland. Perhaps he saw, more sharply than anyone else, the gulf between the Poland of Maisons-Laffitte and that lying along the Vistula.
That June afternoon, my last dispute with the Prince related precisely to this. My position was difficult, as I was the defendant in a lustration trial for which my previous contacts with the Editor were the background. I had gone to request that he testify. I became involved, however, in trying to convince him that despite all, parts of that Poland from Maisons-Laffitte could be found in Warsaw or Krakow, or even in Gdansk, and that the balance was positive. Of course, I did not put it in this way. Complements and flattery were, I think, the only things the Prince could not abide more than Polish stupidity and the pursuit of personal interests. A man with a penetrating mind, he knew what he had achieved, but felt unfulfilled and thus could not stand to hear people talk about it.
I am certain that the near future will bring many broadly supported theses about the contributions of "Kultura" and the Editor to Polish independence and their impact on our country's transition. Never enough said about that. I would add one thing: the Editor was a great educator, and it is chiefly due to him that, despite forty years of Communism and a decade of the frenzy of lustrators, there are still many decent people in Poland.
© by "Tygodnik Powszechny"
"Tygodnik Powszechny" printed this text in its 24 September2000 issue following the death of Jerzy Giedroyc. It appears onwww.culture.pl - courtesy of the editors and publishers of "TygodnikPowszechny" - in connection with "The Year of Jerzy Giedroyc," celebrated in2006.
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