Piotr Wandycz on Jerzy Giedroyc. "Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39, 24 September 2000.
"Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39,"AS I KNEW HIM"
Krakow, 24 September 2000
Piotr Wandycz on Jerzy GiedroycJerzy Giedroyc
was an institution. He created "Kultura" and made it his life. With the "Historical Notebooks" [Zeszyty Historyczne] and "Kultura Library" books, the periodical was a foundation of émigré intellectual life, perhaps the most important one. When I congratulated Giedroyc on his accurate diagnosis, namely, on his venture into culture and publications rather than party-based politics, he answered that it was a result of his analysis of "White" Russian émigrés and their defeats.
Others more qualified than I am in conducting ideological analyses and issuing judgments will write about Giedroyc as an editor, an inspirer of thought, a man. My contribution makes no such pretenses. I will write about Giedroyc as I knew him, describing but one of the many facets making up his personality. Yet it is of such facets that Jerzy Giedroyc's future biographer will assemble a complete image, in so far as this will be possible.
I cannot say that Giedroyc and I shared a real friendship - I believe he had only a few close friends and I do not know if any remain alive. Our relations lacked warmth, which apparently neither of us was capable of conveying. This may have derived from a certain shyness of his, or his introversion - I don't know how best to call it. I say this of face-to-face contacts, because a personal tone emerged more often in his letters. "I write you full of remorse,"
began a letter from March of 1964. "I cannot free myself of certain flu-type illnesses."
A letter dated January 1958 ends rather atypically: "My sincere and best, though belated, wishes for the New Year."
In other letters I read: "I am very concerned about your health problems. Do you have access to good doctors?"
And later: "I was very alarmed to learn of your heart trouble. I know from experience how hard it is to restrict one's work if one is passionate about it, but you must heed this alarm."
At other times he worried that Inka Mieroszewska was weakening and then, in a short and rather terse letter, he informed me of Mieroszewski's death and simultaneously reminded me that he had yet to receive the Foreign Affairs Ministry survey I was preparing. Does this show a certain lack of sensitivity or merely a rather stoic attitude to life and death? Giedroyc was fond of Mieroszewski. He never wrote directly of this to me, but it is evident from his comment on my book "Die Freiheit und ihr Preis": "this last one excited me very much given the dedication to Mieroszewski."
Always set in his opinions, Giedroyc nevertheless remained open to advice and relatively tolerant as an editor. "I have decided to do something crazy and as of the new year the 'Notebooks' will become a quarterly. Consequently, I would be grateful for any suggestions about both subject matter and contributors,"
he wrote in one of his letters. In another he agreed to publish my essay on Zaleski but did not fail to add: "As far as my own sympathies and antipathies go, it is excessively concessionary as 'it is written.' "
He also made a request I was unable to fulfill, namely, that I write "a critical evaluation of the balance of the 'Historical Notebooks.' Obviously, without any concessions."
In yet another instance, he agreed to publish my note on Rowmund Pilsudski: "All the more eagerly given that our relations stabilized before his death."
In January 1988 Giedroyc sent me a Polish version of his letter to Solzhenitsyn in light of the latter's comments on Poland in "Iz-pod glyb" [From Under the Rubble]. Giedroyc wanted me to respond to Solzhenitsyn's next text "exhaustively, calmly, and with a profound historical justification. I don't really see anyone apart from yourself who could draft that kind of text."
I wrote the text and it now lies somewhere among my papers; Giedroyc never approved it, justifying his decision briefly: "I will not be using your answer to Solzhenitsyn. It's too polite."
While supporting the normalization of Polish-Czechoslovak relations, Giedroyc was critical of Zbigniew Brzezinski's idea for a Polish-Czechoslovak federation. "I am very skeptical about the concept,"
he wrote in January of 1990.
History occupied most of our correspondence, as it did the conversations we had in Paris, initially at the Cluny café and later at a café along the Champs-Elysées (I visited Maisons-Laffitte only a couple of times). Occasionally we would also exchange ideas about the contemporary political situation. Giedroyc took relatively extreme positions, offering fairly rash and radical judgments. "I do not share your enthusiasm about Mazowiecki,"
he wrote on April 3, 1990. "His convulsive quest for Soviet support against any possible German threats and desire to keep Soviet garrisons in Poland reminds me too much of the Targowica Confederation."
Giedroyc was disgusted by the slowness of staff changes at the Polish Embassy in Bonn, "despite there being an ideal candidate in the person of Bartoszewski."
According to Giedroyc, "we hang on to Gorbachev's doorknob on the one hand, and onto the Americans' on the other."
In a letter from September 1991, he noted: "The idea of suggesting Balcerowicz for the Nobel Prize is at once humorous and disgraceful. I wonder less at Nowak, far more at Brzezinski."
And in 1992: "I am more pessimistic than you about the situation in the country, and I don't believe that Suchocka will be able to do anything about it."
In a letter written a year later Giedroyc states, "The country's situation is truly dire. I want to avoid getting involved in any electoral efforts, and in fact I only sympathize with Modzelewski's and Bugaj's Union of Labor."
In 1997, regretting that I could not review Norman Davies's Europe, he adds: "I do somewhat understand you, because Davies can truly be irritating - so much so that I severed relations with him years ago."
It seems to me that quoting his comments from later letters would be inappropriate, as they too closely relate to current events and issues.
he offered controversial comments on historical topics. A glaring example is his letter from 1993, which he would have liked to see as a discussion colloquium, about 1939 and whether "we could have sought compromise, declared ourselves neutrality, etc. Between us, I am convinced that Pilsudski would have chosen exactly that path had he been alive then."
I heatedly objected to this kind of "what-iffing."
Our correspondence rarely included discussions like those found in Giedroyc's correspondence with Mieroszewski. Over several decades we exchanged more than one hundred letters (the last dated 6 September 2000), but disputes appear in them rather seldom. "I believe you may be being unfair about E. Gun's book,"
we read in one, and on another occasion Giedroyc notes, "I think that you are being unfair to Leitgeber."
We mostly devoted attention to articles or reviews either he or I had proposed. When a rift arose between us, which happened rarely, Giedroyc's peculiar approach was simply not to respond, which cut off any further discussion. After a few months, he would send a letter as if nothing had ever happened asking for another review or article.
This collection of context-less comments and quotes does not pretend to be a systematic presentation of Jerzy Giedroyc
's complex, original, interesting and controversial personality. I have neither mentioned his vast achievements and contributions to Polish culture nor his place in our history - and he was a great patriot who never feared defying public opinion when he saw this as necessary. As I knew him, he welcomed controversy and disliked paeans written with pathos and solemnity, praise based on the principle that the dead should be written of aut nihil aut bene. As I knew him, he would have accepted this impressionist sketch just as he accepted most of the texts I submitted to him.
© by "Tygodnik Powszechny"
The author, an historian and Yale University professor, was a long-time collaborator of "Kultura."
"Tygodnik Powszechny" printed this text in its 24 September 2000 issue following the death of Jerzy Giedroyc. It appears on www.culture.pl - courtesy of the editors and publishers of "Tygodnik Powszechny" - in connection with "The Year of Jerzy Giedroyc," celebrated in 2006.