Stanislaw Rodzinski on Jerzy Giedroyc, "Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39, 24 September 2000.
"Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39,"NEWS"
Krakow, 24 September 2000
Stanislaw Rodzinski on Jerzy Giedroyc
It is around noon, September 15th. A moment ago I learned of Jerzy Giedroyc's
death. Memories and reflections ensue.
Perhaps the day before yesterday, I saw a recent interview with the Editor on the Polonia channel. The last questions steered the conversation toward his inevitably approaching end. Mention was made of "Kultura" closing with the Editor's passing, and of the reasons for this decision that had been known for some time. Subsequent questions centered on Giedroyc's greatest, or perhaps chief, wish "at the day's end." Though maybe not surprising, his response was unusual: his last wish and dream was to have Jozef Czapski's DZIENNIKI/DIARIES read (i.e. deciphered) and published, diaries that Giedroyc called the great "Norwidian" achievement of the painter who was his friend.
I met Giedroyc in 1974 on my first visit to Paris and Maisons-Laffitte to meet with Czapski
, with whom I had been corresponding for years. I instantly noted the intense air of uninterrupted work "downstairs," in the part of the house occupied by the editorial office. When Kisiel was at Laffitte there seemed to be movement and disorder, but the Editor was the unchanging element, in his neckerchief, always smoking a cigarette, reading or writing. He spoke softly, gazing attentively at you, but seemed always to have his own ideas about the topic. I sensed he was isolated from the outside world and confirmed this on my next visit to Laffitte. Jozef Czapski
had gone on vacation and Sunday was approaching. Having mostly made excursions into Paris on previous Sundays and not knowing the town despite its small size, I asked the Editor where the nearest church was. I heard a curt "I don't know." I was stunned. A moment later, Giedroyc, maybe also surprised by the situation, added, "I think it's somewhere in the town" - and this proved to be true.
This is neither the time nor the place to assess the Editor's attitude to the Church based on this exchange. He manifested it in statements and texts that often irritated or raised doubts, as when he warned, after Poland's rebirth, of the dangers of religious statehood. Conversely, he was very interested in his ancestor, the Blessed Michal Giedroyc, and wrote me recently to ask that I enlist someone to copy the painting of the Virgin Mary from St. Mark's Church in Krakow, the so-called Virgin Mary of Michal Giedroyc. Jerzy Giedroyc wanted to offer one copy to Lithuanian president Adamkus while keeping the other for himself. Bogdan Klechowski, a young painter and faculty member at the Academy of Fine Arts, ably completed the commission.
Near the end of March I received the Editor's letter requesting a text about Czapski's exhibition at the National Museum
in Gdansk. I wrote the text and faxed it off. A few hours later, I received a thoroughly (and surprisingly) warm thank you note with an equally kind assessment. "Alas, a tragedy has occurred," added the Editor. "Your manuscript has been charred by the flame of a candle that stands on my desk." I immediately faxed off another copy and thought that the Prince himself could no longer stand the clouds of cigarette smoke and had sought solace in a tried and true method...
With the years, Czapski reduced his involvement in "Kultura" and Giedroyc seemed to put a distance between them. One could sense that their contacts remained lively even if at times Jozef complained, "Jerzy hasn't even come to see me today." Once, we were peering out the window on the upper floor, Jozef leaning on me heavily. He was 94 years old, had trouble walking, but was still in excellent mental shape, joking, reacting in a lively manner. The Prince appeared in the yard, traipsing in his characteristic way, carrying the trash to the garbage container (a daily ritual). Jozef, seeing this "from above," said: "Look at how old Jerzy has grown." I burst out laughing. Jozef looked at me and said, "Get out of here, shame on you!" Memories, memories.
One thing is sure. The date of Jerzy Giedroyc's death is one more to snap one of the threads of contemporary Polish history, an important thread for two reasons.
Firstly, Giedroyc's thinking, simultaneously that of "Kultura," was never hasty, interventionist; instead, it was immersed in the past and structured with the future in mind. The Editor's great oeuvre will be studied and analyzed. Not entirely understood, but clearly concluded, seems his feud with Herling-Grudzinski
. Giedroyc's last wish is a kind of expiation toward Czapski. Yet all these matters are merely crumbs of the "Kultura" Phenomenon. Without those small booklets of the memorable design, Poland's history and the awareness of sizeable sections of the Polish intelligentsia would have been different. Poorer.
Secondly, the state-building instinct was one of Jerzy Giedroyc's obsessions. For today's Poland, which many refer to loathingly as "this country," civic awareness and imagination of the scope of state matters is a fundamental issue.
One need not agree with the Editor's often cool, bitter assessment of our Polish realities. One can - as I wrote in "Tygodnik Powszechny," contesting Giedroyc's take on one of the papal pilgrimages - disagree with his slightly archaic anti-clericalism. Yet one cannot deny that the day of his passing is one of the saddest and most dramatic in our history, that we bid farewell to one of the few who produced almost metaphysical fear in the 'masters' of the Polish People's Republic, that yet one more heroic chapter in Poland's annals has concluded.
© by "Tygodnik Powszechny"
The author, a painter and rector of the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, was Jozef Czapski's friend and a co-organizer of the painter's exhibitions in Poland.
"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.