Teresa Torańska was a great Polish journalist and writer, author of the famous book Them: Stalin's Polish Puppets, which included interviews with prominent Polish communist dignitaries. She was born in 1944 in Vawkavysk, and died on 2nd January 2013 in Warsaw.
She studied law at Warsaw University. In the 1970s she collaborated with the Kultura weekly, and later with the parisian Kultura. She lived in Paris from 1985 and then in the United States. She was publishing her articles in international press (Granta, L'Osservatore Romano, New York's Nowy Dziennik). In 2000-2011 she had been working for Duży Format, a reportage supplement to Gazeta Wyborcza. From March 2012, her texts were published in the Polish edition of Newsweek.
Her most important book is Them: Stalin's Polish Puppets (1985, American edition: 1988), a collection of interviews with communist dignitaries about their role in building the Polish People's Republic. The book has been translated into several languages. It entered the canon of obligatory readings at many universities all over the world. For this publication Torańska received a Solidarity of Publishers' Award for best Polish book published unofficially (1986) and Polish PEN Club's Ksawery Pruszyński Award (2000).
After Them I wasn't able to write anything for a long time, this book paralysed me. At first I felt complacent, then many things started happening, plus I was scared I would never write anything as good again. But now I don't care about that anymore. I do what I can, and I think I write better now than I did before, but it's difficult for anything new to win with that subject.
– said Teresa Torańska in her last interview with Remigiusz Grzela [Krytyka Polityzna, December 8th 2012, republished in Grzela's book Wolne/Free, Warsaw 2012].
In 2001 Torańska was honoured with the Officer's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta. Four years later, she received the Barbara Łopieńska award for best press interview for a conversation with Wojciech Jaruzelski, published on December 13th 2004 in Duży Format. The jury underlined that Torańska's interviews "are at the highest technical level possible, diligent and thorough in inquiry, and the author's knowledge and courage are unquestionable; the style is also unique and hard to imitate".
Another collection of interviews, entitled My / We (1994) was a continuation of her famous book. She talked, among others, to Leszek Balcerowicz, Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, Jarosław Kaczyński, Wiktor Kulerski, Jacek Merkel, Jan Rulewski and Piotr Szczepanik.
In 2006, in the book Byli / Bygones, Teresa Torańska returned to her conversations with communist holders of power. Among her interlocutors were Wojciech Jaruzelski, press officer of the government between 1981 and 1989 Jerzy Urban, Minister of Culture Józef Tejchma and the chief of the Office for Religious Affairs Kazimierz Kąkol.
The reporter confided to Remigiurz Grzela what she believed was most important in her work:
The fact that I have to learn all the time, that I rummage through these life stories and each of them is a riddle. I discover continously that history is understated, so I pick up the pieces that are left and try to glue them together. Journalism is my life-long need, it's in my blood. It excites me everyday.
Torańska' s book, Są / They are, is another collection of interviews, in which Torańska talks to Ewa Łętowska, Wanda Wiłkomirska, Michał Głowiński, Jan Nowak Jeziorański, Edmund Wnuk-Lipiński and others. They speak about tragic times in their lives that they had to cope with.
In 2008 the book Jesteśmy. Rozstania'68 / We are. Separations'68 the emmigrants of March speak to Torańska about their experiences 40 years later. The book includes a few dozen conversations with those who were forced to leave Poland, notes about the emmigrants, their photographs as well as an almanac of events.
Śmierć spóźnia się o minutę / Death is a minute too late (2010) is a collection of three conversations with Michał Bristiger, Michał Głowiński and Adam Daniel Rotfeld. In the introduction, the author wrote:
These are not conversations about death and the Holocaust according the usual historical pattern. These are conversations about mysteries. Hidden and pushed away from memory. Those which start to pinch only after decades and only then they are mature enough to come out of the subconscious. And be named.
Torańska was also the author of the talk show Teraz Wy / Now You, transmitted in TVP2 and a series of television programmes Powtórka z PRL-u / A Revision of the PRL and Władza / Power. She was the co-author of documentaries such as Dworzec Gdański / Gdańsk Station (2007) and Noc z generałem / A Night with the General (2004), both directed by Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz, Było i już / It happened, that's that (2002) directed by Feliks Falk and Changing the guard, a story about the beginnings of Polish democracy, directed by Peter Bate for the BBC.
Torańska was a perfectionist who meticulously prepared each interview and polished it for many days afterwards. That is why she was deeply saddened by the dishonesty of people who treated this profession carelessly.
Journalism became skimpy, so its ethics are also far-fetched. The goal of this journalism is only to sell. Journalists have been deprived of memory [...] I also started to doubt printed press. Published texts are full of waffle. Try to squeeze them and there's nothing left. Some remains of facts, of information. Waffle. To do everything as quickly as possible, and sell it. Apparently working has gone out of fashion.
Despite her illness, until her last days she was preparing a book about the Smoleńsk events.
What's important is that there is no assuming. You have to be alert. You cannot connect emotionally with one side of the conflict, but should open up to all the reasons presented and keep digging, asking the same question many times. Everyone sees something else. I collected many accounts on what happened on April 10th, on when Jarosław Kaczyński went to Smoleńsk. Everybody saw something different. This makes you understand how emotions distort the view.
She believed that journalists shouldn't avoid difficult subjects. With all her life she proved how precious courage and responsibility for the testimony left by one's own pen are.
Author: Janusz R. Kowalczyk, January 2013; translated by: N. Mętrak-Ruda, November 2015.