Jerzy Giedroyc: Political Activist and Cultural Editor Extraordinaire

Jerzy Giedroyc at Maisons-Laffitte, 1997 Jerzy Ruciński/PAP

For over five decades, Giedroyc played a major role in promoting Polish cultural life, gaining credibility with this postwar Paris-based Kultura magazine for rejecting subsidies or backing from the CIA-funded US Free Europe Committee.

Born Jerzy Władysław Giedroyc on July 27, 1906, in the city of Minsk, Belarus, the future activist came from an old Polish-Lithuanian aristocratic family.

Growing up in Tsarist Russia, on the outbreak of the October Revolution his family fled to Poland where they settled in Warsaw.

After graduating in Law and History he became a civil servant and editor-in-chief of Academic Day, a weekly supplement to the daily newspaper Polish Day.

As a political activist, Giedroyc had a very clear view of the internal and external politics of pre-war Poland, insisting that Poland's success depended on good relations with all minorities living in Poland and maintained close contact with Ukrainian political leaders.

After the outbreak of WWII Giedroyc was sent to Romania where he served as a diplomat. Later, in 1941, he joined the Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade, and took part in the Libyan campaign and in the battle of Tobruk. Towards the end of war, after working for the Armoured Troops Training Centre in Italy, Giedroyc became the Director of the European Department of the Ministry of Information of the Polish Government in London in 1945.

During this time he got to know two men who would become the most important people of his life: Józef Czapski, Zofia Hertz and Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, with whom he was to establish one of the most important intellectual centres of Polish post-war culture known as the Literary Institute.

Established in Rome in 1946, they soon moved it to the small town of Maisons-Laffitte, in the northwestern suburbs of Paris.

A year later, Giedroyc set up the most important periodical for Polish emigres, Kultura (Culture) which became a spiritual home for Polish émigré essayists and writers, including Andrzej Bobkowski, Jerzy Stempowski, Witold Gombrowicz and Nobel Prize winner Czesław Miłosz.

Mirosław Chojecki (L), Jerzy Giedroyc (C) and Stefan Kisielewski (R) during Czesław Miłosz's Nobel Banquet, Stockholm, Sweden, December 10, 1980.Tomasz Abramowicz/PAP

Despite a modest budget, the Kultura magazine managed to maintain its independence for decades, publishing 637 issues from 1947 to 2000, when it closed following Giedroyc’s death.

Throughout the whole time, Giedroyc’s insistence that financial independence is the basis of intellectual freedom, unlike the majority of emigre politicians and leaders, the publication gained credibility for refusing subsidies from the CIA-funded US Free Europe Committee.

Kultura’s uniqueness also lay in its attitude towards Poland. Never in favour of restoring Poland’s prewar borders, they nonetheless supported independence for Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus all of which were under the control of the Soviet Union.

But the magazine always kept an eye on what was happening with Polish culture under communism. It rejected the system but not the culture born of it.

By the time of his death on September 14th 2000, he had been awarded several honorary doctorates from Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Freiburg University and the University of Warsaw.

In 1996 he was honoured with the Officer Cross of the Legion of Honour and a year later he was made an honorary citizen of Lithuania.