• 01.04.1902


    “Little strawberry”

    The most eminent journalist of the 20th century was born in St. Petersburg, on April 1, 1902, in the noble family from Vilnius (in the record there was entered: сын потомственных дворян губернии ((ru – syn potomstvennykh dvoryan gubernii), a son of the descendants of the Vilnius province court). As he described himself – he was “from an old noble family”, though at home, he was called nicely – “Little strawberry”.
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    His father, Antoni Mackiewicz, came from impoverished gentry from Jańcza from the coat of arms of Boża Wola or Bożawola. At the very beginning of his young life, he worked as a train driver’s assistant, after some time he got to the wine shop and eventually became the co-owner and director of the wine importing company “Fochts i Spółka” (‘Fochts & Ska’). At the age of 36, he met Józef’s mother, Maria née Pietraszkiewicz. Maria née Pietraszkiewicz, came from Krakow from a professorial and literary environment, she painted, played and wrote beautiful poems. Maria née Pietraszkiewicz, Mackiewiczowa, came to St. Petersburg in 1896, as a 22-year-old married woman, not knowing at all neither Russia, nor her husband (Antoni Mackiewicz), whom she met with her sister near Kiev. The Mackiewicz house in St. Petersburg was crowded with wealthy merchants and their wives. The guests most often talked about wine prices and their types. After the first year in Russia, Maria completely changed the image of her apartment. She was assisted by chefs, young girls from Vilnius, who helped her run the Mackiewicz family home. Maria Mackiewiczowa spent 11 years in St. Petersburg, but she never learned how to speak Russian.
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    Józef had an older brother – Stanisław (1896-1966) and a slightly older sister – Seweryna (1900-2002). Stanisław Mackiewicz, known as Stanisław pseud. “CAT” was a Polish political journalist. During 1954–1955, he was the prime minister of the government of the Republic of Poland in exile. Józef’s sister, already married to Orłosiow, described her brothers as – ‘very different from each other. Elder was frail and quiet up to three years old, after reaching the age of four, he learned how to read and since then, he was not interested in anything but books. The younger brother was cheerful, but at the same time, he cried on any occasion. ”
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    The turn of the year 1906-1907, Mackiewicz family remembered very well, because it was their last winter in St. Petersburg. In the spring of 1907, they moved to Vilnius to their father’s homeland, due to Józef’s health, because he did not like the climate of the city on the Neva’s river. They settled in Bank Colony at Witebska street 1, in the Rasų district. As Seweryna Mackiewiczówna – the sister of Józef Mackiewicz recalls. (…) It was a colony of land bank officials, then it was very elegant, right after the first war it was neglected and slowly abandoned by almost all the cottage owners. Our house like all the others was made of brick, but not tight. (…) In the garden there were fruit trees, lilac bushes, raspberries and a lot of currants and gooseberries. Józef spent his childhood surrounded by his large family. All holidays were particularly solemn. J. Mackiewicz’s father attached great importance to traditions, especially food. There was a lot of books at home, mother read Sienkiewicz’s ‘Trilogy’ to children. Unfortunately, fate was cruel, because relatives divided into Poles, Lithuanians and Bolsheviks, divided forever by the state borders, but even more divided by ideologies. Despite all of this, Józef brought patriotic traditions from home.
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    In 1910, he began studying in a private Russian Winogradow gymnasium on Wileńska street 10 (currently Vilniaus street 39), before World War I. (Zygmunt Karpowicz was the first to teach Polish at the Mikołaj Winogradów gymnasium in 1905.) Józef’s siblings remembered that he did not learn well, he said about himself that he did not learn well. He was very much liked by colleagues and teachers. He was cheerful and handsome. He was a sick child. He had constant throat problems. In the memory of the family, Józef remained as a lover of birds and geography – it was his favorite subject at school. It all began from the moment when he received the obligatory literature under the title “Priroda” (‘Nature’) from his teacher Elizavieta Pietrovna. He also received from his parents three volumes of “Animal Life” by Brem and a huge bird cage in which he kept bullfinches, canaries, tame crow and raven. He even kept the typescript in the starling booth. Whereas the mother had the greatest impact on J. Mackiewicz. She developed a passion for Polish history and literature in him. Three years later (in 1914), Józef Mackiewicz’s father dies and in 1915, when the German army was pushing eastwards and the occupation of Vilnius was fast approaching, and Vilnius was mobilized by the 105th Orebursky Regiment, the Winogradów Gymnasium is evacuated to Moscow and Mackiewicz passes to the school which was run by prof. Stanisław Kościałkowski – Junior High School of the Association of Polish Teachers. As Mackiewicz himself recalls … I kept pleasant memories about the Russian school. I even liked it. Polish school I remember with reluctance.
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    History and patriotism were sensitive topics for him, that is why he could not calmly observe the ongoing war. Even as a student of the Vilnius junior high school, at the age of seventeen, Józef Mackiewicz took part as a cavalryman in the Polish-Bolshevik war. 1 student of the 6th grade of junior high school went to volunteer for the war. He served in the 10th Uhlans Regiment of the Lithuanian-Belarusian Division, then – at his own request – he was transferred to the 13th Regiment of Major Dąbrowski, where he served 2 years. Mackiewicz, a young boy, took part in the retreat of Polish troops before the Gaj-Khan offensive, he fought in the defense of Warsaw and later participated in the counterattack of Polish troops. During the war, Mackiewicz had many unexpected experiences, he was captured by the Lithuanian captivity at Oranmai and eventually ended up in a prison in Vilnius, where he wrote a small article for Dziennik Poznański. Thanks to the efforts of the Matulewicz family (Matulaičiai), Mackiewicz was released.
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    After the liberation of Vilnius from the hands of the Bolsheviks (spring 1920), in 1921, without a high school diploma, Mackiewicz began his studies of science at the Warsaw University. He probably stayed with his mother’s family and in Warsaw at quicken courses he received a high school diploma, because in the battle of Oranami all documents, along with his secondary school leaving certificate, were lost. He dealt with ornithology under the guidance of Prof. Janicki and distinguished himself as a bird lover, expert and bird breeder. Unfortunately, he had to leave Warsaw because of financial difficulties, although during his studies he returned to Warsaw on the orders of Prof. Janicki, because he was organizing collections of the local museum and distinguished himself with ornithological research in the Białowieża Forest. He continued his studies in Vilnius, but he did not finish his studies because of the financial reasons, but he probably received the customary statement of leaving university without obtaining a diploma – graduation.
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    As Józef Mackiewicz himself recalls, he abandoned exact sciences and switched to journalism and soon became permanently associated with the daily newspaper called “Word”. The newspaper was founded by his brother Stanisław Mackiewicz. J. Mackiewicz specialized as a correspondent from the Baltic States and, from 1922, he wrote theater reviews. However, the journalist’s work did not bring financial stability, that is why he established cooperation with “Vilnius Courier” („Kurier Wileński”) and worked as a provincial correspondent. After a short period of time, J. Mackiewicz began to publish his own articles in the “Word”, which were devoted to the Vilnius region, as well as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Traveling through Vilnius land, he discovered the unusual geographical and historical character of the inseparable part of the Commonwealth. He remained faithful to the problems of national patriotism throughout his life.
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    Even in his private life, Józef Mackiewicz was a rebel. He married very early, at the age of 22, with Antonina Kopańska, a teacher from Vilnius, who was two years older. He hid the very fact of getting married throughout the whole year. He informed his mother when he already had a daughter – Halina-Antonina. The young family lived modestly and even poorly, that is why the marriage did not last long and after a few years it broke up. Despite this, Mackiewicz never avoided pubs. The restaurant was a place of his every evening stay for many years. It was a place to get information and contacts. Around 1930, he met Wanda Żyłowska, an employee of “Word”. A daughter, Idalia Żyłowska, was born from this romance. In 1932, Józef Mackiewicz’s mother dies and as early as in 1934, Mackiewcz met Barbara Toporska, a journalist with whom he remained until the end of his life and who saved J. Mackiewicz from being squandered. In the 1930s (to be exact, in 1938), he converted to Orthodoxy. It is not entirely clear why he is taking such a step, it is possible that he could not have been married to Barbara Tokarska otherwise. Others say that it was a rebellion against Polish policy in Kresy, because 138 churches were burned at that time in Poland. However, no specific data is available. It was with Barbara Toporska that they bought a house in the summer resort – Czarny Bór, on the edge of the Rudnicka Forest. There they survived the years of war and occupation, there also the first book by J. Mackiewicz – „Bunt rojstów” (‘Revolt of Rojstów’) was written as well as the original version of the novel „Droga donikąd” (‘Road to Nowhere’).
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    J. Mackiewicz’s works were unique. Because of his interest in nature, he derived absolute reluctance to all kinds of nationalism, which he criticized constantly in his works. Mackiewicz’s debut, in 1921, was a short text about how he was arrested by Lithuanian in 1920. However, his first literary text is considered to be the description of the Bałowieża Forest. There were several characteristic features in the works of J. Mackiewicz. Firstly, descriptions of nature that were part of human history and culture. Secondly, he saw the Białowieża Forest as the center of the social phenomenon. The third point was that in the organization of a small local community he saw the problems of the whole society.
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    YEARS OF OCCUPATION, 1939-1946

    Upon hearing of the Red Army’s entry into Poland, Mackiewicz and Toporska, escaping from the Soviet occupation, fled to Kaunas, Lithuania, where the Lithuanian government opened the border for Polish war refugees. On October 14, in the Lithuanian newspaper “Lietuvos Žinios”, he publishes an article entitled Mes Vilniukai (‘We, Vilnius inhabitants), in which he criticizes the pre-war policy of the Polish state towards Ukrainians and Belarusians and expresses the joy of the Soviet army leaving Vilnius and the arrival of Lithuanian troops. He begins to publish one of two Polish daily magazines – “Gazeta Codzienna”. With much less success than before the war, he tries to fight to maintain the multicultural character of the country. In the same year, the Soviet army, as a result of the concluded agreement, resigned from Vilnius (the city was handed over to the Lithuanians), and they both returned to Czarny Bór, where they lived until 1944. When in June 1940 the Red Army re-entered Vilnius, they both withdrew from active journalistic and political life, as the government of the Republic of Lithuania deprived Mackiewicz of the right to publish anything. The family lived in misery, mainly from the sale of their belongings. Mackiewicz worked as a woodcutter and driver. The German occupation authorities suggested Mackiewicz to edit the magazine in Polish. He refuses categorically. In the period from July to October 1941 – he published three fragments of „Droga donikąd” (‘Road to Nowhere’) and one article in „Goniec Codzienny” (‘Daily Messenger’) , a Polish-language journal appearing in occupied Vilnius. The fact of publishing in “Goniec Codzienny” became a pretext for accusations of Mackiewicz of collaboration with the Nazis and the death sentence issued by the Special Court of the AK in unclear circumstances and not known when (at the end of 1942 or at the beginning of 1943). As a result of protests from various Vilnius communities, this judgment was withdrawn by the commander of the Vilnius District of the AK, general Krzyżanowski. To this day, the circumstances of the death sentence are not clear, it was probably the Soviet agent in the ranks of the AK. In May 1943, because of the German invitation and with the consent of the Polish underground authorities, he goes to Katyn to witness the exhumation of the corpses of Polish officers murdered by the Soviets. After J. Mackiewicz return, an interview with him appeared in “Goniec Codzienny” called “I saw it with my own eyes”, in which he reported his stay at the place of execution of Polish officers. This fact influenced the entire further life of Józef Mackiewicz. In autumn he became an accidental witness of the massacre of Jews in Ponary.
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    In May, in order to avoid the third Soviet occupation, the Mackiewicz family managed to get to Warsaw. There, together with B. Toporska, they published three issues of the magazine “Alarm” (‘Alarm’), in which they argued that the defeat of Germany on the Eastern Front before capitulation in the West would be the end of hope for the independence of all countries in Eastern Europe, including Poland – because they were at risk of Soviet occupation. In autumn they reached Krakow, where Mackiewicz wrote the brochure called “Optymizm nie zastąpi nam Polski” (‘Optimism cannot replace Poland’).
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    Already on January 18, when the Red Army was approaching Krakow, the Mackiewicz family began to flee to the West. They arrived in Rome, where, on behalf of the 2nd Corps Office of Studies of General Anders, Mackiewicz prepared a white book about the Katyn massacre – The Katyn Massacre, in the light of documents with a preface by General Anders, which appeared in 1948. In Rome, also appeared Mackiewicz’s report on the murder in Ponary – “Ponary-Baza” On November 12, the Peer Court of the Association of Polish Journalists, the Syndicate “Italy”, punishes Mackiewicz for the article in “Lietuvos Žinios” and acquitted “of the accusation that in the period from 1940 to 1944 he worked in the German occupation press, published in Polish”. Józef Mackiewicz was exonerated of charges of collaboration with the Nazis by a peer court of the Polish Journalists Association. Mackiewicz’s articles were regularly printed in emigration magazines, “Lwów i Wilno” (‘Lviv and Vilnius’, “Wiadomości” (‘News’) and “Kultura” (‘Culture’). He collaborated with the Russian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian and Belarusian émigré press. In April 1947, the Mackiewicz family moved to London. Already on December 12, in the same year, the weekly “Lwów i Wilno” (‘Lviv and Vilnius’) published the first part of Mackiewicz’s article “Nudis Verbis”, which criticizes the war policy of the government in exile and the AK command. An insulted underground army starts a case against J. Mackiewicz. He was constantly reminded of the verdict of the AK special court (dismissed by the commander of the Vilnius District) – a case inspired by people associated with Soviet agents. In 1948, Mackiewicz broke all relations with his brother, Stanisław Cat-Mackiewicz, and developed a new version of the book about Katyn. The first edition of Mackiewicz’s new book about the Soviet Katyn massacre appeared in Switzerland in German language – “Katyn – ungesühntes Verbrechen”. Later the book appeared in translations into other languages. Mackiewicz did not want to publish it in Polish, in order not to conflict with general Władysław Anders, because the book „Zbrodnia katyńska w świetle dokumentów” (‘The Katyn Massacre in the Light of Documents’) with the general’s preface already existed and would cause many misunderstandings. Year 1951 was primarily the year of publication of „The Katyń Wood Murders”, the first book on the Katyn massacre in English. After a short time, on January 15, 1952, the extraterritorial PEN-Club Center for Writers in Exile grants its membership to Mackiewicz and also he was appointed by the US Congress Special Investigation Commission to Investigate the Katyn Massacre as a witness and, at the same time, as an expert.
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    In 1955, Mackiewicz family moved permanently from London to Munich. However, they lived in poverty and made a living from poor wages. Munich also turned out to be an unfortunate place for the journalist. Although it was actually there, where he wrote: „Droga donikąd” (‘A Road to Nowhere’) – a story about life in Lithuania, when it became a Soviet republic. „Kontra”- a novel about Cossacks, USSR citizens and political emigrants who fought against Bolsheviks in the Soviet-German war, and then they were given by Allies on the basis of the Yalta Agreement. He also wrote there „Lewa wolna” (‘Left Free’) – a novel about the Polish-Bolshevik war of 1920. In the same year, Mackiewicz won the plebiscite for “The Most Favorite Writer of the News readers” and he receives an award founded by the Tazab company from London. In 1956, he finally broke off all contacts with his brother Stanisław. Three years later, in July, Mackiewicz leaves the PEN-Club during the XXX International Congress of the organization in Frankfurt near Main in protest against the fact that the organization is abusing its statute and does not defend the oppressed writers in communist countries. In 1961, Józef Mackiewicz receives the Herminia Naglerowa award by the Association of Polish Writers in Exile, and in 1963 receives the Award of Anna Godlewska from Zurich. ‘The Circle of Friends of Józef Mackiewicz’s Works’ was created in London. Next year, in 1971, the President of the Republic of Poland in Exile, August Zaleski, awarded him with the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta. Next books he published while in exile were „Sprawa pułkownika Miasojedowa” (‘The Case of Colonel Miasojedov’) – this is the story of the once famous case of Sergey Miasojedov, lost in June 1914, as well as its continuation – until the bombing of Dresden at the end of World War II. He also published „Zwycięstwo prowokacji” (‘Victory of provocation’) – a dissertation on the reasons for the spread of communism in the world. Collection of short stories „Pod każdym niebem” (‘Under every sky’) – several pre-war works were published as well, bearing the afterword of Barbara Toporska. „Nie trzeba głośno mówić” (‘You don’t have to speak loudly’) – a kind of continuation of Road to nowhere appeared – an epic panorama of World War II. The new novel again becomes the reason for the next wave of discussing the so-called Mackiewicz affairs. In 1972, an analysis of Pope John XXIII’s policy towards communism was published – „W cieniu krzyża” (‘In the Shadow of the Cross’), for which the Alfred Jurzykowski Foundation from New York grants Mackiewicz an award in the field of literature. In 1975, in the book „Watykan w cieniu czerwonej gwiazdy” (‘Vatican in the Shadow of the Red Star’) – J. Mackiewicz continued the theme of the Catholic Church’s policy towards communism, this time during the pontificate of Pope Paul VI. The Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures of the University of Kansas (USA) proposed Józef Mackiewicz for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1975, paradoxically supported by a group of Russian scholars and emigrant activists, but he did not receive the prize.
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    In mid-December 1984, Mackiewicz suffered a stroke and was partially paralyzed, but unfortunately he did not regain consciousness. January 31, 1985 – Józef Mackiewicz dies in Munich. Half a year later, on June 20, 1985, his wife, Barbara Toporska, dies. The ashes of both were laid in London, at the cemetery at the church of St. Andrzej Bobola.
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    When Józef Mackiewicz’s health began to deteriorate, Barbara Toporska, his life companion, more and more often sent potential publishers of Mackiewicz’s books to the emigrant Nina Karsov, who from the beginning fiercely torpedoed all publishing initiatives. Already in the 70s, a group of people friendly to Mackiewicz, grouped in the ‘Society of Friends of Józef Mackiewicz’s Works’, in Orlando, Florida, USA, had serious fear that the writer’s copyright had been appropriated by Nina Karsov-Szechter. Barbara Toporska, tormented by the disease, did not lose understanding of reality, although Karsov considered her such. Even in the last moments of her life, Toporska never called Nina Karsov her daughter, which at the time was not so important, because everyone in exile knew that there was no relationship – family, racial, and especially ideological – between Nina Karsov-Szechter and Mackiewicz family. Mackiewicz himself never intended to entrust his literary heritage, or copyrights to her, to strangers. Especially, that he had few, but self-sacrificing friends in exile and in Poland the closest family, with whom he felt connected. Mackiewicz could not understand Nina Karsov-Szechter’s interest in his fate and literary output. After Mackiewicz’s death in 1985, copyright was inherited by his life companion Barbara Toporska, who in turn gave it to Nina Karsov, the owner of the Kontra publishing house from London. Since 1994, copyright proceedings have been pending before the District Court in Warsaw for the works of Józef Mackiewicz, to whom the writer’s daughter and Nina Karsov are parties. He transferred the rights to second-rate national editions to his daughter Halina, who, however, during martial law burnt papers because of the fear of a search, because the letter contained the names of people from the underground. However, after 1989, Nina Karsov-Szechter retained all rights and did not allow official national editions, explaining this with the “will of the deceased” given to her and consistently brought lawsuits to anyone who published wider fragments of his works without her consent. Although Mackiewicz was against publishing his books in PRL publishing houses, he never said that he was against publishing his works in free Poland.