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Józef Mackiewicz

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Józef Mackiewicz
Mackiewicz in Wilno; before 1939
Mackiewicz in Wilno; before 1939
Born(1902-04-01)1 April 1902
Saint Petersburg
Died31 January 1985(1985-01-31) (aged 82)

Józef Mackiewicz (1 April 1902 – 31 January 1985) was a Polish writer, novelist and political commentator; best known for his documentary novels Nie trzeba głośno mówić (One Is Not Supposed to Speak Aloud), and Droga donikąd (The Road to Nowhere). He staunchly opposed communism, referring to himself as an "anticommunist by nationality". Mackiewicz died in exile. His older brother Stanisław Mackiewicz was also a writer.

Life and career[edit]

Józef Mackiewicz was the son of Antoni Mackiewicz and Maria née Pietraszkiewicz originally from Kraków, a Polish noble family from the Polish-Lithuanian gentry of Bożawola coat of arms. He was born on 1 April 1902 in Saint Petersburg. Józef Mackiewicz was the younger brother of Stanisław Mackiewicz, a political publicist and Prime Minister of the postwar Polish government in exile from 1954 to 1955; and Seweryna Mackiewicz, mother of Polish writer Kazimierz Orłoś [pl].

In 1907 his family moved to Vilnius. In 1919, as a 17-year-old volunteer he participated in the Polish–Soviet War, first, as an uhlan of the Polish Army's 10th Lithuanian Uhlan Regiment, and then of the 13th Wilno Uhlan Regiment. He finished his military service during Poland's fight of independence as an uhlan of the 211th Niemen Volunteer Uhlan Regiment [pl]. Similar to other young veterans of the war who entered university without their Matura graduation, Mackiewicz started his favourite subject of biological sciences at the University of Warsaw and then upon moving to Vilnius continued studies at the Vilnius University, but he never graduated with a degree. From 1923 he worked as a journalist for Słowo (The Word), a periodical published in Vilnius by his older brother Stanisław and fully sponsored and financed by the old noble families of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Journalist work took him all over the Baltic republics and eastern Poland.[1]

Mackiewicz married Antonina Kopańska with whom he had a daughter Halina, and upon divorce he was in a long-term relationship with Wanda Żyłowska, with whom he had a daughter Idalia. Then he began his lifelong relationship with a writer and journalist of Vilnius' Słowo Barbara Toporska, but they had no children. They married in 1939.[2]

World War II[edit]

On 17 September 1939 Soviet troops attacked eastern Poland as part of the joint German-Soviet Invasion of Poland. Upon the division of the country by occupying forces, the Vilnius region was transferred to then independent Lithuania. Mackiewicz remained in the city and between October 1939 and May 1940 was a publisher and editor-in-chief of the Gazeta Codzienna (Daily Paper), a Polish-language daily in Lithuanian-controlled Vilnius. In his articles, he attempted to initiate a political dialogue between Lithuanians and Poles. In May 1940, he was forbidden from further role as publisher and journalist by the Lithuanian government.

After the 15 June 1940 invasion and annexation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union, Mackiewicz worked temporarily as a labourer. In 1942, he witnessed the Ponary massacre of some 100,000 mostly Polish Jews by German SD, SS and the Lithuanian Nazi collaborators Ypatingasis būrys, which he described in his 1969 book Nie trzeba głośno mówić (One Is Not Supposed to Speak Aloud).[3] At the end of 1942 (beginning of 1943) he was mistakenly sentenced to death by the resistance, for his work at Gazeta Codzienna and Goniec Codzienny. The sentence was cancelled out (see below).[4]

Discovery of Katyń Forest Massacre[edit]

In April 1943 Mackiewicz was invited by the international Katyn Commission, headed by German occupying authorities, to the site of Katyn massacre. Upon consent of the Polish government-in-exile, he assisted in the first excavations of the mass graves of the Polish officers killed by Soviet NKVD there in 1940. Upon his return to Vilnius, the local German-sponsored daily Goniec Codzienny published an interview with Mackiewicz titled "Widziałem na własne oczy" ("I saw with my own eyes"). He later arrived in Italy where he worked for the II Corps (Poland) and, in this capacity, he edited a compilation of documents related directly to the Katyń Massacre under the title Zbrodnia katyńska w świetle dokumentów (The Katyn murder in light of new evidence), published in 1948 with an introduction by General Władysław Anders. At the same time he wrote his own book under the title Katyń. Zbrodnia bez sądu i kary (Katyn. Murder without Trial nor Sentence). Its first Polish language publication was destroyed by the publisher in London, UK, for political reasons. In 1949 he published its German language version, Katyn – ungesühntes Verbrechen, in Zürich, Switzerland. In 1951 he published the English-version of his book under a title The Katyn Wood Murders, the very first book in English on the subject (Italian version in 1954 as Il Massacro della foresta di Katyn, in Spanish in 1957 as Las Fosas de Katyn, in Russian published in Canada in 1988 as Катынь). In 1952 he testified before US Senate Committee known as "Select Committee to Investigate and Study the Facts, Evidence, and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre" about the genocidal nature the Katyń Massacre (the Polish version of Katyń. Zbrodnia bez sądu i kary was published in 1997 in Poland, and again under different title: Sprawa mordu katyńskiego. Ta książka była pierwsza in 2009).

Obtaining death penalty for false accusations of collaboration[edit]

During the German occupation of Vilnius in 1941, Mackiewicz was falsely accused of "collaboration" with the Germans.

Mackiewicz believed that a return to the prewar borders of Poland was a pipe-dream and not a useful premise, which some local Poles then considered unthinkable. However, Mackiewicz was proven correct by later events.

He proclaimed that opposing just one invader, Germany (as did the Polish Resistance), was synonymous with helping the second invader, the Soviet Union, because their intentions were identical. He believed that opposing communism was more important.[1]

His ridicule of the Polish false hopes was too much for some of his adversaries. He was sentenced to death by an underground tribunal, but to Czesław Miłosz, he was not a collaborator.[1] In 1947, Mackiewicz was completely cleared of any wrongdoing. It is open to debate, according to Miłosz, how much the popular criticism of his novels was influenced by the Soviet sympathies of his adversaries.

The accusations negatively influenced the Polish perceptions of Mackiewicz's work, especially following World War II, and were exploited by his critics.[1] The accusations, however, were not the cornerstone of the second sentence by passed the communists on him and his works, as it was his role in the revelation to the world of the Katyń Massacre and unrelenting work to expose the evils of the communist system that caused his absence from Polish literature.

Therefore, from 1945 to 1990, the duration of the Communist régime, he was blacklisted, no official publications were permitted, and no academic work or journalistic discussion about his works was allowed and so several generations of Poles grew up without knowing his works or about him.


Mackiewicz and his wife Barbara Toporska left Vilnius and lived in Warsaw until 31 July 1944, when they left for Kraków and then finally left Poland for Rome in January 1945, never to return. They first lived in Italy and he started publishing in various émigré publications like "Kultura" in Paris and many others. In 1948 they moved to London and he continued writing and publishing. In 1955 he and his wife Barbara Toporska moved permanently to Munich, where he died in January 1985. He continued to write on variety of topics and also published plenty of fiction and articles, living a rather impoverished life supported by royalties from publishers.


Mackiewicz's prose is extremely realistic: he believed that there are no untouchable subjects in writing. In 1957, he published Kontra, a narrative account of the particularly brutal and treacherous handover of thousands of anti-Soviet Cossacks back to the Soviets by the British soldiers in Austria; and in 1962 Sprawa pulkownika Miasojedowa ("Colonel Miasoyedov's Case"), a harshly realistic novel of the bombing of Dresden in World War II. His other best-known novels include: Droga donikąd ("The Road to Nowhere"), an account of life under Soviet occupation; Zwycięstwo prowokacji ("Victory of Provocation") on communism; and W cieniu krzyża ("In the Shadow of the Cross") on Catholicism. His voluminous output as a writer of fiction and a publicist has been undergoing a revival after many years of underground publishing and later marginal interest. His books have been published since 1972 by the KONTRA Publishing House of London, UK, owned by Nina Karsov-Szechter. In 2009 Nina Karsov-Szechter received an award of the Union of Polish Writers Abroad as the editor of works by Józef Mackiewicz.

Popular culture[edit]

Józef Mackiewicz is the subject of two documentaries made after his death. First was the film „Jedynie prawda jest ciekawa” (Only the truth is interesting) by Robert Kaczmarek made for Polish TV in 1996, and then in 2008 a short film „Errata do biografii – Józef Mackiewicz” (Correction to biography - Józef Mackiewicz) by Grzegorz Braun. His life and works are the subject of more than 30 scholarly works, as well as articles, websites and blogs.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Czesław Miłosz, „Kultura” nr 5(500), 1989; Koniec Wielkiego Xięstwa (O Józefie Mackiewiczu). Part One. Archived 2012-04-14 at the Wayback Machine Part Two. Archived 2012-04-14 at the Wayback Machine Digitized reprint. Retrieved 14 December 2011.
  2. ^ W. Bolecki, Józef Mackiewicz – pisarz przemilczany Archived 2014-07-18 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica: "Polish literature." Jerzy R. Krzyzanowski and Julian Krzyżanowski. See: Józef Mackiewicz Nie trzeba głośno mówić (One Is Not Supposed to Speak Aloud).
  4. ^ Jerzy Malewski, "Wyrok na Jozefa Mackiewicza."  [citation needed]