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Only the truth is interesting – Józef Mackiewicz, anti-communist


Józef Mackiewicz, a prominent Polish writer, opponent of totalitarianism and supporter of the Polish-Lithuanian agreement, died on 31 January 1985. His self-characterisation is famous: “Profession: writer. Nationality: anti-communist. Beliefs: counter-revolutionary. Country of origin: Eastern Europe’.

Józef Mackiewicz was born on 1 April 1902 in St. Petersburg as the youngest child of Antoni Mackiewicz, a wine merchant in the capital of Tsarist Russia. The greatest influence on the children, however, was his mother, the Krakow-born Maria Pietraszkiewicz, who ran a parlour, frequented by the artistic elite of her home city. Among the siblings, apart from Józef, Stanisław Mackiewicz a.k.a. “Cat”, also chose a literary career. In 1907, the family moved to Vilnius. There, Józef graduated from a classical gymnasium, and from there he set off as a less than seventeen-year-old volunteer to fight in the war against the Bolsheviks, who attacked Poland in 1919. 

From 1922 to 1939, he was editor of the conservative magazine Słowo, published in Vilnius and run by his older brother, Stanisław. As a columnist there, he defended the national rights of all residents of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Vilnius was an important centre of cultural and historical significance until World War II. At the beginning of the 1930s, it was inhabited by Poles (more than 60 %) and 1/3 of the population was Jewish. Other nationalities included Russians (almost 4%), and Lithuanians who admitted to the Lithuanian language (only about 1%). 

Describing the city’s history in a nutshell, Józef included the tragedy of the city’s fate: “The history of Vilnius since 1914 can be put into the following litany: 1. 1914 within the borders of the Russian Empire; 2. 1915 in autumn it passes into German hands; 3. 1918 in autumn to a military group of Polish self-defence against the Bolsheviks; 4. In January into Bolshevik hands; 5. 1919 in April back to the Poles; 6. 1920 in July to the Bolsheviks; 7. 1920 the same month handed over to the Lithuanians; 8. 1920 October – captured by [Lucjan] Żeligowski, capital of Central Lithuania; 9. 1922 in February incorporated into Poland; 10. 1939 in September the Bolsheviks entered, incorporating it into Soviet Belarus; 11. 1939 in October they gave Vilnius back to Lithuania”. Mackiewicz wrote this calendar when Vilnius was once again under German occupation.  During the Second World War in the eastern part of the Second Polish Republic, he witnessed an exceptional number of terrible events. 

After the Third Reich and the USSR attacked Poland in 1939, he fled to Kaunas, but soon after the Lithuanian takeover of Vilnius, he decided to return to his beloved city. During the Soviet occupation, he earned his living as a cartman. At that time, he observed the nonsense and hypocrisy of communist ideology and its power to deprave the human individual. He remained an implacable enemy of communism for the rest of his life. 

In May 1943, after the discovery of the graves of Polish officers by the Germans, he went to Katyn, with the consent of the Polish underground authorities, as an observer of the exhumation of the victims of the Soviet crime. He was well aware of the exclusively propaganda role the Germans gave to their discovery, but what he saw never allowed him to remain silent about the Soviet crime, about which he wrote: “Everyone died for long minutes, everyone was shot individually, everyone waited his turn, everyone was dragged to the edge of the grave; a thousand after a thousand!”. Despite the enormity of Soviet guilt, he did not lose sight of the cruelty of the Germans. A shocking experience for the writer was the extermination of Jews in Ponary near Vilnius, described in the short story “Ponary-Baza”. 

After the Soviets reoccupied Vilnius, Mackiewicz, a declared opponent of communism, had to flee to Warsaw. There, still in 1944, he and his wife published the magazine Alarm, in which he argued that Germany’s defeat on the Eastern Front before the surrender in the West would be the end of hope for the independence of all occupied countries, including Poland. He claimed that they were threatened by Soviet occupation. Anticipating the worst, when the Red Army occupied Poland, Mackiewicz and his wife went to the West. In exile, he began to print texts in Polish periodicals, and cooperated with the Russian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian and Belarusian press in exile. After his departure for London, he continued to describe the circumstances of the Katyn massacre. A translation of his book on the subject in English was published in 1951 titled The Katyn Wood Murders, followed by translations into all major European languages. 

In 1955, the Mackiewicz family moved to Munich, where they lived until their deaths. They lived in poverty, existing solely on royalties for their publications. Joseph wrote his best-known novels then, which included: “The Road to Nowhere” – about life in Lithuania when it became a Soviet republic, and “Kontra” – about Cossacks, citizens of the USSR, political émigrés who fought against the Soviets in the German-Soviet war and were then handed over to them for certain death by the Allies. In 1962, Mackiewicz, with his own money, published a work “Victory of Provocation” – a treatise on the causes of the spread of communism throughout the world. The following years saw the publication of the novel Left Free (1965), about the Polish-Bolshevik war of 1920, and No Need to Speak Out (1969). The latter is an epic panorama of the Second World War. 

The writer and publicist opposed any policy of appeasement towards communist ideology. He also criticised the Catholic Church in this regard. It was Mackiewicz’s resolute and consistent anti-communism that made him condemned to oblivion as an author not only during the communist regime in Poland, but also after 1989. Today, he is still a completely unknown figure to most Poles, even though, as an eyewitness to the difficult and tragic history of 20th century Poland, he left hundreds of journalistic and historical articles, short stories, novels, reviews and letters. 

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