The Avenue at Middelharnis by Meindert Hobbema, 1689
A gift from Jeanne Hersch*
Many years ago I received, as a gift from Jeanne Hersch, seven books by Czesław Miłosz with the poet’s handwritten inscriptions for her. I know that a book could be used to store items, but I was surprised when I found in the donated books, in addition to the dedication and signs of reading (annotations in pencil), loose sheets of a manuscript by Hersch (her French translation of the poem Child of Europe), and newspaper clippings about Miłosz. There was also a photo of Miłosz from 1981. These seven books are not only a story of the friendship of Czesław and Jeanne but also a contribution to the reflection on the sanctity of writing, dedicating, reading, storing, and offering books.
*Jeanne Hersch (1910–2000) was a Swiss philosopher of Polish-Jewish origin. She studied under the existentialist Karl Jaspers. Her works dealt with the concept of freedom. From 1956 to 1977 she was a professor of philosophy at the University of Geneva and also taught at a number of universities in the United States. From 1966 to 1968 she headed the philosophy division of UNESCO, and was a member of its executive commission (1970–1972). In 1968 she edited Birthright of man: a selection of texts, an anthology of writings on human rights. Her main work is Philosophical Astonishment: a history of philosophy. She translated i.a. books of Czesław Miłosz.
Fragment of the poem Child of Europe by Czesław Miłosz
Józef Czapski—the witness of history
Józef Czapski, itinéraires de vérité, sous la direction de Maria Delaperrière, Maciej Forycki et Paweł Rodak, Institut d’études slaves. Eur’Orbem éditions, Paris 2020.
“Włodzimierz Bolecki emphasises that the title of the work on the inhumanity of Sovietism is an ‘extraordinary achievement’ for it has entered not only Polish, but even universal historical consciousness. It has become one of the most important terms in the dictionary of 20th century history” – about the chapter 4. Józef Czapski devant les crimes de masse. De l'enquête sur les « disparus » à la vérité sur le système soviétique.
“Peintre, soldat, homme de culture, écrivain, auteur d’un immense et singulier Journal, Józef Czapski (1896-1993) fut une figure majeure du destin européen du XXe siècle. Ce livre retrace les « itinéraires de vérité » de ce Polonais cosmopolite : son enfance dans un milieu aristocratique au début du siècle, sa jeunesse en Russie, son engagement dans le conflit polono-bolchevique, ses études à l’Académie des beaux-arts de Cracovie, puis à Paris au sein du groupe des « kapistes ». Après les épreuves de la Seconde Guerre mondiale – internement dans les camps soviétiques, découverte de la vérité sur les massacres de Katyń, longue marche avec l’armée d’Anders et campagne d’Italie –, il s’installe en 1947 en France. Avec les exilés regroupés autour de la revue Kultura, il jouera un rôle de médiateur intellectuel entre l’Est et l’Ouest. Cette monographie richement illustrée s’intéresse tant aux témoignages de Czapski sur la condition des victimes du stalinisme (Souvenirs de Starobielsk, Terre inhumaine) qu’à ses réflexions sur l’art et la littérature”.
“The New York Review Books (NYRB) Classics series’ recent publication of two works by the Polish painter and writer Józef Czapski, Inhuman Land: Searching for the Truth in Soviet Russia, 1941–1942 and Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp, can only be described as timely. (...) These books, particularly Inhuman Land, are exceedingly useful in understanding Russian society under the Soviet regime and the repercussions of that seventy-four-year terror that are still evident today, as well as the intellectual amid extreme persecution” (Filip Mazurczak).
“The University of the Arts in Poznań has published Józef Czapski’s Letters on Painting (2019). This is a selection of letters written by Czapski to me. Our correspondence mainly concerned painting. It consists of 36 letters from Czapski, and covers the period from 1984 to 1989. When it began, Czapski was 88 years old and I was 30. Exchanging letters turned into friendship. Czapski gave me one of the most important lessons of love for painting and art in general” (Janusz Marciniak). Download the e-book (PDF).
Raphael Lemkin, creator of the concept of genocide
“Raphael Lemkin (Polish: Rafał Lemkin; 24 June 1900 – 28 August 1959) was a Polish lawyer who is best known for coining the term ‘genocide’ and for initiating the Genocide Convention, an interest spurred on after learning about the Armenian genocide and finding out that no international laws existed to prosecute the Ottoman leaders who had perpetrated these crimes.
Lemkin coined genocide in 1943 or 1944 from genos (Greek: γένος génos, ‘family, clan, tribe, race, stock, kin’) and -cide (Latin: -cīdium, ‘killing’). He became interested in war crimes after reading about the 1921 trial of Soghomon Tehlirian for the assassination of Talaat Pasha. He recognized the fate of Armenians as one of the most significant genocides of the 20th century. His work inspired Jessie Bernard, whose book American Community Behavior contains one of the earliest sociological studies of genocide. (...)
In November 1944, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. This book included an extensive legal analysis of German rule in countries occupied by Nazi Germany during the course of World War II, along with the definition of the term genocide. Lemkin's idea of genocide as an offence against international law was widely accepted by the international community and was one of the legal bases of the Nuremberg Trials. In 1945 to 1946, Lemkin became an advisor to Supreme Court of the United States Justice and Nuremberg Trial chief counsel Robert H. Jackson. The book became one of the foundational texts in Holocaust studies, and the study of totalitarianism, mass violence, and genocide studies.”
Józef Rotblat, Nobel Peace Laureate, 1995
“Sir Joseph Rotblat KCMG CBE FRS (4 November 1908 – 31 August 2005) was a Polish physicist, a self-described ‘Pole with a British passport’. During World War II he worked on Tube Alloys and the Manhattan Project, but left the Los Alamos Laboratory on grounds of conscience after it became clear that Germany had ceased development of an atomic bomb in 1942.
His work on nuclear fallout was a major contribution toward the ratification of the 1963 Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. A signatory of the 1955 Russell–Einstein Manifesto, he was secretary-general of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs from their founding until 1973 and shared, with the Pugwash Conferences, the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize ‘for efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international affairs and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms.’ (...) The Pugwash Conferences are credited with laying the ground work for the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963, the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972 and the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. In parallel with the Pugwash Conferences, he joined with Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Bertrand Russell and other concerned scientists to found the World Academy of Art and Science, which was proposed by them in the mid-1950s and formally constituted in 1960.”
The Abolition of War by Krzysztof Wodiczko, Black Dog Publishing, 2012.