Gustaw Herling-Grudziński

Resistance fighter, journalist, writer, literary critic, soldier and Gulag survivor, he belonged to the generation of people brought up in the interwar period in Poland, which regained its independence after more than a hundred years. Perhaps that is why he valued freedom so much and was not going to give it up without a fight, whether it was personal or national freedom. Fate always took him where history was made. He used his extraordinary talent for observation and literature to become one of those who preserved the testimony of events for future generations.

Published as part ofeducational program Gulag XR

Gustaw Herling-Grudziński was born in 1919 in Kielce into a Jewish family.

He was forced to interrupt his studies of Polish literature at the University of Warsaw when World War II started in 1939. In October of the same year, already during the occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, he founded an underground resistance group, which became one of the first secret organizations in Poland, and as a resistance fighter he actively participated in its activities.

He then moved to Lviv and then to Grodno. In the spring of 1940, while trying to cross the Polish-Lithuanian border, he was arrested by the Soviets and sentenced to five years in prison.

Through the prisons in Vitebsk and Leningrad he got to the labour camp in Yertsevo in the Arkhangelsk region in the north of the European part of Russia. This was a camp administration called Kargopollag, where between 1938 and 1956 the prisoners cut down forests, made skis, built a paper mill and built railway lines. Gustaw Herling-Grudziński spent two years in the gulag before he was released under the Sikorski-Majski agreement of 1941 and joined the army led by Polish General Władysław Anders.

In 1944 he also took part in the famous Battle of Monte Cassino. For his bravery in combat, he was honoured with the highest Polish military award, the Virtuti Militari. After the war he was at the birth of the political and cultural magazine Kultura, which was published first in Rome and later in Paris. Gustaw Herling-Grudziński lived in Great Britain and Italy and continued his work as a writer and literary critic in Naples. From abroad, he continued to speak out against the Communist regime as a political dissident. He wrote his memories of the horrors of the Soviet concentration camps in his memoir, Another World (Inny świat).

Herling-Grudziński, in his book published ten years before the publication of Solzhenitsyn's novel One Day of Ivan Denisovich, emphasized that labour camps in Soviet Russia were more an instrument of punishment than an effective means of exploiting prisoners. Each stage of a person's journey into the ever-greater depths of the repressive system, from arrest and interrogation, to transport and arrival at the camp, to coming to terms with the rules of life and work in the camp, was separated from the preceding one by a series of initiation rituals with symbolic significance.

The arrival in the gulag, with its structure, hierarchical organisation and laws, was accompanied by the necessity to quickly get used to rules and laws that, to the outsider, seemed strange and incomprehensible. The various stages of the prisoner's journey through the Gulag thus functioned as key moments in the process of changing a person's identity, in his preparation for transformation into an instrument in completely new conditions.


Return to original orientation of tablet, or