This powerful memoir traces the life of Karol Modzelewski, one of the preeminent Polish dissidents of the twentieth century. With humor and perception, Modzelewski describes his formative years. Born in 1937 to a Polish-born mother and Russian-Jewish father in Moscow, he spent his early schooling and underwent deep indoctrination in the Soviet Union. In 1945 he moved with his mother and stepfather, a prominent communist, to Poland when his stepfather was appointed as foreign minister in Warsaw. In the relatively “liberal” Polish atmosphere, Modzelewski gradually awoke to the realities of the party system during his university years.
Modzelewski discusses the experiences and realizations that led him in 1964 to coauthor with Jacek Kuroń the famous “Open Letter to the Party,” for which he and Kuroń were imprisoned. With keen critical insight, Modzelewski describes his role as one of the leading intellectuals of the Solidarity movement.
Much more than mere autobiography, this nuanced book is a profound and highly critical analysis of Polish politics over the last fifty years. Characteristically, Modzelewski refuses to portray events in black and white terms, providing a frank assessment of the country’s evolution from communism to democracy, the genesis of Polish dissidence and its success in dismantling communism, and the causes of the current crisis of democracy in Poland.
Karol Modzelewski (1937–2019) was among the most prominent Polish dissidents of the twentieth century and was a professor of medieval studies at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.
Glossary of Abbreviations and Local Names
From the Translator
Introduction: In the Very Heart of History
Irena Grudzińska Gross
1 Children of the Homeland
2 We Are the ZMP
3 A Revolution in Need of Repair
4 The Right of Self-Defense
5 The Prison Side of the World
6 Socialism with Gierek’s Face
7 Our Union of Brothers
9 Liberty without Brotherhood
I Had Two Souls : A Conversation with Karol Modzelewski
Compiled by Karol Modzelewski
Karol Modzelewski was one of the most creative and important figures in Poland’s twentieth-century struggles for freedom and democracy. He has written a brilliant memoir documenting his path, which was awarded Poland’s most prestigious literary prize, Nike, in 2014. A must-read!
Karol Modzelewski—a pioneer and icon of the Polish democratic movement against the totalitarian regime—was a prominent medievalist, an engaging orator, and a courageous, insightful, and charming man. His autobiography reads like a detective novel intertwined with a classic tale of the enduring human condition.
The demons of the twentieth century have not been banished, and the wise words of those who confronted them are too often forgotten. Karol Modzelewski has much to teach us about courage, honesty, and freedom. This memoir is an invaluable source in Polish history and a guide to living on the Left.