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Herling Gustaw

Herling Gustaw

Gustaw Herling-Grudziński (May 20, 1919 − July 4, 2000) was a Polish writer, journalist, essayist, World War II underground fighter, and political dissident abroad during the communist system in Poland. He is best known for writing a personal account of life in the Soviet Gulag entitled A World Apart, first published in 1951 in London.

Gustaw Herling-Grudziński was born in Kielce into a Jewish-Polish merchant family of Jakub (Josek) Herling-Grudziński and his wife Dorota (née) Bryczkowska. His mother died in 1932 of typhoid. His studies of Polish literature at the Warsaw University were interrupted by the invasion of Poland at the outbreak of World War II.

In late 1939 under the brutal occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Herling-Grudziński co-founded an underground resistance organization called Polska Ludowa Akcja Niepodległościowa, "PLAN". As the organization's courier he traveled to then Soviet occupied Lwów (Lviv), but was arrested in March 1940 by the NKVD and routinely sentenced to exile in Siberia on "espionage" charges like all Polish intellectuals. Imprisoned in Vitsebsk and two Gulag slave labor camps in Yertsevo and Kargopol in the Arkhangelsk region for 2 years, he was released in 1942 under the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement. He joined Gen. Władysław Anders' Army (Polish II Corps) and later fought in North Africa and in Italy, taking part in the battle of Monte Cassino. For his valor in combat he was decorated with the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest military decoration.

In 1947 he co-founded and initially co-edited the political and cultural magazine Kultura, then published in Rome. When the magazine moved to Paris, he settled first in London and finally in Naples, Italy, where he married Lidia, a daughter of the philosopher Benedetto Croce. He also wrote for the Italian Tempo Presente run by Nicola Chiaromonte and Ignazio Silone and for various dailies and other periodicals. He died in Naples.

Herling-Grudziński's most famous book, A World Apart, is a harrowing personal account of the nature of the Soviet communist system. It was translated into English by Joseph Marek (pen-name of Andrzej Ciołkosz) and published with an introduction by Bertrand Russell in 1951 (the 2005 edition was introduced by Anne Applebaum). By describing life inside the perilous Gulag labor camp archipelago of the Soviet NKVD, Herling provided a groundbreaking in-depth analysis of the crimes against humanity under Communist regimes written 10 years before Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's own One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. A World Apart brought Grudziński international acclaim but also criticism from some Soviet sympathizers.

A hero in his native Poland and a well-known if occasionally controversial figure in his adoptive Italy, Herling was for decades the object of quiet but intense admiration among readers and writers throughout Europe. Although a perennial candidate for the Nobel Prize, it wasn’t until the recent and widely acclaimed republication of several of his books in the U.S. that he was brought to the attention of a broader American readership. — Kelly Zinkowski, "Gustaw Herling, The Art of Fiction" 

A selection from the Journal Written at Night, a journal that he wrote for 30 years, was translated by Ronald Strom and published as Volcano and Miracle (1997). A collection of his short stories, The Noonday Cemetery and Other Stories (2003), has been translated by Bill Johnston.

Herling-Grudziński was the winner of many literary prizes: Kultura (1958), Jurzykowski (1964), Kościelskis (1966), The News (1981), the Italian Premio Viareggio prize, the international Prix Gutenberg, and French Pen-Club. In 1998 he was awarded the Order of the White Eagle.

Monument to Herling-Grudziński in Yertsevo with Poland's wreaths, 2009

In September 2009 a monument to him was unveiled in Yertsevo, where he had been imprisoned.