Obituary: Jozef Czapski

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I HAD the pleasure of seeing Jozef Czapski a number of times in his later years, thanks to his great friend and colleague (in Kultura) the much-lamented Kot Jelenski, and it was thanks to Czapski that I was able to meet, in Poland, so many remarkable artists, all his intimate friends, writes Keith Botsford.

Jeanne Vronskaya (obituary, 11 February) gives an admirable portrait of a remarkable life, but the nature of the man is missing; and the man was much. You could tell from the way he stood that he had been a soldier - indeed had participated in nearly every war that a Pole could be involved in. And without animus, but as a gay and gallant officer. He wore the supple leather boots of the cavalryman on his soul; was charm itself, an incurable romantic, an affable, companionable man, but also a solitary and an idealist.

Terre inhumaine, which appeared first in Polish, and then was revised for its French edition - I published long extracts from it in the United States - is not so much an examination of Stalin's gulag as of the terrible tragedies suffered by Poles at Russian hands. It is not merely about the missing 15,000 Polish officers and Katyn, but also considers the plight of their families, their women and children, and the formation of the independent Polish army of which a part, created in Russia for cynical purposes, circuitously made its way (Czapski among them) via Persia and Egypt, to fight heroically in Italy. Czapski was its cultural officer, the editor of its newspaper, the founder of its remarkable educational system in which the orphaned children of Polish officers grew up and, despite war, obviously flourished.

His judgements on General Anders are severe but just; his excoriation of the Allied failure to relieve the siege of Warsaw - a truly revolting chapter in our history - burning with passion and vitriol.

He remained active to the very end, and when I last saw him a few years ago, he was acting as consultant to Andrzej Wajda, then making a film on the Katyn massacre. Vronskaya was right to emphasize his aristocratic background. Czapski was a natural aristocrat, a man of lofty temperament and generosity in a century that has had little time for either.