[Marxism] Józef Czapski: painter, prisoner, and disciple of Proust

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed May 8 06:10:42 MDT 2019

On the morning of 2 September 1939, the Polish painter Józef Czapski, 
then 43 years old, slipped a slim volume of the memoirs of André Gide 
into his greatcoat pocket and headed off to war with invading Nazi 
forces. In a secret protocol to the Nazi-Soviet pact guaranteeing 
non-aggression between the two powers, formalised on 23 August, Stalin 
and Hitler had agreed that the Polish state would be destroyed and its 
territory and people divided between them. Sixteen days after the German 
invasion, Soviet troops entered Poland from the east. Surrounded by 
German and Soviet forces at Lwów, Czapski’s unit had to surrender. The 
Germans turned over the Polish forces to the Soviets, and he began two 
years of incarceration in Soviet camps.

Though he did not know it, he and the others held with him were marked 
down for death. In March 1940, the head of the NKVD (later KGB) 
Lavrentiy Beria and three members of the Politburo signed a memorandum 
in which the Polish officers were condemned to execution. The operation, 
which was completed in eight weeks, began with the prisoners being 
transported to sites in and around Katyn, a forest near the Russian city 
of Smolensk. In all, around 22,000 soldiers – mostly officers who in 
civilian life had been lawyers, doctors, writers, artists, scientists, 
engineers and other professional people – were shot by a single bullet 
in the back of the head. Over a 28-day period a single individual, 
Vasily Blokhin (1895-1955), the chief executioner at Lubyanka prison in 
Moscow (where he killed the writer Isaac Babel and the avant-garde 
theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold), is said to have shot around 7,000 
prisoners. He used German revolvers, which he brought with him in a 
suitcase, as he found the Soviet-made variety unreliable. For his 
services to the Soviet state Blokhin received the Order of the Red Banner.


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