If you don’t know who Czapski was, you must. An important artist capable of “bringing Proust to life,” a national hero, and a public intellectual. He stands as an essential Polish writer and diplomat who sought to change the world through deep engagement with ideas (Proust), history, and sheer spiritual strength in dark times.
On his mission to determine what happened to Polands Reserve leaders during World War II. The answer? Katyń.
“Inhuman Land” is not an easy read. It is not meant to be. It is an exhaustive 435-page witness to official lies and evasions and the methodical murder of Poland’s ruling class, as well as the spiritual and material degradation Communism had wrought on millions of Soviet denizens. Czapski says he had “more and more precise information about those missing, and less and less hope that the Soviet authorities were willing to take an interest in these people’s fate.” Later, he recounts the multilateral betrayal of Poland by its “allies.” Nevertheless, he finds moral action even in the darkest corners of human history.
Writing in the introduction to Inhuman Land, Timothy Snyder writes:
In communist Poland, as in the Soviet Union, it was illegal to write about the Katyn massacre. Under communism, Czapski’s name was on a special list of those not permitted to publish under any circumstances. Today Poland is sovereign, the truth about Katyn is known, and Czapski is receiving some of the attention he deserves. Some Polish politicians now err in the opposite direction, suggesting that an air accident that killed Poles traveling to commemorate Katyn in 2010 confirmed the eternal martyrdom of the Polish nation. Czapski’s position about Polish suffering was different: rather than treating the victimhood of other Poles as an authorization for falsehood, he turned his own suffering into a search for the truth about those who suffered more than he. He quoted Proust: “Perhaps a great artist serves his fatherland — but can only do so by seeing truth, which means forgetting everything else, including the fatherland.”