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Memories of Starobielsk

Memories of Starobielsk

Essays Between Art and History

by Józef Czapski, translated from the Polish by Alissa Valles, introduction by Irena Grudzińska Gross

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Interned with thousands of Polish officers in the Soviet prisoner-of-war camp at Starobielsk in September 1939, Józef Czapski was one of a very small number to survive the massacre in the forest of Katyń in April 1940. Memories of Starobielsk portrays these doomed men, some with the detail of a finished portrait, others in vivid sketches that mingle intimacy with respect, as Czapski describes their struggle to remain human under hopeless circumstances. Essays on art, history, and literature complement the memoir, showing Czapski’s lifelong engagement with Russian culture. The short pieces on painting that he wrote while on a train traveling from Moscow to the Second Polish Army’s strategic base in Central Asia stand among his most lyrical and insightful reflections on art.

On March 3, 2022, Alissa Valles, Irena Grudzińska Gross, Eric Karpeles, and Anka Muhlstein discussed Memories of Starobielsk and Józef Czapski’s life and work. This virtual event is part of New York Review Books’ ongoing series with Brooklyn’s Community Bookstore.

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681374864
Pages: 256
Publication Date:


What distinguishes Memories of Starobielsk and deepens our understanding of the events Czapski lived through is the vision he imparts of a Europe that the Soviets (and the Nazis) had attempted to destroy. . . . Memories of Starobielsk shows the victims not as soldiers but as doctors, professors, engineers, writers, translators—people of education and character, products of a civilization that Stalinism could not accommodate.
—Philip Ó. Ceallaigh, Los Angeles Review of Books

Józef Czapski was a beautiful human being, courageous, noble but also hardworking; occasionally a soldier, journalist, diarist, always writing, drawing, always with a sketchbook in hand, always ready to help friends and strangers. In his person high intelligence and remarkable artistic talent met with an active, almost naive goodness—a rather rare combination, as we know
—Adam Zagajewski

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