He was born in Kielce. His studies of Polish literature at Warsaw University were interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War (German invasion of Poland). During the Fall of 1939 he co-founded an underground resistance organization "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 sentenced on fabricated espionage charges. Imprisoned in Vitsebsk and a gulag in 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 Virtuti Militari, 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 for various dailies and periodicals.
His most famous book, A World Apart, was translated into English by Andrzej Ciolkosz and published with an introduction by Bertrand Russell in 1951 (the 2005 edition would feature an introduction by Anne Applebaum). By describing life in the gulag in a harrowing personal account, it provides an in-depth, original analysis of the nature of the Soviet communist system. Written 10 years before Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, it brought him international acclaim but also criticism from Soviet sympathizers.
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.
He 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.
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